A cutscene or event scene (sometimes in-game cinematic or in-game movie) is a sequence in a video game that is not interactive, breaking up the gameplay. Such scenes could be used to show conversations between characters, bring exposition to the player, set the mood, reward the player, introduce new gameplay elements, show the effects of a player's actions, create emotional connections, improve pacing or foreshadow future events.
Cutscenes often feature "on the fly" rendering, using the gameplay graphics to create scripted events. Cutscenes can also be pre-rendered computer graphics streamed from a video file. Pre-made videos used in video games (either during cutscenes or during the gameplay itself) are referred to as "full motion videos" or "FMVs". Cutscenes can also appear in other forms, such as a series of images or as plain text and audio.
Pac-Man—first released in 1980—is frequently credited as the first game to feature cut scenes, in the form of brief comical interludes about Pac-Man and Blinky chasing each other around during those interludes, though Space Invaders Part II employed a similar technique that same year.
In 1983, the laserdisc video game Bega's Battle introduced the use of animated full-motion video (FMV) cut scenes with voice acting to develop a story between the game's shooting stages, which would become the standard approach to video game storytelling years later. The 1984 game Karateka helped introduce the use of cut scenes to home computers. Other early video games known to make use of cut scenes as an extensive and integral part of the game include Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken, and Bugaboo (The Flea) in 1983; Valis in 1986; Phantasy Star, Maniac Mansion, and La Abadía del Crimen in 1987; Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter, and Prince of Persia and Zero Wing in 1989, with the poor translation in Zero Wing's opening cutscene giving rise to the (in)famous Internet meme "All your base are belong to us" in the 2000s. Since then, cutscenes have been part of many video games, especially in action-adventure and role-playing video games.
Live-action cutscenes have many similarities to films. For example, the cutscenes in Wing Commander IV used both fully constructed sets, and well known actors such as Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell for the portrayal of characters.
Some movie tie-in games, such as Electronic Arts' The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars games, have also extensively used film footage and other assets from the film production in their cutscenes. Another movie tie-in, Enter the Matrix, used film footage shot concurrently with The Matrix Reloaded that was also directed by the film's directors, the Wachowskis.
Some gamers prize live-action cutscenes for their kitsch appeal, as they often feature poor production values and sub-standard acting. The cutscenes in the Command & Conquer series of real-time strategy games are particularly noted for often hammy acting performances.
Live action cutscenes were popular in the early to mid 1990s with the onset of the CD-ROM and subsequent extra storage space available. This also led to the development of the so-called interactive movie, which featured hours of live-action footage while sacrificing interactivity and complex gameplay.
Increasing graphics quality, cost, critical backlash, and artistic need to integrate cutscenes better with gameplay graphics soon led to the increased popularity in animated cutscenes in the late 1990s. However, for cinematic effect, some games still utilize live-action cutscenes—an example of this is Black, which features interviews between main character Jack Kellar and his interrogator filmed with real actors.
There are two primary techniques for animating cutscenes.
Like live-action shoots, pre-rendered cutscenes are also part of full motion video. Pre-rendered cutscenes are animated and rendered by the game's developers, and are able to take advantage of the full array of techniques of CGI, cel animation or graphic novel-style panel art. The Final Fantasy series of video games, developed by Square Enix, are noted for their prerendered cutscenes, which were introduced in Final Fantasy VII. Blizzard Entertainment is also a notable player in the field, with the company having a department created especially for making cinema-quality pre-rendered cutscenes, for games such as Diablo II and Warcraft III.
In 1996 DreamWorks created The Neverhood, the only game to ever feature all-plasticine, stop-motion animated cutscene sequences. Pre-rendered cutscenes are generally of higher visual quality than in-game cutscenes, but have two disadvantages: the difference in quality can sometimes create difficulties of recognizing the high-quality images from the cutscene when the player has been used to the lower-quality images from the game; also, the pre-rendered cutscene cannot adapt to the state of the game: for example, by showing different items of clothing worn by a character. This is seen in the PlayStation 2 version of Resident Evil 4, where in cutscenes, Leon is seen always in his default costume because of processor constraints that were not seen in the GameCube version.
In-game cutscenes are rendered on-the-fly using the same game engine as the graphics in the game proper, this technique which is also known as Machinima. These are frequently used in the RPG genre, as well as in the Metal Gear Solid, Grand Theft Auto (both games making use of motion capture), and The Legend of Zelda series of games, among many others. In newer games, which can take advantage of sophisticated programming techniques and more powerful processors, in-game cutscenes are rendered on the fly and can be closely integrated with the gameplay. Some games, for instance, give the player some control over camera movement during cutscenes, for example Dungeon Siege, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Halo: Reach, and Kane & Lynch: Dead Men.
Games such as Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos have used both pre-rendered (for the beginning and end of a campaign) and the in-game engine (for level briefings and character dialogue during a mission).
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when most 3D game engines had pre-calculated/fixed Lightmaps and texture mapping, developers often turned to pre-rendered graphics which had a much higher level of realism. However this has lost favor in recent years, as advances in consumer PC and video game graphics have enabled the use of the game's own engine to render these cinematics. For instance, the id Tech 4 engine used in Doom 3 allowed bump mapping and dynamic Per-pixel lighting, previously only found in pre-rendered videos.
Interactive cutscenes involve the computer taking control of the player character while prompts (such as a sequence of button presses) appear onscreen, requiring the player to follow them in order to continue or succeed at the action. This gameplay mechanic, commonly called quick time events, has its origins in interactive movie laserdisc video games such as Dragon's Lair, Road Blaster, and Space Ace.
Director Steven Spielberg, director Guillermo del Toro, and game designer Ken Levine, all avid video gamers, criticized the use of cutscenes in games, calling them intrusive. Spielberg states that making story flow naturally into the gameplay is a challenge for future game developers. Hollywood writer Danny Bilson called cinematics the "last resort of game storytelling," as a person doesn't want to watch a movie when they are playing a video game. Game designer Raph Koster criticized cutscenes as being the part that has "the largest possibility for emotional engagement, for art dare we say," while also being the bit that can be cut with no impact on the actual gameplay. Koster claims that because of this, many of the memorable peak emotional moments in video games are actually not given by the game itself at all. It is a common criticism that cutscenes simply belong to a different medium.
Others see cutscenes as another tool designers can use to make engrossing video games. An article on Gamefront calls upon a number of successful video games that make excessive use of cutscenes for storytelling purposes, referring to cutscenes as a highly effective way to communicate a storyteller's vision. Rune Klevjer states: "A cutscene does not cut off gameplay. It is an integral part of the configurative experience", saying that they will always affect the rhythm of a game, but if they are well implemented, cutscenes can be an excellent tool for building suspense or providing the player with helpful or crucial visual information.
- Matteson, Aaron. "Five Things We Learned From Pac-Man". Joystick Division. "This cutscene furthers the plot by depicting a comically large Pac-Man".
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- Aaron, Marcus (2014). Design, User Experience, and Usability. User Experience Design for Diverse Interaction Platforms and Environments. Springer. p. 662. ISBN 3319076264. Retrieved 2014-11-19.
- Gaming's Most Important Evolutions, GamesRadar
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- Mielke, James (2006-05-09). "Previews: Heavenly Sword". 1UP.com. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
Some points in key battles (usually with bosses) integrate QTE (quick-time events), which fans of Shenmue and Indigo Prophecy might like, but which we've been doing since Dragon's Lair and Space Ace. Time to move on, gents.
- Chick, Tom (2008-12-08). "A Close Encounter with Steven Spielberg". Yahoo!. Retrieved 2008-12-11.
- Dutton, Fred (2001-11-17). "Del Toro, Levine speak out against cutscenes". Eurogamer. Retrieved 2014-11-19.
- Brown, Nathan (2011-09-03). "Bilson: Cutscenes Are Gaming's "Failure State"". Edge Online. Retrieved 2014-11-19.
- Sterling, Jim (2011-11-03). "In Defense of the Videogame Cutscene". Gamefront. Retrieved 2014-11-19.
- Koster, Raph (2005-12-07). "The Pixar Lesson". Raph Koster's Website. Raph Koster. Archived from the original on 2008-10-07. Retrieved 2008-10-07.
Well, that would leave the part that has the largest possibility for emotional engagement, for art dare we say, in the bit that can be cut with no impact to gameplay whatsoever. This is why I say that many of the peak emotional moments we remember in games are actually “cheating” — they’re not given to us by the game at all, but by cutscenes.
- Holmes, Dylan (2012). A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games. Dylan Holmes. p. 92. ISBN 1480005754. Retrieved 2014-11-19.
- Klejver, Rune. "In Defense of Cutscenes". Retrieved 2014-11-19.