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Pratchett: Cut-Scenes Still 'Important Tool', If Used Correctly

Pratchett: Cut-Scenes Still 'Important Tool', If Used Correctly

August 7, 2009 | By Staff

August 7, 2009 | By Staff
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Talking to Gamasutra as part of an in-depth interview, Mirror's Edge and Overlord writer Rhianna Pratchett has suggested that cut-scenes are still a great tool for game developers -- and "we shouldn't throw out the hammer just because we keep hitting our thumb with it."

When the writer for Heavenly Sword and Mirror's Edge -- who has also taken a larger narrative role in the development of the Overlord franchise -- was asked about the validity of cutscenes, she noted:

"There's no denying that given the fan-base of games like the Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy series, many gamers enjoy cutscenes, even incredibly loquacious and lengthy ones.

Whilst, personally, I'd rather a game wasn't turned into a wannabe movie, I believe there's still a place for artfully crafted, well timed and smartly paced cutscenes. Granted, the games that manage to do all three are fairly rare.

Putting interactivity aside for a moment, there's still a lot we can do to improve our linear storytelling. There are exceptions (there always are) but our strength in this regard is by no means across the board. It is improving though, title by title.

Cutscenes are still an important tool in our narrative toolbox, and we shouldn't throw out the hammer just because we keep hitting our thumb with it. We just have to learn how to wield it a little better."


Moving on, when quizzed about cutscenes vs. direct during-gameplay storytelling, and whether one is more or less effective (and, indeed whether they can coexist), Pratchett noted:

"They can coexist in the same game just fine. Most of the titles I've worked on have used a blend of narrative delivery techniques. The Overlord games use a lot of on-the-fly ambient and directional dialogue, as well as cutscenes.

However, more interactive cutscenes or, what I'd personally like to see, more context for limited/locked view points (like being frozen in ice in BioShock's Fort Frolic, or being held on the metal Citadel transport pods in Half-Life 2) is eminently desirable. But there are two problems inherent in that (actually there are probably loads, but these two shout the loudest to me.)

The first is, as I mentioned earlier, that interactive narrative has to be supported by a game's core level design structure. It can't just be slotted in. Developers need to adopt the mindset of thinking about narrative right at the start of a project. I think we're still a little way off from that.

The second issue is that there's simply no one-size-fits-all solution to this. Whilst BioShock, Portal and Half-Life 2 made undeniable progress in game storytelling, the interactive elements were composed in relatively small, closed-off and controlled spaces (again, with level design playing a large part.) This would certainly be hard to replicate in something like a large, open world RPG with lots of exterior locations, or a traditional strategy/adventure game.

I'm not denying that these are important steps, but they're still quite small ones, and not an instant and all-encompassing solution to the interactive versus non-interactive debate. However, I do think the ways in which the aforementioned games showcased the power of visual storytelling, in particular, has something to teach the industry as a whole."


You can now read the full Gamasutra interview with Pratchett, including a great more detail on her work on some of these notable titles, and her views on the state of game story and how we can improve it.


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