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Who’s in Control? – A Look at the Use/Overuse of Cut-Scenes in Video Games

by on May 5, 2012
 

Who's in Control? - A Look at the Use/Overuse of Cut-Scenes in Video GamesOver the past few years or so, video games have become a booming media outlet. Some may argue that the genre is more popular than television and film, outlets that now have more in common with gaming, with the complexity of the production and writing in games following a format very similar to that of a movie. Some have distinct acts and episodes emphasized by miniature movie cut-scenes or interactive sequences known as quick time events (QTEs). Advancements in presentation involving camera angles and shadowing have also added to the overall experience over the past couple of years.

Mimicking movies has definitely added depth to the gaming experience but some would argue there is an inherent deficiency by doing so. Some feel that cinematics and QTEs actually take away from the experience as they take control away from the player. Many make the point that an over use of cut-scenes and QTEs shorten the actual time you spend with true gameplay. This may be a fact, depending on how it’s viewed, and the discretion of the player, although some gamers see it as an easy way for developers to avoid adding another action sequence; personally I’m pretty sure either way it is plenty of work for developers.

Metal Gear Solid - Cinematic

One of the more cinematic games is the Metal Gear Solid series, the first of which was released on the original PlayStation. When first released it became a benchmark in gaming, not only because of its style of stealth/action gameplay, but the way the intricate story was fleshed out by slick cut scenes during the missions, as well as at the end. These scenes were integral as they answered the why of the five Ws, speaking in terms of writing, the who, what, when, and where left to be answered purely by the gameplay. Until this point I just accepted most games for what they were. How come that flower makes me shoot fireballs? It just does. Why are these aliens attacking earth? Because they want to. Why did the D.A.R.P.A. chief randomly die when I just saved him? Stay tuned, a cut scene will soon tell you. A game as in depth as this would not work without its fair share of well-done cinema. It had the perfect balance in my opinion.

A few years later Metal gear Solid continued the cinematic story telling with Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, featuring refined and new gameplay aspects, superb graphics, and of course high end cut-scenes that highlighted a somewhat convoluted story. Quite an abundance of mini movies as a matter of fact; so much that some gamers took issue with it. “They are taking the control out of my hands!”, “I paid my cash to play a game, not watch a movie!” were just two of the many comments that I heard. I personally did not mind them, even if I did feel they were a bit lengthy, the scenes were well done and generally action packed. I enjoyed this sort of interactive movie that Konami had created and continued to deliver for a few more instalments. Metal Gear Solid 3 received some of the same criticisms, but not to the extent of its final iteration on PlayStation 3. Before the game was even released, there were rumours of 90 minute single cut scenes. This was not to everyone’s liking, but it turned out not to be completely true, some are quite long, especially the full ending sequence. The whole game has about 9GB of cut-scenes altogether, which is a large number considering a full length feature film in mp4 format is about a 1GB on average.

God of War - QTE

I’m pretty sure taking control from players is the last thing a designer wants, especially when presenting a new IP. Back in 2000, 1999 in Japan, one of our recent Hall of Fame entries was released in Shenmue. This marked the first time I was introduced to the QTE system. It’s sort of an interactive cut-scene where timed button presses create a reactionary response from your character. I can remember vividly a small fight in a bar involving Shemue’s infamous crew of sailors being one of its first QTEs. It was quite fun, even though I was not in complete control of the character, the choreographed fight scene animated well, and had a more realistic feel to it. Today, more games have taken on this innovation, namely the God of War series. The use of QTEs seemed to be a bit of a novelty, some fans seemed to grow tired of not being able to control all the fighting, but I personally thought the QTEs offered some of the most gruesome and engaging scenes in the series, especially in God of War 3. Other games have followed suit but Quantic Dream took cut-scenes and QTEs to another level with their games Indigo Prophecy (known as Fahrenheit in some areas) as well as the more recent Heavy Rain. These games almost solely rely on usage of cut scenes and QTE. So much in fact there were events for trivial tasks such as sweeping or drinking a cup of coffee. Ambitious titles to say the least, which I felt were well done because of the presentation of the story. Though done very well, I realize these games are not everyone’s cup of tea. Not everyone wants to press a button and have the character react with 3-4 different actions the player cannot control.

Gamers have certain expectations when they sit down to enjoy their past time. Most gamers turn their systems on to experience a sort of escapism, in most instances we partake in activities we could not experience in our own lives, so I do get that there is a disruption of that feeling during times without gameplay. On the other hand, and this is truly my own opinion, I feel these areas filled by cut-scenes add to the experience. Most of the time you learn more about an area or character which I feel further adds to the immersion of the game. I don’t mind QTEs either, being a turn based RPG buff, I do not mind not being in total control of the fighting as long as the story and visuals are entertaining. I guess it’s a matter of preference and expectation. It will all be relative to the gamer in control how the level of idle gameplay moments affect their own experiences.

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  • Anonymous
    May 7, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Interesting article. I struggle with the whole cutscene thing (do I think they are good or not) and even more so QTE’s. Overall I think it is game dependent.
     
    God of War and QTE’s fit together like haqnd and glove. However, one of the Tomb Raider (was it Legend?) games of this generation stuck the off QTE in and it was a jarring experience for me. I really hated it and you could see that the designers really wanted to stick in a cutscene, but were also worried about taking away control from the player. So they chose to give the player a tiny amount of control (which is all a QTE ever is) but as it was such a rare occurence it just didn’t work.
     
    Then you have games such as Uncharted 2 (haven’t played 3, so can’t comment on that) where there are far too many cutscenes. Walk a little, cutscene. Start a series of platform jumps, cutscene in the middle. Yes, it’s “cinematic”, but the really good looking bits, where you have great and distinct animation, the cinematic flair that all of us praise the Uncharted games for are also the bits where you are not in control. I don’t really mind cutscenes at that are there to further the story and usually bookend a ‘chapter’ in a game, but what really grates are dozens of mini-cutscenes where control is constantly taken away from me so I can see what the game designers would really like the game to look at. At times in U2 I felt that my playing the game was getting in the way of the B-movie the designers were trying to show me.

    Reply

  • Anonymous
    May 7, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Interesting article. I struggle with the whole cutscene thing (do I think they are good or not) and even more so QTE’s. Overall I think it is game dependent.
     
    God of War and QTE’s fit together like haqnd and glove. However, one of the Tomb Raider (was it Legend?) games of this generation stuck the off QTE in and it was a jarring experience for me. I really hated it and you could see that the designers really wanted to stick in a cutscene, but were also worried about taking away control from the player. So they chose to give the player a tiny amount of control (which is all a QTE ever is) but as it was such a rare occurence it just didn’t work.
     
    Then you have games such as Uncharted 2 (haven’t played 3, so can’t comment on that) where there are far too many cutscenes. Walk a little, cutscene. Start a series of platform jumps, cutscene in the middle. Yes, it’s “cinematic”, but the really good looking bits, where you have great and distinct animation, the cinematic flair that all of us praise the Uncharted games for are also the bits where you are not in control. I don’t really mind cutscenes at that are there to further the story and usually bookend a ‘chapter’ in a game, but what really grates are dozens of mini-cutscenes where control is constantly taken away from me so I can see what the game designers would really like the game to look at. At times in U2 I felt that my playing the game was getting in the way of the B-movie the designers were trying to show me.

    Reply

  • May 7, 2012 at 6:55 am

    There are a couple of things that I really think that I require in order to enjoy both of these concepts, but if they’re done properly I think they can both add to the gaming experience. Conversely, if they’re done wrong, they can ruin an entire game.

    Firstly, Quick-Time Events (QTE’s). I think that these can add to the gaming experience, certainly, giving the player a little bit of control during what would normally be a cutscene. However, I think that they have to be done in a very specific way. I think it’s God of War III that puts the buttons in the area of the screen that corresponds to where the button is on the controller, for example, if it want you to press the triangle button, it’ll place the button at the top of the screen, if it wants you to press square, it’ll be on the left, and so on. This method of showing which button presses are required means that the player doesn’t actually have to see which button they need to press, they just need to see which area of the screen the icon is appearing and they’ll know. This means that they’re not taking their eyes off of the action on the screen; which is what they’re supposed to be watching anyway.

    In terms of cutscenes it’s very simple. I want to be able to pause them. There are too many games nowadays that have 10 minute 20 minutes, and sometimes longer, cutscenes without the ability to pause them. I’m sick of cutscenes starting to play and wondering to myself if it’s going to last long, and if I press the ‘Start’ button, am I going to skip the story (something that I care more about than the gameplay in some cases) or is it going to pause. I wish there was some standardisation in this respect, having all game cutscenes pause when the ‘Start’ button is pressed, but I doubt that will ever happen.

    Yeah, a bit of a rant there but, in my eyes at least, both QTE’s and cutscenes could be seen as something positive, they just need to be implemented properly, and thoughtfully.

    Reply

    • Anonymous
      May 7, 2012 at 10:37 am

      Ah yes, the non-pausable element of most cutscenes is very probably the most annoying nature of them. Especially, as you say, that often you have no idea how long said cutscene is going to last.

      Reply

    • Anonymous
      May 7, 2012 at 10:37 am

      Ah yes, the non-pausable element of most cutscenes is very probably the most annoying nature of them. Especially, as you say, that often you have no idea how long said cutscene is going to last.

      Reply

  • May 7, 2012 at 6:55 am

    There are a couple of things that I really think that I require in order to enjoy both of these concepts, but if they’re done properly I think they can both add to the gaming experience. Conversely, if they’re done wrong, they can ruin an entire game.

    Firstly, Quick-Time Events (QTE’s). I think that these can add to the gaming experience, certainly, giving the player a little bit of control during what would normally be a cutscene. However, I think that they have to be done in a very specific way. I think it’s God of War III that puts the buttons in the area of the screen that corresponds to where the button is on the controller, for example, if it want you to press the triangle button, it’ll place the button at the top of the screen, if it wants you to press square, it’ll be on the left, and so on. This method of showing which button presses are required means that the player doesn’t actually have to see which button they need to press, they just need to see which area of the screen the icon is appearing and they’ll know. This means that they’re not taking their eyes off of the action on the screen; which is what they’re supposed to be watching anyway.

    In terms of cutscenes it’s very simple. I want to be able to pause them. There are too many games nowadays that have 10 minute 20 minutes, and sometimes longer, cutscenes without the ability to pause them. I’m sick of cutscenes starting to play and wondering to myself if it’s going to last long, and if I press the ‘Start’ button, am I going to skip the story (something that I care more about than the gameplay in some cases) or is it going to pause. I wish there was some standardisation in this respect, having all game cutscenes pause when the ‘Start’ button is pressed, but I doubt that will ever happen.

    Yeah, a bit of a rant there but, in my eyes at least, both QTE’s and cutscenes could be seen as something positive, they just need to be implemented properly, and thoughtfully.

    Reply

  • May 7, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Like you have stated, the Metal Gear Solid series is one of the worst culprits for the gameplay-cutscene balance being uneven. MGS2 remains the silliest for me, as at least in number 4 they are wrapping a lot of loose ends up, so fans wanted a lot of closure and cutscenes are one of the few ways to do this. More interactivity through QTEs might have livened up the MGS cutscenes a little.

    But then you look at Jurassic Park: The Game. I enjoyed it, but it does rely too heavily on QTEs. This does mean that there are few cinematics where the player will be watching passively, so you always feel involved – but then the core gameplay is all QTEs, and the game is more of an interactive movie than a game.

    It is a delicate balance.

    Reply

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