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When storytelling interferes with gameplay

Abstract Cinematography in video games is a more


The purpose of this paper is to determine the complicated beast, as in video games you usually
negative effects that shoehorning moviemaking into do not have a director that instructs what the
video game design can have on gameplay for the camera should be looking at and whether or not it is
sake of storytelling. Several games were looked at, a close-up, angled or similar. Because in video
with various ways of storytelling and camerawork. It games the player is usually the director. So which
was learned that some level of forceful restriction on objects that are in focus and at which angle they are
the camerawork for the sake of emphasising story looking at it and which distance they have to said
elements would sometimes hinder the gameplay in objects, are completely up to the players control.
an unpleasant manner, that would cause frustration
with the game. Because of subjectivity it would be 2.2. Gameplay
needed to do a deeper level of research in order to Gameplay can be a hard thing to define, it is one of
pinpoint the exact difference on why some types of those things that most people understand when
storytelling works better than others in relation to they hear it but do not really know how to explain
video game design. properly.
It could be described very briefly as simply the way
1. Introduction players interact with a game or the overall
As an amateur author, a self proclaimed movie experience of playing a game, at least in regards to
critic, a gamer and a hopefully future game video games.
designer, I am very interested in storytelling through
the video game medium. And it is something that I 2.3. Cutscene
want to pursuit heavily in the future after my Cutscenes are sequences in video games that are
education, which leads me towards the topic of usually not interactive (some game developers use
combining moviemaking with video game design in Quick Time Events (QTE), more on this further
relation to tell a story while keeping the flow of down). Cutscenes are usually there to drive the
gameplay. narrative of the game, like conversation between
However, through my personal experience and after different characters, setting the mood or urgency,
reading through many different gaming related etc. They can also be used to introduce the player
forums over the years, there seem to be a lot of to new game mechanics.
issues when it comes to telling stories in video
games, as many game developers seems to In some games, cutscenes are the only narrative to
combine video games with movies in poor ways. So drive the story forward, meaning that the gameplay
in this paper I will try to define and explain these itself does not really convey. E.g. in Command &
different types of mistakes that seems to come with Conquer (1995)[Westwood Studios] there are
shoehorning moviemaking into video games and live-action full motion videos that appears before a
how the story element or camerawork and such can mission starts, telling the player why they must
actually impedes the gameplay of a video game, complete the mission ahead and then another video
where gameplay is arguably the most important is played when the mission is completed letting the
aspect of a video game. player know they did a good job by stopping their
sworn enemy.
2. Theoretical background
In some games cutscenes comes along with QTEs
2.1. Cinematography which are events where the player must usually
Cinematography in moviemaking is an essential push a specific button (e.g. the B-button on a 360
element part of the film medium in regards to living controller) quickly in order to continue playing the
pictures. Cinematography is about the director game. And if a player fails to give the correct input
making the professional and artistic choices in for a quick time event in time; then the player will
regards to lighting (e.g. low-key lighting), most likely die and have re-do the cutscene, which
perspective/position (e.g. birds eye view, close-up, can be very tedious if the player must do this many
long shot, etc.) and movement (e.g. panning). So in times, because in some causes the button that
laymans terms cinematography is simply the needs to be pressed may change from each time,
camerawork in moviemaking (Bordwell and making it impossible to just remember the order of
Thompson, 2013, p. 160-216). the button presses.
When storytelling interferes with gameplay

2.4. Scripted event 2.6. Unskippable


A scripted event is an event in-game that has been Like the name suggest, this is simply when an
pre-made, e.g. an airplane might fly overhead of the event, cutscene or such that cannot be skipped and
player the moment the player walks through a door it can pretty much be applied to all of the above
or similar. (cutscenes, scripted events and slowdowns); for
example unskippable cutscenes that forces the
These events comes in different flavours, e.g. in player to watch a cutscene, maybe even multiple
Gears of War (2006)[Epic Games] you would have times if there is a checkpoint right before the
the option whether or not you want to see the event cutscene, which forces the player to watch the
taking place, offering you to push some button on same cutscene all over each time and wait for it to
your gamepad in order to focus your view/camera end before they can try again, which can be
towards the scripted event (see fig. 3), meaning that extremely demotivating and aggravating.
the player can completely ignore it if they so desire.
3. Application of theory

3.1. Bad examples


Some examples of how the camerawork is done
poorly and how the story telling interferes with the
gameplay.

3.1.1. Resident Evil 6


A good example of how a game can be completely
screwed over by its storytelling and camerawork is
from Resident Evil 6 (2012)[Capcom], which was
[Fig. 3: A pop-up showing the player that they can
one of the worst experiences I have ever had in
hold down the Y-button on their controller in order to
relation to how the gameplay was constantly
make their camera focus on a scripted event]
interrupted throughout the game for the sake of
story with how poorly the camerawork is done, not
But some games completely removes any sort of
to mention that Capcom seemed to be more
player input while having forcing the player to watch
interested in trying to make it into a movie rather
whatever the game designer thinks you would have
than a game; making the gameplay not that great
your attention on and sometimes this may happen
on the sideline of it being constantly interrupted by
even though the player have not yet killed all the
various cutscenes, badly implemented QTEs and
enemies in the area, meaning that the player might
jerking away the camera from the player because
still be forced to look at some door slowly opening
Capcom wants you to see all the events and
to reveal the next part of the level/map, while a
location put into the game, regardless of the
zombie might be crewing on the player, so that the
players interest or desire to see it, or because there
player could technically die and it would be
is a running section or something where you have
completely out of the players control (more on this
to see your character from the front (running
further down).
towards the camera), meaning that you cannot see
what obstacles you are running towards, getting you
2.5. Slowdown / Cinematic walking
stuck in cars and such nonsense. And all for the
There does not seem to be an official name for this,
sake of a cinematic set piece with little to no
so I will just name it slowdown or possibly cinematic
gameplay, but lots of annoyance. E.g. running away
walking. Regardless, the point is that some games
from an explosion, get stuck and possibly die (see
have a tendency of slowing down the player in order
fig. 1).
to explain some aspect of the game or simply drown
the player in exposition. E.g. in Gears of War there
Kevin VanOrd from his review of Resident Evil 6:
are several sections where the player is forced to a
[...] cinematics only gets you so far, when
crawl in order to listen to some exposition while the
the gameplay between them is so clumsy, so
players character model puts his hands against his
jumbled, so off the rails, that you wish Capcom had
ears to use some communication device.
just made a movie and forgotten the game part.
THE BAD [...] Ruins the pace by
constantly ripping control from you (VanOrd, 2012)
When storytelling interferes with gameplay

3.2.2. Dark Souls


Another game where the story does not come into
conflict with the gameplay is Dark Souls
(2011)[FromSoftware] that only has a few
cutscenes that are nearly almost only used as very
short introduction before a boss encounter. Every
other aspect of the story is found through the
various objects (swords, shields, armour, spells,
etc.) in the game that can be picked up, which all
have story related descriptions on them, which
[Fig. 1: Player running towards the camera in
allows the player to dig deeper into the story of the
Resident Evil 6 while trying to escape an ongoing
game if they so desired, rather than being forced
explosion]
the narrative that they might not care about.
Meaning that the story never gets in the way of the
3.1.2. Metal Gear Solid 4
gameplay.
Another example could be Metal Gear Solid 4
(2008)[Konami] which is very heavily focused on its
Even though Dark Souls is played with a third
story, which has just about 90 minutes of cutscenes
person camera (unlike Half-Life) behind the players
(around the average length of a film). Meaning that
character. The Dark Souls series (often referred to
the gameplay keeps getting interrupted by small
as the souls series) is pretty well known for not
movie sequences (cutscenes) in between
having the best third person camera, which can
gameplay, which is not something new but in Metal
create some very tedious moments when the player
Gear Solid 4 it is so frequent compared to other
gets to close to a wall, pillar or big enemies which
games that it can make you wonder why you are
makes the camera freak out and very often results
playing this as a game rather than just watching it
in cheap deaths (see fig. 2). But at least the camera
as a movie (Andreasen, 2010).
is never taken completely away from the player as it
is in the above mentioned Resident Evil 6, which is
3.2. Good examples
just atrocious.
Some examples of how the camerawork and
storytelling is approached in a more optimal way in
regards to interfering with the gameplay.

3.2.1. Half-Life
Half-Life (1998)[Valve] is a first person shooter and
it was a pretty revolutionary game in more than one
way, but the way it told its story is a pretty good
example for doing a better job at telling a story
without it getting in the way of the game. As the
storytelling was happening around the player but it
only very rarely ever stopped the player or rather [Fig 2: Player trying to fight a boss in Dark Souls
forced the player to follow the story, there were only while camera is obscured by passing through a
few places in the game (besides the starting level, wall]
which was essentially just 5 minutes of forced
unskippable exposition (Guennesack, 2009)) that 4. Conclusion
stopped the player, making them wait around until In such a short paper it is hard to make any sort of
the Non-Player Character (NPC) would open a door solid conclusion and say why one approach is
or a portal for the player for them to progress in the objectively better than another different approach,
game (however, in the second game had a lot of especially when it seems like it is very subjective
these moments where the player had to wait around whether or not people enjoy being constantly
for the NPCs before they could continue playing the interrupted by various cutscenes of different
game). lengths, or at least that they enjoy a game that is
An interesting aspect about Half-Life is that there is heavily scripted and may feel more like an
no cutscenes in the game whatsoever and interactive movie rather than a video game - like
manages to tell its story. Heavy Rain (2010)[Quantic Dream] which is just
one long cutscene with QTEs and that game is
When storytelling interferes with gameplay

both liked and dislike because of that - so this 5. Bibliography


seems to ring especially true for a game like Metal Bordwell, D. and Thompson, K. (2013). Film Art: An
Gear Solid 4 as many people really enjoyed the Introduction, 10th edition. ISBN 10: 0073535109.
game and it got very high praise by various gaming
review sites (Metacritic, n.d.). Whether or not the VanOrd, K. (2012, October 1). Resident Evil 6
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has revolve around the Metal Gear franchise I http://www.gamespot.com/reviews/resident-evil-6-re
cannot say. view/1900-6397185/

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game. The subjective part seems to come as to
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been as disliked in the same manner that Resident 6. Figures
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detract from the gameplay when it comes to telling
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playing a game like Resident Evil 6 it is how not to
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