Sequences of storytelling where players cannot act.
Cutscenes are used when games cannot progress the entire game story through actions and events and need to give longer descriptions and explanations to players. These scenes are usually located between sections of gameplay that differ significantly, either because of change of location or type of activities required, or located right before a challenge to make players aware of the challenge.
Cutscenes are sometimes criticized in games because they remove agency for players. See Klejver for a discussion regarding the pros and cons of using Cutscenes in games.
- 1 Examples
- 2 Using the pattern
- 3 Consequences
- 4 Relations
- 5 History
- 6 References
Early examples of games using Cutscenes include Pac-Man, which only used it for comical animations, and Donkey Kong, which used it forward a simple storyline. Later games such as Maniac Mansion used them more extensively to unfold narratives and the Dragon's Lair series paradoxically introduce interactivity into Cutscenes through the use of Quick Time Events. With the possibility of full motion video, games such the Myst series and the Wing Commander series started to use human actors to portray the game characters and this has been continued in the Command and Conquer series.
Cutscenes are often include in Computer-Based Roleplaying Games, e.g. the Mass Effect series, the Witcher series, and Torchlight. While players can interrupt the Cutscenes that game masters provide in Tabletop Roleplaying Games such as Call of Cthulhu or Vampire: The Masquerade, this does not affect the game state since it only updates as the game master wishes.
Using the pattern
The primary reason for using Cutscenes are to convey information to players that they should not be able to miss, so designing Cutscenes need to first and foremost make the presentation clearly describe this information and after that consider when it should be given to the players. The most common use of Cutscenes are Predetermined Story Structures but specific cases when they can be used regardless of how they progress Predetermined Story Structures are transitions between Levels (the original use), enacting Surprise Attacks (enforcing players to "act" surprised by not letting them react), giving Game State Overviews of new Levels, or depicting Quick or One-Way Travel (including some forms of Quick Returns). Common places for Cutscenes are when players encounter new Enemies, Boss Monsters, or Traces so that they can be given Point of Interest Indicators, or when they are supposed to experience Surprises. The scenes can be used to show the presence of the two first, possibly as Disruption of Focused Attention events, while the last can be fully instantiated by Cutscenes. Another option (found e.g. in Fallout: New Vegas) is to provide Cutscenes that tell what happened after the game has been completed - this can be used to make players realize the presence of Open Destinies. Since it may be difficult to time the suitability of when to enforce global Downtime in Multiplayer Games, it is easier to time Cutscenes to the events in the game in Single-Player Games unless Game Masters are used. For this reason, Cutscenes are more often applied to Penalties and Rewards in Single-Player Games.
One part of making the information in Cutscenes difficult to miss is to not allow players to do anything else while they are taking place; this is most easily done by removing players ability to do actions (i.e. force them to do No-Ops). The other part if fully control the presentation, this is easiest done through Dedicated Game Facilitators playing animations, audio recordings, or video recordings. Alternatives to Dedicated Game Facilitators include Game Masters or players in Self-Facilitated Games when they provide Effect Descriptions or engage in uninterrupted Storytelling. However, the Cutscenes played do not have to be fully predetermined: having sets of Cutscenes allows scenes to be chosen due to the current game state; using the game engine to run the Cutscenes allows minor variations such as the positions of game elements; and using Game Masters allow Cutscenes to be fully modulated with the game state and players.
Summary Updates are Cutscenes which can either describe the context before a Scene or describe the consequences of the events that took place during a Scene. Quick Time Events are another specific form of Cutscenes that requires player input to show successful versions rather than unwanted ones. While this is somewhat of a paradox, these events very rarely have more than one 'correct' way of performing them, making them mainly a question of providing the right (and known in advance) input and timing that input precisely.
An alternative to Cutscenes are Scripted Sequences, which allows players to affect the game state but not the part scripted.
Cutscenes provide game designers with possibilities of having full control over how players perceive the Game Worlds, including providing details about Characters, Non-Player Characters, MacGuffins, and Props that the ordinary gameplay could not. In fact, Non-Player Characters, MacGuffins, and Props can exist only within Cutscenes and still exist in a game's diegesis.
Cutscenes also allow players to be given views into Inaccessible Areas otherwise not possible, and can be used to make players realize these exist in situations where they have no ways of perceiving them through gameplay actions.
As mentioned above, one of the main reasons for using Cutscenes is to unfold Predetermined Story Structures. This may make players more aware of Character Defining Actions by setting up the situation or stressing the importance of an upcoming choice, but may also ruin it by introducing Character actions that players did not feel were appropriate to how they perceive the Characters. Simply not letting players have a choice even if the actions performed were plausible may also cause players to feel that there are no Character Defining Actions in a game since the game design has predetermined the actions.
Cutscenes are Automated Responses in the form of Scenes with localized Predetermined Story Structures, and one of the most controlled ways of doing Storytelling to either present the Alternative Realities of Game Worlds or unfold Predetermined Story Structures to players. Of course, Predetermined Story Structures can be partly built from Cutscenes, so the patterns can instantiate each other. As events that take control of the game state completely, Cutscenes are Ultra-Powerful Events which may cause Disruption of Focused Attention for players but can guarantee that Thematic Consistency is maintained. If they move players between different locations, Cutscenes can functionally be Transport Routes. When the Cutscenes only forward the narrative without changing the game state they can be said to be Extra-Game Consequences.
Cutscenes stop gameplay, and game time for Real-Time Games, and thereby are a form of Game Pauses which gives players Downtime or sometimes Lull Periods depending on how interesting the players find the Cutscenes. Even so, they work against Minimalized Social Weight since they are designed to capture players attention with a story presentation. Even if they are made to be narratively interesting or contain gameplay information, they nearly always cause Disruption of Focused Attention since they interrupt gameplay. The first time a particular Cut Scene is experienced it may be or include Surprises and this can be used to give Unpredictable Behavior to Agents.
When Cutscenes involve players or other agents, they are examples of Enforced Agent Behavior that limit players' Freedom of Choice and can change their perceptions of their Avatars. They also enforce players to perform No-Ops while they are taking place (even if their Avatars or Characters are performing actions) - and this is true even if the Cutscenes do not involve the players.
Given that Cutscenes takes away players' agency the pattern is difficult to combine with given them an Exaggerated Perception of Influence. However, Cutscenes may give Strategic Knowledge about how to meet future challenges, e.g. through Achilles' Heels, and may thereby function as Goal Indicators and give players' a Determinable Chance to Succeed - all which gives rise to Stimulated Planning.
Alternative Realities, Automated Responses, Character Defining Actions, Determinable Chance to Succeed, Disruption of Focused Attention, Downtime, Enforced Agent Behavior, Extra-Game Consequences, Game Pauses, Game State Overviews, Goal Indicators, Lull Periods, MacGuffins, Non-Player Characters, No-Ops, Point of Interest Indicators, Predetermined Story Structures, Props, Scenes, Stimulated Planning, Storytelling, Strategic Knowledge, Thematic Consistency, Third-Person Views, Transport Routes, Unpredictable Behavior, Ultra-Powerful Events
Achilles' Heels, Avatars, Boss Monsters, Character Defining Actions, Enemies, First-Person Views, Game Worlds, God Views Inaccessible Areas, MacGuffins, Non-Player Characters, Quick Returns, One-Way Travel, Open Destiny, Quick Travel, Real-Time Games, Surprises, Traces
with Single-Player Games
Can Be Instantiated By
Can Be Modulated By
Possible Closure Effects
Potentially Conflicting With
An updated version of the pattern Cut Scenes that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design.
- Klevjer, R. 2002. In Defence of Cutscenes. Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings (Tampere, 2002).
- Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.