Gamasutra is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Cutting to the Chase: Cinematic Construction for Gamers
View All     RSS
December 11, 2019
arrowPress Releases
December 11, 2019
Games Press
View All     RSS

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Cutting to the Chase: Cinematic Construction for Gamers

May 18, 2000 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2

Cinematic Style

Beyond the rulemaking is a set of overall guiding principles. Here are just a few of the simplest...

  • Visual Exposition: Show, don't tell. Expository dialogue is weak, imagery is stronger. Behavior is strongest of all. Remember Indy finding "X marks the spot" in the Venice library in the Last Crusade?
  • Economy: Get rid of unnecessary details. Movie characters may range the globe in an epic that lasts weeks or months, but they rarely changes clothes. Their personal hygiene is rarely examined. And what do they do between scenes? Who knows? Who cares? Movies possess such inherent momentary detail that audiences confabulate vague connective tissue to round out whatever tale is being told. This kind of participation is one of the pleasures of movie-going. Don't deprive the audience!
  • Clarity: To avoid confusion, when cutting from one shot to a related view of the same scene, change angles.
  • Screen Reality: Until something appears onscreen, it doesn't exist. Don't be afraid to control the story by revealing its parts in whatever way is most expressive. Remember Anthony Quinn's sudden introduction out of thin air in Lawrence of Arabia?
  • Melodrama: Unlike stage plays, movies aren't physically present in the theater. Movie actors seem relatively...flat. On the other hand, location photography means that movies aren't confined to stage sets, so they seem fairly realistic, often meaning fairly ordinary. Movie dialogue is embedded in a larger world of more interest than the artificial confines of a theater, rendering speech less important. These features conspire to force movies toward the kinds of exaggerated action we call melodrama. Irving Kirschner taught me that the climax of a play is the moment (in effect) when one actor points accusingly at another and declares, "I know you, Joe Zlbygl!" Whereas, the same moment in a movie is more like, "I know you, Joe Zlbygal," and the actor pulls a gun and fires-Bang! Bang! Another way of illustrating the point is to note that onstage a real dog is as out of place as a fake dog onscreen. Keep your material vivid and exaggerate wherever possible. It will seem normal.


Adapting the Language of Film to Games

Games may owe something to movies, but they are as different from them as movies are different from theater.


  • Real-time 3D is continuous imagery. As such it's not cinematic, so don't worry too much about the above strictures when the player is in charge.
  • In a movie, audiences are free to consider information or ignore it, since either way the end arrives. Not so in games, where players must act upon information they discover in order to complete them. Make your imagery clear.
  • Use the story arc to maintain player involvement. Unlike movies, games are usually challenging tasks-relatively long ones at that. Frustrated players often quit, and when they do, your game leaves a bad impression. Cinematic scenes that lay out goals and hint at the overall shape of your game hold player attention.
  • Visual clues: Unlike movies, it's important to regularize imagery. Moviegoers accept it when an actor knows how to do something unusual, but when called upon to perform the same action, a game player is easily flummoxed. As a tiny example, if you need to press switches, drill player recognition by making them all the same, or obviously similar. If you lay traps for the player and exhibit warnings for one, exhibit warnings for all.
  • Organize cinematic intervals organically within the structure of your game. When a player has worked hard to achieve some goal, it's time to reward him by revealing further goals. Try to weave gameplay and storytelling together in a seamless whole for maximum involvement. Avoid the artificial "book-end" method of placing scenes only at the beginning and end of levels.
  • Reserve the most exciting moments of your game for interactive play and concentrate your cinematics on story development.
  • Economics aside, pick your point of view by deciding on the nature of the player's role: Is he playing himself, or filling the shoes of another character? Use 1st person for the former, 3rd person for the latter.
  • In planning cinematic sequences, ask yourself what kinds of shots maximize the dramatic impact of your scene, and then use them.
  • Finally, remember that players want to play, not watch. Even though the overall game experience must be long, make your scenes as short as possible.



Film Theory:

Katz, Steven D.Film Directing: Shot by Shot. Michael Wiese Productions, 1991; ISBN 0-941188-10-8

Exhaustive standard treatment of the language of film; excellent reliable source.

Katz, Steven D. Film Directing: Cinematice Motion. Michael Wiese Productions, 1992; ISBN 0-941188-14-0

Advanced case-study, problem-solving approach to staging and directing; also excellent

Arijon, Daniel. Grammar of The Film Language. Focal Press, London, 1982; ISBN 0-240-50779-7

Film theory in dazzling detail; aside from the slightly odd idea that film stories must be told as alternating pairs, another excellent source

Grlic, Rajko. How To Make Your Movie: An Interactive Film School Interactive CD for Windows and Macintosh. Ohio University and Electronic Vision, 1998;

Film school in a jewel box. No kidding. Deftly arranged as a point-and-click adventure game, this is the most intelligently realized, most informative multimedia production I have ever experienced.

Matching The Movement U.S. Army Signal Corps Pamphlet, publication date unknown

Excellent directing primer intended for military movie units. The discussion is accurate, crisp, unambiguous, and concise. If you find a copy, grab it!

Gaskill, Arthur L. and Englander, David A. How To Shoot a Movie Story. Morgan & Morgan, 4th Edition, 1985; ISBN 0871002396

The basics, to be read along with other sources

Pudovkin, Vsevolod Illarionovich Film Technique and Film Acting. Grove Press, 1960; LOC 60-11104

Insights into moviemaking by one who helped invent it; early and correct emphasis on naturalism in cinematic acting

Reisz, Karel and Millar, Gavin The Technique of Film Editing
Focal Press, 2nd Edition, 1995; ISBN 0240514378

The basics of film editing revealed by a practitioner; ecellent introduction to an important topic.

Murch, Walter. In The Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing. Silman-James Press, 1995; ISBN 1879505231

Murch proposes that the cinematic structure of shots and cuts works because the fluid experience of motion pictures resembles the psychological experience of dreaming and paying attention; a thoughtful book by a distinguished editor.

Movie Lore:

Gorchakov, Nikolai.Stanislavsky Directs. Proscenium Pub, 1985; ISBN 0879100516

The great Russian stage director closely observed by one of his students; an excellent introduction to acting, directing, stagecraft. The discussion of melodrama by itself is reason enough to own this book.

Biskind, Peter. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How The Sex-Drugs-And-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood. A Touchstone Book, Simon & Schuster, 1998; ISBN 0 684 85708 1

So they didn't save Hollywood after all; so sue 'em. This book is still a good read.

Goldman, William. Adventures in the Screen Trade. Warner Books, 1983; ISBN 0-446-37625-6

A famous screenwriter's take on La-La-Land.

Bach, Steven. Final Cut An Onyx Book, New American Library, 1985; ISBN 0-451-40036-4

A Hollywood executive watches his studio, United Artists, sink under the weight of Heaven's Gate while reading hundreds of screenplays in a desperate attempt to mine movie gold from a mountain of paper.

Truffaut, François. Hitchcock. Touchstone Books, Simon & Schuster, 1985; ISBN 0 671 60429 5

Informative conversations with a famous director, conducted by another famous director

Crowe, Cameron. Conversations with Wilder. Knopf, 1999; ISBN 037506603

More informative conversations with another famous director, also conducted by a director

Parrish, Robert. Growing Up In Hollywood. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977; ISBN 0-15-637315-7

About the most entertaining memoir of the entertainment biz ever written; a gem. If you want a glimpse of Hollywood at its most absurd and romantic, with portraits of famous directors John Ford, Robert Rossen and Raoul Walsh thrown in, read this book.

The Internet Movie Database

When it comes to the Kevin Bacon game or anything else about movies, trivial or not, this is the place for facts and figures.

Hal Barwood is a filmmaker and game builder, with multiple published credits. Among my films are Sugarland Express, Dragonslayer, and Warning Sign. Among hisgames are Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Big Sky Trooper, and Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine. In addition, he directed the video sequences of Rebel Assault II. Hal has a Master of Fine Arts degree from the School of Cinema-Television at USC.


Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2

Related Jobs

RMIT University
RMIT University — Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Senior Lecturer, Games (RMIT Melbourne, Australia)
Deep Silver Volition
Deep Silver Volition — Champaign, Illinois, United States

Principal Writer
Sucker Punch Productions
Sucker Punch Productions — Bellevue, Washington, United States

LOKO AI — Los Angeles, California, United States

Senior Unreal Engine Developer

Loading Comments

loader image