The Many Cinematic Missteps of Video Game Cutscenes

Illustration for article titled The Many Cinematic Missteps of Video Game Cutscenes

The video game cutscene has undergone a lot of transformations over the past couple of decades, and many games these days present elaborate, dazzling CGI sequences that are often billed as "Hollywood-caliber."


But the truth of the mater is that most cutscenes wouldn't rate a straight-to-DVD release. In fact, according to Wired's Jason Schreier, many cutscene directors can't even follow the most basic rules of filmmaking.

In a great collection of analyses, Schreier (whom readers might remember for having the funniest of all the East Coast Earthquake tweets), lays into a number of hackneyed cutscene indulgences.


Infinite Undiscovery, Mass Effect 2, and even Super Paper Mario aren't safe—problems highlighted include "Enter Late; Leave Early" (A director should begin a scene as late as possible, and get out as soon as the scene is done without lingering) and "Avoid Endless Exposition." One guess as to which game director gets called out for that one.

5 Film-School Violations in Videogame Cut-Scenes [Wired]

You can contact Kirk Hamilton, the author of this post, at You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.

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I find it interesting that he says Mass Effect 2's were quite competent. I found them generally to be of the same quality as that cutscene there.

Also, one other film rule that's completely broken by Bioware, as well as Bethesda, is the fact that their characters don't really... move in cutscenes. Occasionally, they'll gesture, but that's about it. Contrast this with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where characters are walking all over the place, gesturing, doing other things, looking around, and so forth.

It takes the same basic idea of the relatively bland conversations from Bioware and Bethesda's games, which I normally skip as they're super boring, and makes them a lot more like film, engaging the gamer in the process. That allows a relative intricacy of the conversations, allowing you to 'fail' them, and it isn't based on some skill-check or paragon/renegade stat.

It takes conversations in games to the next level and allows players to get more immersed (as they should be) in the game.

How long until we can reenact Gunmen of the Apocalypse, I ask you?

An egregious case of exposition, by the way, happens at least twice in Half-Life 2. For a game that is wonderfully atmospheric (fantastic sound and art design being key here), the game has an eight to twelve minute scene starting immediately after Gordon is knocked out (the ending of the first chapter and the entirety of Red Letter Day to the moment where Gordon gets his crowbar) which is nothing but exposition, yet fails to convey to the character just why they have been brought by the G-Man to the present.

It's then told that more explanation will be had when the player reaches Eli Vance, and it does! I haven't timed it yet, but I estimate that it's roughly five minutes, as long as you don't really stop to fiddle with the teleporter and stuff. Once again, there's a failure to explain your presence that persists until Eli dies.

It's as if Valve doesn't really know why you're around, even.

But, yeah, my point here is that the storytelling in Half-Life 2 is crap. Excessive exposition is part of the reason why.