I Have Control, but I don’t care

October 9, 2008 § Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago we put up a debate on cutscenes versus in-game cinematics. Of course on a topic such as this there can really be no winner, but that didn’t stop us from having one more go at solving this most precocious of problems. Suzie’s reply, the final part, can be found here, whilst the first two posts can be found here and here.

Suzie,

You made a fair few points about cutscenes interrupting the flow of the game, and about removing the player from the protagonists experience. This is true. Watching the animators creation move across the screen completely independently of my control isn’t a particularly immersive experience, but at the same time it’s almost necessary to the game’s storyline, in that it allows the character to do far much than I could achieve within the game’s control scheme.

Are we to believe that every protagonist is a silent one stopping only to listen dumbly to the tales of others? Valve is the developer most credited with their game’s complete lack of cutscenes, and yet they’ve so far failed completely to create a character which does anything other than run and shoot. There are a million and one things a character might do during what might traditionally be a cutscene moment, but the one thing it’s impossible to give the player complete control over is the very thing that allows a player to most understand a character. That thing is dialogue.

Gordon Freeman is a mute, and perhaps the most famous mute in the entire videogaming world. If someone else therefore tried to achieve what Valve has with it’s storytelling, it would have to overcome this great hurdle. How to you allow the player to choose what to say without funneling them into predictable patturns. Mass Effect gave the player control over dialogue, but did this add to the game’s emotional meaning, or was it simply a much hyped means of distinguishing the “bad” player from the “good”? How can you really try and become the character that you want to be when you’re confined by knowing that certain answers will cause you to stray from the ideal gameplay path?

My second problem with in-game cinematics is a far more practical one, and relates much more to a so-called “old school” mentality when playing games. You can’t skip gameplay, and so as a result you can’t skip a lengthy in-game story sequence. If you save at the wrong point, and then fail immediately after a story sequence, your punishment will be to watch through the proceedings once more. In this console-centric age, when quicksaving still hasn’t become the norm, do developers really want to take the core gameplay away from a player, and give them no means to pass it by?

You might argue that I’m somewhat missing the point with gaming as an art form if I want to skip cutscenes, but I really don’t. I watch every single cutscene that comes my way when I’m playing a game with a story that wasn’t seemingly thought up in about ten minutes. When I’m playing Prince of Persia I’m going to take time to listen to this story, for exactly the same reason that I’d rad a book about time-travel, simply because it interests me. When hunting down terrorists around Vegas however, I couldn’t care less about which generic third world villian is up to their tricks now.

Ultimately I think that in order to do in-game cinematics well you need to start out to tell an interesting story, which also happens to be really fun to play. If you’re going to create a really fun game with a story tacked on then you’re better off with cutscenes: it’s much less effort, and the player can always skip them if they didn’t turn out so well (something I would have liked to do in Assasin’s Creed, but wasn’t given the option). Different games are made for different reasons, and if a game’s made for quick thrills then most players won’t have the patience to sit through the awfully written dialogue of an underpaid freelancer.

Maybe what I’m really looking for is better writing in games?

What do you think?

Jon Porter

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