Monday, February 16, 2009

Cut Scenes: When Video Games Become Movies

Now some of you may or may not know that I enjoy movies. I’m willing to bet that I probably watch more than your average “movie fan” and have on occasion been known to talk in great, and generally angry, detail about various movies. Now with that in mind I’m going to complain about cut scenes. It’s not that I’m against cut scenes, if used correctly they can be a crucial and important part of any game but here’s my issue. At some point, whether it is length of an individual scene or frequency of cut scene occurrences they stop aiding the plot of the game and instead take over in a savage blood coup. Now I know that most of us fear change and at the slightest sight of it we run and hide under our covers and wait for mommy to come in and tell us everything is alright, but let’s face it at this point in video game history we’re at a place where we don’t honestly need cut scenes. Cut scenes apart from acting as a narrative device only have one other function and that is removing the player from the world that the game had more than likely spend a chunk of time trying to draw you into. It’s at the cut scene point where you’re no longer an active participant but rather a passive spectator.

Now, an opening cut scene is somewhat crucial, it helps ground the player on the world they’re entering into and helps establish a place and time. Games that instantly drop you into the action can be jarring, which itself can be an effective narrative tool, but are then usually followed by a cut scene that pulls you out of the game you just got your feet wet in. Sometimes developers try to sugarcoat it and add the word “interactive” to their cut scenes but usually this is only a gimmick packed with busy work to try and trick the player into believing that they’re still actually playing the game. Take for example Assassins Creed; cut scenes gave the players the chance to pay attention to binary code effects in the background rather than the actual dialogue being spoken so they could change get the chance to button mass their way to a different camera angle. Then you have my main problem with cut scenes, when they appear more frequently than the phrase “Hero your health is low” in Fable. We’ve all experienced this game, you’re running your little character around shooting and exploding creatures with glee and whoa, cut scene. Ok we sit through the cut scene and walk down the hallway and what’s that? It’s another cut scene. Ok, we sit through that one and walk up to the guy with the giant arrow on his head saying “COME TALK TO ME” and knock knock:

Who’s there?
Cut scene.
Cut scene who?
Fuck you you’re not playing anymore because it’s another cut scene.

The biggest offender in my opinion is Metal Gear Solid 4. Referring to this as a “game” only applies if you consider the “let’s see who can sit quietly the longest game” (commonly employed by my parents as a child) an actual game. It becomes very clear very early on with Metal Gear Solid 4 that you’re not playing a game, you purchased a movie that on occasion will allow you to control the main character, much like a choose your own adventure book.

In my fantasy utopia where every game is well thought out and beta tested by large chested women cut scenes will go the way of the dinosaur and be replaced by more scripted events. Not to say that every game needs the endless dialogue tree where saying nothing or replying slowly are valid options (Mass Effect comes to mind) to give the player as much input into a scripted scene as possible are necessary but giving the player the feel that even though a scripted event is happening they’re still a part of this world. Bioshock does a fantastic job of storytelling and really only relies on two cut scenes. The first is a brief intro which does a good job of setting up the environment that you’re in, then as the game slowly weans the player into the simulated world you’re privy to witnessing certain scenes that help get across the opening narrative. Shortly thereafter you’re locked in a room as a scripted scene plays out that will never change by way of the player’s actions but because you can still move freely in the locked room it lends a sense of urgency and stress to the scene that is unfolding. The only scripted scene that takes control away from the player blends seamlessly into the game play experience by making it relevant that the player is no longer in control.

Basically, leave movies to Hollywood, let gamers play.


aaron said...

MGS4? Obviously you've never played Xenogears or the Xenosaga series. Xenogears is my favorite game of all time, or is it my favorite movie of all time?

Epic Fail said...

I never actually played any of the Xenosaga series but I have heard legends from ancient men around campfires that speak of a game with endless amounts of cut scenes. In their native tongue they refer to this beast as "Xeno the Destroyer"

aaron said...

Yes. . well allow me to regale you with stories of Weltall and Fenrir. . . The destruction of Gnosis and God, and then allow me to tell you of a 6 hour long cut scene, the kind that tests a man's patience like none before. It really is an amazing experience, to bad Ellyham wouldn't die!

Barbcult said...

"Snake Eater!!" Sorry, you mentioned Metal Gear and anytime someone references MG, that song pops in my head.

Naked Eskimo said...

You just summed up why I quit the MGS series. It isn't just that there are endless amounts of cut scenes. It's that the cut scenes aren't good. The dialogue in the opening sequence for MGS 3 was Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie bad. Cut scenes should be sparse to add to their impact. Best example? Wrathgate in WoW. I got to that and almost shit myself at it's awesomeness. Blizzard does an amazing job of telling the story as you're playing the game, but when they do give you a cut scene, by god, it is worth the time to watch it.

Fuck Hideo Kojima. Fuck MGS. Fuck all the little fanboys that run around proclaiming him to be an amazing storyteller.

Epic Fail said...

Yeah the Wrathgate chain blew my mind.

Bad Fish said...

Ha I so knew you were going to mention MGS4. When a couple of friends of mine picked up the game, I warned them: Hey guys, there are a LOT of cut scenes, at least nine hours worth and one of them is an hour and a half long, so, be ready for it, that's like an entire movie. They looked at me like I was an idiot and completely ignored me.

Several days later, sure enough, they were bitching about the movie-length cut scenes and I'm like told you so, you moronic "you're a girl so you don't know shit" jack for brains!