Jimquisition: Cutscenes Aren't A Failure State

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Cutscenes Aren't A Failure State

It's become increasingly popular to disparage cutscenes and the games that use them in the past few years. It is argued that interactive art should never force a player to watch a movie and, while there's merit in that, that doesn't mean cutscenes are inherently bad. Some even help make the interactive part better.

The thing about art is that creators ought to have freedom, and as soon as you start applying rules to yourself, you undo that one magnificent element.

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Damn Jim, you're such a sexy man-beast.

How ever did I get through life without you :D

Also, I totally agree, sometimes there's nothing better than a great cutscene.

I recently played the Devil May Cry HD collection, and the battles between Vergil and Dante are just awesome to watch.

Cutscenes are like QTEs. They're great when done with a purpose and some prior thought to the matter. When just thrown in willy nilly and distract from other features is when they become a problem.

Thank God for Jim, It's alright Jim if you had died for our sins we would be without your wisdom to guide us.

I wasn't aware there was hate for cut scenes, I disagree with 40 min cut scenes but I find them on the whole to be very useful for story telling.

Not your finest point Jim... Not your finest episode as a whole actually. It was so full of compromise, and on a not very important topic. Working against those who bash cutscenes is worth it I guess, but honestly it wasn't compelling an argument either way. A game will use the style the designers think is right and tells the story in the best or most convenient way. Simple. Too simple for your time Jim.

Please don't die for us! The world would be a lesser place without you!

:(

I found Half-Life 2's way of telling story was just as bad as cutscenes, stand here for a minute while I talk, it worked just the same as a cutscene but without the camera control and other dynamic elements of a video it just felt like it dragged on, most of the time I ended up throwing randow thing around the room and missed what was getting said.

Thanks for this!

This is something a lot of people don't understand about rules for art, like "show, don't tell." These rules are meant to be general guidelines, not commandments, and they can be broken by people who really know what they're doing. They're meant more to inform artists that certain things (like cutscenes and telling rather than showing) can easily be done very poorly, unless the creator is aware of the problems they often cause and is able to avoid them.

The problem is, most cutscenes that show the player character doing most of the action while we're expected to watch leaves me wondering "Why wasn't I allowed to do that?"

I know that's not the case with ALL games, but there has to be a middle ground here. How about giving cutscenes that the player character has no control over whatsoever?

lord.jeff:
I found Half-Life 2's way of telling story was just as bad as cutscenes, stand here for a minute while I talk, it worked just the same as a cutscene but without the camera control and other dynamic elements of a video it just felt like it dragged on, most of the time I ended up throwing randow thing around the room and missed what was getting said.

Thank you, you saved me some keystrokes.
Half Life 1 worked without cutscenes, because it was about isolation and loneliness, filling the hole Metroid left in the second half of the 90's.
Going without cutscenes instantly falls apart when you put other characters into the equation.

Goremocker:
Not your finest point Jim... Not your finest episode as a whole actually. It was so full of compromise, and on a not very important topic. Working against those who bash cutscenes is worth it I guess, but honestly it wasn't compelling an argument either way. A game will use the style the designers think is right and tells the story in the best or most convenient way. Simple. Too simple for your time Jim.

It's a bad argument because it's a simple one? No, wait...sneaky sneaky, you didn't say it -was- a bad argument did you? ;)

Simplest things often best and all that. Not always, but I think it works in this instance.

Huh, I agree fully with Jim. The Hell... I'm sure you read these, and I usually like to turn to you for an opinion that differs from my own. You have valid points even if they are the stupid way about it. I have finally agreed with my intellectual rival. Congratualations

I have no problem with cutscenes, I have a problem with really long cutscenes that half way through demand QTEs then when failed replays the entire cutscene, that's just BULLSHIT

lord.jeff:
I found Half-Life 2's way of telling story was just as bad as cutscenes, stand here for a minute while I talk, it worked just the same as a cutscene but without the camera control and other dynamic elements of a video it just felt like it dragged on, most of the time I ended up throwing randow thing around the room and missed what was getting said.

Came here to say this, almost exactly. Also no skipping, or chance of skipping more like it. Also military shooters often do similar stuff. But often I'm not in position to see what's happening and miss out. Skyrim also often uses in engine cutscenes often to the same effect. Ever have wolves attack you during a bit story beat and the quest dude keeps talking? Yeah fun stuff.

You can choose to use cut scenes, or you can choose not to.
Just don't use them like Yakuza 4!

The S-Club 7 of videogames? Really, Jim?

...outstanding.

I've never had an issue with cutscenes in video games. Though I will admit MGS4 was a bit excessive in that department. I actually prefer when there are a few cutscenes to break up the gameplay, else the game starts to feel strenuous. For me, at least.

It's not just cut-scenes. There are several elements of games to which too many so-called pundits are trying to take a "magic bullet" approach. But, there is no magic bullet method or design with games. You choose the best combination and degree of elements that are appropriate to the game. Whether this is cut-scenes, multi-player, RTS elements, RPG elements, or FPS elements is dependent on each individual game concept, and the amounts of elements will vary for each game and could also vary over the play-time within the game. There is no set way to do this. You have to think and do work each time. It's not a free effort.

So long as cut scenes don't make two realm of existence for the characters they are fine. For example, if in a cut scene have characters acts or say they are weak and useless, or cant survive a single gun shot wound to the head, then when your playing the game, they are triple jumping back flips, master of a combat stance, and can take shots to the head like nothing due to their health bar.

Oh Jim you sexy, sexy beast you.

T'was an awesome episode.

Fiftieth episode since coming to The Escapist. If I'd have known sooner, I'd have baked a cake.

So Jim is in favor of the "playing tennis without a net approach". (anyone who gets that reference gets my academic appreciation.)

Also note the irony of this going up the same day as Unskippable.

I'm one of the few that get annoyed with cutscenes (or narrative events), but I'm not seeing any valid evidence to support the use of cutscenes in games from this episode, Jim. Oh I agree that they could serve as a nice "pause" sequence after a tough boss, or even help build up the pace before a big boss, but that seems minor or brings in other problems. What if the cutscene cannot be skipped, even after restarting the game when you are killed by that boss? That cutscene no longer becomes engaging, but frustrating, something I had a problem with Yahtzee's Poacher game prior to the boss-battles. Also, a player could just pause the game after the boss-fight, or have the game slow down enough while they loot that bosses corpse for loot.

However I do agree that cutscenes are a tool that could enhance a game, I just don't know how that could be done. I think Extra Credits were on the mark when saying cutscenes could be used to deliver context or give glimpses of events further in the game, though that could be easily done with finding a piece of paper delivering context (Amnesia: The Dark Descent) or just watching a trailer for the game. I guess the best way is to have the cutscene be something of value to the story. The "Legacy of Kain" games are okay action games, but I always enjoyed and played the games for their cutscenes. I was invested in figuring out what would happen with Raziel or Kain through the games. The only way I cared for the cutscene is if I feel engaged or interested in the story, and that seems to be a bigger problem with video games in not getting the player invested in the story.

Another issue with cutscenes is they are heavily used to market games, so they might be abused to show exciting boss fights or long exposition dumps so they don't have to show gameplay footage to advertise the game. Cutscenes may not be a bad tool for games and could enhance the game, but like bloom effects or RPG elements, they can be used poorly to hurt the game.

Don't see how you could argue with any of that.

Jimothy Sterling:
Fiftieth episode since coming to The Escapist. If I'd have known sooner, I'd have baked a cake.

Now I feel bad that you had to mention it before anyone noticed.
A bit like when it's your birthday and you try and subtly drop hints and no one pays attention.

Personally, I think Bioware has the best approach to cutscenes with the dialogue wheel from Mass Effect/Dragon Age 2/TOR (especially Dragon Age 2, since there were tone-indicating icons). In particular, I'm thinking of a dialogue sequence that took place before a boss fight in TOR: The Sith came in, made some threats, I chose how I wanted to sass back at him, he threw lightning, my character dodged, threw a Force push at him, the lightsabers came out, end scene, begin combat. Like with the cutscene you used as an example, action and dialogue got me revved up for the fight, only in this case it had a personal touch added by the dialogue wheel, making the victory more satisfying.

Of course, those games still have their non-interactive cutscenes, but those are much fewer and far-between because the dialogue wheel really just reduces the need for them.

Cutscenes can be a failure state and a highly annoying dissuading factor in playing a video game for me. Chiefly, if I die and have to watch the same cutscene over and over and over without being allowed to skip it. I also feel the same way about the Metal Gear Solid series, but to be fair, that game just isn't my cup of tea. I don't like the actual gameplay and I don't like the cutscenes. Something like GTA 4 or Red Dead Redemption are more my high standard for what cutscenes and storytelling can be. Show me a cutscene where interactivity would have a limited effect on enhancing the narrative, then give me the reins and don't stop telling the story. I'd play to watch the cutscenes and see where the story went because I cared about the characters and what happened to them. Then in those moments when the act of merely playing it was fun in of itself on top of it, we have the equivalent of a video game opium den. Play to see the story, and play it because it's fun to play.

LA Noire was an interesting breakdown to see how that can go wrong. The story was clumsily told, the cutscenes were rote and bland, the story missions seem to only tangentially progress the main story, and thus the gameplay never seemed to progress the plot either. Not only that, but the drive to force all of it to fit within the weak story made the gameplay feel utterly pointless. Solve the case, don't solve the case, it doesn't matter. I've never seen my dad pass out so frequently in front of the TV while stone cold sober.

Jimothy Sterling:
Fiftieth episode since coming to The Escapist. If I'd have known sooner, I'd have baked a cake.

I'll make one in your honor, Overlord.

I hated the Half Life 2 way of doing things. "Just stand there and listen to my exposition dump" I usually just ended up dicking around and listening because nothing interesting was happening on screen. It was just a first person view of a guy talking at me.

Did Jim get a haircut?
Looks spiffy

I used to remember that cutscenes were rewards. After a few hours of grinding in a old Final Fantasy game, I would be rewarded by seeing an awesome cutscene. I do agree that some franchise over-use cutscenes and diminish their values.

Although, every tool does its job if it's used right. Interactive story telling? Worked in Half-Life. Gordon Freeman is a mute that other characters and the player can fill in the personnality. Although, I was a bit tired to have thanks and congratulations for every thing that I did.

Ubisoft tried interactive sor a bit with Assassins Creed one, but it diminished the character of Alta´r. Characters were given huge speeches and you could move around. However, Alta´r was always in an angle where you could only see half his face at best and add the fact that he wasn't much of a likeable character at the start....It's pretty hard to connect. Most people liked Ezio because he had personnality and cutscenes that added to his character.

But...But First Person perspective an silent protagonists are immersive!

I often hear people say in defense of cut-scenes something similar to what Jim says here- that they provide a nice "reward" for a job well done and give the player some time to relax. To me, the problem is just that. Most of the time, what's going on in the cutscene isn't anything that should beget relaxation. Should the player's heart rate really start to decline while the protagonist is narrowly escaping an explosion or engaged in frenetic close-quarters combat?

Cutscenes may have value when used well, but that doesn't mean that an interactive sequence wouldn't be more valuable. Whenever anybody points to their favorite cutscene and says "this is why they're good" I always just look at it and think, "it might have been better if....." There are very few exceptions, and the only ones that I can think of are low intensity talking segments.

I agree wholeheartedly Jim. Games are an art form and to limit them and say "You can't do this" or "You shouldn't do that", is to limit art itself.

Cut scenes are fine as long as they're not past roughly the 5-minute mark, don't pop up every 5 foot steps and actually have something to say.

I'd rather they be ditched whenever storytelling via the environment is an option, but there's nothing inherently wrong with them. It can be nice to have a breather for a few moments, and when done right they can feel like a reward if the story's building up to a particularly crescendo.

I agree with the basic premise that cut-scenes aren't in and of themselves a bad thing, and that it's perfectly reasonable to use them for many of the purposes Jim describes (downtime, pacing, reward, story exposition, etc.)

However, the matter of taking control away from the player leads to one of my pet peeves.

It's okay, in my mind, if the cut scene takes away the player's control to do what they would have done anyway, to do things that are in character for the player's character, to advance plot through characters who aren't under the player's control, and so on.

But please, for the love of all that's good and holy, don't take away my control to have my character do something stupid, and then bring me back to deal with the resulting clusterf@#$%. Don't have me "ambushed" and "captured" by three of the mooks I've been turning into fine mince by the hundreds for the last hour. Don't set me up as a nigh-invincible amoral killing machine in-game, and then have me fail to kill someone I actually have reason to kill because it might interrupt their monologue (while they, incidentally, prepare their escape pod for launch.) Don't have me clearly and handily winning a fight, and then have the bad guy win anyway in the cinematic.

There are ways to get the plot where the designers need it to go without abruptly turning the player into a marionette. I recognize that there are games that force players into these kinds of situations even without using cut scenes, but they are the area where, to my mind, cut scenes are used most often not as a tool or a device, but as a crutch. And that, I wish would stop.

I come from the generation that saw the emergence of the cut-scene as THE new thing that was made of awesome - something that most of us considered, at the time, to be a huge reward and something we actually played the game to work towards. I still carry this mentality imparted by that experience of playing state.

To relate this to a current event, I think that's part of why I was so dismayed by the ending of ME3 - the feeling that there should have been a long, rewarding cut scene to provide closure and reward to my epic achievements - whatever they may have been - contributed to my general feelings about why the ending was unsatisfactory, much more so than the actual writing of the ending, the god child, or all the other things others found seriously problematic. I was more accepting of those things in general (though I didn't care for them particularly) than I was of the lack of closure / cut scene reward.

Now, I'm not saying that games that are light on cut-scenes aren't good. In fact, I love the open world games that more or less leave cut scenes in the tool box minus some opening and beginning context providers/closure tools. It works with how they are telling the story - or letting you tell it to yourself, as the case may be, in which case being laden with cut scenes would be getting in the way more than helping things along. If a Final Fantasy game, on the other hand, came out without cut scenes I would be totally confused.

Different games, different approaches to how much is going to be done in cut scenes. I think Jim hits this one straight on.

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