We all know that feeling when you are sitting there, enjoying a good tale in a video game, when suddenly one of the characters begin to take action in a way you never would have done yourself in such a situation. It can come in form of character being stapped right after finishing a boss fight, the main character showing off some cool powers but never can do them once the game actually begin.
Today I’m proud to present a completely new series, where I with a guest author, will take a look on anything in the video game industry that is a gripe with them. Go through both the positive and negative sides on that theme they have chosen, and really try to see if it’s possible to find a way to make it better.
For this first segment in the series, I’m joined by none other than Chris from Overthinkery, who has a gripe with “Characters doing stupid from things in cutscenes”.
Dear readers, I welcome you to:
“Alright, so to start off. Thank you for joining in on this debate, it’s an interesting choice you’ve made for Gaming Gripes’ first step into a series.” – Trinity
“Heh. It was the first thing I could think of that I have a proper gripe with, except really obvious stuff like Navi telling me to listen or hitboxes that don’t work or Claptrap’s entire existence.” – Overthinkery
“Yes, Navi is especially one of those characters that will still to this day make other players’ blood boil faster than Death Mountain will erupt.
So, what makes it that you do not like or hate characters who does stupid actions in cutscenes?
Any specific scenario you can point out that makes it apparent?” – Trinity
“Okay, so I think I have probably three distinct types of cutscene embuggerance that I can point to:
- A character makes a terrible decision that I would definitely not have made if I’d had control.
- I win a fight but then lose it in a cutscene anyway. This also covers stuff where characters forget about gameplay mechanics during cutscenes (classic example: Aerith’s dead? You’ve got Phoenix Downs, you idiots!)
- My character does something in a cutscene that’s very awesome but that I can’t replicate in gameplay, leading me to wonder why such a cool move is possible for them to do but not for me to make them do.
Of those, option 1 is actually probably the most forgivable because sometimes characters need to make bad decisions in order for the story to progress. That’s a writing thing, not really a gaming thing.” – Overthinkery
“You are correct about option 1, but I would like to take a look at exactly how come it invokes such a feeling in oneself when it happens on screen.
It’s a typical outcome that happens in either Horror or from time to time in Action games. Now let’s look at why that is. I believe that it’s to setup something for you to experience by getting out of your own thought process and comfort zone, in which the given scenario won’t play out like you want it to be…a sort of helplessness.” – Trinity
“It’s interesting because in perhaps no other form of media do we get quite so worked up about the choices characters make at least on the grounds that they’re not the ones who would have made. Raskolnikov makes some rather poor decisions in Crime and Punishment, but as we read it rather than play it we never have even so much as an illusion that we can affect what happens within the narrative. It’s a funny little side effect of gaming’s uniqueness among modes of storytelling.
I suspect that’s what makes it so frustrating: controlling a character through gameplay leads us to believe we’re responsible for their choices, so when we temporarily lose control and they act in a way we wouldn’t have caused them to, it can be a bit jarring.” – Overthinkery
“Never had thought about Raskolnikov. Now for option 2, which as you pointed out with the infamous example of Aerith’s death by Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII. One of the reasons this happens is once again to put emphasis on storytelling over the gameplay itself.
Could you go into more detail why this is such a problem to begin with?” – Trinity
“Oddly, few people do think about Raskolnikov when discussing gaming! Perhaps Dostoevsky’s more relevant still than we give him credit for…
Okay so the problem with characters forgetting things that would be totally viable options in gameplay is that it removes the story from the game itself. In any other medium, if a character forgot something that had been important in the previous scene, we’d think that was probably bad writing (unless there was a good reason for it). Let’s say FFVII were a movie, and for most of the movie they toss out reviving items like nobody’s business, but suddenly Aerith dies and nobody mentions that Phoenix Downs are a thing.
In that case, we’d think it was pretty lazy writing, losing track of plot elements for the sake of making a big dramatic event happen when actually it doesn’t make much sense.
In gaming it’s considered more forgivable because there’s this kind of segregating wall between story and gameplay a lot of the time, but I think the games with the best stories are often the ones that make the plot inseparable from the actual gameplay.” – Overthinkery
“Reminds me of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged that, besides 20,000 Leagues Under Sea inspired the game series Bioshock. In the first game, but especially the third we see that our main character has the means to do basically anything to stop the main antagonist. Yet in a cruel twist of faith the player gets restricted, not being able to use an of his powers.
That’s where I believe we see a difference in games and from where they originate.
Take for example Final Fantasy VII again, it’s custom in Japanese games to have a very specific narrative for the player to enjoy. You can easily see it in all the previous entries and now that I think about it. Only XV goes with a different narrative, but sill stays true to its themes for the audience.
You did point out that if it was a movie it would be easier to notice, but that is why I believe that through the narrative a wall is necessary to keep you immersed in the world of the game. Let’s say what you can do gameplay wise will dictate the story completely, no dialog choices or factions to support. If the game only uses its gameplay, you might have the audience in the moment but where does it let you breathe and see how your actions are going to be played out?
Story and gameplay is a thin line in video games, you not only need to have a narrative that lets you be entertained through, but also gameplay that assists in keeping you engaged.
This points me to what has happened in the last 5 years of the video game industry, if you haven’t noticed. There has been a more emphasis on being a cinematic experience, much the same as we watch Hollywood movies just where you can control the action. What is your thoughts on this change that doesn’t seem to slow down any time soon?” – Trinity
“I think that there are some very good ‘cinematic’ games, but I wouldn’t want all games to go in that direction.
I agree that some games will want to tell a particular story and so you just sort of have to accept that the gameplay mechanics may clash with that a little, and I don’t really begrudge a good story if it decides to separate itself from the gameplay a little. But then I think that games which integrate the two can tell the most powerful stories.” – Overthinkery
“Would you care to give some examples of games that does what you speak of?” – Trinity
“The first Bioshock is actually very good example: you don’t realise that what you do in the gameplay is actually part of the story, but by following Atlas’ instructions and fulfilling the objectives he gives, you as the player are just as much under the spell of ‘would you rather’ as Jack is.
(Is it Jack? I forget the player character’s name, if indeed he has one.)
So when that twist hits, it’s not just the characters who are affected: it’s, you because you were directly involved in making those events unfold.
TV Tropes has a page that covers some stuff around this subject, called Sliding Scale of Gameplay and Story Integration. Their pages on Cutscene Incompetence and Cutscene Power to the Max are related as well.
Which reminded me that Dark Souls is another very good modern example of the gameplay and the story almost being functionally indistinguishable (the BACKstory or lore is another beast entirely, of course).” – Overthinkery
“Haha, you are correct. I can still remember the shivers that ran down my spine as you find out what the ‘would you kindly’ phrase meant in the game.
As for Dark Souls, or just the entire Souls series. Is a good choice to look at, but I would rather use Journey as an example for how gameplay and the story are intertwined so much, it’s almost identical.” – Trinity
“Journey’s another good example. Yeah – or so I hear, having not actually played it! (To my shame.)” – Ovethinkery
“Oh you should, it’s not something you can explain but something that should be experienced and if you are lucky, can play through it with a friend. Still one of my favorite indie games to have come out on Sony’s Playstation. (Even the theme on my PS4 is Journey…ahh, should probably play it again someday.)
So far we’ve covered what makes a character do stupid actions in cutscenes and how games that utilizes both story and gameplay to its strength makes for a better experience.
However, you also had a third point, in which a character does something awesome in a cutscene but is impossible to replicate through gameplay. Any thoughts about why you think that is for option 3?” – Trinity
“I can see why games do this thing where they have amazing things happen in cutscenes that you can never reproduce in the actual game. For one thing, it allows some crazy UNLEASH THE TRUE POWER type moments to happen while keeping gameplay balanced and preventing the player from having access to some super OP abilities. The issue, I think, is similar to my point 2 in that it becomes a gripe of mine when it’s something that I can see no reasonable justification for not allowing. Like, you’ve shown that I COULD be unleashing this awesome move, but you haven’t allowed me to actually have access to it and have fun with it.
In Bayonetta, for example, you have access to a lot of cool abilities in the game, but in cutscenes the heroine can do much more – jumping crazy distances, throwing buildings around, hitting super combo moves that you can’t replicate – and it’s all stuff that I don’t see any real justification for why she can’t do it under normal conditions.
It’s not as if she took a power limiter off just for the cutscene, then put it back on – this is all stuff that, as far as the story’s concerned, she should be able to pull off at any time.
There are obvious gameplay reasons for not allowing this stuff, mostly just balancing, but it’s a bit egregious.
Or another example might be Tidus in FFX, who pulls off amazing moves in Cutscene Blitzball games, but isn’t half that good at the game when you play as him.
There are kind of hybrids of this, like Kingdom Hearts II’s reaction commands, which allow amazing things in the form of a QTE-style single button press but which you can only do under certain situations. Which is just like… if I can press triangle to slice a building in half here, why can’t I do it everywhere else?” – Overthinkery
“Egregious… I like that, would have said egotistical myself but let’s go with yours.
That is a good angle to point out. Yet this is something we’ve already seen possible in a few games, Fahrenheit for example lets you do all the crazy stuff happening with, albeit it be through Quick Time Events. You still get to do it as it happens on the screen, being in the moment.
While we’re talking about the Blitzball part, one thing to note is that the developers have limitation through the engine they are using for making the gameplay viable.
While I agree to an extend with what you’re saying about Kingdom Hearts II’s reaction sequence, I would like to point out that if you could do it anywhere else, it would ruin the whole experience for the player. Probably because the sequences it is happening in, is to broaden the action, making you sit on the edge of your seat feeling the adrenaline pumpin’ as you’re enthralled in what’s happening on the screen by in a way, through your actions alone.
If we want to look at games that actually lets you do these amazing actions you’ve seen in the cutscene. You should look no further than at fighting games. While it might be a perfect replica, you get to execute the same moves that they showed of before the game even began. Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Tekken are great examples for doing this.
Nevertheless, I do get what you mean. It’s just that it’s a necessary sacrifice in some game genres, to make you interested in the game when you see all those amazing set pieces happening in front of you before it has even begun.” – Trinity
“I think ‘necessary sacrifice’ is a good term for it. I agree that being able to use every reaction command in any context you liked would utterly ruin the game, and we do have to make concessions to the fact that things which can be animated for a cutscene may be much harder to create as an actual gameplay element, so there are legitimate limitations.
Also, it does mean that you get those amazing moments where you go WHOAAAAAAA, which wouldn’t happen if you could do it all the time.
That doesn’t mean it makes sense, thought!” – Overthinkery
“Haha, well to be fair there isn’t a whole lot that makes sense when it comes to video games in general.” – Trinity
“That’s true! I’m not going to start suggesting that everything needs to make sense all the time. That’d be boring.
I think my primary issue with these things is that they can challenge suspension of disbelief by reminding you that you’re limited. You can only ever do what the designers intended you to do. (Unless you glitch it the heck out, which is fun too.)” – Overthinkery
“YES, that is exactly the core I wanted to get to. The suspension of disbelief when it comes to characters acting in ways we don’t intend them to do.
However, to go back to all the options you’ve chosen for this segment. Do you see a way that game developers can make it better for future games to come or is it a futile battle in which the same problem will always be there?
These are your closing arguments for this segment as a whole, but do go into as much detail as possible.” – Trinity
“That is a very good question, I think it’ll always be the same thing to some extent to have gameplay and story be separate, because games will always want to tell a particular story and use particular mechanics and the two won’t always mesh in perfect tessellation. It seems as if indie games, or those with smaller developers, are better at integrating those two elements, though (just as a generalization which is my intuition and may well be totally false), and I suspect that this’ll be because the person responsible for designing the gameplay will be working much more closely with the person writing the story, or might even be the same person! Mixing the two seamlessly takes a lot of preparation in the very early stages, and it needs to be part of the fundamental design philosophy, otherwise you may end up having created two perfectly good but utterly incompatible PARTS of a game. So I think all developers, even the largest, can at least take steps towards addressing this by considering it during the very early stages of putting everything together. Come up with a story, think immediately about how you could use mechanics to tell that story. Think of a sweet gameplay element, consider straight away what implication that would have on the story. Then even if you don’t want to actually have the two be interlinked to any big extent, you at least have the opportunity to consider smart writing to explain WHY you can’t use a Phoenix Down to heal someone who’s Story Dead, not Gameplay Dead.
I’m aware, by the way, that some games – possibly even including FFVII, can’t remember off the top of my head – do actually have justification for that exact thing, in that characters who fall in battle are considered KO’d and not dead, so it’s not quite the same thing. It might not be the best example!
Ultimatel, I think devs shouldn’t be afraid to take a risk. The story you want to tell doesn’t really work with any conventional gameplay mechanics? Then come up with some new ones! Undertale, for example, comes up with a unique new battle system which is absolutely tied to the plot.” – Overthinkery
“Well Final Fantasy do use a lot of elements from old school RPGs. Which in turn used old mechanics from Dungeons and Dragons and so forth and so forth.” – Trinity
“That’s a great point, too: the fact is that most games fall into a particular genre based on their mechanics, and that’s because there are lineages of ‘Ways We Do Things In Games’ which are tried and tested. Why wouldn’t we do more turn-based RPGs, or gritty shooters? We know they work! And actually, the early games that used those mechanics did so because it fit very closely with the stories they wanted to tell, so perhaps what we can learn from this is that developers are moving into telling different kinds of story without adjusting the gameplay alongside that.” – Overthinkery
“This has been an estatic experience to do this with you Chris. You have made some excellent pointers with a unique spin on what is wrong, but in a way can be redeemed. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this Gaming Gripes with me and making such thoughtful answers, I do appreciate our discussion and can see more come in the future.” – Trinity
“This has been really fun! I didn’t even realize I had so many thoughts on the subject, hehe.” – Overthinkery
“It is fascinating when you put people together to talk through their hobbies. Suddenly, philosophy, psychology, science and many other elements come into play for the discussion.
Where may people might find you when looking for more insight from you?” – Trinity
“It’s odd, those three things always seem to some up in some form whenever I talk about anything. It’s a curse.
I’m happy with the way this turned and the way Chris really went into depth of what irritated him so much about this Gaming Gripe, was nothing more than an enticing experience.
However, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic as well. Do you think it’s irritating when characters does something stupid in cinematics? Write down in the comments what your perspectives are on this.
While you’re at it, tell me what you thought of this first segment in the new series Gaming Gripes. Love it? Hate it? Put your thoughts down below and do give Chris from Overthinkery a follow on both his Twitter and website, he’s quite philosophical in his approach to what ever he wants to talk about.
Stat Cozy and have a nice day!