Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Why Cutscenes Are Evil!!

Why cutscenes are evil!

Unlike our console based cousins PC gamers are very lucky in the fact that the culture of the cutscene has been kept to a minimum on our platform. Most PC games will provide you with a cutscene at the beginning of a level and a cutscene at the end. These bookend scenes usually help to provide an introduction to the area or move the story along and then provide a conclusion and show how the player has affected the story.

So what do I mean by cutscene. I'm referring to any moment within a map where the player view is removed from their own perspective and forcibly pointed at other areas of the map in order to draw the players attention to something important or to tell further story.

Anyone who's played an action orientated console game in the last 10 years will know that games built for consoles have an obsession with the cutscene.

So why are cutscenes so evil.

1. It takes control away from the player and removes them from the moment they were in at that time. You spend ages trying to get the player fully engrossed in your map then rip them out of their own view of the environment and that feeling is instantly lost.

2. Its very lazy from a design perspective. Rather than build an intuitive environment where the player can understand what they need to do through exploration, you jam it in their faces by pointing the camera at it.

3. It patronises the player and caters to the lowest common denominator (i.e. dumb people).
In effect by pulling camera control away from the player and pointing it at something important, the developers are saying "we think you might be dumb and not understand what you are supposed to do, so were going to show you... just in case you're dumb!".

It may be that publishers have more say in the development process in the console world. So when the publishers get they're first look at the game they make recommendations of what to change in order to make the game more generally playable for everyone(read.. more accessible for dumb people!).

4: Often the best action scenes are reserved for cutscenes.
Did you ever get shown something in a cutscene that was very exciting after playing through a drab repetitive level and think... hey.. why couldn't I do that in the freakin game!

If what happens in your cutscenes is more interesting or funny or exciting than what happens in your map. Then there's something very very wrong!

5: Cutscenes are used as a supposed reward system.
What's more enjoyable, playing the game or watching a cutscene? It SHOULD be playing the game if the title is any good. So, surely your reward for completing a section of the game should be... well... more game! Unlocking bonus levels perhaps?
I've never understood why watching a cutscene is something the player is supposed to look forward to. To the point where in some games you can go back and re-watch the cutscenes you've unlocked so far.

I think my biggest gripe with the whole cutscene culture would be that's its cheap. Like reality TV, publishers like cutscenes because it takes far less effort and money to produce one than it does to create truly great gameplay and levels.

There's a reason it took Valve 8 years to release HL2 and why console game tie-ins with movies can be punched out in six months. It takes time to make maps that are intuative. It takes time to run through map iterations until playtesters know instictively what to do. Time is money!

An Alternative Approach

My next post will focus on in game story telling methods. Most modern games offer a variety of alternative tools to help the mapper tell the story within the game.

Here's a challenge for you. Before you build your cutscene for your map, try and think of any other way that you can convey the information to the player without taking them out of their perspective. Try and make cutscenes the very last resort for storytelling.

No comments: