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

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

After taking a few games to task last week over their cutscenes, Shamus makes some suggestions on how developers can do them properly if they insist on using them.

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Shamus Young:
If 5 Things To Do If You Use Cutscenes in Your Video Game

Does anyone proofread here?

Now to read the article...

Shamus Young:
1. Don't stop gameplay if you don't have to.
...
5. LET ME SKIP THE CUTSCENES.

Ever skipped a cutscene in half like 2?
If it doesn't stop gameplay, you usually can't skip it.
You have to wait until doctor whatshisface opens the door for you, until claptrap has made every single last lame joke so you can finally get to the game and of course, that skyrim intro tho.

Number 5 is a cardinal sin that too many games are guilty of. It's 2015, something simple like the ability to skip cutscenes should just go without saying...like having sound and actions happening when you press buttons. Come on game devs, it's not some herculean task or outrageous demand. Oh and fuck you, Ready at Dawn, for actually specifically patching skipping them out of The Order out of some asinine attempt to hide the fact it's short as shit.

loa:
If it doesn't stop gameplay, you usually can't skip it.

True. And as a designer, you don't want people accidentally skipping your cutscene, especially if it includes vital information. So what's a good solution? Maybe just press escape, lol.

loa:

Shamus Young:
1. Don't stop gameplay if you don't have to.
...
5. LET ME SKIP THE CUTSCENES.

Ever skipped a cutscene in half like 2?
If it doesn't stop gameplay, you usually can't skip it.
You have to wait until doctor whatshisface opens the door for you, until claptrap has made every single last lame joke so you can finally get to the game and of course, that skyrim intro tho.

Try reading. He addressed that.

Well... I've been playing both the Half-Life and Metro series and I can definitely see how both can contrast each other with how they tell their stories... or at least try to.

With Half-Life... well, you've already covered it, but with Metro (specifically 2033 Redux), most cutscenes won't allow you to turn your head, even though every single one of them are in first person perspective. Sure, sometimes they allow you to just wander around while a companion NPC spews exposition at you and the game actually rewards you to do so, either by giving you extra resources (ammo, air filters, health packs, weapons, etc.) or by giving you a "moral point" that can actually trigger a different ending.

Most of the time though, the game will let you choose to either listen to the character ("Stop!, hide!") or just ignore him, but the game acts accordingly, sometimes you can avoid an entire firefight that way, or you start shooting to your hearts content, but you'll waste precious ammo and health packs in said fight, you'll have to be extra careful in areas where you have to use your gas mask, because it can actually break in a serious firefight.

So yeah, Metro is both better and worse than Half-Life 2 with it's use of cutscenes, sometimes it entirely takes away control from you (though it stays in first person perspective at all times), but sometimes it'll let you wander around while an NPC is talking, sometimes to your benefit.

If the goal of non-gameplay cutscenes is to create a cinematic mood, most fail at learning from film about how to compose a scene visually. I'm not inherently against cutscenes, even unskippable ones, but run time and voice acting truly become critical.

Pyrian:

loa:
If it doesn't stop gameplay, you usually can't skip it.

True. And as a designer, you don't want people accidentally skipping your cutscene, especially if it includes vital information. So what's a good solution? Maybe just press escape, lol.

Here's a recent example: in Bloodborne, one of the main quests involves finding the password to open a gate. You learn the password in a skippable, 30-second cutscene with dramatic camera angles and interesting dialogue - everything Shamus wants. But this cutscene is right after a tough boss fight, so your hands are shaking and you probably aren't paying attention to the finer details of the conversation. It's easy to miss the password, then wonder why the game suddenly stopped prompting you to go to the next area.

What has put me off replaying The Walking Dead is how you can't skip cutscenes. Sure, the game is essentially little but cutscenes but there are some establishing shots, some "folk walking for 2 minutes" shots and even some non-interactive dialogue dumps.

Let me skip them, I don't have the time to waste hearing the same damn thing again and again and again just to experience about 10% difference in your games.

To expand on point 5, letting us pause the cutscenes is also greatly appreciated, as sometimes occurrences in the real world can disturb us from an incredibly important plot point and we have to load a previous save. Not good.

Maze1125:

loa:

Shamus Young:
1. Don't stop gameplay if you don't have to.
...
5. LET ME SKIP THE CUTSCENES.

Ever skipped a cutscene in half like 2?
If it doesn't stop gameplay, you usually can't skip it.
You have to wait until doctor whatshisface opens the door for you, until claptrap has made every single last lame joke so you can finally get to the game and of course, that skyrim intro tho.

Try reading. He addressed that.

... No he didn't. Not really.

And, honestly - if you have a segment of non-critical exposition and the only interactivity that makes sense is wandering around... it's far, far better to just replace it with a skippable cutscene. Moving the head/wandering in circles is NOT 'gameplay'.

Robyrt:
Here's a recent example:

...Of what? I mean, there's plenty to be said about clarity, but I honestly don't see how that fits into the conversation we were having.

Scow2:
And, honestly - if you have a segment of non-critical exposition and the only interactivity that makes sense is wandering around... it's far, far better to just replace it with a skippable cutscene. Moving the head/wandering in circles is NOT 'gameplay'.

"...it's far, far better..." Really? What are you even gaining? That's worth giving up maintaining a consistent perspective?

Alexander Kirby:
To expand on point 5, letting us pause the cutscenes is also greatly appreciated, as sometimes occurrences in the real world can disturb us from an incredibly important plot point and we have to load a previous save. Not good.

And just to expand on your expansion not only should cutscenes be skippable and pauseable we should be able to rewind and fast forward them as well.It's incredible that simple obvious things like this aren't an industry standard in 2015

Scow2:

Maze1125:

loa:

Ever skipped a cutscene in half like 2?
If it doesn't stop gameplay, you usually can't skip it.
You have to wait until doctor whatshisface opens the door for you, until claptrap has made every single last lame joke so you can finally get to the game and of course, that skyrim intro tho.

Try reading. He addressed that.

... No he didn't. Not really.

Yes he did:

Bonus points if the game can gracefully allow the player to exit the scene and continue the game before the dialog ends. We're likely to care less about the plot during our second or third (or even tenth) playthrough.

Pyrian:

Scow2:
And, honestly - if you have a segment of non-critical exposition and the only interactivity that makes sense is wandering around... it's far, far better to just replace it with a skippable cutscene. Moving the head/wandering in circles is NOT 'gameplay'.

"...it's far, far better..." Really? What are you even gaining? That's worth giving up maintaining a consistent perspective?

Often, better scene staging/mood setting. And the ability to just get on with the action on replays.

anytime there is a discussion about cutscenes I mark it off against warcraft 3's cutscenes. And to a lesser degree WoW. They might be breaking some of these laws but damn they were amazing. I'm not entirely sure if they strictly break any of these rules but the way they made the somewhat crude ingame graphics come to life makes me feel sympathetic towards a programmer that doesn't want to let you skip a piece of vital story telling and world building like that.

You know what should be in every game with Cutscenes, but I can't remember ever actually seeing? The ability to pause during a Cutscene. That should be standard by now.

EDIT: Oh and another thing, games should automatically save before and after a Cutscene. Maybe I want to stop playing now but I want to watch the scene again when I come back to remind me what's going on. I don't want to have to play the entire previous stage again just to see the context for the next.

Interactive cutscenes aren't just an FPS thing. I'm sure we've all played an RPG where we have to wonder around a building/town/airship talking to everyone before it lets us start the next mission. Sure they could have paraded out all these characters to have they dump exposition on us in a cutscene, but making us hunt for our exposition lets us both familiarize our self with the layout of an important location, as well as getting us slightly more invested int he characters we talk to. To make it worse when we walk in on the next boss eating them.

Flames66:
You know what should be in every game with Cutscenes, but I can't remember ever actually seeing? The ability to pause during a Cutscene. That should be standard by now.

EDIT: Oh and another thing, games should automatically save before and after a Cutscene. Maybe I want to stop playing now but I want to watch the scene again when I come back to remind me what's going on. I don't want to have to play the entire previous stage again just to see the context for the next.

Quite a few games let you do that now, RE: Revelations 2 is the most recent example I can think of. Being as I'm playing it now. Pretty sure you could do it in MGS 4 as well, but it's been a few years since I've played it.

Scow2:
Often, better scene staging/mood setting.

You obviously get more camera control, but that doesn't necessarily lead to improvements. Take DX:HR's two infamous cutscenes. They take control from you, and what do they do with that control? They make "you" an idiot. Better if they'd stuck with what they're good at. You take a team that's good at FPS staging and suddenly give them a new perspective, the most likely result is they'll be clumsy with it. Or, worse, you give your cutscenes to another team entirely, and it almost inevitably sticks out like a sore thumb.

Scow2:
And the ability to just get on with the action on replays.

This is a common shortcoming of the "player controlled cut-scene", but not a necessary one. There are two obvious solutions: (1) Don't stop the action in the first place, involve the player all the way through, and/or (2) go ahead and allow them to skip it anyway.

I've always thought Final Fantasy VIII did cutscenes really well. They weren't too long, and they served a purpose. Introducing a new character or showing an important turn of events. I still say the intro and the part where Squall and Rinoa run in the foreground while the battle rages in the background are two of the greatest cutscenes ever.

The cinematography one is huge, I think. I am always impressed at how flat, lifeless, and dull every single video game cutscene is. You'd think they would have learned something over the years. Of course, I prefer no cutscenes at all but if you must, at least do it right.

Clive Howlitzer:
The cinematography one is huge, I think. I am always impressed at how flat, lifeless, and dull every single video game cutscene is. You'd think they would have learned something over the years. Of course, I prefer no cutscenes at all but if you must, at least do it right.

The cinematography thing is also why leaving the camera control in the hands of the player is such a bad idea for a scene where two characters are sitting around and talking. If it's a cutscene where the character is running through a hallway as stuff explodes or something like that, by all means, let the player control it, because at that point it's not a cutscene so much as gameplay. But scenes that just advance the story? Shamus said it himself, the average person knows jack shit about cinematography. So why give them control of the camera?

Yea, for all the hot air over "cinematic" as a buzzword to cover for a number of mistakes, shotcuts, and ignored features, game developers are mostly awful at creating movie-like cutscenes.

Allowing the player to wander around and stuff during conversations their characters are supposedly having is more weird than forcing them to sit still and watch it (as always allow skipping of course). People get really pissed off and annoyed when you aren't giving them your full attention, wandering around the room during a world changing conversation and looking at the plants or whatever would just make a real person furious and their not reacting that way would remove my suspension of disbelief in the quickest manner possible.

I've gotta say I preferred having completely non-interactive cutscenes in the later Assassin's Creeds to the technically-not-a-cutscene-because-you-can-walk-about moments in Assassin's Creed 1. I think the fact that you can move draws more attention to how overly written and looooonnnnnngggg those sections are.

I do agree with the general point though, especially with silent protagonists.

Shamus Young:
And even if a game has the "Citizen Kane" of cutscenes (whatever that means)

I think it means "is BioShock."

loa:

You have to wait until doctor whatshisface opens the door for you, until claptrap has made every single last lame joke so you can finally get to the game and of course, that skyrim intro tho.

God I'm having Skyrim PTSD now, every time I try to get in to that game I stop because I'm so thoroughly bored by that horrible unskippable intro.

Flames66:
You know what should be in every game with Cutscenes, but I can't remember ever actually seeing? The ability to pause during a Cutscene. That should be standard by now.

I think I remember Halo Wars doing that, but then I'm left without any other examples to mind, and I definitely agree.

Now I miss Unskippable.

troqu:
Allowing the player to wander around and stuff during conversations their characters are supposedly having is more weird than forcing them to sit still and watch it (as always allow skipping of course). People get really pissed off and annoyed when you aren't giving them your full attention, wandering around the room during a world changing conversation and looking at the plants or whatever would just make a real person furious and their not reacting that way would remove my suspension of disbelief in the quickest manner possible.

Exactly. That scene in Half Life 2 where Barney and that scientist are discussing the teleporter is a perfect example. They just keep talking, while you're hopping on the table and breaking stuff. They might chastise you, but it's a quick sharp word and then they just carry on, while you continue to break things. It's a lot more ridiculous than a regular cut scene.

Evonisia:

Flames66:
You know what should be in every game with Cutscenes, but I can't remember ever actually seeing? The ability to pause during a Cutscene. That should be standard by now.

I think I remember Halo Wars doing that, but then I'm left without any other examples to mind, and I definitely agree.

I'm quite sure I've seen pauseable cutscenes in a number of games now, just not off the top of my head. Or if not pause, at least able to press Start/Esc to go to the menu while you go grab something to eat before the cutscene starts. This should be staple by now, just as much as being able to skip them.

I mean, even the one point about accidentally skipping can be alleviated, games like Evil Within and Far Cry 4 you have to actually hold a button down to skip I believe.

For me, the most unobtrusive cutscenes either:

1. Occur within "acts." Example, in Halo where you seen things happening, but you are "in transit" from one point to another (not on this level, not on the next one.) I feel like they did this best in the first one and got progressively worse.

2. Have some story-reason to take away game-play controls, such as being restrained as Half-Life does a few times.

Evonisia:

loa:

You have to wait until doctor whatshisface opens the door for you, until claptrap has made every single last lame joke so you can finally get to the game and of course, that skyrim intro tho.

God I'm having Skyrim PTSD now, every time I try to get in to that game I stop because I'm so thoroughly bored by that horrible unskippable intro.

I've played Skyrim through 4-5 times. I've started numerous test runs for various mods. I've seen the cutscene in question exactly once. Yes, there are a lot of design issues with Skyrim but in all likelihood if one of those issues has bothered you enough to not want to play the game odds are good that it's bothered someone else enough to make a mod to correct for it. In the case of avoiding the opening cutscene you'd be looking for 'Alternative Start - Live Another Life" which provides a multitude of different starting options and allows other mod authors to tap into it in case they come up with some new starting point for the game that the original author didn't think of.

With regards to the article there needs to be a '5b' which would state to kindly not put unskippable cutscenes before (likely) obnoxious and/or difficult boss fights.

Honestly, any designer who makes unskippable cutscenes before boss fights ought to be taken to GDC and put in stocks for all the world to laugh at. It absolutely baffles me that people think this is acceptable.

Pyrian:

loa:
If it doesn't stop gameplay, you usually can't skip it.

True. And as a designer, you don't want people accidentally skipping your cutscene, especially if it includes vital information. So what's a good solution? Maybe just press escape, lol.

I've never understood why accidentally skipping the cut-scene is still used as a defence of the indefensible (making them unskippable). Just make it so you need to hold a button down for a short period and the problem is removed entirely. I've heard of games that also make you press multiple buttons, or press a button twice in quick succession.

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