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FEATURED VOXPOP danielrbischoff
Peace in the Era of Call of Duty
By danielrbischoff
Posted on 04/15/14
In a world dominated by violent media, Americans are no more eager to go to war than they were in the 1980s or the 1960s or the 1940s. Hasn't it always been someone else's problem? The overwhelming majority would rather go on thinking it had nothing to do with them and there...

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Cutscene Guidelines
Posted on Friday, June 24 2011 @ 19:39:49 Eastern

I know its unnecessary to restate how much I like a good story in a video game, but seeing as a I parodoxically did anyways, I will gladly repeat: I love a good story in a video game (though I'll be sure to minimize how often I do so as not distract from my topics.) Seeing as I brought up story in games again, I would like revisit something that I touched upon in my first post. I mentioned that some games are overly reliant on cutscenes to convey plot development and exposition that is otherwise important for the story. After thinking about it for awhile and discussing it with a friend, the idea was tossed around that perhaps it might be the cutscene itself which creates the problem, after all, there is the clash of a non-interactive moment occuring in the middle of what is chiefly an interactive experience.

Having mused on it for a while, I have decided that the strength/weakness of cutscenes, like most events and features in a game, is based chiefly in application. Truthfully, contemporary games have been getting better  about their application of cutscenes, and I think that cutscenes are gradually becoming something of an anachronism, but not all games are on the same level of development or resources, and I think some consideration should be taken into account before using a cutscene in a game. Here is the list of critirea that I think would be best for determining if a cutscene is appropriate.

Understand what kind of game you are putting a cutscene into: This is rather self explanatory, but is very important for establishing how you are going to place cutscene is a particular game. Generally speaking, Mission/Stage Based games tend to require more cutscenes to serve as narrative structure, while games that have a more seemless flow should use them sparingly.

Know the appropriate time to use one: Again, games that center around Mission/Stage selection are somewhat (not always) easier to judge this for, as the structure for placing a cutscene is easier, you have one at the beginning of a mission, then another at the end of one. Which is not to say that a particularly spectacular moment couldn't be emphasized with a cutscene, just only occaisionally (we'll come back to this). For other games... I would generally allow for two big ones (beginning and ending) and keep the others to somewhat brief interludes to provide juxtaposition between certain major segments of the game.

Moderation: From how I look at it, the total time in the game devoted to cutscenes should kept as minimal as possible. Never should a game's cinematic time rival its gameplay (I'm looking at you Metal Gear Solid 4). Outside of the beginning and end framework, cutscenes should not be the sole means telling the story, story-telling should be done primarily in-game (seemless game structure) or work in tandem with the game-play (Mission/Stage game structure) and should not overtake the in-game storytelling in terms of delivery. Cutscenes should only last a few minutes at the most, though the beginning and ending scenes can be more long-winded as they are establishing, respectively, important information on setting, and concluding the events that the player has been interacting with. Those cutscenes taking place within the middle of the game be relatively few, have a great deal of "distance" between them, and should be made as concise as possible.

Cutscenes should always be skippable: Sometimes the player just wants move on, has watched the scene multiple times, or is simply very savy in terms understanding the story.  Do not force the player dwell.

I think those for basic guidelines cover cutscene use fairly well. As I have implied, developers should be doing as much as possible to encourage the player's interaction with the game, and personally, I think cutscenes as a whole should be downsized as much as possible, or simply replaced with sequences that conform to the flow of the respective video game as opposed to pre-rendered movie scene (like the sequence as the beginning of Call of Duty 4 where you are in the perspective of the poor bastard in the car, being driven off to execution, a well known, but altogether good example.)

Cutscenes as we have known of them in the past are growing into something of an anachronism, and hopefully, will either become something better, or simply fade away in favor of better methods of in-game storytelling.


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R.I.P. Space Combat
Posted on Thursday, May 12 2011 @ 15:29:28 Eastern

Summer is just about upon us now; finals are bearing down on college students, with the promise of summer break and all of the broken air-conditioners, rushed vacation plans and charred meat that it entails. It also marks the beginning of what I like to call, the “Game Release Doldrums,” so named because it’s the season where the fewest games I am interested in are released. Though it looks like this year’s GRD should not be too tedious, I guarantee that most, if not all, of the games I acquire this season will be those that I have been unable to purchase over the past few months.
 
As I use this period of free time to pine over how I will be investing my paltry gaming budget over the summer, something occurred to me. Where have all the space combat games gone? I am not merely talking about arcade-style space shooters that are being buoyed by retro-style games or rereleases on the XBLA and PSN (the present downtime excluded) or combat games like Halo which involve space but is not necessarily the aspect that is the most focused on. I mean games like those of the Rogue Squadron or Wing Commander series, where you piloted star fighters and participated in large-scale space battles (though the original Rogue Squadron technically took place on all terrestrial battlefields).
 
The last game that I acquired that ascribed to that genre in any particular form was Starfox: Assault, which was not only bad (though I feel that most of that can be laid that it was trying to break into a third-shooter) but was also released during the last console generation. Even Rogue Squadron developer Factor 5 only appearance this console generation was Lair, an air combat game couched in high fantasy. What the hell happened?
 
To be honest, I really wish I knew. All things considered, I would surmise that it would it would be developers shifting focus to appeal to genres that appealed wider audiences. I suppose I can understand that, all good things do come to an end eventually and all that, but that being said, it should have at least gone out with a bang, instead of sliding into obscurity alongside nostalgic sighs designed to block away memories of unpleasant final moments.
 
I suppose not all hope is lost for that sort experience. Space Combat’s close cousin Air Combat is still afloat, though I haven’t been into that quite as much, and the fact that a lot of the old PC Space Combat games are still kicking around the internet, and Steam has a huge back-library of old games. Come to think of it, I still have all the Rogue Squadron games, and I think my old disk for X-Wing: Alliance is still lying around somewhere. The old games themselves are still around to be sure, but what I really wish for is a focused Space Combat game for a current generation console or PC.
 
As far as I can see, the Space Combat genre is dead, and has passed on to the realm of fond memories. Perhaps in the future, some niche-developer will revive the Space Combat genre, but given the current video game landscape I am just not seeing any hope for it. Rest in peace Space Combat games, I had a great deal of fun playing you, and will likely be making quite a few nostalgia purchases on you.
 
P. S.: If anyone can find a Space Combat game that was released in the current console generation that you think I should be aware of, please tell me about it and I will gladly check it out and rethink my stance on the matter. Also, if anyone knows about any visual mods for X-Wing: Alliance, I could use a recommendation in that regard. I can play it again without it, but I would like to give the game a few touch-ups.


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Dear Publishers: Please Give Developers Some Space
Posted on Thursday, May 5 2011 @ 08:20:09 Eastern

In my past few posts I have laid a lot at the feet of the developers for improving their games, but I do not do so to be vindictive toward them. Taking into account the sheer amount of ambition that goes into developing games, I am fairly certain that most industry developers do wish to make improvements along the lines of what myself and other commentators badger on about, and certainly there are plenty of independent developers who do their best to create the best experiences they can with more limited resources. I think one of the major roadblocks that need to be dealt with is the publishers.

I am very much aware that video games are a business and need to operate through more industrial methods. The publishers hold the money and manage the budgets, and in the end it is their say in what gets made. They want a guarantee that they’ll get a good return on the games produced under their label. This is generally the source on why there is so much saturation in particular genres, which currently seems to be the First/Third person shooter genre.

As much as I understand why this the prevailing trend, it prevents development and innovation in terms of the overall game quality. I wish the independents developers could get more recognition for what they make and given more resources to work with, who do their best to innovate and develop their games.

In this case I think the best solution would come up as a compromise, if we want truly fresh games on the market. I think it should be a system of merit, rather than a restrictive field of “produce this game” for developers. A publisher would sponsor a handful rising independent developers, give them a limited budget to work with, but allow them pursue their own projects. They would then release the resulting games, and if one of the experimental titles proves to successful, raise the budget for that developer and encourage them to do top their previous milestone, while at the same time, the publisher would also be able to continue the sale of the current "cash crop" titles which are currently in high demand. This system would give new developers a better chance to show off their new game to larger audience, while the publisher has relatively little risk, and can continue to make money.

I am aware that this requires an awful lot of faith on the part of publishers to not act like complete pricks, but if something was done to put more spotlight on smaller and independent developers, I think that it would do wonders in enriching the market for video games.


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The Graphical Apex
Posted on Friday, April 29 2011 @ 11:11:14 Eastern

I think I’m about satisfied with level of graphic quality games are capable of achieving. Some of my associates, along with plenty of other people, would (and likely will) call me out on the spot as soon as my words hit this page, but I implore...   read more...

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Parody In Games: Balancing Homage With Innovation
Posted on Sunday, April 24 2011 @ 18:54:36 Eastern

I love a serious story in a video game. It helps the world open up and often helps add some emotional weight to itself and by extension usually establishes a more personal relationship with the player and a game. After playing games consecutively tho...   read more...

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Video Games: Art Or Fun?
Posted on Thursday, April 14 2011 @ 14:47:11 Eastern

The discussion about video games as an art form has become a widespread topic throughout the gaming community. Just the other day, a few friends of mine were having discussing it in quite some detail and I was listening in passively on it, until one ...   read more...

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Story iIn Video Games: How To Implement It Properly
Posted on Sunday, February 27 2011 @ 14:21:55 Eastern

When I step into Gamestop and gaze at the shelves of video games, I can hardly keep myself from shaking my head in wonder at how video games are growing as story-telling medium. As that line of though goes through my mind, I find myself applying that...   read more...

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