Editorial: The Cut-Scene Is Vindicated
It seems like only yesterday that the CG or FMV cut-scene appeared on the gaming scene; I still remember seeing some of those unbelievable videos from Final Fantasy VIII and being overwhelmed. For someone who started with the likes of Pong, this was a world I had always hoped for but never dared I'd see as a gamer. At the same time, it became immediately obvious that many old-school gamers didn't like this new trend. They thought it would eventually hinder the overall quality of the gameplay, and the more impatient twitch-gamers pined for a way to skip cut-scenes.
However, I was not one of these people. First of all, and you can check the records yourself, some of the finest games in history also contain the most accomplished cut-scenes of all time. This is no coincidence. As for that bit about FMV or CGI "replacing" good gameplay, that has turned out to be more baloney. Will anyone say the gameplay in Ninja Gaiden (Xbox) was somehow lessened by those amazing cut-scenes? Seriously? And what about the esteemed MGS franchise? Without any doubt, this is one series that has more non-interactive portions per gameplay hour than any other series on earth. Final Fantasy isn't even remotely close; FF titles may have a couple hours of total cut-scenes, but they're also 40-50 hours long. The ratio isn't even close to similar. Are we going to say Konami actually sacrificed the gameplay in MGS4 for great cut-scenes and a great story?
No. And I consider myself vindicated. I railed against all those "purists" who were screaming about how all games were going to "become like movies" and we'll never get great gameplay again. The knee-jerk reaction to this logical leap in technology always irritated me, and while I understood some of the reasoning, the overall theory was seriously flawed. If a development team has a big enough budget to create such awe-inspiring and technologically advanced cut-scenes, would it make any sense whatsoever to just assume they won't have any left over for stellar gameplay programmers? And most of those guys are gamers themselves; they're only interested in developing the best game they can, and that involves interaction. It really is no coincidence that when you list the top 10 games with the best cut-scenes, you will find that all of those 10 likely scored an average of a 9 or higher...and it certainly wasn't because of the damn FMV or graphics.
About 11 years ago, I remember a friend of mine saying to me, after seeing a cut-scene, that "it was over." Now, all we were going to get is more and more non-interactive "flash" and gameplay will keep getting pushed aside. I didn't agree then, and I'm proven correct now. In no way have the advent of FMV or CGI harmed the video game industry, and in fact, they have assisted in making certain titles the most memorable in history. Developers aren't slacking off in the gameplay department just so the cut-scenes can be pretty, and do you know why? Because we gamers won't buy them! I remember saying to my friend, "exactly how would that happen? Would you buy a game that put cut-scenes and visuals before the gameplay?" His answer, of course, was no, and of course, very few would answer that question differently. Sure, we've got more casual gamers than ever now, but they go by brand name recognition and not much else.
I am very, very glad we're out of those early days of the cut-scene during the original PlayStation era, because all the naysayers have been silenced. And if you're still jabbering, please provide me with even the slightest shred of hard evidence that points towards cut-scenes hindering gameplay. And before you start in on the, "oh, we watch more than we play," you need to gain a sense of reality. This has never happened with any game. Ever. Thing is, we're all so used to a game moving about that when it pauses, we think the interruption lasts way longer than it actually does. For example, I've heard people claim that there are 50-minute cut-scenes in certain RPGs, and when I sat down and timed them, they turned out to be around 12 minutes. Most were even less. Even in MGS, we always, always play more than we watch. In MGS4, they say it's about 30 hours, and I can pretty much guarantee that for at least 25 of them, you're actually playing.
The false perceptions are over, and there's no more recourse for the old-school gamers who attempt to maintain that cut-scenes are bad for the industry. That day is past, and I'm thankful for it.
5/16/2008 Ben Dutka