The Faster A Video Game Treasure Chest Opens, The Better

Illustration for article titled The Faster A Video Game Treasure Chest Opens, The Better em/em

About one hour into my Assassin’s Creed: Origins playthrough, I came upon my first treasure chest in an out-of-the-way cave near Siwa. As I walked up to it, I pressed the E key and braced myself for that everlasting example of minor gameplay annoyances: the chest-opening animation. But it never came.

Instead of sitting through an animation, Assassin’s Creed: Origins briefly displays your gathered resources in the corner of your screen. At no point in this wonderfully A-button-friendly process do you lose control of Bayek. There’s no excruciating, lingering view of the chest’s contents. No close-up of the hero rummaging through the box while gasping in awe. No lilting five-chord melody proclaiming, “You got some stuff!

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The lack of chest-opening cutscenes is not a new development in video games, but as someone whose last game before this was Xenoblade Chronicles 2, looting resources without suffering through a five-second cutscene and hearing “What we have here?” again was cause for celebration. Sure, these animations can be fun, and they often contribute to the character and atmosphere of a game. The way Link opens chests in Breath Of The Wild by simply kicking them will always elicit a chuckle. But just as Korok seeds start grating on you after the 50th one (yahaha!), chest animations can overstay their welcome. While they might only take a few seconds, those seconds add up over time.

Illustration for article titled The Faster A Video Game Treasure Chest Opens, The Better em/em

There’s a lot to like about Xenoblade, but its resource-collecting animations actively suck the fun out of the game. Here’s the whole process:

  1. Your party walks up to a Collection Point
  2. The game takes control of your hero, who digs into the ground, accompanied by a quick one-line quip that never seems to change
  3. The game pauses to note any field effects from your Blades, along with another quip
  4. Resources spring out of the ground and get scattered in a wide radius around the Collection Point
  5. You run around manually picking up all of those resources. If any fell off a cliff, you’re out of luck

And here is that same process in Assassin’s Creed: Origins:

  1. You walk up to a chest
  2. You press a button

See the difference? Granted, Xenoblade is a very different game. But they’re both open-world games with resource collecting as a mechanic, and the way they approach this mechanic couldn’t be more different. Playing Assassin’s Creed: Origins reminds me that we tend to live with small gameplay annoyances, but a simple fix can make a world of difference.

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Okay so, apologies to all you JRPG fans out there, but most of the games you love are massive fucking time-sinks that feel horribly paced because of annoying little things like this adding up.

One of the most important aspects in the world of film and television editing is knowing almost down to the millisecond how long a specific “thing” should be on screen before it needs to change to something else. Nothing should overstay its welcome. You maintain a shot only for as long as it takes for the audience to get a full understanding of what they’re seeing, or what they need to glean from the shot. As soon as that happens, you move to another shot, because you need to keep shit moving, not bore the audience, and avoid tripping them up with choppy dialogue pacing.

Let’s take Final Fantasy XV for example. God damn do I have a bone to pick with this game’s fucking dialogue sequences.

Let’s just break this down, shall we?

  • (You initiate dialogue.)
  • Fade to black. One second.
  • Fade from black. One second.
  • (The NPC speaks.)
  • One second silence.
  • A text bubble icon and the character’s name slides onto screen. Then, the dialogue options slide into place. Two seconds.
  • (You decide on an option.)
  • The option you select flashes white, then they all fade away. Then the one you select reappears again, flashes white again, sits there for a while, then fades away again. Altogether, this all takes four seconds.
  • (Your character replies.)

Congratulations! You have made it through two lines of dialogue that add up to about eight seconds total. And you only had to sit through almost eight seconds of unnecessary fluff and silence to do it. Fifty percent of your time in this conversation has been sitting around waiting for people to actually open their goddamn mouths and speak. Having fun yet?

Hey devs, have you ever had a real conversation? Do you think we all wait literally four seconds before replying to shit all the time?

For starters, I know who I’m talking to. I don’t need you to animate their name coming onto screen. I walked up to them, didn’t I?

Secondly, I already read the dialogue option I’ve selected. I mean, I kind of had to in order to decide on it. I don’t need you to show it to me again, make it sit there for 3 seconds, and then disappear before I can actually hear the line of dialogue.

Thirdly, I don’t need two seconds of fade-to-black to realize that I’m about to enter dialogue. Once again, I walked up to them, highlighted them, and selected them. I know what’s about to happen.

Actually, let’s talk about this one some more. In film, fade-to-blacks actually have a specific application: they exist to indicate scene transitions. Not shot transitions. You only use them when you need to tell the audience that you’re about to change the location or time. You do not use them to change the camera angle.

Did you guys know that other games don’t do this? Here, I’ll even show you.

KOTOR snaps to the dialogue camera angle and slides in two letterboxes from the top and bottom. Skyrim takes control of the camera immediately, focuses it on the speaker, and gives you your dialogue options. Fallout 4 doesn’t touch the camera until you commit to entering dialogue. As soon as you do, it takes control of the camera immediately and snaps it to your face as you speak.

What do they all have in common? 0 second delay. 0 crossfades. All of them have an animation of some sort that makes it clear you’re entering dialogue, but none of those animations have a delay, because you don’t need a time-wasting transition to make this obvious.

Here’s the worst part: not even all of Japan is guilty of this! Did anyone play Persona 5? Or NiER: Automata? Your culture, your genre, and your industry are capable of understanding the importance of snappy cuts!

So why can’t you?

UGH. Okay. Salty film editor rant disabled. Go back to your regularly scheduled programming.