Monday, January 31, 2005

Cut Scenes, Schmut Scenes

The always thought-provoking Clive Thompson just published an article at Slate arguing that games aren't good vehicles for narrative, citing cut scenes as a prime example. His basic argument is that stopping gameplay to show a cut scene interupts the fun of the experience. Games are about interactivity, not passivity. I won't recap the whole article, but that's the basic point (it's worth reading though).

There were some good responses around the Internet, like this one by Arkady from the Slate forums... and this one by Ron Gilbert. The first one argues that cut scenes serve the same purpose as box art, setting a more nuanced, detailed narrative scene in the head of the player before they become immersed in gameplay. Arkady calls for shorter cut scenes with more interactivity (even just a single choice). Ron Gilbert agrees with Thompson that games aren't good at narrative, but says that it's not a reason we shouldn't try.

I'm somewhere in the middle on this one. I agree that cut scenes run counter to the spirit of the medium. They break the flow of interactivity. Half-Life and Half-Life 2 show pretty clearly that games can work without cut scenes. However, I do believe that narrative in games is worth pursuing. Again, Half-Life 2 shows that narrative can be conveyed in-game. I think it should go much further though. Narrative in games can't be thought of as conveying a single, pre-written story. Game narrative should be about giving the player interesting choices (just as in any form of good gameplay). Designers interested in furthering narrative gameplay should be looking at mechanics that put the power of authorship into the player's hands.


At 12:56 PM, Blogger OrangeDeca said...

This article exemplifies a sort of attitude that irks me. I don't beleive that there is one single way to make a game. Some games can be essentially all cutscene, like Facade, while others can have none. I think of the cutscene like a jumping mechanic or a branching dialogue tree or a rocket launcher.. its one tool in the box for making the right game. What is the right game? I'm going to break my normally Plato-loving philosophy and say that the "right game" is the one that best fits your goals, your team, your subject matter, your core experience. I'm a big-tent designer. I think there is room for all kinds of games that do all kinds of things.

At 1:50 PM, Blogger Clubberjack said...

Yup, I agree. The cutscene is definitely one of many tools for accomplishing whatever goal you've set out for your game. Cut scenes can serve as rewards for completing tasks/levels. They can give the player a breather from the intensity of gameplay. They can set an emotional mood for the gameplay that follows.

That said, I think the cut scene is a frequently mis-used tool. I think many games rely on the cut scene as an unnecessary narrative crutch, when in-game storytelling or narrative game mechanics would do a better job and make a more compelling experience.


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