Experienced Points

Experienced Points
5 Things To Do If You Use Cutscenes in Your Video Game

Shamus Young | 14 Apr 2015 15:00
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3. Trim Your Dialog.

If you can't let the player move in the cutscene, and you don't have the talent to make the cutscene worth watching, then at the very least you owe it to them to keep it short. Everyone picks on Kojima as the poster child for criminally bloated dialog, but I don't want to let everyone else off the hook just because Kojima has spoiled the curve.

In a good movie, every line of dialog will serve multiple purposes. It should simultaneously tell us a bit about the story, the characters, and the world they inhabit. One example is this heinous cutscene from Hitman Absolution. Maybe it's not fair to pick on one of the most willfully stupid cutscenes ever produced for a video game, but it's a really clear example of this problem. In its intolerable four minutes of running time, the scene never develops any of the character relationships, the world, or motivations. Instead, over half the time is spent with one guy simply "explaining" to the audience why he's doing the stupid things he's currently doing. You could shave 90% of the dialog from that scene and it would do nothing but improve it. Everything would make more sense, the bad guy would be mysterious instead of comical, and the viewer would have less time to notice all the horrible problems with the scene.

A lot of games could use a good dose of red pen on their scripts.

4. Don't Complete Goals in Cutscenes.

If you're going to take away interactivity, and if you can't make the scene visually interesting, and if you don't know how to keep it short, then at the very least you owe it to the player to not suck the fun out of the gameplay sections of the game by having all the important things happen in cutscenes.

Rather than picking on Square Enix again (although they're guilty of this as well) I'll use Batman: Arkham Origins as an example. Nearly every boss fight in the game is a multi-stage fight where you just chip away at the enemy health bar until you trigger the ending cutscene where Batman defeats the boss. And in some cases, the boss doesn't seem to be harmed in the slightest by the beating you gave them during gameplay.

This is like someone grabbing the controller out of your hands just before you beat the boss just so they can get the last hit in. I realize it's more "cinematic" to have bad guys defeated by orange gasoline fireball explosions, backflips, and tricky quick-thinking gadgetry that aren't possible during normal gameplay. But this completely robs the player of their victory. Instead of getting that fist-pump moment where the bad guy falls over, the game cuts to a cutscene where the enemy is still strong and hale, apparently unaffected by the player's hard work. It sends a message to the player that their effort doesn't matter, and that their real goal is not to defeat enemies, but to unlock cutscenes where plot happens.

5. LET ME SKIP THE CUTSCENES.

This one should be obvious. I have no idea why I should need to put this on a list in 2015. More painfully, the likelihood that I can skip a cutscene seems to be inversely proportional to how much it sucks. And even if a game has the "Citizen Kane" of cutscenes (whatever that means) I will still probably want to skip it on my second or third playthrough, or when doing a speedrun, or gathering up footage for a YouTube video about the game. There's no excuse to fail on this one. It's self-indulgent on the part of the developer and shows contempt for the audience.

I'll be the first to admit that we're still figuring out how to blend conventional storytelling with gameplay. Some games lean more on gameplay and others on their stories, and often the seams between the two can feel awkward. But at the very least let's try making sure that the "movie" parts of a game work as a movie.

Shamus Young is a programmer, critic, comic, and crank. Have a question for the column? Ask him! [email protected].

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