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Death to the non-interactive cutscene, say top game writers

Death to the non-interactive cutscene, say top game writers Exclusive

March 12, 2012 | By Staff

March 12, 2012 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Exclusive, Design

In Gamasutra's latest feature, several venerable game writers discuss the slow-but-steady erosion of passive, non-interactive cutscenes, and why game stories should be more like plays instead of musicals or films.

Examining how storytelling in games has evolved in recent years, Valve Software's Chet Faliszek, writer for the Half-Life and Portal series, says that today's gamers are less likely to sit through non-interactive cinematics: "I think players have less and less patience for sitting through a cutscene, waiting for the story to unfold."

Irrational Games president and BioShock writer Ken Levine agrees, and also says that developers should strive to remove as many jumps from one mode of interactive storytelling to another -- say, from a player-controlled sequence to a dialogue tree.

"Modal switches are strange in a narrative," says Levine. "I think the closest thing is probably Broadway musicals. They switch from acting out a scene to singing a song, and that's a bit of a leap to make because it's so different. It's a form that you have to get accustomed to, whereas stage plays take less acclimation because they're consistent."

He argues that games -- and their narratives -- should be a play and hardly, if ever, a musical.

Thomas Grip, head programmer for Frictional Games' acclaimed survival horror title Amnesia: The Dark Descent, believes game should never be films, either: "There is a big difference in our relationship to a protagonist when you are a passive observer compared to playing as that character."

"I think the jump to a cutscene removes much of the empathy that you might have in a movie," Grip adds. "Because of this, I believe games can never become as emotionally powerful as movies, even if the cutscenes are done exactly like film. This means that in order to improve the medium, other methods need to be used."

The full feature, which features more insight from some of the industry's leading writers about the generational shift in interactive storytelling, is live now on Gamasutra.

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