You Got Cinematography In My Interactivity

I have constantly read that cut scenes in videogames are banes.

“Taking control from the player to watch a five minute cut scene is bullshit!”

“Why can’t I be doing that instead of watching it?”

 “What makes you think that I want to watch adolescents with obnoxiously great hair mope for a mo?”

 These are not real quotes, for the record.

But I wanna play the devil’s advocate for a second. What’s wrong with well-done cut scenes in an interactive medium? Is it the loss of control? Is it the overly-expository dialogue? Nope. Cut scenes are only bad if the player has no interest in the happenings of the game. It could be well written, have the best acting, and have some of the most gorgeous graphics of any generation, but if the player doesn’t give two shits about the interplay between characters or the world itself, the cut scene is destined to fail.

It would be easy to cite Final Fantasy XIII as a case and point, but I’m gonna go with God of War. The second one actually.

There’s no denying that the God of War series has one of the best presentations of the previous and current generations. It’s goddamn pretty. Candy for the eyes and cake for the ears. It’s such a shame that I didn’t give a fuck about anything that revolved around the grotesque, Greek world.

The first in the series was alright, forcing cautious empathy upon the player regarding Kratos and his actions while still providing a big baddy to hate. There was the drive to get through the game, and the interest to see the cut scenes unfold. When I cut up that hydra in a QTE, I knew it would be worth it, as it would lead me further to the answer. “Who is Kratos? Why is he so pissy?” I listened to Athena babble about gods and their drama because I wanted to see how they related to Kratos, what he had done to deserve their hate. With such a backbone, the game propelled me to find out more about the context of Kratos’ situation, and thus each cut scene was a blessing. The story fell apart for me around the half-way point, but I commend the admirable effort and recognize that it just wasn’t for me. Kratos was too much of a douchebag and I lost interest in Greek mythology around the 6th grade.

So, okay, Santa Monica had created a semi-tragic Greek hero with a gory, if clichéd, background. I can dig it. I would watch those cut scenes no matter the lack of control or level of melodramatic writing, because I want more on the story. Cut scenes can’t eat away at interactivity, unless they are done in poor taste.

God of War II bathes in that poor taste. Don’t get me wrong, the game is a marvel to behold, and the first boss fight is one of the most memorable in video game history, but the game literally adds nothing to its world. Same gory Greece, same jackass Kratos, same steroid-abusing gods, same goddamn premise. And you know what? The player is expected to care! Care enough to get through the ten to twelve hour story, care enough to side with Kratos in his mission for revenge. No! These plot devices have simply diminished from the first game. They’ve become old and stagnant while still expecting you to think they’re pretty.

How does this affect the cut scenes? It makes one loathe them. It makes one wish that they would just end because they have little to no interest in what is happening to Kratos or any of the gore sacks the game likes to call characters. This situation has already been done, why would one care about it a second time?

If any game tries to pull a God of War II with its stories, the cut scenes will not just suffer; they will wither and die, no matter the production values. To hook the player in, developers have to make them care about something the game is trying to sell, whether it be the world, a character, or some major theme revolving around the story. A cut scene can only help expand on one of these things that interest the player.

That’s my hypothesis on why cut scenes are getting so my flak from the videogame community. It’s not because of the lack of control, rather, the lack of interest. But I could be totally off base or just speaking from my own experience.

What do you think? Do you think the inclusion of cut scenes helps or hampers videogames?    

10 Comments
11 Comments
Posted by Nonused

I have constantly read that cut scenes in videogames are banes.

“Taking control from the player to watch a five minute cut scene is bullshit!”

“Why can’t I be doing that instead of watching it?”

 “What makes you think that I want to watch adolescents with obnoxiously great hair mope for a mo?”

 These are not real quotes, for the record.

But I wanna play the devil’s advocate for a second. What’s wrong with well-done cut scenes in an interactive medium? Is it the loss of control? Is it the overly-expository dialogue? Nope. Cut scenes are only bad if the player has no interest in the happenings of the game. It could be well written, have the best acting, and have some of the most gorgeous graphics of any generation, but if the player doesn’t give two shits about the interplay between characters or the world itself, the cut scene is destined to fail.

It would be easy to cite Final Fantasy XIII as a case and point, but I’m gonna go with God of War. The second one actually.

There’s no denying that the God of War series has one of the best presentations of the previous and current generations. It’s goddamn pretty. Candy for the eyes and cake for the ears. It’s such a shame that I didn’t give a fuck about anything that revolved around the grotesque, Greek world.

The first in the series was alright, forcing cautious empathy upon the player regarding Kratos and his actions while still providing a big baddy to hate. There was the drive to get through the game, and the interest to see the cut scenes unfold. When I cut up that hydra in a QTE, I knew it would be worth it, as it would lead me further to the answer. “Who is Kratos? Why is he so pissy?” I listened to Athena babble about gods and their drama because I wanted to see how they related to Kratos, what he had done to deserve their hate. With such a backbone, the game propelled me to find out more about the context of Kratos’ situation, and thus each cut scene was a blessing. The story fell apart for me around the half-way point, but I commend the admirable effort and recognize that it just wasn’t for me. Kratos was too much of a douchebag and I lost interest in Greek mythology around the 6th grade.

So, okay, Santa Monica had created a semi-tragic Greek hero with a gory, if clichéd, background. I can dig it. I would watch those cut scenes no matter the lack of control or level of melodramatic writing, because I want more on the story. Cut scenes can’t eat away at interactivity, unless they are done in poor taste.

God of War II bathes in that poor taste. Don’t get me wrong, the game is a marvel to behold, and the first boss fight is one of the most memorable in video game history, but the game literally adds nothing to its world. Same gory Greece, same jackass Kratos, same steroid-abusing gods, same goddamn premise. And you know what? The player is expected to care! Care enough to get through the ten to twelve hour story, care enough to side with Kratos in his mission for revenge. No! These plot devices have simply diminished from the first game. They’ve become old and stagnant while still expecting you to think they’re pretty.

How does this affect the cut scenes? It makes one loathe them. It makes one wish that they would just end because they have little to no interest in what is happening to Kratos or any of the gore sacks the game likes to call characters. This situation has already been done, why would one care about it a second time?

If any game tries to pull a God of War II with its stories, the cut scenes will not just suffer; they will wither and die, no matter the production values. To hook the player in, developers have to make them care about something the game is trying to sell, whether it be the world, a character, or some major theme revolving around the story. A cut scene can only help expand on one of these things that interest the player.

That’s my hypothesis on why cut scenes are getting so my flak from the videogame community. It’s not because of the lack of control, rather, the lack of interest. But I could be totally off base or just speaking from my own experience.

What do you think? Do you think the inclusion of cut scenes helps or hampers videogames?    

Posted by Kieran_ES

The narrative of a game sits separate in execution from the traditional cinematic driven narrative seen in movies and TV. Very few people really 'speak' with game-play, in the way they can. Look at Heavy Rain, the most affecting and emotionally connective parts of that game had nothing to do with the cinematics. Ironically, the cinematic quality was praised before release as pushing storytelling in games. 
 
I feel games need to stop borrowing from movies, and focus on developing their expression, narrative and thematic qualities through game-play. There will always be a place for plots driven by traditional cinematic elements but it's not where games can be at their most affective. 

Posted by Nonused

Unfortunately, I never played Heavy Rain, so I don’t know the scenes you’re referring to. But you’re point is a good one. Remaining cinematic while still being interactive is a brilliant thing that can only exist in video games. My go-to example is Shadow of the Colossus.

However, would you agree that, by trying to be both cinematic and interactive, the game loses some expression? Wouldn’t a situation be more dramatic if you were watching a virtual face animate as opposed to, say, riding next to them on horse while listening to them talk. Both executions in expository dialogue work, but wouldn’t the former be more interesting while losing some of that interactivity of the latter? Or do you think the latter is the way to go?    

Posted by Kieran_ES
@Nonused: Shadow of the Colossus is a good example in that your personal narrative emerges through the actions you take. Remorse, guilt, disgust, all of this emotional turmoil is brought up, not by dialogue, but through the core game-play mechanic of dispatching these monolithic beasts. 
 
In that case you presented, it doesn't matter too much for me. That's superfluous to the larger emotional experience expressed through the direct actions you take in game-play. If you use dialogue in your game then fine it can be a very useful tool, of course, but do not remove me from the direct interaction. 
Posted by MarkWahlberg

I think you've hit the nail on the head. It's not that cinematics are bad, it's that the stories themselves are bad. When cutscenes are actually worth paying attention to, they're a great way to break up the pacing in a game and further the story. But if, for the sake of interactivity, the game designers decide to just let you aimlessly walk around a room while some guy talks at you for 3 minutes (see: Assassins Creed), then they've lost an opportunity to present the scene in an interesting manner.

Posted by Video_Game_King
@MarkWahlberg said:
" I think you've hit the nail on the head. It's not that cinematics are bad, it's that the stories themselves are bad. When cutscenes are actually worth paying attention to, they're a great way to break up the pacing in a game and further the story. But if, for the sake of interactivity, the game designers decide to just let you aimlessly walk around a room while some guy talks at you for 3 minutes (see: Assassins Creed), then they've lost an opportunity to present the scene in an interesting manner. "
I think you hit the nail on the head. Hell, I had a pretty good response on my own, but I fucked it up by overthinking it and forgetting what I was going to say. All I can say is this: gamers are stupid. A game can still be pretty interactive, even with cutscenes, and getting rid of them altogether would be a VERY BAD idea. That's as close as I can get to my original idea.
Posted by thedj93
@Video_Game_King said:
" @MarkWahlberg said:
" I think you've hit the nail on the head. It's not that cinematics are bad, it's that the stories themselves are bad. When cutscenes are actually worth paying attention to, they're a great way to break up the pacing in a game and further the story. But if, for the sake of interactivity, the game designers decide to just let you aimlessly walk around a room while some guy talks at you for 3 minutes (see: Assassins Creed), then they've lost an opportunity to present the scene in an interesting manner. "
I think you hit the nail on the head. Hell, I had a pretty good response on my own, but I fucked it up by overthinking it and forgetting what I was going to say. All I can say is this: gamers are stupid. A game can still be pretty interactive, even with cutscenes, and getting rid of them altogether would be a VERY BAD idea. That's as close as I can get to my original idea. "
Does the cutscene at the start of out of this world not count? Also, that game is the ish, your majesty!
Posted by MarkWahlberg
@Video_Game_King: HL2 would actually be my exception to the rule, in terms of presenting the story. As far as pacing goes, though, they really dropped the ball. Dunno if cutscenes would fix that, but I'd be willing to bet they'd help.
Posted by Video_Game_King
@thedj93: 
 
Not really, since intro cutscenes never count. Oh, and does ish mean "crap?" Because that's what it was. If you're gonna tell a story without words, you better make sure it's simple (Sonic 3); otherwise, you're just gonna come across as pretentious and ineffective.
Posted by Video_Game_King
@MarkWahlberg: 
 
My problem with it was that it's a series billed as not having any cutscenes, yet is more intrusive with its story than many cutscene-heavy games. If you're gonna do that type of thing, either let me interact with the world or at least present the illusion that I am. Don't let me play the entire thing "uninterrupted" if you're gonna force me to stand around and watch a room full of buttholes discuss  how to get back at the G-Man. (On an unrelated note, I really hope he becomes a boss in some future Half Life game, just so I have an excuse to yell, "Hit him in his G spot!")
Posted by Kieran_ES
@Video_Game_King: Half Life 2 did it badly, they removed the traditional cut-scenes and had emotionless game-play left. It sat you down and told you a story in bits in the most base way possible but refused to give any meaningful experience through the action. What I'm saying is that an emotional narrative doesn't only come through people telling you something, or you seeing something in a cinematic. It can come through the actions you take, the things you directly experience.