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

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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