Crafting an Effective Opening Movie

A common element that many games have, regardless of their particular genre or play style, is the inclusion of an opening cinematic of some sort that plays before the title screen appears, or that only appears if the title screen is left on long enough for the game to enter its attract loop. For some people, these movies aren't necessarily that important, and they'll skip through them at the first opportunity every time. Others, like myself, tend to watch them at least once, if only to get a taste of what's to come before pressing Start.

Neither side is particularly right or wrong in these cases. Technically speaking, the open movie in a game is superfluous; extra padding to view before actually getting into the game proper. If the movie is boring or over-long, it will lose the player's interest, but if it's well paced, it can have the effect of increasing the player's interest in what the game has to offer by presenting them with concepts or moments that they can only see in their full context by actually playing the game. Sort of like a movie trailer, in a way.

Hell, the opening movie to Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner plays out almost exactly like a cinematic trailer, complete with a splash screen of credits near the end. But given that it's a Hideo Kojima game, this might already be obvious to a lot of you reading this. It probably also won't surprise you, given its origin, how utterly indulgent it is:

Holy hell, this video is nearly eight minutes long. Also, it gives away pretty much the entirety of the plot. On the other hand, the first time I watched this opening movie, oh so many years ago, the crazy montages of gameplay had me excited, and for good reason. It shows flashes of all sorts of the fights the player encounters. At no point in the game does it feel like it's repeating itself. Every stage and every boss is a unique experience, and it's demonstrated to great effect.

But an intro movie doesn't need to show gameplay to be effective. Take, for example, the opening movie of Valkyrie Profile.

The entire intro is animated in a style that isn't seen again until briefly at the end of the game. So what does it show? Actually, a lot of important story elements. Some of which are incredibly spoiler-tastic. The thing is, there's no way for the player to know this. The movie is presented in a style that is so unlike the majority of the game itself that what scenes are depicted are impossible to put into context until the game has been played. And not just any simple play-through, either. It depicts characters and events that are only significant if you put in the effort to get the game's best ending; the path toward which is as byzantine as they come, and which diverges wildly from the "average" ending path in both narrative and gameplay content. This movie provides a taste of what is to come should the player go that extra mile. And speaking as one that holds Valkyrie Profile as quite possibly my favorite game ever, that extra mile is worth it.

Which is why I was so disappointed in the presentation of the PSP version. The remake drops the above animated sequence entirely and replaces it with a standard montage of clips from PSP version-specific cutscenes that, while more representative of the game content, don't pack the same punch. Especially for someone like me, who had played and beaten the PS1 version. It even contains a clip from the best ending's final cinematic (also redone in CGI).

And I'm not particularly fond of the remix of the opening theme, either.

To be sure, there's a balance that needs to be struck. What's more important? Demonstrating gameplay, or teasing the story? Should it contain elements from the game itself, or serve its purpose as an entirely original production? The answers to these questions of course depend entirely on the games.

With all of this in mind, what are some of the game intro videos that really caught your attention, for good or ill? What is it you like about them? Do you still watch them to completion when you boot the game up?

13 Comments
14 Comments
Posted by Hailinel

A common element that many games have, regardless of their particular genre or play style, is the inclusion of an opening cinematic of some sort that plays before the title screen appears, or that only appears if the title screen is left on long enough for the game to enter its attract loop. For some people, these movies aren't necessarily that important, and they'll skip through them at the first opportunity every time. Others, like myself, tend to watch them at least once, if only to get a taste of what's to come before pressing Start.

Neither side is particularly right or wrong in these cases. Technically speaking, the open movie in a game is superfluous; extra padding to view before actually getting into the game proper. If the movie is boring or over-long, it will lose the player's interest, but if it's well paced, it can have the effect of increasing the player's interest in what the game has to offer by presenting them with concepts or moments that they can only see in their full context by actually playing the game. Sort of like a movie trailer, in a way.

Hell, the opening movie to Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner plays out almost exactly like a cinematic trailer, complete with a splash screen of credits near the end. But given that it's a Hideo Kojima game, this might already be obvious to a lot of you reading this. It probably also won't surprise you, given its origin, how utterly indulgent it is:

Holy hell, this video is nearly eight minutes long. Also, it gives away pretty much the entirety of the plot. On the other hand, the first time I watched this opening movie, oh so many years ago, the crazy montages of gameplay had me excited, and for good reason. It shows flashes of all sorts of the fights the player encounters. At no point in the game does it feel like it's repeating itself. Every stage and every boss is a unique experience, and it's demonstrated to great effect.

But an intro movie doesn't need to show gameplay to be effective. Take, for example, the opening movie of Valkyrie Profile.

The entire intro is animated in a style that isn't seen again until briefly at the end of the game. So what does it show? Actually, a lot of important story elements. Some of which are incredibly spoiler-tastic. The thing is, there's no way for the player to know this. The movie is presented in a style that is so unlike the majority of the game itself that what scenes are depicted are impossible to put into context until the game has been played. And not just any simple play-through, either. It depicts characters and events that are only significant if you put in the effort to get the game's best ending; the path toward which is as byzantine as they come, and which diverges wildly from the "average" ending path in both narrative and gameplay content. This movie provides a taste of what is to come should the player go that extra mile. And speaking as one that holds Valkyrie Profile as quite possibly my favorite game ever, that extra mile is worth it.

Which is why I was so disappointed in the presentation of the PSP version. The remake drops the above animated sequence entirely and replaces it with a standard montage of clips from PSP version-specific cutscenes that, while more representative of the game content, don't pack the same punch. Especially for someone like me, who had played and beaten the PS1 version. It even contains a clip from the best ending's final cinematic (also redone in CGI).

And I'm not particularly fond of the remix of the opening theme, either.

To be sure, there's a balance that needs to be struck. What's more important? Demonstrating gameplay, or teasing the story? Should it contain elements from the game itself, or serve its purpose as an entirely original production? The answers to these questions of course depend entirely on the games.

With all of this in mind, what are some of the game intro videos that really caught your attention, for good or ill? What is it you like about them? Do you still watch them to completion when you boot the game up?

Online
Edited by ThePaleKing

Personally I see no need for the intro to demonstrate gameplay, because if I've spent money on the game I already know the gist of what I'm getting; it can also lead to spoilers. I detest when the game shows me boss encounters in the opening cinematic -- or in the video that plays if you stay on the start menu too long -- since I personally prefer to take every boss encounter as a surprise. That last thing I want to see is someone else displaying the tactics needed to defeat the boss. It's like having a FAQ shoved in your face.

My sensitivity to spoilers extends to the story as well; if there is a mystery surrounding the identity of the primary antagonist, I don't want the curtain to be drawn back on that in the fucking introduction to the game. SMT: Nocturne was an offender on both counts -- story and gameplay -- showing you just about every major boss encounter in the game, and throwing in a scene from one of the ending cinematics as well (only in the Japanese intro).

I think an intro should be something that introduces you to the world of the game, and may offer some back story, but should primarily be a tool that gets you pumped up for diving into the experience; there is no need to tell the player things that will be revealed throughout the course of the game.

Two of my favorite intros.

Posted by Turambar

A good intro movie sets up, but doesn't spoil.  I don't necessarily mind seeing things through an in-game engine, or gameplay, but it shouldn't be an indulgent taste of what the game is going to play like.  In that sense, the opening cinematic for Zone of the Enders feels far more like a misplaced trailer than anything else.  
 
It should set up and make you excited to explore the world.  The opening cinematic, because of its usual FMV nature, can depict the world in a far more detailed and lush tone than the standard in-game engine or utilize camera angles to depict something in the in-game engine that the player cannot.  Games need to take advantage of that fact.  VP's opener for example does so by showing the characters in far more detail than the game is capable of.  The Demon's Souls intro posted above, not so much the second half, but the first half with the fly-over tour of various areas gets the player ready for the bleak nature of the environment.  
    

  
Something like this Super Robot Wars trailer doesn't show actual gameplay, nor even the game world.  Some might even say that the detailed sprite work of the in-game graphics looks better than the CG cut-scene.  But the action is a set up for the hot blooded robot on robot violence that the game is all about, and does a good job of depicting it in a real time setting.
Posted by Hailinel

@ThePaleKing: All very good points. I forgot how evocative that the intro to Demon's Souls actually is. I played only very little of the game (I learned the hard way that I was not in a mode that was really ready for its unforgiving nature at the time), but damn if it doesn't have atmosphere. It does a great job of setting up the atmosphere of the game without necessarily showing any actual gameplay. And there is a point where a game's intro can just spoil too much (as is really the case with the ZOE2 intro above).

@Turambar: Also all very good points. I like how the SRW intro really sets the tone of the game, even if it doesn't display anything regarding the actual game looks or plays. It doesn't bind itself to the game or its mechanics, but still manages to get the point across very well.

I think another example of a great opening is the one for Persona 4:

It doesn't display anything of the actual game, but rather establishes the themes through the use of a television motif and the tone of the music and color palette. It also introduces all of the major player characters in simple ways that define them, as well as elements of the murder mystery and the calendar system that drive the game forward.

Online
Posted by Animasta

my favorite opening.. is probably either The Void or Persona 2: Innocent Sin. I think it's more of the fact that I really like the persona 2 song though, so I'd probably give it up to the void.

tells you all you need to know: yo this game be crazy and artsy as fuck

Posted by Hailinel

@Laketown: I had never even heard of The Void and that intro already has me interested. Wow.

Online
Posted by Aegon
Posted by Enigma777

Two words: Soul Reaver

Posted by ahoodedfigure

Cinematics were prestige attract modes that said "hey look, DVD quality stuff going on! Buy me!" back when this stuff wasn't fully capable of being ubiquitous.
 
But sort of like TV's attract mode, the opening theme song, they also serve to put the player in the proper mood, or at least get a feel for the characters (who may not get a chance to emote this way again for the rest of the game).
 
VP was a game I regretted missing out on more than most, I think, just because I loved the premise. I heard its execution was less than ideal but... I still wannit, and I'm a bit confused by the new releases.

Posted by ThePhantomnaut

Metal Gear Solid.

Posted by Bloodgraiv3

I think a well crafted opening can do miles for a game, just recently the opening to Resistance 3 really hooked me to play throughout the entire game in one sitting. As for favorites, no idea.

Edited by AngelN7

I think the this one does exactly what you should expect from a great opening movie , It dosn´t tell you anything in particular about plot but it shows you a big world and that you are free to explore it and gives you a great sense of adventure there are many others great openings but to me Ocarina of time was the first one that let that impression on me, I also liked Twilight Princess opening .

Posted by Simulacrum

@Hailinel: If your interested in the void, you should really check out this review.

Posted by Hailinel

@ahoodedfigure said:

Cinematics were prestige attract modes that said "hey look, DVD quality stuff going on! Buy me!" back when this stuff wasn't fully capable of being ubiquitous. But sort of like TV's attract mode, the opening theme song, they also serve to put the player in the proper mood, or at least get a feel for the characters (who may not get a chance to emote this way again for the rest of the game). VP was a game I regretted missing out on more than most, I think, just because I loved the premise. I heard its execution was less than ideal but... I still wannit, and I'm a bit confused by the new releases.

Valkyrie Profile is an interesting game. It's not really hard to play, but the requirements for earning the game's best ending are purposely obscured. But they're obscured in a way that, in seeking them out, makes sense for the context of your character, as it requires balancing your duties as a valkyrie with doing things that Odin wouldn't necessarily approve of. If you can find it, I'd recommend playing it. The PS2 sequel, while having evolved the gameplay, unfortunately doesn't give the Einherjar the same treatment as in the original, and a plot twist ruined the whole experience for me.

@Simulacrum said:

@Hailinel: If your interested in the void, you should really check out this review.

Good lord. That game sounds amazing. And completely insane.

@AngelN7: The Twilight Princess opening is definitely subdued, but it really nailed what was one of the most fascinating aspects of Ocarina of Time back when it was new. A large, expansive Hyrule that could be explored in three dimensions.

Online