Cutscenes Are Gaming's "Failure State," Says THQ Exec

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Cutscenes Are Gaming's "Failure State," Says THQ Exec

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Videogames still have a lot to learn in the storytelling department, says one of THQ's top dogs.

Despite his former career as a Hollywood screenwriter, THQ's VP of Core Games, Danny Bilson, isn't a big fan of cut scenes and cinematics in videogames. He feels that they represent a failure in a game's ability to tell its story, and are the "last resort" of videogame storytelling.

Bilson, who moonlights as a teacher of videogame writing at the University of South California, said that videogames shouldn't be about sitting around and watching something happen. He thought that the moment you put a controller in a player's hand, he or she wanted to interact with something, and being forced to watch a movie was an unwelcome intrusion.

He also thought that games hadn't really learned how to do stories yet, at least not in their own right. He said that there were some story elements in games that were fantastic, but that ultimately, a game's story was just a pretty wrapper for the mechanics. He thought that while a game's story added more emotional weight to the experience, once separated from the gameplay, very few videogame stories could stand up by themselves.

It's almost impossible to deny that videogame storytelling techniques could stand to be improved. A few games, notably titles like the Half-Life games and the first Modern Warfare, do a good job of presenting story elements without having to break out the cinematics team, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Of course, that kind of storytelling presents its own problems, as a developer can never tell where a player will be looking while the important scene is going on. It doesn't help that videogame protagonists are so frequently mute either, as it stops them from really participating in the scene. Perhaps the best compromise is a mixture of both, a game that does have cutscenes, but keeps them short and few in number, keeping most of the story in-game.

Source: EDGE

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I enjoy cutscenes. I remember being disappointed playing through FO3 and seeing that there weren't any cutscenes. To each his own I guess.

I get the feeling he doesn't like Metal Gear games then :3

I agree though about Half-Life, tell a good story just by putting it out there...indirect story-telling. Walk into Raven Holm seeing propagande against Breen, next house contains craters with headcrab drop missiles.
Raise thy voice and thee shall die

luckycharms8282:
I enjoy cutscenes. I remember being disappointed playing through FO3 and seeing that there weren't any cutscenes. To each his own I guess.

I too really enjoy certain cut scenes but I feel they can be over done. It is always nice to sit back and watch a nice ending after battling a boss for a couple hours or finishing a level. The best example I can think of is Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. There were mini cut scenes put into the game everywhere, yet somehow I never felt I wasn't playing a game. I really enjoyed the intro, and I also really enjoyed the exiting cut scene. All of these intertwined into the game play, especially when the lead up to the final boss has you reliving memories from certain cut scenes that happened earlier in the game.

Each school of though has their merits...and it depends on the game. Certain genres really do benefit from cutscenes (JRPGs, although they're becoming nothing but cutscenes recently...Zelda also has well-done cutscenes, but they're of the "mute hero" variety), and others just do better without it (as mentioned, HL2, MW1, and I'd like to add Bioshock and Portal, all made excellent stories without cutscenes). Gears of War was an odd blend...sometimes there were straight-up cutscenes, and other times you could walk around while talking on your earpiece. That was interesting.

EDIT: BioWare games are also an odd blend. Plenty of cutscenes, sure, but you can control a lot of what's happening in them that they defy the traditional definition of a videogame cutscene...not sure how to classify them.

I agree, but what is he doing to stop it? Games use cutscenes because they haven't figured out how to tell stories otherwise yet. HL2 does have cutscenes, they just let you wander around while they happen, the downside is that they're unskippable. MW similarly forces a lot of railroading to make its non-cutscenes happen. Still, at least they're reaching for something new.

So will Homefront, THQ's upcoming big thing, fare better in that scenario, Mr. Bilson? ("Of course!" "No, not you, Mr. Bison.")

So... this guy never played Red Dead Redemption, did he?

It isn't a bad way to present a story. Just another way. Gah, I hate it when people bash cutscenes... every now and then, I like to finish a big fight and then sit back and enjoy a little movie as a reward. It's a good way to relieve tension. It can also be a good way to build it up... if the character is getting hyped up, and the player likes the character, they'll probably get hyped up too.

Cutscenes, when used properly, are important for advancing the story. In some games they are appropriate and even necessary.

I agree, wholeheatedly, with what has been said by the executive.

Maybe game creators need to just let the player experience the game on their own? Take the training wheels off, as it were. So what if we miss the narrative? It adds to the experience, no? Example:

Soldier A was missing from the group huddle at the last checkpoint because he had to go around another route. At the next checkpoint, the commanding officer is talking about the next part of the plan. So now the player is confused, much like the actual character would be!

Now, this does mean the player misses some narrative the firts time through, but what better excuse to play a good game one more time? It just depends on how the market would accept that, which probably wouldn't be very well.

It's a touchy subject, to say the least.

I agree with Bilson. What games have you played that haven't had cutscenes and your first thought was, "ya know what would make this game better? A cutscene." No. You have never thought that, ever. Half-Life 2, CoD4, MW2, and (most of) Metro 2033 were like this. You don't need cutscenes in a game any more than you need motion controls.

I agree completely. Half-Life 2, Bioshock, Portal, and CoD4 showed that it's not only possible to tell compelling stories without cut scenes, but that it actually makes the game better. Cut scenes are archaic and the value of a game goes down when I learn that it has them. Just look at Mafia II. That game absolutely abused cut scenes.

There isn't a single situation where a cut scene is a better way of telling a story than through player interaction.

He hasn't played twewy. Cutscenes make the game better and convince me to keep playing; I do little in a game with no point.

I feel like Bioware has pulled off cutscenes pretty well, Mass Effect sort of gave you a way to control the cutscene and develop your character further...
Also, I dont remember THQ making an incredible amount of games.
The last one I remember was the game based on the Spongebob movie...yeah, exactly...

a cut scene can make a game great or it can be annoying, it really depends on the context, the ones in bayonetta were pretty awesome..... I cant think of any examples that just sucked.... I guess the laughing scene from ff10... or the huge amount of story that metal gear solid games love to insert before you can actualy play but really I kinda like more story and its hard to tell that ingame with out making you just stand around and wait

for instance


in one you have to stand around and wait, in the other you have something neat to watch, you can skip both but the "interactive" one isnt really more immersive

Some games I play for the cutscenes, but only a select few. For example, I look forward to each C&C game just because of the cutscenes, I don't have any post C&C3, but I enjoy the cutscenes.

However, I love what the half-life series did, which was never remove control from the player.

I do love me some good cutscenes, which I guess is why I like Heavy Rain, and quicktime event games, because they look like cinematics. Oh well, as said before,

luckycharms8282:
To each his own I guess.

The way cutscenes were handled in Republic Commando was great. It would lock you in position, but give you the ability to look around. You were always drawn back to a central point, but if you looked around, you would see your squadmates doing weird little things that made them stand out.

i disagree with this statement, i have recently been playing Napoleon: Total War and the cinematic in that game are some of the best I've seen in a game, playing through napoleons campaigns the cut scenes within both fully arouse a sense of grandeur and excitement. Plus Tell me that the cut scenes in red dead redemption fully tell the storey and are engaging

Man, why do the guys at THQ talk so much shit? First it's, "Buying used games is the same as piracy," now it's this? Screw THQ.

I loved Diablo's cutscenes. The game itself not so much; in my opinion definitely a game that was improved by the cutscenes, and the only reason I ever had for even finishing it.

Rainbow Six Vegas handled them pretty well, I think. You were stuck in place listening to your support character talk, but you could fiddle with your loadout, look around, and it was all taking place in the helicopter on the way to the next objective, where you would fast rope out and get into the action. A pretty good way to get exposition and objectives without totally locking the player out.

Also, what about Blizzard's cinematics?! How can you do that during gameplay? Particularly the Warcraft 3 human intro cinematic? How could you get rid of that, and still have a great game?

I like cutscenes in and of themself, but it's true; they don't really fit with what a game is about.

Although, to be honest, I don't think half-life's method is a good example of an improvement, because in reality, it's so linear that it's just a cutscene with an interactive camera.
Which means in some ways it might even be worse than a cutscene.

You can't interact with half-life's story in any sense, because Gordon Freeman doesn't talk, and even if he did, you have no influence over what he says.

I really don't see it as much of an improvement on a cutscene.

I don't enjoy all cutscenes at given times, but I never really liked the Half-Life method either. In Half-Life, instead of giving me something pretty to watch, they just stick me in a room with two guys talking and yapping away and I'm walking around trying to find out what I'm supposed to do or how to get on with it. I can't interact with them because Gordon Freeman is a mute, so I don't feel connected to them nor to I care who they are. They talk to me, but I can't respond, so how can I care if the main character doesn't care?

Not saying this method of storytelling doesn't have its own strengths, but it does leave something to be desired.

There are so many things that video games could do with their stories. It's just a shame that most developers don't want to think out of the box, let alone the envelope.

I disagree, I always came back to Saint's Row 2 for the hilarious cutscenes.

We have movies for shitty fucking scenes that we can't control any aspect of. Being able to walk around in a cutscene is at least somethnig to make it more bareealbefa

Fuck you

Some cutscenes are okay, not a complete flow, but why the fuck bother with games like DA2 and MGS and FFXIII and fuck where you can get the story told better through a different fucking medium. Gameplay for games, twats. Tell a story through the game, don't make a game for the story.

Fucking hell

Booze Zombie:
I disagree, I always came back to Saint's Row 2 for the hilarious cutscenes.

you know what? they were my favorite part of game, I mean how many games can you defeat the main boss in your underwear? or wearing a ninja suit? theyare what pretty mcuh made the game for me

He's absolutely right. Games should tell story through gameplay, not cutscenes. When a game tells the story through cutscenes, it is only half a game, half a movie. Games should start moving away from borrowing from other mediums like film, and start crafting their own story telling.

No Half Life is NOT a good example of this. Half Life has cutscenes, just cutscenes you can move the camera in. There are a number of examples of games that tell a story through their mechanics rather than Movies: Braid, Don't Look Back, and Gravity Bone. It is completely possible to tell a game's story without relying on other mediums to do so.

Vault101:
you know what? they were my favorite part of game, I mean how many games can you defeat the main boss in your underwear? or wearing a ninja suit? theyare what pretty mcuh made the game for me

Funny thing about Saint's Row 2? It's made by THQ... which seems pretty ironic to me, right now.

Hitman Dread:
He's absolutely right. Games should tell story through gameplay, not cutscenes. When a game tells the story through cutscenes, it is only half a game, half a movie. Games should start moving away from borrowing from other mediums like film, and start crafting their own story telling.

No Half Life is NOT a good example of this. Half Life has cutscenes, just cutscenes you can move the camera in. There are a number of examples of games that tell a story through their mechanics rather than Movies: Braid, Don't Look Back, and Gravity Bone. It is completely possible to tell a game's story without relying on other mediums to do so.

Yeah, that's really true. When a game switches to a cutscene, it's basically admitting that games are an inferior storytelling medium compared to movies. Not that this is wrong, because it isn't, but I'd rather have a simple story with great gameplay than a crappy movie with mediocre gameplay.

SturmDolch:
There isn't a single situation where a cut scene is a better way of telling a story than through player interaction.

Sure there is. Situations in which they need to give information to the player without giving it to the character, or any situation that needs to show you something on a scale that your character can't see (natural disasters, huge invasions, ect.) There's no reason to limit the player's perspective like that. Some games are improved through the character-only perspective; however, this won't always be the case.

Qizx:

I too really enjoy certain cut scenes but I feel they can be over done. It is always nice to sit back and watch a nice ending after battling a boss for a couple hours or finishing a level. The best example I can think of is Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. There were mini cut scenes put into the game everywhere, yet somehow I never felt I wasn't playing a game. I really enjoyed the intro, and I also really enjoyed the exiting cut scene. All of these intertwined into the game play, especially when the lead up to the final boss has you reliving memories from certain cut scenes that happened earlier in the game.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles is a TERRIBLY underrated game. (Fool you there for a moment?)

Quite seriously, the game was quite unparalleled. Visually stunning, it had a lovely look about it. The music was unique, beautiful to listen to and very distinctive, it's been years since I played but I can still recall numerous tunes in my head now.

The only draw back was the connectivity with the Gameboy Advance, which was a mixed bag. It was a lovely idea in theory, but a bit messy to set up. And though you didn't need a GBA for single player, it would've been best if they'd let you do co-op without them as well, based on preference.

Still, all told, quite underrated. My partner and I have nothing but fond memories of hours spend playing.

RenegadePacifist:
We have movies for shitty fucking scenes that we can't control any aspect of. Being able to walk around in a cutscene is at least somethnig to make it more bareealbefa

Fuck you

Some cutscenes are okay, not a complete flow, but why the fuck bother with games like DA2 and MGS and FFXIII and fuck where you can get the story told better through a different fucking medium. Gameplay for games, twats. Tell a story through the game, don't make a game for the story.

Fucking hell

yeeeeeah.....great way to make a point there

story has become quite an important factor in games now..which is a good thing

anyway cutscenes are somtimes nessicary for showing the player exactally what they intnded

the thing about dragon age and other bioware games is that they are very cinematic its not quite the same as cutscenes in most cases as more the angle that the camera is at during conversations which actually makes a difference (as oposed to fallout 3) plus a cutscene can make a situation seem more dramatic and tense

id say final fantasy is an example of how NOT to make a game cinematic , Bioware games such as dragon age
or mass effect are a good example of how to do it, by maing conversations look and feel cinematic

I always feel like cutscenes in video games come across like this:

image

They don't need to be there, they're time I'm spending not playing the game, and they're never very good.

I hate the argument, "Well, if you wanna watch cutscenes, then just watch movies," or "I don't wanna pay $60 for a movie." The game is still THERE. It's just made more interesting through an actual storyline, some character development, elaborate camera angles, all of which are told through a cutscene.
What's the difference between watching a cutscene and reading in a game? If instead of a kick ass intro cutscene all we had was a page of text that said, "In a world, blah, blah, blah, this happened and this happened, and you are the hero and it's up to you," then you might as well be reading a book.
Sometimes the story is told better from a passive perspective. What if a character is talking to you, and spilling their guts with some actual emotion and good voice acting, and you have full control, so you're just running around and trying to punch the NPC, or whatever. The the impact of that speech would be completely ruined.

And cutscenes don't HAVE to be passive. Heavy Rain is how it's done. But we don't need that.
Metal Gear Solid is one of the greatest gaming franchises out there. And 15 minute cutscenes were a huge part of it, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

baker80:

Hitman Dread:
He's absolutely right. Games should tell story through gameplay, not cutscenes. When a game tells the story through cutscenes, it is only half a game, half a movie. Games should start moving away from borrowing from other mediums like film, and start crafting their own story telling.

No Half Life is NOT a good example of this. Half Life has cutscenes, just cutscenes you can move the camera in. There are a number of examples of games that tell a story through their mechanics rather than Movies: Braid, Don't Look Back, and Gravity Bone. It is completely possible to tell a game's story without relying on other mediums to do so.

Yeah, that's really true. When a game switches to a cutscene, it's basically admitting that games are an inferior storytelling medium compared to movies. Not that this is wrong, because it isn't, but I'd rather have a simple story with great gameplay than a crappy movie with mediocre gameplay.

I agree with Danny Bilson and both of you. Most cut scenes are terrible. For example, when they take you out of the normal view into some fixed camera angle to watch a scene where YOU have no control over what you will do. Terrible.
HL2 wasn't that great either.
MW2 did a good job of this, it used VERY short cut scenes always in the first person. And often they enhanced the story. (They did take it a little far with the astronaut scene though). You should be able to interact and move as normal, and there shouldn't be the oft boring exposition you hear EVERY time you go through that part, it could be mixed up a little. Cut scenes are just so... bland... and predictable.

By predictable I mean, at the end of the cut scene;
bossfight
someone betrays you (leading to a bossfight)
chase / forced vehicle section
New item/gun
Timed escape (essentially the same mechanic as the chase)
Protect X (could be escort or timed)

Now all of these game ideas/mechanics could be good, but there is no need to introduce them as a cut scene. It can be done in-game. From the characters natural view (not taking the experience out of body/whatever - FPS pov)

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