Unfortunately for us developers though, anybody who’s ever sat in on a testiing session will attest that this second video is a lot closer to how the majority of players will interact with a scene like this. Some poor developers at Valve have gone to all the trouble of creating acting, dialogue and VO for this sequence with the express purpose of building an intial bond between the player and the robotic character “Dog” by endearing you to him.
This is particularly expected because this happens right after attaining the Gravity Gun – perhaps the most awesome weapon in videogame history. As such, more time is spent throwing objects at characters than simply watching them – and for a lot of players the effect of the scene is entirely lost on them. Our usual solution to ensuring that what we as developers wish the player to see is to restrain them within the confines of a cutscene, but in doing so we rob ourselves (and moreover the player) of the choice and interactivity that is so intrinsic within our medium – a strength that in my opinion more than makes up for the shortcomings we must overcome when compared to the likes of million-dollar budget film visuals and tightly edited screenplays.
So how might we enable the visuals of the first video, with all the benefits they give to the player and us devlelopers in aiding our scene-setting and storytelling, without simply dumping them out of the game and into a cutscene?
At Odds With Gameplay
Well first one of the largest hurdles that we must overcome is that presenting a sequence from this perspective is by its very nature at odds with gameplay. Here is a video of me driving in GTA4 using one of their many cinematic devices, the “Handbrake Cam”. This is an honest, uncontrived attempt by me at getting from point A to B, and as you can see it looks like Nico is well over the legal limit simply because in presenting the game in a cinematic manner I cannot see where I’m going.
However, it’s not a simple black and white rule that cinematic cameras prevent ease of control and navigation. Here’s an example from Shadow of The Colossus, another game that has many devices to support a cinematic experience, and is much more successful than GTA above. Here I don’t really need to see where I’m going, and unlike my car in GTA, my horse is imbued with good enough AI (or rather, pathfinding) to prevent me from falling off the bridge, leaving me free to manipulate the camera to my heart’s content while still progressing towards my goal.