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Old 07-13-2010, 12:33 PM   #1
jrrtoken
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Cinematics: Good? Bad? Buzzword?

There's been a lot of talk about the paradigm of "cinematic" in video games. It's a descriptor, like visceral, mature, hardcore, and any other crock that a marketing agency excretes from a staff meeting. Whenever a game is deemed "cinematic", the description is obtuse and vague; Is the gameplay "cinematic", or are they talking about the emotional-environmental simulation found in the game? When comes to RPGs, this is further mystified. For example, in Fallout, a 2D-isometric RPG, whenever dialogue was initiated, this very clever overlay appeared on the screen, with camera on top, dialogue on the bottom:



Today, this probably wouldn't be considered "cinematic", but in a different light, it does show the PC, the NPC that you're talking to, and the scenery, all though a third-person perspective. Would this not be considered "cinematic"? Within the Fallout example, however, there's also "talking heads"; a more detailed and animated first-person perspective of select NPCs, usually the NPCs being VIPs or other important characters. These "talking heads" were also voice-acted, presumably for "immersion" purposes.



Talking heads were obviously implemented for greater immersion of the player in the gameworld. The addition of a more detailed perspective and voice acting simply boasts "cinematic".

Moving on to a more contemporary example, we have Deus Ex.



Unlike Fallout, the 3D Deus Ex allows for multiple, dynamic camera angles, and also hides all of the HUD and adds a letterbox frame. Is this more "cinematic" than Fallout's talking heads? Everyone also has voice acting and facial animation, and even the PC has his own voice acting. Indeed, Deus Ex does a better job of plunging the player into the sim, if judged on dialogue alone.

However, consider this: does the addition of PC voice acting, a given PC name, and a given PC appearance inadvertently reduces the role-playing effect of bringing the player into the gameworld? RPGs are highly centered around character development, both from a statistical and thematic perspective. They're also based on good storytelling and atmosphere development, as this also puts the player deeper into the role that he/she is playing.

Let's take KotOR, for example:



It shares the same camera angles, NPC voice acting, and letterbox frame as Deus Ex (albeit with greater environmental detail and more unique facial expressions), but unlike Deus Ex and like Fallout, KotOR allows the player to change the PC's name and appearance, and also doesn't include PC voice acting. As a player, which game would provide a greater role-playing experience? Is there a direct trade-off between greater character creation and cinematics, or is the comparison merely subjective?

Let's take Mass Effect:



Alright, we've got all the trappings of Deus Ex; the dynamic camera angles, the PC voice acting, the given surname. But wait, what's with the interface? It's a wheel-based dialogue "hub" with summaries of player responses instead of complete, scripted lines. Mass Effect was highly lauded for being more "cinematic" than previous RPGs, but was the "streamlined" interface really the clincher? For all purposes, it was the same tree-based dialogue system as any previous RPG, albeit with the summarized dialogue options with a more console-oriented faceplate (presumably).

Again, this affirms the character immersion vs. environment/thematic immersion argument, and could be interpreted in many ways. Players don't get the same level of character customization (I'm not talking facially, however) as say, KotOR, but they do feel a greater level of character interactivity (NPCs can address you by name, you can audibly talk back). Yet, you can't play as yourself (Hi, my name is ***** **********), and you're not boxed-in to any preset voice acting, because, well, there is none.

Finally, we have Alpha Protocol*.



Like Mass Effect, Alpha Protocol features a "streamlined" dialogue UI, a premade, voice-acted PC, etc. What Alpha Protocol does differently, however, is providing a different paradigm for dialogues; there are no "trees", everything is linear-based, and you can't "go back" in dialogues. Oh, and there's a timer for responses. This has all the hallmarks of a "cinematic" game, one where there is less player-control. However, what Alpha Protocol does to compensate for less perceived player control is preset "personas" that are featured within (almost) every conversation. Each persona, usually amounting to aggresive, professional, and suave, provides a different personality for the PC, and gives the player more free agency when it comes to storytelling. NPCs will react to the player's personality via each persona "choice", and the consequences can be variable. This also broadens character development, as it allows for one element of P'nP role-playing which hasn't been heavily included within cRPGs: personality development. Morality doesn't really count in Alpha Protcol, as it's completely eschewed, allowing the PC's personality and player preference to decide the perceived "right" choice, with what's "right" to be subject to subjective, personal opinion.

While Alpha Protocol does include a heavy amount of restrictive "cinematics", it does try to compensate for this, and does so fairly well. However, it still eschews much of the free-form entertainment found within many less-cinematic RPGs. This ultimately beckons the question: Should games be more "cinematic"? Are "cinematic" games more entertaining than "non-cinematic" ones?




*groans from the teeming masses
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Old 07-13-2010, 01:06 PM   #2
DarthParametric
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Just another buzzword. The essence of it though seems to be the push for the "interactive movie" - trying to make games more mainstream and thereby more popular (i.e. generate more revenue).

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there are no "trees"
That's not true at all. AP has a tree the same as any other RPG with selectable dialogue. The main difference is that its branches are all uni-directional and there's a time limit. Other than that there's little difference with Mass Effect or any number of other RPGs - i.e. for the most part choice is just an illusion and you end up either funnelled into a single or, at best, a binary outcome.
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Old 07-13-2010, 11:45 PM   #3
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Alan Wake is very 'cinematic' as well. You really feel like youre in David Lynch/Stephen King/HP Lovecraft type nightmare. It's absolutely awesome IMO. This feeling that it is something you are watching is accentuated by the fact that each level is presented like an episode of a TV series, including a "previously on Alan Wake" recap of the last episodes.

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Old 07-14-2010, 02:18 AM   #4
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*looks around* ...

“It’s like I’m PLAYING a movie!” Cinematic gaming and you

I'll just leave this here because I can't be bothered typing up more than I already have...

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Old 07-14-2010, 06:28 PM   #5
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Just to frame things, what is your feeling on, say, the Half-life games?

You never speak and let everyone else do the speaking for you. Its a scripted sequence, but it doesn't entirely pull you out of the game. While it does sometimes lock you in a room and creates a sort of false sense of freedom, it seems to stand rather unique in its story telling method... although it isn't an RPG.
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Old 07-14-2010, 06:42 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DarthParametric View Post
That's not true at all. AP has a tree the same as any other RPG with selectable dialogue. The main difference is that its branches are all uni-directional and there's a time limit.
Sorry, I meant "trees" in the way of a looping, branched dialogue line. For example: [Let me ask you a question... Tell me about radscorpions].
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Other than that there's little difference with Mass Effect or any number of other RPGs - i.e. for the most part choice is just an illusion and you end up either funnelled into a single or, at best, a binary outcome.
What do you mean, exactly? Do you mean that every choice is aggregated and exclusive to its own branch that is unaffected by other choices?
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Originally Posted by True_Avery
Just to frame things, what is your feeling on, say, the Half-life games?

You never speak and let everyone else do the speaking for you. Its a scripted sequence, but it doesn't entirely pull you out of the game. While it does sometimes lock you in a room and creates a sort of false sense of freedom, it seems to stand rather unique in its story telling method... although it isn't an RPG.
I don't consider Half-Life to be overly cinematic, since the entire setting puts you directly in the first person, trappings and all. The game wants you to experience every moment through a specific lens, and although the scripted sequences do put the sim in "pseudo-cutscene mode", it doesn't always constrain the player's inherent control over the player, i.e. you can still move around, jump up and down, etc.

It's a form of "cinematic" gameplay, but it's more for easy immersion and exposition. Take Half-Life 2, when in the beginning, you're literally forced to follow a specific route to advance the story. However, the game doesn't take control away from the player; you can freely run around the train station, throwing luggage at guards. The game "corrals" the player, rather than directly controlling him. That being said, it can become consequently frustrating when you're limited by space, but still free to move the camera, like in the teleporter sequence.
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Old 07-14-2010, 10:52 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PastramiX View Post
What do you mean, exactly?
You've through played AP several times now I assume? Leaving aside minor differences like a few lines of dialogue, how different can you honestly say each playthrough was? You still did all the same missions no? You still go through all the same flashforward sequences where you are discussing events with Leland. In some missions you get the same sort of binary choice as ME - i.e. be a nice guy or shoot someone in the face, in others you don't get any choice at all. In the end you still end up back at the Greybox where you get another binary choice, but it still plays out pretty much the same regardless and you end up riding off into the sunset. How is that different than any other RPG?

This is off-topic though and doesn't have anything to do with the whole cinematic thing.
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Old 07-14-2010, 11:21 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DarthParametric View Post
You've through played AP several times now I assume? Leaving aside minor differences like a few lines of dialogue, how different can you honestly say each playthrough was? You still did all the same missions no? You still go through all the same flashforward sequences where you are discussing events with Leland. In some missions you get the same sort of binary choice as ME - i.e. be a nice guy or shoot someone in the face, in others you don't get any choice at all. In the end you still end up back at the Greybox where you get another binary choice, but it still plays out pretty much the same regardless and you end up riding off into the sunset. How is that different than any other RPG?
It doesn't really stray away from others when it comes to final consequences, yes. What's different about AP is that it attempts to create a unique patchwork of leading to the final consequence. It's like Fallout: In the end, The Master always gets killed and the Cathedral destroyed, but how you get to him, and every other detail that goes along that, is acknowledged in the ending act. Take Deus Ex: Does it really matter if Paul lives or dies? If you kill Anna Navarre on Lebedev's plane? No, it doesn't. The point is, the ideal of unbeknownst, long-term consequences has barely been accomplished in other RPGs, or not at all.

AP at least tries to take a step further and make it seem more dynamic. We're never going to see multiple, unrelated, plot deviations in an RPG; it's purely impractical when it comes to resource management during development. What developers can do, and have very much done so, is to try to give more variable paths within each act. Is it illusionary? When looking at the final result, maybe it is, but it's the experience within the game that counts, not the ending.
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Old 07-15-2010, 01:45 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DarthParametric View Post
In the end you still end up back at the Greybox where you get another binary choice, but it still plays out pretty much the same regardless and you end up riding off into the sunset. How is that different than any other RPG?
I can't even begin to fathom where your threshold for "innovative" must lie.

Yes, you ultimately end up at Graybox, but you have 4 different handler options. 16 different handler bonus options. You have options to ignore, spare, leave for dead, or kill 2 or 3 different people. You can join Halbeck or not. If you do, there are 3 potential endings. If you don't there about 7 or 8 (trying to list them in my head) different options.

I see a developer that put a lot of effort into making choices matter. You seem inclined to disagree ("binary"?). So perhaps you could tell us what would get your attention?

EDIT: Heck, even if you choose to join Halbeck and betray Leland, you get two options for how that goes down.
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