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Gamedesign through gamer's eyes: Forced "cinematic" experience

(original post in russian)

I have noticed this thing a lot, but recent Max Payne 3 became the last straw and I can’t stay silent about this issue anymore. I don’t understand, why exactly so many developers force their «great cinematic moments» in our mouth, completely ignoring the magic the player creates while simply playing the game. Why do they doubt the power of the medium they create in?

«Max Payne is hanging under the helicopter. There are enemies on the landing pad shooting at him. Suddenly, one of the enemies brings a rocket launcher and shoots. Time slows and Max has to shoot down the rocket in the air.» It certainly looked good on paper. In practice? I rolled my eyes and sighed. 5 seconds later it happened again and i my eyes were looking iside my head. Later, this «shooting down a rocket/grenade/molotov cocktail in dangerous situation in slow-mo» happened about 15 times more and i had a palm tree growing on my face (it’s gone now — i got better).

Max Payne 3 was criticised a lot for «cutscenes». But that’s not the problem, not in the concept of the «cutscene» itself, when the game shows you something while you’re not in control. Problem lied in the fact, that each shooting down the rocket, each «cool moment», the chain ride or water tower falling, developers were emphasizing the «cinematic» moment, which could’ve been created during the gameplay. Maybe not in the exact same way, maybe worse, maybe better. Rockstar have this incredible (albeit sometimes glitchy) ragdoll physics enginein the game, made every shoot, every jump, every kill at least a bit unique and gave the tools for creating «cool cinematic moments» in the player’s hands. And you can create them yourself, easily, by just playing. And you could in older Max Payne games, which lacked the cool ragdoll physics and look dated today. And then Rockstar seem to have started doubting the tools they have created themselves, and started forcing the player to experience the pre-scripted, akmost always same «cool moments», taking away from the player something, that made the game fun and interesting in the first place. And made their own game worse.

But Max Payne 3 is just a recent example. I noticed this issue before and, it seems, will see it again. But i’m noticing the issue just because of what i can do in the game, and what the game lets you do. I was annoyed at some things in Mass Effect 3 (apart from the ending), or even the second one, when you were forced to replicate specific actions developers want you to do, in order to see something «awesome», which is often necessary to progress. But in fact, i felt awesome each time i did a headshot with my Sentinel’s sniper rifle, during a heated and hard battle. I created those awesome moments, i still remember, by using the tools the game gave me. Slow-mo during the aiming, something that made the moments looking good, was a simple gameplay mechanic, used in every single battle. My squad members and my enemies just did their AI scripts, just as they did in every other battle. Those were tools to create a «cinematic moment» and i used those tools and created those moments. When i wanted and how i wanted. And i felt truly good. And i never feel good when the game forces me to blow up that thing or we die (because enemies will spawn infinitely until you do that and see a cool BOOM)». Your cool BOOM is just an visual effect, i see and can create myself, when i decide to blow something up. It does not become cool if you force me to do it, even if i destroy all the enemy troops with it in a cool way — it just becomes a simple mechanical motion i need to do to progress further.

This doubt of game developers in the abilities of the games they create is also surprising, when you look at multiplayer games. Games, which are not know for scripted moments, and yet they constantly prove that players can create «cinematic moments» using the game as a tool. Every developer may understand that by just going to youtube. Ignoring all the wubwubwub NO SCOPE 720 1337 PRO videos, you can start with some classic example, like LoopZook. And move from there, looking how people make amazing tricks in some Quake or Unreal Tournament 2004. How cleverly they play Spy in TF2, or juggle the turrets’ rockets back as a Pyro. As they gotta go fast grab the flag, kill the chasers with precise blue-plate specials, kill the enemy with the flag, return the flag and finally score the point in Tribes: Ascend. These are multiplayer games, created to play good and look good at it. But Mass Effect, Max Payne, some Battlefield 3 or CoD-games in singleplayer are also created to look good while people play them. And they do look good. So why the doubt?

I’m playing games for many years now, and i go «wow» during playing rather often. I created «cinematic awesome moments» in games a million times, be it a tricky jump in a platformer, be it a hard won battle in an RPG, be it a difficult situation in an arcade racing game, or a multiplayer battle. If the game looks great while it’s being played, you don’t have to force the player to do «awesome things». You shouldn’t take away the ability to chose or control from the player just to show him/her something, that can be done while just playing this game, in this engine, with these animations and sounds. Because if i can do something awesome, i want the choice — i want to choose if i want to do it or not. When i make that choice, when i get a «cool cinematic» thing, as a result of my choice, i go «wow». Shooting rockets down in Max Payne 3? Boring.

P.S. And if someone thinks that the problem lies just with the cutscenes — it doesn’t. Cutscenes can (and in some game designs should) be used, just used right. They are a simple tools — developer decides how to use them.