Elements of Play - Cinematics

Uploaded by Linkthe1st on 07.07.2012

There once was a time when video games only consisted of gameplay and simple graphics.
Things like story or narrative had little to no influence, but with the progression
of technology and ambitions of developers, story telling became more important in every
game generation. When games officially became 3D in the mid to late 90s though, an incredibly
important visual storytelling technique became possible, cutscenes. Attempting to mirror
the presentation style of films, cutscenes or cinematics in games have usually served
the purpose of exposition or conclusion. That is leading into or out of an action or gameplay
sequence. The design of cinematics, both technically and aesthetically, have seen an incredible
amount of evolution in games over time. Aesthetically game cinematics have mostly strived to mimic
the filmorgaphy of movies. However they have technologically blazed new trails, as several
different types of cutscenes have been created over the generations. Let’s start at the
beginning with a game franchise that came to be known for it's high quality cinematics.
Final Fantasy is a series that has touted itself for more than a decade on it's pre-rendered
cinematic sequences. Though the final fantasy games weren't the first to do this, by all
means they did become the flagship for pre-rendered cutscenes. Aside from looking pretty, they
had a very specific use. When CG cinematics were introduced, and became a hot commodity
in games, actual real-time graphics were still very primitive. By switching over to a cinematic
with fully modeled characters and environments developers could give a clear image of what
the low quality character models and surroundings were supposed to look like. In addition, they
were also used to emphasize tone and mood for dramatic events. This was indeed the first
effective way games placed dramatic emphasis on an event, by having it pre-rendered. On
the technological side of things the arrival of pre-rendered sequences mostly came as a
result of data storage, games had just finally moved to optical disk based mediums. With
ample data space large video files could fit comfortably on a disk unlike a cartridge.
In addition, the low cost of producing disks meant if more than one was needed to hold
all the data it wasn't a problem. Over time though games have come to look phenomenally
better. Pre-rendered cinematics have largely been replaced by real-time cutscenses, and
they're so effective that they're even used by games that traditionally never used them.
The strategy game StarCraft 2 made perfect example of the extensive progression of in
game graphics and cutscenes. Strategy games as a whole have relied on cinematic sequences
more than most to tell their stories. The reason for this is rather straightforward,
it's rather difficult to tell a story from an overhead, or god mode, perspective. StarCraft
2 still implements pre-rendered cinematics for major climactic events, but the vast majority
of the story is told through real-time cutscenes. The visual fidelity of these cutscenes is
surprisingly high, and they're very effective at presenting the story in an appealing manner.
Real-time cutscenes serve more than one purpose, but the primary reason they are used is they're
cheaper and easer to create for most games. Creating a cinematics or cutscenes involves
two things, character and environment models. Real-time cutscenes are budget friendly because
they typically bypass the need to create new models for pre rendered sequences, and instead
use pre-existing gameplay models. StarCraft 2 using real-time cutscenes was a significant
sign, because the character and environment models had to be created from scratch. These
real-time sequences encompassed nothing that improved the minute-to-minute, click-to-click
interaction of strategy gameplay. The fact that real-time cyscenes were used in a strategy
game, despite how other presentation styles would have been sufficient if not less impressive,
proves how effective and appealing real-time cutscenes have become. There's one other type
of common cutscene though, and the value of it's use is largely dependant on personal
The superhero origin story Infamous was one of the larger budget videogames to make use
of animations and moving art. The use of this alternative to pre-rendered and real-time
cutscenes is debatable to say the least. Animated art is utilized for several reasons, many
depending on the scenario. Typically, indie titles are the kinds that acceptably utilize
such a low budget alternative, as there's not much money to go into the game's production
to start with. However the use of animated art in high budget titles is of questionable
nature. While these types of sequences are efficient, they can easily feel like lazy
copouts when placed in fully realized games. In the case of Infamous, animated art could
be acceptable since the game is centered around the comic book like idea of a superhero's
origin. Not all games have an excuse or loophole like that though. The in the end the value
of cutscenes of animated art aren't in question, what is being asked is, does animated art
fit in the games that use them.
In the end, cutscenes and cinematics will likely always be part of videogames, and be
the preferred method of story telling. What's important to distinguish is how each different
kind of cutscene has it's strength and weaknesses. For that reason there will never be one single
style that works best for all situations. Of course which ones are preferred, can only
be determined, by the people who play the games and watch the cinematics. If you have
something that's not pointless drivel and complaining feel free to post it. Until next
time, this has been a video blog from B-1-0-G dot net for the Machinima network May 14,
2012. Strife Out.