The Monday ‘Joe: Cutscene Power

The Monday 'Joe

Mondays are usually slow for news as people start to stir for the coming week. Therefore, every Monday, we will address one topic to start the week and get discussion flowing. It stimulates the week like a cup of coffee, hence the title.

Many games, particularly RPGs or any other kind with a story, tend to have cutscenes to help transition between one portion of gameplay to the next. Some are short, like the little comic book-style illustrations in Diner Dash; others are practically movies in themselves, such as those in Xenosaga or Catherine. Whatever the case may be, the vast majority of in-game cutscenes is non-interactive. In light of this, here’s this week’s question:

How do you feel about cutscenes in video games? Is there such a thing as cutscenes that are too long or too many in a row?

Crystal Steltenpohl: To keep it simple, I’m okay with cutscenes no matter how long or interactive they are so long as they’re good. A game like Tales of Vesperia is one of those games where you take two steps and hit another cutscene, but I enjoy the game nonetheless. So long as there’s a point and it advances the game in some way, I don’t mind, but I feel like this is an art that needs to be mastered. Basically, balance is important. When I start to feel like the game is more like a movie, I become less interested, but I only really start feeling that way when the writing is bad.

Nathan Wood: I totally understand why some people are opposed to the reliance on cutscenes in video games. The interactive element is what separates our hobby from other forms of entertainment, and a reliance on cutscenes removes the interactive element and essentially turns the game into a film. I get this, but personally, it doesn’t bother me. It may just be me, but when I’m given full control of my character during vital story-driven scenes, I feel I’m missing something; the scene isn’t powerful through the eyes of my character, like it’s missing the edge and framing that cutscenes allow. This is before I add that some gamers simply like to wander around and can’t be trusted to not, for the lack of a better word, fiddle around when story-centric moments are occurring.

If the cutscenes are done well—bonus points if they’re seamless, might I add—then I don’t see the issue at all. This might be because I’ve always been a gamer that enjoys a good story, and when Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of your first forays into the next generation of gaming, almost every other game pales in comparison. If you do something well, then you shouldn’t have to limit yourself by going “Nope! We must not include cutscenes!” You’re only hurting yourself as a developer. I love films, books, video games, all of it, so I’m naturally open to an assortment of storytelling methods.

Sure, I have prefer certain methods of storytelling over others like anyone else, but I have no issue with cutscenes of any form. If done right, they can add far more than what leaving players in total control can provide to a video game experience.

Aileen Coe: I’m fine with cutscenes as long as they’re well paced and add something to the story. I do agree it’s offputting when there’s glaring gameplay and story segregation wherein characters perform feats in cutscenes that they can’t do when you’re controlling them. Considering the ever increasing budgets and desire to push the graphical capabilities of current hardware, I don’t see them going away anytime soon, and I’m satisfied as long as there’s enough gameplay in between to balance it out.

Mel Ngai: I don’t have a problem with cutscenes in games, especially since most of the ones I play feature stories that would feel empty without them. How long they are, or how many of them appear in succession, depends very much on the game itself. For instance, there’s a long string of plot-important cutscenes in Catherine near the end, to the point where the game lets you save in the middle of a few. It’s the only such instance of several cutscenes in a row, but they serve a purpose and do it well. Fire Emblem games are slow-paced to begin with, so having scenes with minimal interaction in between gameplay portions isn’t a detriment. On a different extreme, I watched enough videos of Final Fantasy XIII to determine that many of the story’s pacing issues would vanish if the gameplay portions were taken out—but then we’d be left with a long movie instead of a game. It made me wonder if it was necessary for it to be a game in the first place, but what’s done is done.

I admit that I’m not too interested in playing a sometimes-interactive-movie, which is why I haven’t picked up a game like Xenosaga. I much prefer a good balance between gameplay sections and cutscene moments. And yes, it would be nice to have at least some of that cutscene power as part of a character’s move list.

Christopher Bowen: I’m fine with cutscenes when it comes time to advance the story. There are things that are best told outside of the confines of the normal game action, and it’s much easier to have those conveyed in separate CGI than it is to have it be programmed into the engine.

Where I begin to have problems is if those cutscenes show action going on that I can’t perform as a player. Too many times, we see our characters doing things like slicing up baddies and doing all sorts of awesome stuff while we sit around and wonder, “Holy shit, it would be nice to pull that off in the $60 game I purchased specifically to be able to do that.” I also have issues if we’re stopping for cutscenes every five minutes, or as I like to call it, the Xenosaga Problem. Xenosaga, the latest Star Ocean—all of these games were great at giving cutscenes, but after awhile, I wondered if I was just a conduit to bring the game from story bit to story bit; I didn’t feel involved at all. Basically, it was as if a Japanese David Crane had made my games.

Things won’t change in this regard. It works, people are still buying games because of cutscenes or the lack thereof, so we’ll continue to get them. As such, I don’t see any reason to complain about it. This is on page seven on the list of things that annoy me about video games.

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