As mentioned earlier, MGS4 took something of a shotgun approach by attempting a variety of new techniques for blending gameplay and cinema, and below is what I consider to be the standout success of the game, which introduces the first of our new tenets of game cinema – that of “Parallel Cinematography”. Here, the cinematics run in parallel to the game, rather than being triggered with the only option being to either watch the entire sequence or quit out of it.
Below, we are presented with a fantastic (albeit on-rails) gunplay sequence that consists of essentially an entire cinematic sequence that can be interrupted with the aim-button to shoot down aggressors. Releasing the aim-button returns the game state to the cinematic track. A lot is gained from the fact that the player does not need to care about controlling the bike and therefore doesn’t need to see ahead of them – as was the case in the earlier example of the horse and bridge from Shadow of The Colossus.
While this doesn’t mean that we must play all cinematic sequences on the back of fast-moving vehicles, or even enforce an on-rails sequence, removing certain requirements from the gameplay (that of spatial awareness pertaining to travelling) does free us up to play with the cameras during the cinematic track, as well as allows a focus on aiming during the gameplay shooting mechanic.
More importantly however, the introduction of a parallel track of cinematography allows the player to dip in and out of the sequence, therefore greatly increasing the chance that they will be engaged with the sequence much longer than if they were simply presented with the rather binary options of watch or skip. This is the greatest step forward that MGS4 cinematics has achieved, and certainly something that we might wish to consider in our future attempts at merging gameplay and story.
To summarise what we can take from Cutting:
- Removing cuts lessens the disconnect between the game and cinematics.
- Parallel tracks of cinematography allow the player to transition in and out of cinematics.
Put simply, just as in real life, if cuts do not exist then the problem of continuity, (encountered when time between shots allows inconsistencies to occur or edits cause uncomfortable camera jumps and/or discontinuity between the perceived placement of actors and objects relative to the environment), simply does not occur.
- If cuts are removed, continuity is a non-issue.
Now that I’ve covered the two items that we can best leave behind, it’s time to look at what we can borrow from our visual-counterpart medium.
Camera angles are a feature of cinematography that causes basic issues in games where, unlike God of War, the player is free to look around, (which are easily the majority of experiences offering free-form 3D movement and navigation). So much so that between the Ps2 and Ps3-era consoles we even introduced a second thumb-stick on the controller precisely to enable player-control over camera movement.
Without this, 1st-person experiences on console would still be relegated to pre-Goldeneye horizontal strafing and rotation only, and now the majority of 3rd-person games offer an identical camera control set-up, with notable exceptions being Sony’s flagship God of War, and to a lesser degree Uncharted too. This brings the conundrum where removing control of camera angles from the player to force our own in order to advance our narrative maintains one of cutscenes’ worst practices, for which we must find a solution.
With the player already accustomed to having no camera control, below is an example from God of War where a forced camera angle is used to deliver background story without interrupting gameplay, by taking a quiet moment of travel to show the God Aries again, reinforcing his character from the previous example.