August 18th, 2006

Dropping cut scenes from narrative-based games is a pretty sexy idea. It makes you feel more integrated into the storyline and more connected with the characters around you. Plus, when it’s done right, it’s just cool. I’m thinking Half Life 2 and details, details, details.

But the thing about cut scenes is that they don’t just offer a controlled version of your environment, they offer a controlled version of you. And when that element is eliminated… Well, it bears thinking about, even just for a moment, what a weirdo you look like to the people who are kindly trying to impart necessarily plot info to your crazy ass.

Because, while friends and admirers address you as a renowned, respected scientist, are you standing at attention with a well-knowing smile, or are you wielding a crowbar and smashing to pieces all their wordly possessions? You don’t have to answer that; everybody smashes.

Think of the years of bad etiquette training we’ve received from video games. You’re Link. You’re exploring the home of a friendly villager. He tells you some important piece of information. And what do you do in return? You smash his collection of earthen pots in search of a few measly rupees. Low.

Tags: Blog

11 Responses to “The Nutty Professor”

  1. Coherent Says:

    Cut scenes that present a version of you that is incompatible with the way you play the game damages your suspension of disbelief.

    The solution to this is for the developers to change the way NPC’s interact with the player character. They need to write a quick little emotional evaluation engine so that if you’re acting inappropriately, they won’t interact with you.

    This has been done in games before, and usually successfully, come to think of it.

    But what we’re really looking for is true, advanced, human-level RPG AI software, aren’t we? Huh, huh? I thought so :) That’s why dungeon masters belong in MMO’s. Computer games just don’t know how to really ham it up without human help.

  2. Malky Says:

    Or we could just have cutscenes changed into events that allow the player to control the character similarly to normal gameplay.

    It has some serious holes (what if I just leave town when the aliens invade?) but it wouldn’t spoil the immersion so long as you are still in control of the character.

    Think of it like the part in Ocarina when you defeated Ganondorf and the castle collapsed. That could have been a cutscene. Zelda and Link could have been shown running down a collapsing staircase and escaping the castle. But instead, the designers chose to make you escort Zelda to the exit. Isn’t that so much cooler?

    The trick might not be for the game to move Link for you, but just to take away the pots for a while.

  3. Scott Jon Siegel Says:

    Everyone knows that Freeman’s an asshole. They just pretend that they don’t. -sj

  4. Bonnie Says:

    A delicious yet finely aged Penny Arcade with a subtle hint of cinnamon. An excellent choice.

  5. Patrick Says:

    What you describe was Richard Garriot’s rationale for creating Ultima IV. The next step is to make conversation with people organic enough that there’s character empathy.

  6. Player1 Says:

    This all comes back to conventions. Of course we smash the boxes/urns. As seasoned gamers we expect rewards for doing so. Imagine my surprise when the inhabitants of Morrowind called it stealing, and called the police!

    Narrative in games is balancing gamer choice with author intent. Being gently prodded down a path is my preference to losing all control to a cut scene. As long as there is the illusion of choice, I stay immersed. Better still of course, is a variety of good choices to choose from, each with narrative consequences.But that’s really hard and most games don’t want to try that hard.

    Just make that wall impassable, the rubble fall just so, and lead me through the linear level you WW2 FPS clone!!!! arg, sorry, the lack of innovation in gaming is making me angry again.

  7. Coldstone Says:

    I have played cutscenes that are repetitive crap with no outcome but what the game creaters want (some games feel that way). I hate going through the ‘living’ cutscenes sometimes, especially if its in front of a Boss that I have just failed to beat several times in a row.

    However, don’t break the vases in the rich man’s house on Windfall or the original owner will charge you for those vases, unless of course you are broke :)

    Good story telling is integrated into the game, otherwise, I just skip it after seeing it once.

  8. Bonnie Says:

    This all comes back to conventions. Of course we smash the boxes/urns.
    Help me out here: What game am I thinking of–maybe it’s Res. Evil 4–where, most of the time, crates contain something helpful. But every so often, you smash one, and get bitten by a snake?

  9. FerrousBuller Says:

    “But every so often, you smash one, and get bitten by a snake?”

    That was certainly in RE4. IIRC, if you were quick enough, you could kill the snake with your knife and get something for it.

  10. FerrousBuller Says:

    “But the thing about cut scenes is that they don't just offer a controlled version of your environment, they offer a controlled version of you.”

    That’s an interesting way of putting it, because a lot of the time, my in-game character isn’t me: I don’t feel like my onscreen avatar is an extension of myself; but rather, I am the invisible hand of fate which guides them on their path. I am not an actor playing a role; I am a stage manager influencing what happens on stage. Thus, the loss of control during cutscenes doesn’t usually bother me, because I never felt like I was “in” the game in the first place.

    Does that make any sense?

  11. Bonnie Says:

    Does that make any sense?
    Sure :). But I do think it can be both at once–or I mean, as a player, you can get a sense of both set-ups being true.

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