GDC 2009: Kaos gives Big Huge tips on cinematic gaming

Rise of Nations, Frontline studio reps tell developers how to make their games more Hollywood-like without using cutscenes.

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SAN FRANCISCO--While not as prominent as the annual Game Design Challenge, the Game Developers Conference also has a recurring session on Cinematic Game Design. This year's installment closed out the show on Friday afternoon with a lecture explaining how developers can borrow elements from action films to make their in-game action more impactful to players.

Presenting the session was a potentially awkward combination of one THQ developer, Kaos Studios lead single-player designer Richard Rouse III, and one soon-to-be-ex-THQ developer, Big Huge Games cinematic director Martin Stoltz. (The publisher revealed the last leg of its massive restructuring plan earlier this month, saying that Big Huge Games would be sold or shut down if a buyer can't be found.)

Rouse started the presentation emphasizing that he doesn't want to promote bad cinematic design or design that makes games less like an interactive medium. He then explained that games arguably already do action better than their film counterparts but stressed that there are still cinematic techniques that can be applied to action scenes in games.

One technique the pair wanted to emphasize was the pacing of an action scene and the way that changing the tempo adds to its impact. Stoltz pointed to a clip from the climax of The Wild Bunch with roller-coaster-like pacing. A rapid-fire gunfight suddenly goes quiet and turns into a tense standoff. When one of the protagonists pulls the trigger and starts the fight back up, an assault of quick cuts and gunshots leaves viewers with a sense of the overwhelming odds the main characters face.

Stranglehold's standoffs helped change up the game's pacing.
Stranglehold's standoffs helped change up the game's pacing.

Rouse contrasts that with a scene from Stranglehold where the main character dodges bullets in a slow motion standoff before the speed resumes to normal and the game becomes a fast-paced shootout once more. Stoltz said the tension and anticipation of the wild firefights in these clips do wonders to improve their final payoff and impact.

Call of Duty 4 was another game up for praise from Rouse. He mentioned a climactic scene in the game where the player is knocked out in order to begin a scripted event. He points to it as a well-justified reason to take some of the player's control away. At the same time, it lets players maintain some control, and the scene makes an effective compromise between guiding players through a dramatic series of events and maintaining the interactivity.

Next the pair talked about car chases. Stoltz pointed out that directors have toyed with camera position in cinematic car chases for years. Putting the camera outside the car to show the havoc created by a high-speed chase through city streets detaches the viewer from the drivers and makes them concern themselves more with the chaos being inflicted upon the city. On the other hand, using in-the-car shots of the effects collisions have on the driver, as in the Bourne films, makes viewers relate more with the person inside the car.

I totally relate to Vin Diesel now!
I totally relate to Vin Diesel now!

For an example of this technique in games, Rouse showed a clip from The Wheelman, where players drive through traffic from a behind-the-car view. However, Rouse notes that the developers wanted to get into the car, so they gave players a slow-motion 360 spin-out during which the camera zooms into the car and players get a chance to fire off shots at their pursuers.

Stotlz also wanted to point out the way toying with scale sets up a sense of height. He points to the classic Hitchcock film Saboteur, where a man tries to rescue another clinging from the side of the Statue of Liberty's torch. Much of the scene was shot close up enough that viewers couldn't see more than the top of the torch. But Hitchcock selectively cut back to longer shots looking down on the characters to remind the audience how high up they were and the danger involved in the situation.

Rouse singled out Mirror's Edge for its use of the technique. Players can hop along the city's skyscrapers without constantly being reminded how high up they are. However, players approaching an edge of a building can glance down and be quickly reminded--like those who miss a jump and plummet to their deaths. Assassin's Creed used the technique similarly. Players can scale the game's massive towers and be treated to a panoramic view of the surrounding area to show how high up they have climbed.

Familiar locations can also create a compelling new wrinkle in an action scene. Rouse pointed to Dead Rising's mall, Rainbow Six Vegas' casinos, and Duke Nukem 3D's movie theater level as examples of game settings where the action is made more interesting for players because of the environments. At the same time, a confusing environment can also pay off for the audience, much as it did during the mirror room shootout in Orson Welles' film The Lady From Shanghai or in the funhouse scene from Max Payne 2.

There's a brief cutscene involved either way, but at least players still get to choose.
There's a brief cutscene involved either way, but at least players still get to choose.

Stoltz wrapped up the session by talking about the action staple of the intimate death scene. He showed the final scene of David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone, where a character who can see the future by touching people receives a premonition that wraps up the film's main plotline. Rouse said many of the same techniques used to make that death scene intimate (varied pacing, slow-motion brutality, close-up camera angles) were used well with BioShock. Specifically, seeing the Little Sisters' emotions as players either saved them or harvested them greatly enhanced the impact of the decision for players, Rouse said. Even though those scenes weren't interactive, Rouse said it was excusable because the player had to initiate them in the first place.

All of the slides from Rouse's presentation--as well as those from previous years' Cinematic Game Design sessions--should be available soon at Rouse's Web site.

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RonTorque

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Rouse was a part of "The Suffering &The Suffering:Ties That Bind",hope they make a third game.

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azeez17

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Its the use of moments like these that help to make the pacing of a game awesome...

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rounikenshin09

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@senjutsu Yes, cinematic gaming can be fun, but you really do not get any more out of it than if you watched a movie... and a movie is about 18 hours less time devoted (not saying playing a FF game for 40 isn't fun). But I've honestly 'felt' more in little art flash games like Aether and The Majesty of Colors, and those are just simple little games....

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senjutsu

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@DarkShadow667: NO, cinematic gaming IS what's fun. At least for me (I'm a JRPG player). What I always love about MGS games was not only the gameplay, but the story and how everything falls into place! Same for final fantasy games! Arcade games can be fun, but only in groups, and not for long... And if you want that I suggest the wii, which have tons of great games for this. But I prefer having not only a game that I can shoot everywhere, I want a story, I want emotions, I wanna feel like I'm living the game, not just having fun shooting around aimlessly... You say: "FUN in a GAME! THAT is an Ignored concept Nowadays.." Are you kidding? You think Pacman was better? Or Sonic? or the old megaman? (I only loved the X ones, and zero on PSP :D). Well, I played pacman, I played sonic 1,2,3 and even with the red dude that needed a bizarre cartrige where you plug the sonix cartrige on it, lol. But nothing can be compared to the games we have now. For exemple, I loved FF4, FF5, FF6, FF7, FF8 for their story and everything, liked FF9 but loved FFX because how it was telling a story. Okay, it wasn't a story as big as FF7 or FF8, but you could see the character's emotions, you could feel them for real, like in a movie. That's why I say we like in the right time. Videogaming time! :D

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DarkShadow667

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The problem with today's market IS Cinematic Gaming. Developers should make a game fun to play, more like a GAME and LESS like a MOVIE! IF you need to do something like MGS4, why not add an element of "Choose Your Own Adventure?" Let the player make some decisions during a 58 minute cutscene. Maybe a few different ones. Decisions that can make the Story take a whole different direction? Decisions that can make the game either Easier or Harder later on. That would, at least, Give the game some Replay Value and make it WORTH the $60. MadWorld on Wii is an amazing game because it feels like a game and it is a blast to play. I don't feel like I'm playing a Movie I could just be watching. I actually feel like I'm Playing a GAME. and I am having FUN! Hear that developers? FUN in a GAME! THAT is an Ignored concept Nowadays..

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halldivanapeva

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@Thatsmypunk... Uwe Boll should be castrated, then hung drawn and quartered, not made to take a movie making class.

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_Piranha_

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cinematic gaming --> BioShock, F.E.A.R.2, Return To Castle Wolfenstein, Silent Hill, Resident Evil...

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rounikenshin09

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Instead of taking techniques from movies, why don't developers actually further new ideas? Perfect ideas like Façade and Storytron....

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mustained13

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Maybe Uwe Boll should look into this; or take a similar class in movie making.

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Hk47ownz

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Its the use of moments like these that help to make the pacing of a game awesome... Sorry, just had to say that :P

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tonyhawksP8

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Ace Combat had great cutscnes but also played out a lot of the scenes. There is one in Ace Combat 5 where a burst missile will knock all the nuggets out of the sky and you see the effect play out.

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GeigerdolylWodd

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What about Breakdown? I mean that game's main character's friend will stop talking and wait for you to turn and look at her before she continues.

Not only that but she will turn and look at you the ask questions. The game took it's story so seriously that its all seen from the first person... well mostly.
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GeigerdolylWodd

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Its funny how they only pointed out one aspect of Assassin's Creed yet completely ignored the fact that there were some cut scenes in that game that were in game that allowed players to control their character still.

I suppose it was less about the use of cut scenes and more about developing a feeling of being able to understand where the character is coming from yet at the same time being able to handle the challenges imposed on said character with prescripted in-game camera work.

Speaking of camera work it would be nice if there were more care given to their placement and use in third-person action games so players don't ever lose sight of their character.

I always have found it frustrating to be in the midst of a heavy action sequence where I'm being attacked but I can't see my character. I mean it would help with regards to being able to address said attackers if I could at least see which way I'm facing as well as their relation to where I am? And no arrows don't really help.

Alternatively the option to toggle into a first person camera view like Unreal championship Liandri Conflict offers? Could be used to address this. I don't know why this hasn't caught on with third-person shooters.
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VGA_assassin

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How about Half-Life one or two which has no actual cutscenes, everything is played out right in front of the player in game, same as Fallout 3. All three of which are highly praised games, known for their story.

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neonfrax2

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More presentations like this are what I'd enjoy seeing at PAX.

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Generalmojo

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@ Joelgargan not only that mate, but if you shake the 6axis during cutscenes, you will notice snakes camo going back to its original form!:D

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RiseAgainst12

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@FlatLine I think they are saying that instead of taking the player out of the action with cutscenes, to make it short in-game events from the players point of view so as not to take them out of the action of the game. not a bad idea tbh, alot of FPS cutscenes just don't feel like they don't fit when they take your character out of his view, or focus on a different character all together.

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Temtamperu

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MGS4 was just one long cutsene. its a terrible way to make a game.

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Fou_Lu

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Yes please, less cutscenes, more game play. It's time developers learned they're making video games, not movies.

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joelgargan

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@claxhieu Which CoD are we talking about?? And I thought that MGS4 had the best cutscenes, allowing you to pan and zoom the camera at nearly all times, and a genuine story that didn't take backseat to the action.

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Flat_Line_____

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So, Exactly what were these guys suggestions for making the transition to better action sequences and dramatic effect in games? All I read were that they just pointed out things that have already been done in games and film...... I guess the point they were trying to make was "Do more things like these guys have done"? I dunno... I didn't really get any specifics about what THOSE guys would do or are doing to emphasize on this subject.. Lol, I have the feeling I missed something here...

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mattg90520

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hmm, interesting. im glad to see devs going in this direction more and more often. it just makes the whole experience more engaging and fun

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ciaxhieu

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i dont know about you but call of duty cut scene are one of the best ive seen, not graphicly (of course that goes to crysis cutscene) but in term of the intensity i felt during each cut scene, simply brilliance!

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