Over at RPG Codex, there is a very good article by Role-Player on how the increasing use of cutscenes is ruining gameplay experience.

He maintains that cutscenes interfere with the flow of the game, often make nonsense of player choices and actions, and turn the player into more of a passive observer than an active participant in the story.

He cites several games to prove his points, although he doesn’t mention one of the worst, namely Neverwinter Nights 2. This game is so overloaded with cutscenes, almost the only real player action is heading into the next combat.

A friend of mine, who ordinarily plays a CRPG through several times, did this one only once. She said she wanted “to play a game, not watch a movie”. That about sums it up; NWN2 is more a movie than a game.

However, there was one “feature” that Role-Player didn’t mention: the cutscene that shows “what’s happening elsewhere”. Why are such scenes being shown to the player?

In NWN2, we look in on conversations or activities being conducted by various hostile factions. The player is not present, spying on enemies. Therefore, the player should not be seeing or hearing these things.

This technique is common in movies, but there we are just passively watching a story unfold. It has no place in a game, unless the player has some magical means of spying on enemies.

There is a lot of blather about “immersion” in games, but walking out the town gate and suddenly being treated to a conversation between Black Garius and his underlings destroys any feeling of immersion.

Of course, NWN2 didn’t have much of an “immersion factor” to begin with. And any it may have had disappears early under the weight of excessive scripting.

Much the same can be said for Hordes Of The Underdark, which also suffered from overuse of cutscenes, including “what’s happening elsewhere”. It makes you wonder if the story is about the player-character, or if the player-character is being treated more like an NPC observer.

That doesn’t mean cutscenes have no place in a game. They can be useful as introductory sequences. And certainly, at the end, a cutscene of Foozle’s death throes can be very satisfying.

Between those two points, however, cutscenes need to be used with a very sparing hand. There are two main reasons for this: (a) a game is not a movie, nor should it be; (b) excessive cutscenes reduce the replayability of a game.

I agree with Role-Player: designers are losing sight of gameplay and fun in their eagerness to “tell a story”, which too often turns out to be a story that hardly needs a player-character, or any real interaction beyond fighting. We can only hope that developers will reign in the “virtuoso coding” and remember that games are meant to be played, not watched.

The Role We Don’t Play on RPG Codex