StarCraft 2 Writer: Cinematics Tell "Very Important" Stories

 Pages 1 2 NEXT
 

StarCraft 2 Writer: Cinematics Tell "Very Important" Stories

image

Brian Kindregan claims that cutscenes can be used to tell stories in ways gameplay can't.

Back in the day, being cinematic in a videogame was simple. The original Ninja Gaiden impressed many players with its cutscenes, many of which were little more than slideshows. Since those early days however, the prominence of in-game cutscenes would grow. Some of the most memorable moments of many titles would be ones that gamers were restricted to watching.

That hasn't been the case as much in recent years. As videogames have evolved, so too has the ability of gameplay to match, in terms of storytelling, traditional cutscenes and cinematics. In turn, many developers have moved away from cutscenes and more into integrating story moments into gameplay itself. Some in the gaming industry have gone so far as to label the mere inclusion of a cinematic as being a failure on the part of the developer. Contrary to this belief, Brian Kindregan, lead writer for StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm, recently defended cinematic sequences, citing their ability to give life to simple sprites and focus to a game's story.

"When we put the story in a scripted scene, like a briefing or debrief, we are telling players that this is important, we're trying to make you look at it," said Kindregan, speaking at a GDC panel. "But it doesn't necessarily mean it's a huge, impactful moment when a story turns. So when we put story in a cinematic, we're telling players it's very important. It indicates what kind of story the player is about to get."

Kindregan admits that a cinematic on its own isn't always a good thing, stating that too many cutscenes, poorly executed ones, or even good cinematics that are out of step with the feeling of the gameplay, can be potential detractors from an experience. "The cinematic needs to leave players in a spot that makes them think, 'Great, I want to go hit play now,'" he said. "But the emotion of the end is wide open: you can have humorous, violence, bittersweet, sad, happy, all of those are on the table. The only thing you can't modulate or mess with is the tempo."

While the examples that Kindregan cites come largely from his experience with StarCraft 2, they are lessons that could easily be applied across the spectrum of gaming genres. Storytelling is one of the challenges that many developers continue to struggle with, and while better writing would certainly be a help to many studios, knowledge on how to better present stories to gamers could perhaps go even further.

Source: Polygon

Permalink

Depends on the genre, I suppose - there were certainly scenes in "Starcraft II" that wouldn't have worked if you'd had to watch them while managing your base/obliterating your enemies...

I agree. I enjoy cinematics - you know, assuming they're well done. A game isn't better for not having them - it's not necessarily worse, but it isn't better. No cinematics works for some games, like Half-Life, but some extremely memorable moments in gaming are from cinematics - the original StarCraft, for example, had some great cinematics, particularly Kerrigan's monologue and DuGalle's final moments at the end of Brood War.

The scenes in that cinematic range from the completely impossible to show ingame to being possible, but lacking a lot of their dramatic weight.

*sigh*... I wouldn't call SC2 as an example of storytelling. At best, it's a mess.

But yeah, beyond that, I definitely still enjoy cutscenes to this day and age.

Unfortunately, Blizzard's cinematics tell really, really dumb stories. But so does the gameplay, I guess, so I can't really blame the tools.

I mean, they look really cool, but I wish they'd stop pretending that they're saying anything remotely worth paying attention to.

... he says, without a hint of irony or self-reflection.

As long as they're not just well disguised QTEs, I don't have a problem with them. And even then I liked the action prompts in ME2.

The Crotch:
Unfortunately, Blizzard's cinematics tell really, really dumb stories. But so does the gameplay, I guess, so I can't really blame the tools.

I mean, they look really cool, but I wish they'd stop pretending that they're saying anything remotely worth paying attention to.

I think the SC2 story gets more hate then it deserves. At least compared to lots of other games. Depending on how legacy of the void ties everything together I think it is at least a fun if a little overacted tale. I like how HotS explained some things like the tal darim and all that. It's no masterpiece of storytelling by any stretch of the imagination but I'm getting the feeling it's being branded as this horrible excuse of a story that only serves to tie the missions together and I think it's nowhere near the bottom of the "horrible story" spectrum

OT: I've always loved cinematics,and blizzard is a master of cinematics. I don't think I have any better explination then Brian Kindregan already provided.

I suppose it's hard to tell a story in an RTS with gameplay so his view sounds a little biased.

But yeah, sometimes they help, sometimes they ruin it. They can be great for characterisation for example. Then again sometimes they're basically there just to turn the players head in the direction of what cost the devs the most money.

Well, I remember the cutscenes from Wings of Liberty, except that I can't remember a single one other than several of them were set in a mopey bar. Nope, the story must not have been that important. So, is this guy saying that Wings of Liberty had an important story or that Heart of the Swarm has a better story? If it's the first, then I'm not bothering with Heart of the Swarm. If it's the latter, then at least he's admitting the story on the first was a complete waste of time (not to mention wasting my time on a third of a game that was sold to me in completion twelve years earlier). What's gotten all these Blizzard people talking anyways?

Wait, is this an April Fools joke?

Considering that my personal opinion of the Starcraft series is: Story and gameplay second, esports first, I think that he is being a little lax here.

Games as a format can, will and should transcend the traditioanl forms of filmic structure that they so desperately cling to like some sort of life raft.

Whilst the cinematic is, at present, an important aspect of the game itself, I do not believe that it should be an active method in conveying narrative to the player. Wassisface here claims its to imply importance, but to me it implies that "this bit here is too important for you, the player, to be responsible with. So instead of participating, you will have to watch as you are told exactly ow important it is you do this, that and the other." And that is very alienating as the player.

In short: It begins to feel like a colouring book: We dont have to think, we just have to avoid going over the lines.

Ah well.

SC2 writers huh? Blizzards current writers need to re-think the way they are writing stories ATM.

Rblade:
I think the SC2 story gets more hate then it deserves.

For me it is not getting enough hate. It's basically Ultima 9 all over again:

Anyway cut scenes are okay if used right and in moderation.
Basically if you are not Kojima then chances are high your doing it right.... most of the times.

Of course they "can be used to tell stories in ways gameplay can't", they're a completely different artform!

Cutscenes are essentially movies, which provides all the pros and cons that a movie has. Gameplay is gameplay, providing all the pros and cons of interactivity, choice, and personal input.

There are pros and cons to using either cutscenes or gameplay to portray information in a game. You just have to weigh up what would be best for whatever it is you are trying to get across.

I actually enjoy the StarCraft story... It's campy and fun.

I think cutscenes can be very cool, if they are being used to show you some other aspect of the story, introduce a new character, or show something from an angle the normal gameplay doesn't allow, but would look cool and clue you in to look out for something in the future without using QTEs. Like, maybe the character walks over sand and is almost attacked by something more subtle, but rolls/doves/whatevers out of the way. So now you know to be careful on sand in this area.

SupahGamuh:
*sigh*... I wouldn't call SC2 as an example of storytelling. At best, it's a mess.

freakonaleash:
For me it is not getting enough hate.

freakonaleash:
SC2 writers huh? Blizzards current writers need to re-think the way they are writing stories ATM.

I keep seeing these vague statements about how the writing of Starcraft 2 was "cliched", "sloppy" and/or "incoherent" but I've yet to see anyone actually elaborate these statements into anything that could be considered an argument.

I've always enjoyed Starcraft as the "popcorny" space western (featuring morally ambiguous Tyranids and blue space Jedi) that it is.

Rblade:

The Crotch:
Unfortunately, Blizzard's cinematics tell really, really dumb stories. But so does the gameplay, I guess, so I can't really blame the tools.

I mean, they look really cool, but I wish they'd stop pretending that they're saying anything remotely worth paying attention to.

I think the SC2 story gets more hate then it deserves. At least compared to lots of other games. Depending on how legacy of the void ties everything together I think it is at least a fun if a little overacted tale. I like how HotS explained some things like the tal darim and all that. It's no masterpiece of storytelling by any stretch of the imagination but I'm getting the feeling it's being branded as this horrible excuse of a story that only serves to tie the missions together and I think it's nowhere near the bottom of the "horrible story" spectrum

OT: I've always loved cinematics,and blizzard is a master of cinematics. I don't think I have any better explination then Brian Kindregan already provided.

It's more like it throws both Wings of Liberty and the first game and Brood War right out the window for retcons that are really really really really shitty. It deserves all the hate it gets.

BanicRhys:

SupahGamuh:
*sigh*... I wouldn't call SC2 as an example of storytelling. At best, it's a mess.

freakonaleash:
For me it is not getting enough hate.

freakonaleash:
SC2 writers huh? Blizzards current writers need to re-think the way they are writing stories ATM.

I keep seeing these vague statements about how the writing of Starcraft 2 was "cliched", "sloppy" and/or "incoherent" but I've yet to see anyone actually elaborate these statements into anything that could be considered an argument.

Yeah, I was about to ask about the same thing. I mean, sure, HotS wasn't exactly a masterpiece of storytelling but this is the first time I'm noticing people complaining about it sucking so bad. Pretty harsh to compare it with Ultima 9 as well.

Rblade:

The Crotch:
Unfortunately, Blizzard's cinematics tell really, really dumb stories. But so does the gameplay, I guess, so I can't really blame the tools.

I mean, they look really cool, but I wish they'd stop pretending that they're saying anything remotely worth paying attention to.

I think the SC2 story gets more hate then it deserves. At least compared to lots of other games. Depending on how legacy of the void ties everything together I think it is at least a fun if a little overacted tale. I like how HotS explained some things like the tal darim and all that. It's no masterpiece of storytelling by any stretch of the imagination but I'm getting the feeling it's being branded as this horrible excuse of a story that only serves to tie the missions together and I think it's nowhere near the bottom of the "horrible story" spectrum

OT: I've always loved cinematics,and blizzard is a master of cinematics. I don't think I have any better explination then Brian Kindregan already provided.

One thing I can say about Blizzard stories is that even though they are melodramatic and cliche they never seem cynical or slapdashed. It actually looks and feels like they have genuine enthusiasm for what they're doing, and enthusiasm, even if it ends up being stupid, is something I admire. The people behind the stories seem like your average Dungeonmaster or fellow nerd in terms of storytelling, no formal training but definitely earnest.

I wouldn't go so low as to call it fanfic, but it is good old fashioned camp. And I love me some camp.

Too bad the story StarCraft 2 has to tell is largely garbage...

That's all very well and good, but if the game is more cinematic/cutscene than gameplay then I think something has gone horribly horribly wrong. (I'm looking at you Star Ocean: Last Hope)

It's not that I enjoy cinematics, its that I enjoy story moments (and that's pretty much the same with all people, even those who mistakenly say they enjoy cinematics) and sometimes they are just the best tool for the job. Imagine if the original Fallout didn't have its phenomenal opening cinematic? Over a decade and a half later and were still saying 'War never changes'. That just couldn't have happened outside cinematics and we the game was a lot better for it. BUT, it seems like it is very easy to go overboard with it, as many developers seem to do.

Just to mention, Brian has also written for more story-focused games, notably Mass Effect 2. He did Jack and Samara.

Stormwaltz:
Just to mention, Brian has also written for more story-focused games, notably Mass Effect 2. He did Jack and Samara.

BanicRhys:

SupahGamuh:
*sigh*... I wouldn't call SC2 as an example of storytelling. At best, it's a mess.

freakonaleash:
For me it is not getting enough hate.

freakonaleash:
SC2 writers huh? Blizzards current writers need to re-think the way they are writing stories ATM.

I keep seeing these vague statements about how the writing of Starcraft 2 was "cliched", "sloppy" and/or "incoherent" but I've yet to see anyone actually elaborate these statements into anything that could be considered an argument.

I've always enjoyed Starcraft as the "popcorny" space western (featuring morally ambiguous Tyranids and blue space Jedi) that it is.

I'll go ahead and step up to the plate if you like.

Starcraft 2 is actually functional. It's story is mostly coherant, yet it's problems are largely with the characters and the dialogue. Kerrigan is a good example of this. The game builds her up as this petty bitch who is ordering the massacre of millions of innocent people yet at the same time we keep seeing glimpses of what we're supposed to guess is her humanity or whatever. Problem: You can't make an unnervingly evil, petty, selfish person who does morally repugnant things like mass genocide and then ask us to feel sympathetic to her when her boyfriend tells her to fuck off because she spit on everything he worked for. On that note, why didn't country music star Jimmy shoot her when he had the chance? I guess it's because he wuvs her or something but jesus this relationship is so melodramatic and ham fisted.

And of course, most crushingly, there's mensk. You know, When Kerry confronted him he should have said:

"So I had to send some to their deaths, in the end was it not worth it? Until you started ruining everything, humanity was the safest it's been in decades. So what if I had to kill a thousand for the good of the many? Are your zerg any different? How many of those things died on your quest to kill me? See we're quite alike, but the difference is I can justify my actions for the greater good. You are just an evil selfish horrible monster." But no instead he activates a deus ex machina and has a laugh at her expense because he's a one dimensional mustache twirling villain.

Another problem is how the story can only handle one thing at a time, everything else is sort of held in freeze frame until kerry needs them. A good example is the rebel forces on the Hyperion. She asks that they help her hack into the dominion computers and they just go with it because the plot needs it to happen and they devise this plan to get this guy who can do it for them off screen. So wait, why weren't they doing this already? Would a rebel force not have a vested interest in hacking the dominion computer system? Is everyone in the galaxy just sitting around with their thumb up their butts until kerry needs something from them? Another example of this is when kerry gets her powers back and we see a still image of mengsk looking ominously out a rainy window for five seconds because we need to be reminded that "Yep, he's still here folks, this is our main goal remember?" In fact, this happens again later when he sends kerry the hologram message. Hey instead of these meaningless scenes that add nothing to anything, why don't we see a cutscene of mengsk building his forces, preparing for battle with kerry? Overseeing recruitment drives or nuclear missle stockpile build ups? The reason we don't get this is because whoever is writing this crap can only focus on one thing at a time.

So there you go, the two biggest flaws of the story as I see them.

BanicRhys:

SupahGamuh:
*sigh*... I wouldn't call SC2 as an example of storytelling. At best, it's a mess.

freakonaleash:
For me it is not getting enough hate.

freakonaleash:
SC2 writers huh? Blizzards current writers need to re-think the way they are writing stories ATM.

I keep seeing these vague statements about how the writing of Starcraft 2 was "cliched", "sloppy" and/or "incoherent" but I've yet to see anyone actually elaborate these statements into anything that could be considered an argument.

You don't see much explanation because, for the first while after Wings came out, everyone was god damn tripping over themselves to point out its many flaws. Something that bad, the hate burned hot and fast; not many people can spare the bile any more to actually go in to it in any sort of depth, and we were resigned to Heart of the Swarm continuing down the same path.

I mean, there's that, and there's an element of "this is so self-evidently bad that nobody could actually like it so what is there even to talk about?" to it, but I think it's mostly the first one.

The Crotch:

BanicRhys:

SupahGamuh:
*sigh*... I wouldn't call SC2 as an example of storytelling. At best, it's a mess.

freakonaleash:
For me it is not getting enough hate.

freakonaleash:
SC2 writers huh? Blizzards current writers need to re-think the way they are writing stories ATM.

I keep seeing these vague statements about how the writing of Starcraft 2 was "cliched", "sloppy" and/or "incoherent" but I've yet to see anyone actually elaborate these statements into anything that could be considered an argument.

You don't see much explanation because, for the first while after Wings came out, everyone was god damn tripping over themselves to point out its many flaws. Something that bad, the hate burned hot and fast; not many people can spare the bile any more to actually go in to it in any sort of depth, and we were resigned to Heart of the Swarm continuing down the same path.

I mean, there's that, and there's an element of "this is so self-evidently bad that nobody could actually like it so what is there even to talk about?" to it, but I think it's mostly the first one.

And yet, people liked it. Yes, it was flawed, but since when has Blizzard writing not had flaws? It's kinda why I like it.

To another point, no Mengsk didn't hatch his plan to save humanity, and Kerrigan knows that. She helped him butcher a planet to topple the government and while he had been claiming to fight for something more equal, it wound up being the same as the previous one. So no, Mengsk and Kerrigan aren't really similar. Kerrigan knows that she just wants to kill him and the Zerg, being what they are, really don't matter on an individual level other than a few here and there. They don't think. The humans Mengsk sacrificed do, and I would actually make a bet that their kill counts are surprisingly close if we don't count pre-artifact Queen of Blades.

Ishigami:

Rblade:
I think the SC2 story gets more hate then it deserves.

For me it is not getting enough hate. It's basically Ultima 9 all over again:

Anyway cut scenes are okay if used right and in moderation.
Basically if you are not Kojima then chances are high your doing it right.... most of the times.

Nah SC2 ain't their ultima 9. That's pretty much every single written 'story' from about vanilla WoW and onwards, with some ultima 8 sprinkled across it. As I've said many times in the past, if I want quality warcraft writing, I'll go to the fanfic writers whom at this point are on average vastly superior to blizzards 'writers'.

Also sadly HotS was in terms of writing quality and upgrade from wow and sc2. Granted that's like saying being half dead is better than dead, but that's just how they roll I guess.

The Crotch:

You don't see much explanation because, for the first while after Wings came out, everyone was god damn tripping over themselves to point out its many flaws. Something that bad, the hate burned hot and fast; not many people can spare the bile any more to actually go in to it in any sort of depth, and we were resigned to Heart of the Swarm continuing down the same path.

I mean, there's that, and there's an element of "this is so self-evidently bad that nobody could actually like it so what is there even to talk about?" to it, but I think it's mostly the first one.

Considering this is a forum where I could still probably get a 46 page flame war thread just by posting about how the Mass Effect 3 ending was actually good and everyone who whines about it sucks, I'm gonna go ahead and call BS on "not many people can spare the bile anymore."

The StarCraft 2 story is fine by video game standards. It was a step above "Diablo 3's villains are so proud of their evil plans, they'll tell you all of them all the time" dialogue and Half-life's "he's a great character because he's a scientist even though he never talks and how the hell does that prepare him for mass murder" characterizations. It's not exactly original plot-wise, but considering almost every game is "messiah hero of destiny saves the world from something," I think we can make do with "multiple messiah heroes save the galaxy." I mean really. Even the BEST video game story is still not really any better than a Steven Seagal movie by comparison to other medium because video games are bound to the principle of fun thanks to the user input requirement. Every minute where the player is not inputting or surrounded by conflict/challenge is a bored minute, regardless of how awesome the thing's on screen are acting. Or need I remind you of MGS4's movie marathon that I'm sure everyone loved?

Well it's hard to argue about cinematics with someone at Blizzard.

I definitely prefer cinematics to those stupid LOOK BUTTON moments that are in many games these days.

The RTS genre needs cut-scenes because zooming in on the in-game assets look terrible. Unless everyone was happy with the talking heads in starcraft 1.

Arguments about Starcraft's actual story aside, its a very good point. As long as you are not so in love with cutscenes they choke the game (Hideo Kojimo, you know i am looking at you!) they can be a powerful tool for storytelling, especially combined with other methods. IMO cutscenes are just getting too much hate right now.

Cutscenes are defineately useful if you want to create drama in your story, i donīt really see any other way to do stuff like that without it being ackward and ineffective. Especially if you are making an RTS game.

OT: Cinematics can tell very deep stories, and a well-designed cutscene can convey much more than text or in-engine rendering. The problem is that both players and developers rarely expect more than awesome action sequences out of cutscenes.

irishda:
The StarCraft 2 story is fine by video game standards.

I'd quibble about it being "fine". "Okay" or "mediocre" is closer IMO; the big issue with SC2 and its expansion is not the lack of character personalities as it is in most games but rather the inconsistency of them.

Honestly, a long-term struggle with Kerrigan struggling to not lapse back into the Queen of Blades could be a very interesting story foundation. It probably wouldn't have made any difference in gameplay, but it pretty much got sidelined by saving Princess Raynor and the revenge plot against Mengsk. To the writers' credit, it wasn't completely abandoned - but it was a very big leap for her to go right back to embracing the Zerg (and undid the entire finale of Wings of Liberty.)

I still find it depressingly amusing that one-dimensional revenge against Mengsk only became a significant character motivation after she regained her humanity and empathy; as the "Queen Bitch" in Brood War, she was the one who let him out of his cold sleep and let him regain power in the first place. It would have been a hell of a lot more efficient to kill him right there. Not that that change in behavior is completely unjustifiable; it just goes against the recurrent theme of "Aww, Kerrigan's no longer as bloodthirsty any more."

And the constant succession of characters within the plotline being hamfisted into the role of evil cardboard-cutout villains is quite grating, but is completely standard for what Blizzard's writers seem to have wanted out of their games for the past few years. I really wonder if they're able to write something like Warcraft 3 or Starcraft's multiple factions approach, or even to the point of World of Warcraft's Horde versus Alliance dynamic without it collapsing into "everyone fight against the big evil guy!" I'm not saying that their games' writing was particularly good before, but they really seem to want to avoid confusing the player with any depth to the villains nowadays. It's happened with WoW's expansions, it was always true in Diablo, and now it's true in Starcraft.

I played through Wings of Liberty's six hour campaign in a dream like haze and I honestly couldn't tell you a single thing about the story except the most shocking thing about it, where SPOILERS AHEAD....... Kerrigan is turned back into a human.
Then I see the trailer.. and apparently she's a Zerg again? .... so, in the end, what exactly was the point of the last game if literally the only thing I remember about it's story is that Kerrigan became a human again.

Cinematic are all nice and good, but if a story is shit, a cinematic wont change that. And Starcraft 2 has proven it, twice.

 Pages 1 2 NEXT

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here