Cinematics Sans Cutscenes

April 23rd, 2010 — 4 Comments
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Jump forward ten years again to nearer the present day, and we once again return to Shadow of The Colossus to witness the evolution of the same system. Below is a video highlighting the current state-of-the-art in terms of target-based cameras and dynamic framing of subjects in gameplay.

With the Z-Targetting-equivelant button held from the start, note how the camera position and field of view change based on the current state of battle, falling closer to the player character as he lands on the Colossus’ head to enhance the vertiginous impact, employing a slow zoom with the raised sword to increase the anticipation of the blow, and maintaining a non-centred composition throughout with consideration to both the head-room above the colossus when standing or the player’s when attempting to shake him off.

Even more impressive, after releasing the targeting button on being thrown from the giant’s head I simply hold it once again upon landing, displaying a masterfully composed shot of the two protagonists squaring off during the break in combat, obeying eye-lines and the rule of thirds perfectly – importantly proving that the same system used for full-body combat in Zelda, (and to a degree the action-orientated one in Gears of War), can also support the tighter compositions required for facial acting if necessary.

Lastly, the change of cameras between the various colossus attack patterns provides a new method of telegraphing incoming attacks, with the advantages of remaining in this cinematic mode best illustrated by the target shifting from the eyes to the striking weapon or feet later in the video, therefore providing a gameplay benefit too.

To summarise Composition:

  • Targets can be animated (developer controlled) or dynamic (in gameplay).
  • Targets present a consistent solution for both gameplay and story.

In Conclusion

Employing a method of optional cinematic tracks as those shown in both Metal Gear Solid and Gears of War, but using camera information based on targets (both pre-created and dynamic), with the addition of framing via field-of-view data (both pre-created and dynamic), we now have all the tools required to begin exploring the delivery of cinematic experiences without the traditional reliance on cutscenes and all their limitations.

While the exact system is still theoretical at this stage, a mandate can be drawn up as to what kind of experience this system must entail. So to that end I’ll finish with a summarising list, based on the examples and ideas presented in this session, of what a cutscene replacement needs to be:

Opt-in

Unlike the “imposed” cinematography of cutscenes from which there is only the option to opt-out, a cutscene alternative must be pulled to the player by the player if they so choose it. In order to cater for different play-styles and preferred experiences, we can no longer afford to force every player down the same path to consume equal amounts of narrative content.

Parallel

Unlike the linear progression of cutscenes, a cutscene alternative must occur alongside gameplay to allow the player to dip in and out of a narrative sequence at will without missing the entire thing, lessening the chance that vital content will be missed without forcing the player to endure a linear experience if they do not wish it.

Consistent

Unlike the harsh transitions into and out of cutscenes, merging of gameplay and story must be supported via consistency of character movement in and out of a cutscene alternative, as well as employing smooth transitions made all the more palatable by the important choice to participate. As such, unlike the complete loss of control during a cutscene, the player must still move and/or look (to a degree) in a manner consistent with regular gameplay, avoiding gimmicks provided by previous attempts at “interactive cutscenes”. Complete freedom of choice is afforded by the ability to enter/exit at any stage.

Composed

Retaining the aesthetic s of cutscenes, a cutscene alternative must support the cinematic composition of both pre-authored and dynamic events using camera targets and field-of-view information. As with the second Half Life 2 example, this is the one area over which we as developers must maintain control due to players simply lacking the artistry required to cinematically compose shots, offering the option of cinematic visuals to all who wish to participate.

In closing, we must abandon some traits and techniques of film photography in order to best utilize the unique strengths of the videogame medium, being freedom, interactivity and dynamic, emergent experiences.

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