Cutscenes versus In-game Cinematics: Fight!

September 11, 2008 § 3 Comments

I’m almost certain all of you will have heard of Girls Don’t Game by now. It’s a blog about video games, written for video games fans, by video game fans. The only difference is that it’s contributed to entirely by women (or girls, whichever). Earlier this week I got into a discussion concerning in-game cinematics with Suzie, one of their writers, and what ensued was fisticuffs of epic proportions. My initial email can be read below, with Suzie’s response following over at her blog. If you have any views or opinions, please share them in the comments below.

All that remains to be said is:



Aeries falls to her knees, her torso pierced by Sephiroth’s blade. A single bead falls out of her hair and bounces of the alter. The camera follows. The bead falls, hitting alternate pillars, down into a lake of water at the bottom. Slow piano music plays throughout, providing a perfect backdrop for the feeble ting as the bead falls. The camera pans down to watch it disappear into the murky depths, a perfect symbol of the tragedy that has befallen gamers everywhere.

You of all people must remember one of the most emotive narrative sequences in any piece of interactive entertainment. Aeries death, the turning point of Final Fantasy 7’s story, marked a new beginning in gaming’s storytelling. It proved once and for all that games, when done right, could have as much emotional impact as any film. How did it do this? With cutscenes.

How would this scene have been achieved without escaping from the game’s standard gameplay camera? You would have seen the main event yes, Sephiroth’s arrival couldn’t have been ignored by even the most distracted of gamers, but then what of the more subtle actions in the scene: Sephiroth’s victorious smirk, or the aforementioned drop of a simple piece of jewellery. Only with cutscenes does the director have complete control over our experience, and in this way they can manipulate our emotions directly, and not simply rely on us having the foresight to swing the camera around in time.

The Metal Gear Solid series – one renowned world-over for it’s engrossing story and characters – wouldn’t be half the narrative masterpiece it is today without cutscenes. Even if at times these strayed too far into the realms of deliberation and procrastination, these cinematics have told more story than gameplay ever could. One particularly lengthy scene in MGS4 was a perfect example of what could never be done in-game, when during an explanation of a particularly complex plot point the camera suddenly cut to that of a previous game in the series, allowing the audience to be reminded of past storylines. The change of scene also did wonders for the pacing of the segment, by introducing an action sequence in the middle of a lengthy piece of dialogue the audiences attention was kept wrapped in the story, exactly where Kojima-san wanted it.

I don’t believe all story should be told passively, but at the same time I don’t believe directors should expect the audience to experience a storyline completely through gameplay. How would you, if directing a Final Fantasy 7 remake, display Aeries death? How would you show a protagonists reaction to events without changing the camera angle? How would you manipulate the player to see what you want them to?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Jon Porter


§ 3 Responses to Cutscenes versus In-game Cinematics: Fight!

  • SparkiJ says:

    :)Final Fantasy 7 and Metal Gear Solid references cheered me up..What about our favourite Jak III moment? This is NOT A GAME!

  • Trolleydude says:

    BULL. SHIT.My apologies, but it’s more of an eye-catcher than “I disagree”. Remember the crushing end sequence in Episode Two? Wouldn’t be anywhere near as good if it was a cutscene.

  • Huggles says:

    Trollydude, I reckon the Doom movie would be right up your street… ;POn a serious note, this argument is retarded, its like arguing that a puzzle game is better than an action game. I just don’t see how you can compare the two. I don’t personally play final fantasy and want to believe I’m Cloud or Titus or whoever, and I don’t think that its the intention. The problem is too many people are under the impressions that all games are designed to make you feel like you are the character, you can still feel for a character like you can in a movie. There are plenty of emotive movies out there and they aren’t from a first person perspective, I don’t want to equate movies to games too much because I am aware they are very different, in many aspects. Some games do first person very well, cue Valve, but all games do not have to be half-life…

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