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advice on adding cutscenes?

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Hello all, I recently got the idea of adding functionality for basic cutscenes to my game. By "cutscene" I mean a space of time in which the user is not doing anything (except perhaps skipping the cutscene) and the camera and objects are moving around to provide exposition/entertainment. I've heard a lot of complaints about cutscenes in games, so I thought I should get some advice on how to implement this feature correctly. Here are the kinds of cutscenes I would like to use 1) Story cutscenes: These would be the longest by far. My game would probably only have two or three of these, one at the beginning of a campaign, one at the end of a campaign, and perhaps another in the middle. 2) Very basic cutscenes: Short, simple things like having the camera spin around your ship for two seconds when you complete a level. These are the kinds of cutscenes which I would add purely to give my game a more polished look, and they would most likely be skip-able. 3) Level exposition: I had the idea of setting up certain missions so that they begin with a camera fly-by over a level with scrolling text explaining what the player is supposed to do. These would obviously be skip-able, and would not happen twice in a row. Does my current cutscene plan seem OK?

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I think the complaint is usually more along the lines of not being able to skip the cutscenes or putting them in where they really don't belong just for the sake of having them. However you handle it, just make sure there is an intuitive way for your user to skip it if they want.

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Better yet, to make a text outlining the cut-scene available at any time.
Certain games, like Legacy of Kain series allow you to see the entire cut-scene scripts, which is a little overboard, but still very nice.

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I've honestly never liked cutscenes in games. I think it's too bad that so many have them. They are ok for RPG's or backstory's, or perhaps as you said, flying around the level and explaining the objectives.

I think the worst thing that games do is have a cutscene where the player character is present. You're right there... why would you need a cutscene?

Anyway, yes the best thing to do is make everything skippable, but then you become faced with the problem that if your story is locked in the cut scenes, and furthermore the cutscenes are not either visually amazing or very interesting, most people will not pay attention to the story. Have cutscenes if you must (skip, skip, skipable) but makes sure the story is not locked in them like a breifcase.

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Original post by synth_cat
1) Story cutscenes: These would be the longest by far. My game would probably only have two or three of these, one at the beginning of a campaign, one at the end of a campaign, and perhaps another in the middle.

These are usually fine the first time through, but practically no one will want to watch them twice. But as usual, just allowing it to be skipped makes everything okay.

Quote:
2) Very basic cutscenes: Short, simple things like having the camera spin around your ship for two seconds when you complete a level. These are the kinds of cutscenes which I would add purely to give my game a more polished look, and they would most likely be skip-able.

I would make sure something else is being displayed at the same time. Scores, statistics, information, or something. If levels are short, and you halt gaming just to spin around the ship, players will probably be pretty annoyed to even have to press the button and wait through screen transitions to skip it. It really depends on how often it happens, though.

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3) Level exposition: I had the idea of setting up certain missions so that they begin with a camera fly-by over a level with scrolling text explaining what the player is supposed to do. These would obviously be skip-able, and would not happen twice in a row.

That sounds fine, as long as it can be skipped.

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Original post by synth_cat
By "cutscene" I mean a space of time in which the user is not doing anything

I think you've pretty much highlighted the problem people have with cutscenes - if they're watching one, they've stoped playing the game. If they were just having fun, you've yanked it away from them. Keep the cutscenes short (a few seconds, maybe the camera just pans quickly to a character saying "I'm up here") and minimal and people won't get annoyed.

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If your game has a central/strong story, a decent cutscene at the beginning and end seems perfectly acceptable. It lets you show more emotion, and more closely illustrate what exactly is going on. The ending scene is good for the same reason. For a possible 'middle' scene, you need to be careful. A major event could have a cutscene, but be careful not to make it too intrusive, long, or unskippable.

You probably shouldn't put in more than a beginning/end unless you have a very involved story with some major twist or event for the middle scene. But be aware, if you go to the only cutscene in the game (middle), the player might know that something big is about to happen, and it could possibly ruin your story's twist. Might want to consider the cutscene sort of happening around the player, who retains control (Don't move the camera out, allow them to look around but not move) but can't do anything and is nearly forced to watch.

As for the mini-scene, 2 second fly around thing, I'd be cool to see it if it brought you your stats for the mission and such, or to a ranking. But just to see it, well, do it last if at all.

When you stated the third one, I instantly thought of a mission briefing or overview. Having an audio briefing while being flown over a map, or over the level would be fantastic. You could highlight major areas, show enemy strongholds, possible side-quest things (or sub-objectives). Not sure the format or genre of your game, but if it's mission based, this might be an excellent idea. Just don't 'stop' the game to do it if it doesn't fit/isn't mission based.

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Thanks for all the responses.

I expect I will only stick to two "major" cutscenes - the beginning and end. Of course, I might also add a little opening slam-bang thing that runs every time the game is started.

The hardest part of setting up my cutscenes (primarily the story and mission-briefing ones) will be that I'll probably be forced to use scrolling text instead of voice recordings. This is just because I can't afford to pack a ton of sound memory (even compressed) into a game which will be distributed online. I would love to have my own studio and be able to cast people to perform scripts, but I have to draw a line somewhere . . .

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For my 4E5 game (which I never finished), I was considering a form of cut scene. It was a mission-based game and your boss would be giving you the directions. You could look around and peer around at his desk, office, whatever and could zoom into things. So, you could get some hints for the stage by looking at the papers on their desk or watch the fish talk while they were talking (with subtitles, of course).

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I've always liked the cutscenes in the games I've played.

I refer to the kind of cutscenes where you completely abstract away from gameplay and see some sort of story progression. I don't mean the kind of cutscene where you simply _break_ from gameplay and watch your character open a door or something.

Story cutscenes have always been something of a "player reward" for me. I like them not because they will necessarily directly enhance or even have anything to do with the following gameplay, but because they help increase the suspension of disbelief and personal involvement in the world of the game.

Is this idea not in vogue anymore? If so, why do AAA games even have cutscenes anymore?

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Original post by synth_cat
I've always liked the cutscenes in the games I've played.

I refer to the kind of cutscenes where you completely abstract away from gameplay and see some sort of story progression. I don't mean the kind of cutscene where you simply _break_ from gameplay and watch your character open a door or something.

Story cutscenes have always been something of a "player reward" for me. I like them not because they will necessarily directly enhance or even have anything to do with the following gameplay, but because they help increase the suspension of disbelief and personal involvement in the world of the game.

Is this idea not in vogue anymore? If so, why do AAA games even have cutscenes anymore?

I totally agree.

I usually like cutscenes more than the game's gameplay itself, and it's always a great reward for me.

I'm talking about the kind of cutscene you can find in games with good stories, like Max Payne, Half-Life, Indigo Prophecy, Deus-Ex, etc.

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The best cut scenes are in Gunbird 2 (try it on MAME). Hilarious and brief. I get really bored when I have to read a lot or listen to bad voice acting. Or see some bad cinematography by a developer with no film making experience.

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Well, there will not be any voice acting in my cutscenes. I will try as hard as I can to make it work with just text. I realize that this could quickly get irritating, so I'll have to pretty minimalistic about it.

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Pros:

- You can do more stuff

Cons:

- Takes away player control
- Takes away player aprehension

Basically, pros only exist if you use them well. Don't use them badly or where they aren't needed. The main issue I have with them is that the player can sit back and relax - they know that the game maker won't kill them while they are not in control.

Beyond that I can say nothing unless you give more info on the game type. Cutscenes can be very effective for RPGs - FF games have benefitted a lot from them, and the absence of any notable ones in FFXII was for many disappointing. However, it should be noted that most FF cutscenes are good because they create an emotional response. I'd say if you can't manage an emotional response, don't use them, because you won't be achieving anything.

It should be noted that keeping the player in control and first person view but making them watch something can feel a bit unnatural, but still get the pros while mitigating some of the cons (BioShock demo seemed to make great use of that).

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I think any form of cutscene is okay. But I agree that you should be able to skip them, and having the choice of seeing it as a script instead is good.

You should also be able to watch the cutscene any time you want (provided that you have seen it before) so that you don't have to miss anything.

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I'd say if you can't manage an emotional response, don't use them, because you won't be achieving anything.

Well, in my case I'd say the main point of using cutscenes would just be to help the player understand what the heck is going on (my game is a little offbeat and techy, so some kind of exposition seems crucial.)

I'll be limited in a dramatic sense, not just because I won't be able to use voice recordings, but also because I won't be able to show any actual characters (you're essentially just looking at a bunch of ships most of the time.)

Of course, I could possibly add some kind system where a character's face appears in the corner of the screen and talks to you for a while (like in Major Stryker.) However, I expect this would do more harm than good.

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cut scenes i really liked where in resident evil 4. some cutscenes had some gameplay inthem where you have to press a given combination of buttons rapidly to succeed. it kept the player glued in his place.

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Original post by synth_cat
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I'd say if you can't manage an emotional response, don't use them, because you won't be achieving anything.

Well, in my case I'd say the main point of using cutscenes would just be to help the player understand what the heck is going on (my game is a little offbeat and techy, so some kind of exposition seems crucial.)

I'll be limited in a dramatic sense, not just because I won't be able to use voice recordings, but also because I won't be able to show any actual characters (you're essentially just looking at a bunch of ships most of the time.)

Of course, I could possibly add some kind system where a character's face appears in the corner of the screen and talks to you for a while (like in Major Stryker.) However, I expect this would do more harm than good.


Telling people what do to is generally the worst way for people to learn. Showing them is a bit better, but actually getting them to do it is much more effective - and for that you don't need boring cutscenes.

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It may seem like a bad reason, but I'd say my main purpose in adding cutscenes is to increase the level of polish (I intend to get published this time around.)

However, I still believe my game is unique enough that some form of cutscene will be necessary to help the player understand what is going on.

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If you could take the content of a cut scene and put into into game play that solves the problem of cutting into playing time and a clueless player. You could have audio playing over a speaker in a room or computer controlled characters could have lines that they say while you play. The player can play straight through if they like or stop and pick up information form the game world.

Bioshock did something like this with the tapes the player would collect. The player could listen to them if they wanted to but only to fill in more of the story.

Portal also did a pretty good job of progressing a plot without any cut scenes.

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In my opinion cutscenes are used both to set up/explain a story, and also to provide a lull in the pace of the action. Despite what advertising might suggest, you don't want to inundate your players with total action for the entire length of the game. It gets mind numbing to be killing enemies, whatever, for hours with no slowing. I'm a fan of vert scrolling shooters and even the most fast paced manic shooters usually have a brief lull between missions. Brief cutscenes can provide a good place to do a quick gamesave and head to bed, take a leak, grab a beer, etc... Might as well tell a bit of the story while your at it you know...

I guess my one suggestion would be if you can integrate the story into any load screens that you have (if you have them) in your game, that would be a better route than a dedicated cutscene. If you can manage to use images and sparse text to explain the gap from level/mission A to level B or whatever, it will be an effective use of the time you're already going to have staring at the screen not doing anything. I've been seeing limited use of this thought in the form of 'hints' during load screens. Why not use it to tell your story?

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I guess my one suggestion would be if you can integrate the story into any load screens that you have (if you have them) in your game, that would be a better route than a dedicated cutscene. If you can manage to use images and sparse text to explain the gap from level/mission A to level B or whatever, it will be an effective use of the time you're already going to have staring at the screen not doing anything. I've been seeing limited use of this thought in the form of 'hints' during load screens. Why not use it to tell your story?


The Centipede game by Hasbro used to do this, and I thought it was pretty cool (has anyone but me ever played that game, by the way?) Too bad my game doesn't really have loading screens, because it only takes like a tenth of a second to load a map (there's very little loadtime processing done.)

I agree that cutscenes give a break from too much continuous action. This will be particularly applicable to my game, which is a somewhat intense shooter.

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I'm going to school for filmmaking/screenwriting, and a general rule for that is never let the audience get ahead of your story and the moment that they feel like a scene or story is about to end/change and it doesn't, you've lost their interest.

This holds true to telling stories through games. If your cutscenes are too long they lose the audience because the audience has moved on to something new but are still stuck watching a scene.

Another thought is that if you're going to provide a break in the action I think it have some sort of closure of something else before it. I guess one thing that has bothered me with some recent games that use in-game, never leave the character's perspective cutscenes is that the come out of nowhere and it throws me off. If your players have just finished an intense boss battle/mission, that is a good time for a pause. In the middle of a mission it becomes harder to make it feel like it's not just coming out of the blue and interrupting what the player is trying to do.

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I think that the most difficult part will be coming up with a plausible moment-to-moment storyline for a shooter. It will be difficult to do this without making the story feel like useless fluff.

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