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A cutscene is a sequence in a video game over which the player has little or no control, often breaking up the gameplay and used to advance the plot, present character development, and provide background information, atmosphere, dialogue and clues. Cutscenes can either be animated or use live action footage.

Cutscenes are sometimes also referred to by other terms such as cinematics or in-game movies. Cutscenes that are streamed from a video file are sometimes also referred to as full motion video or FMV.



The 1984 game Karateka was the earliest known game to use cutscenes in its current sense, although other earlier games such as Pac-Man featured interludes between certain game stages that could now be described as cutscenes. Other early video games known to make use of cutscenes as an extensive and integral part of the game were Enix's Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken, released in 1985, Lucasfilm Games' Maniac Mansion and Opera Soft's La Abadía del Crimen both released in 1987. Since then, cutscenes have been part of many video games, especially in the RPG genre. The first game to feature animated cutscenes with voice acting was Tengai Makyō for the PC Engine CD in 1989.[1]

Types of cutscenes

Live-action cutscenes

Screenshot of a live-action cutscene from Command and Conquer: Red Alert.

Live-action cutscenes have many similarities to films. For example, the cutscenes in Wing Commander IV utilised both fully constructed sets, and "name" actors such as Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell for the portrayal of characters.

Recently, some movie tie-in games, such as Electronic Arts' The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars games, have also extensively used film footage and other assets from the film production in their cutscenes. Another movie tie-in, Enter the Matrix, used film footage shot concurrently with The Matrix Reloaded that was also directed by the film's directors, the Wachowski brothers.

However, many gamers enjoy live-action cutscenes for their often poor production values and sub-standard acting. The cutscenes in the Command & Conquer series of real-time strategy games are particularly noted for often hammy acting performances.

Live action cutscenes were popular in the early to mid 1990s with the onset of the CD-ROM and subsequent extra storage space available. This also led to the development of the so-called interactive movie, which featured hours of live-action footage while sacrificing interactivity and complex gameplay.

Increasing graphics quality, cost, critical backlash and artistic need to integrate cutscenes better with gameplay graphics soon led to the increased popularity in animated cutscenes in the late 1990s. However, for cinematic effect, some games still utilize live-action cutscenes - an example of this is Black, which features interviews between main character Jack Kellar and his interrogator filmed with real actors.

Animated cutscenes

There are two primary techniques for animating cutscenes. In-game cutscenes are rendered on-the-fly using the same game engine as the graphics in the game proper. These are frequently used in the RPG genre, as well as in the Metal Gear Solid, Grand Theft Auto, and The Legend of Zelda series of games, among many others. Pre-rendered cutscenes are animated and rendered by the game's developers, and are able to take advantage of the full array of techniques of CGI, cel animation or graphic novel-style panel art. The Final Fantasy series of video games, developed by Square, are noted for their prerendered cutscenes, which were first introduced in Final Fantasy VII. Blizzard Entertainment is also a notable player in the field, with the company having a department created especially for making cinema-quality pre-rendered cutscenes, for games such as Diablo II and Warcraft III. In 1996 Dreamworks created The Neverhood, the only game to ever feature all-plasticine, stop-motion animated cutscene sequences.

Pre-rendered cutscenes are generally of higher visual quality than in-game cutscenes, but have two disadvantages: the difference in quality can sometimes create difficulties of recognizing the high-quality images from the cutscene when the player has been used to the lower-quality images from the game; also, the pre-rendered cutscene cannot adapt to the state of the game: for example, by showing different items of clothing worn by a character. This is seen in the PlayStation 2 version of Resident Evil 4, where Leon is seen always in his default costume because of processor restraints that were not seen in the GameCube version.

In newer games, which can take advantage of sophisticated programming techniques and more powerful processors, in-game cutscenes are rendered on the fly and can be closely integrated with the gameplay. Some games, for instance, give the player some control over camera movement during cutscenes, for example Dungeon Siege, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and Kane & Lynch: Dead Men.

Interactive cutscenes

Interactive cutscenes involve the computer taking control of the player character while prompts (such as a sequence of button presses) appear onscreen, requiring the player to follow them in order to continue or succeed at the action. This gameplay mechanic, commonly called Quick Time Events, originated in the game Shenmue. Other games with these include Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage, Resident Evil 4, God of War I and II, Tomb Raider: Legend, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and Fahrenheit, where the entire game involves real-time cutscenes which are played out depending on the player's actions, with decisions made integral to the game's story.

Quick Time Events have been often criticized for limiting gameplay. The dubbed "cineractives" in Spider-Man 3 were sometimes criticized due to having no warning when they were about to happen, often leaving the player having to re-do the event.

No cutscenes

A recent trend in video games is to avoid cutscenes completely. It was popularized in Valve's 1998 video game, Half-Life, and has since been used by a number of other games. The player retains control of the character at all times, including during non-interactive scripted sequences, and the player character's face is never seen. Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed also allows the player to retain limited control over the character during the "cutscenes", though their movement is severely limited. This is meant to immerse the player more in the game, although it requires more effort on the part of the developer to make sure the player cannot interrupt the scripted actions that occur instead of cutscenes. Scripted sequences can also be used that provide the benefits of cutscenes without taking away the interactivity from the gameplay.

Director Steven Spielberg, an avid video gamer, has criticized the use of cutscenes in games, calling them intrusive, and feels making story flow naturally into the gameplay is a challenge for future game developers.[2]

See also


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