Sunday, March 6, 2011

How to Make People Give a Crap About Cutscenes

Let's use two scenarios for this post. Scenario A is something I love as a gamer. Scenario B is something that developers might want to think about changing.

This isn't about making cutscenes or specific cutscenes. It's about looking forward to cutscenes as opposed to getting annoyed and skipping swiftly through them.

Scenario A:

Let's use my favorite game, Jak and Daxter, for Scenario A.

First of all I just want to say that I love this game so much. Okay. Now, by itself, with just gameplay alone, this isn't as impressive of a game. But I love the atmosphere. I love the characters. Jak doesn't talk (I'm talking about the first game here) but Naughty Dog still gives him a personality. Hell, he's more of character than a ton of videogame characters that can talk. He's the classic hero, strapped with a no-nonsense, get-it-done attitude. Oddly enough, it's almost as if he has better social skills than Daxter. You can tell by how some of the villager NPCs talk to him that he's always been trustworthy and helpful, and that he's a stand up guy. When I was a kid I was entertained by his interactions with Keira (the girl, was that her name?) and wanted know if they'd get together.

This game is my childhood.

Then there's Daxter. Oh, Daxter. He is the talker of the group. As a lad I thought he was the funniest thing ever, so I wanted him to get turned back into his awkward-looking human self.

So this leads me to my point. You want people to read/watch your cutscenes? Make good characters! Make the player care about the characters! I won't care about a fictional character dying unless I care about them. I won't care about saving the world if I don't have anyone in the world to care about. I had to work really hard in Jak to get power cell after power cell, and I was motivated because I cared about the characters. The cutscenes weren't something I could skip- they were why I through played the game in the first place.

Scenario B:

Let's use the Sonic Adventure series for the example here. I didn't care about Sonic. There were so many characters to not feel a connection to, I almost didn't finish the games. The characters were almost not characters at all; they were just talking 3D animations, lifeless pieces of crap. I liked the gameplay though. I played through both games, but I'm pretty sure I skipped most of the cutscenes. I watched enough to get an idea of it. Trust me, I gave it a chance. But it was just too awful. It wasn't worth it.

Meh, who gives a crap about this?

So there you go. Characters are the key to capturing my heart. You might have the most complicated plot ever (which some would think by itself is a "story") but I don't give a damn. You have to have living, breathing people in your story. A lot of times when people talk about "stories" in games, they are just talking about plots. A lot of games I've played have awful acting, awful writing, and most importantly, awful characters. Games are long- and thus, it's okay for some of them to have complex plots, because after all, there needs to be conflict. But the conflict just isn't as important to the player if he doesn't love the characters.

How do you make "good characters"? Well, that's a good question. I remember once hearing that there are tons of failed superhero comics, and that the ones that survive (usually) are the ones that connect to the reader. For instance, Spiderman wants to get the girl, which is something that appeals to all of us. It isn't just about who has the most awesome powers, it's also about who I'd want to hang out with on a Friday night. And I'd totally want to hang out with Jak and Daxter.

I plan on being an English major at college (I'm a senior in high school) because I want to take literature and fiction in all of its beauty and fuse it with the entertainment of games.

OK. Thanks for reading. This one was fun to write, hope you liked it.


Shelby S said...

You must be young if that game is your childhood. Or you just had a really late childhood.

Regardless, very good information here, however it was a little less information than I would've liked.

I never completed the sonic games either because of the terrible cutscenes!

Ethan said...

Thanks! Yeah those Sonic games would have been better without those cutscenes. Sad but true.

And I am indeed young (17). But I'm glad that game was my childhood, cause it's everything I love about games. Or maybe it just shaped the way I view games.

Pete Grammarman said...

Never really played Jak and Daxter, but was a huge fan of Crash Bandicoot, so I imagine I would like J&D as well.

I agree with everything you said here, but great characters are pretty much required for me to enjoy any kind of entertainment, and as such shouldn't be used to make cut scenes interesting on their own.

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