Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
The Common Mistakes of Horror Games

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 8 Jun 2010 16:00
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Taking camera control away to show us something in slow motion.

A game should always think very, very carefully about taking control away from the player. The whole interactivity thing is the driving force of gaming's unique selling point, so taking that away is the equivalent of an action scene in a movie suddenly pausing for the director to walk into the shot to say hi and ask if everyone's having a good time. It seems to me that if there's something you want us to look at then a smart developer can design their levels to make sure we do so - refer to the moment when you emerge from the underground in Half-Life 2 Episode 1, and the attached developer commentary -so a slow-motion zoom smacks of cheating a bit.

The main lesson we're learning so far is that effects that work in movies to heighten one-time thrills should not be programmed into a game to happen every time a certain thrilling event takes place. For the obvious reason that it's going to be occurring fifty, sixty, a hundred times before the game is over. Dead To Rights: Retribution, for example, momentarily went into slow motion every single time you shot someone in the head. It's like liquidized brain matter had power over the space-time continuum.

The cutscene issue.

A game is most like a film, of course, when cutscenes are taking place. Now, my ideal games-centric dictatorship isn't about to do anything as drastic as banning cutscenes altogether. Any game with a modicum of story is going to need exposition, and some story writers want the freedom to characterize their heroes. We don't always want to be silent protagonists jumping around on the furniture while an NPC explains what needs bullets being put in next.

But bearing in mind that cutscenes are unavoidable, here's my jackbooted legislation: Cutscenes should never contain action. Or at least, they should never contain action being performed by the playable character which we could have done ourselves within gameplay. Because we're not playing a game to watch a pre-rendered version of ourselves having all the fun. Like that cutscene in Alan Wake where Alan flees from the cops as bullets whistle by his head in slightly out-of-place slow motion - let ME do that. There is admittedly the chance I'll run the wrong way or start humping a lamp-post, but then you just shoot my dumb ass in the head. Seriously. I deserve it.

Oh yes, and if any developers under this rule decide to fulfill the obligation by sprinkling a pre-rendered action scene with quick time events, then they're immediately shipped to the gulags. You do not fuck around in Yahtopia.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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