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  • Results from the Game Design Challenge: Cut the Cutscene

    [12.18.08]
    - Manveer Heir and GameCareerGuide.com staff
  •  Cutscenes provide an easy way for game designers to tell a part of a story or convey information, but they do it in a way that is not integral to playing games.

    A recent game design challenge asked you to take the intro cinematic for Stubbs the Zombie and make it interactive, due to budgetary concerns at the studio. Due to the holiday and difficulty of this challenge, there unfortunately weren't many entries. Only two entries truly got to the heart of this challenge, one of the most difficult ones to date. Perhaps the challenge was written in a way that made it difficult to understand what needed to be done (and for that, we take full responsibility) or perhaps some tasks of a game designer are much more difficult than many people assumed.

    When making an intro to a game, from a cinematic idea, a few things are necessary. First, the designers need to figure out exactly what information in the cinematic needs to now be conveyed in the game.

    Second, you must come up with game mechanics or ways to present that information that are somewhat interactive. So, if the opening cinematic tells you that the city is a utopia, it doesn't mean you want to make some character in the game say, "This city is a utopia!" when you pass them. Instead, what ways can you show the player how the city is a utopia?

    Writers know well the dictum, "Show, don't tell," and in games, designers have to take that adage one step further to "Do -- don't show or tell." In other words, let the player do something that enforces the idea you have, rather than tell them or show them through the game world. This way the player feels as if she is responsible for the learning, rather than being told what is going on.

    In BioShock, you see a Big Daddy early on and it seems like a huge lumbering beast that is scary. You are shown the Big Daddy killing a splicer early in the game. However, when it comes time to fight the Big Daddy, you get to act and learn first hand at how difficult Big Daddy's are in the game. This is a good example of using all three ways of conveying information to reinforce that Big Daddy's are bosses in BioShock. The game and designers tell you, show you, and then let you do something to learn first-hand.

    Even with the small amount of entries there were some interesting ideas thrown around as well as perceptions of what information was important in the intro and how to integrate it into the game. Read on to see the winning entries.

    Best Entries
    Mike Wilson, Community Assistant at Rare
    (see page 2)
    In his entry, Mike Wilson goes through the steps of identifying what the player needs to know and explaining how the player will come to know it. A lot of the information becomes more subtle, being conveyed through props or objects in the level, but that's okay (consider how often you've played a game and felt pummeled over the head with information; suddenly subtlety seems much more desirable). Giving subtle clues, like placing family photos in a scene, also recognizes the fact that every detail of the story is not absolutely pertinent, and that if players miss the contextual clues for a level or two, they can still follow along.

    Justin Phillips, no affiliation (see page 3)
    At the end of this submission, Justin Philips says that by cutting the cutscene, the player can "get straight into playing the game" -- and that may be the most important takeaway idea from this challenge. He also writes, "This [opening cutscene] information is predominantly narrative in nature and its initial presentation does not translate into gameplay that makes sense within the level structure. However the major points can be lifted from the cutscene and placed within the playing environment for the player to absorb in a slightly more interactive method." Phillips also created some useful storyboards to better show what the player will do when learning the information from the to-be-cut cutscene, another crucial thing that a game developer should be ready to do at a moment's notice when presenting a plan of action to his team or bosses.

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