How Long is Too Long for a Cutscene?

So after a crash course puzzle, the player has room for failure and the game simply rolls with it. Either way, there is a cutscene to transition the player from the crash course get-your-feet-wet puzzle to the rest of the game.

The cutscene is kinda long, and I can’t trim it down any further. There’s only gonna be two cutscenes of this length, one at the start and end of the game.

I’ve reviewed the wisdom found on the forum: It’s not during a time when the player could be taking other actions, the player character does not have control/agency during the cutscene, and the events of the cutscene are too precise or abstract to be handed over to player control. There’s also nowhere else to put these in the game, and I can’t drop any of it.

If this were just a normal written short story, this cutscene might have fit half a page or 3/4 of a page.

It’s also divided up between several read-more prompts (to not overwhelm the player), and there’s a running counter to show the player how many more sections there are to go, so it doesn’t seem endless.

I can try shaving a little bit more off, but are cutscenes of this length a sin, or okay if there’s only two in the whole game? My writer tendencies sometimes fight my game dev tendencies lol.

EDIT: I know I keep asking a lot of awkward questions that could be answered by testing but I promise I’m trying to get a minimal testing version to people. There’s just a lot of moving parts. This cutscene adapts a lot of different outcomes to a second starting point, and takes a lot of careful, effective writing to maximize foundation and minimize reading time.

I reckon it’s easy to get away with a cutscene at the end. Or at the very start. A little after the start, well, that’s not a bad time either. If the first puzzle is really involving rather than just ,“Here’s how to play via some unimportant props”, you’ll be pushing people into the cutscene with motivation for them to go through.

In IF, it’s always preferable to shorten a cutscene and/or farm material out of it.

While you say you can’t do anything (or much) else to it now, my question is how much more of the game have you already written? Editing the contents of cutscenes is something you can do an infinitely better job on once the game is basically complete. Until then you can’t be sure what you need and what you would or wouldn’t miss.

Obviously you’ve got to put something in in the meantime to know the game can function, but I reckon it’s then wise to say, “Okay, this is getting the job done for now. I’ll come back to it when I know much more,” rather than to put too much time into meticulously crafting a jewel you may have to totally recut and recraft later.

The luxury of editing a cut scene is that compared to editing interactive content, it’s freaking easy! Not as a writing task, but the fact you don’t have to change the implementation to match the changes in the cut scene means leaving it to later is very safe.



I think avoiding long passages is a best practice, but ultimately a writer must earn the reader’s interest, whether the passage is short or long. In that sense, it really depends on the writing and its context.

The reader’s attention is a little like money. You can earn it, spend it, or put it in the bank. The longer a passage is, the harder it is to retain interest. It’s good to have a little saved to carry them through. On the other hand, the passage might be riveting despite its length—it might even increase reader interest! I know “it depends” isn’t a very satisfying answer, but I think it’s the best answer without knowing more.

I think you should do your best with it and then see what your testers think. Like Wade says, it’s easy to edit later if you need to.


To address what @severedhand said:

I don’t have many functional parts of the game yet, but I know exactly what needs to be in the cutscene because I have the entire story plotted out in detail already. This wasn’t a kind of story that I could make up as I went along; there are a lot of moving parts due to the fundamental nature of the bigger picture story, but explaining that more would be a major spoiler. Basically, the player isn’t expected to be paying close attention to all these moving parts, but you do have the ability to investigate them, should you feel inclined, and have the opportunity to see the truth of the bigger picture. The cutscene is more concerned with the companion character and the player’s core mechanic (which will be used in nearly every single puzzle in the game), but basically I know exactly how much I can reduce because I have all these details set, and it’s a really tight system as it is.

Without spoiling much, imagine being trapped inside of a huge chess match between two opponents, and you’re just trying to stay alive, but you’re not one of the opponents yourself. I have the entire match plotted out already.

Also the puzzle before the cutscene is made to be really easy, but you do have a certain number of turns to solve it. If you still manage to run out of turns, it’s fine and you don’t get punished for it (I really hate asking a player to use the undo command, especially for something like this), and the story continues as normal, but only for this puzzle. It’s intended to setup a clue for the first major move in the plot, and provide a warm-up for the player to practice their primary mechanic before getting to the other puzzles, which happen after the cutscene. These puzzles will not have a limited number of turns; it’s just the first puzzle that does that.

For @kamineko: that’s some really solid advice, actually, to treat the player’s attention like currency. Half of the cutscene basically sets up the companion character for the player, and the other half provides a little bit of setting context and mostly player character context. The goals are to present the player character’s conflict (the player character is not supposed to be a self-insert of the player), and some fun interactions to establish the companion character. Hopefully this should respect the player’s time and attention investment, and get them into some more puzzles in short order afterward. As far as stories I’ve written goes, this is very expedient lol.

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The kind of give-and-take I refer to re: waiting 'til later to do it goes right down to the microscopic level. I mean, a word added or removed from a phrase later in the game can change what needs to be in the cutscene. Or the sheer unanticipatable weight of the prose for some mechanic you’ve built, as experienced by testers, may reveal a whole bit of the cutscene is unnecessary. Or the opposite. But you won’t know 'til then.

So it’s clear you’re super on top of what needs to be in the cutscene overall, and now, which is excellent. But one can never underestimate the impacts of time and testing in an interactive project.



This perplexes me. A written page, even assuming the longer US legal paper format, without margins, gives 14*72 = 1008 points, and assuming your WIP don’t involve insurance companies ;D there’s 1008/12 = 84 lines. and 3/4 of this is 63 lines, whose is indeed is just inside my rule of thumb “no more than three screenfuls for intros or cut-scenes” (excluded status line and prompt, let’s say 22 lines on an 80x25 screen/virtual terminal (yes, I’m oldskool here…), albeit this is a definite VMMY case) so, I guess that a little textual trimming is all you needed. Or there’s something I have not grasped ?

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

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I had some really long cutscenes all the way through and at the beginning and end in Fairest. Nobody complained, even though I worried about the length of them. If it’s necessary to the story, go ahead.


It’s interesting that you ask this just now, as only last night I was working on some cutscenes for my game which has been three years in the making. I also have a beginning text, a sort of warmup set of puzzles, and then a lengthy cutscene to transition to the main game. I have the same challenge with length, and I’m hoping the writing will be featureful enough to keep people reading… but at least for the beginning text, I was considering offering a condensed option for people that don’t care about where my characters came from. So basically I’m saying that I, like you, hope that players will be okay with some extra reading if it’s necessary to the game and the game earns the player’s attention…
@AmandaB , good to hear you’ve “gotten away” with similar scenes…


Well, I can hope that I might include some of this critical context later, which will let me trim this down a little.

No, I think you’ve understood correctly. I come from a very different side of interactive storytelling. While I grew up with IF, a lot of them had cutscenes that maxed out at maybe 3 sentences. Meanwhile, the interactive storytelling I did was text-based online roleplay, where I could get away with two pages of text before someone would say “My dude, I’m not reading all of that.”

So between those two extremes, I don’t really have the data to know what’s acceptable in the IF community. I mean, in the online roleplay space, you could literally be trading short stories sometimes, and some people have literally emailed me backstories that they wrote across 10 pages, and then we would refer to its content in our usual sessions, as if we just had a flashback scene.

If anyone in the future says the cutscene is way too long, I will link them to this post, lol. It means a lot that people here believe in me!

We will succeed or fail together. Either way, you will not have to do it alone. Good news: it seems we are more than likely to succeed.

Also, can anybody tell that I just learned how to quote multiple people from mobile? :rofl:


How long is too long? I think a couple of paragraphs is okay, not counting conversations.

As a player, I hate cut scenes, so I normally avoid them as an author. I see them as a sort of ‘cop out’, or lazy programming. In one of my current projects, I have the beginning and the end, but I haven’t yet designed the middle. There is a cut scene that forms a transition from the beginning to the middle. I don’t like it. It’s too verbose. I’m trying to work out how to integrate the cut scene into the story without wall-to-wall text.

However, I may be in the minority. When testing games, I’ve commented on wordy introductions and cut scenes and the author has ignored those comments. They’ve probably spent a lot of time writing the text and don’t want to remove it. I think most players and testers are unlikely to comment on cut scenes. If they don’t like it, they’ll just grin and bare it.

One thing that is really annoying are games that consist of nothing but cut scenes. Keep typing WAIT or keep pressing Enter until something eventually happens. I guess that’s sort of how narrative fiction and choice-based IF works, so there must be a lot of users that enjoy that sort of thing.

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I mean, I’m the living dichotomy of the niche author. I will try to appeal to as many players as I can, but without sacrificing the core pillars of the project, even if that caps out my potential audience to 1 person. But I generally try to aim higher than that because it motivates me to smooth things out and aim for higher quality. That’s really the main component that keeps me from plummetting down the “you just don’t understand my ViSiOn” hole.

Y’know: aim for the stars, but expect to probably only hit a single unseen rogue planet 50 light-years out, and appreciate that a landing had been made at all.

That said…I really don’t like the idea of making the player type “wait” to get through a cutscene. The “press enter to read more” is just to not be overwhelming, but making the player type “wait” means the game also spends turns as well.

I appreciate your honesty and input, btw. It’s good to hear from people who can articulate why they might dislike something I do, because that gives me data to use when sanding things down.

EDIT: Also, I promise I’m not trying to blow off what you wrote; I value what you’ve written, and it will be useful for my project, but I don’t have the option of removing the cutscene entirely. Best-case scenario, I can go Wade’s route and reduce it later, on the chance that details revealed in the cutscene get re-introduced at a better time later. I also appreciate your message of “some will like, some will be neutral, and some will dislike it”.

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I should have said that I don’t particularly like long cut scenes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the game. I see cut scenes as a necessary evil in some circumstances and if your game needs a cut scene, then go for it.

I think my game will be the same, but I’ll try to keep it short. It requires some speaking from an NPC, so I can probably break that into smaller chunks and present a bit at a time using a daemon. We shall see.

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Cutscenes serve several purposes. Some of which are:

  • Exposition: Providing important story information and sometimes mechanics the player needs to know.
  • Reward: Solving a puzzle or making a discovery yields interesting text, hopefully information that fills in lore or gaps the player has been curious about.
  • Shortcut: Taking the narrative through a time-jump or a non-interactive section of plot to get back to the interactive “good stuff” - like the player going to sleep and having a dream, or quickly narrating what happens when the player returns home after their job and continuing the next day when the gameplay is set at the workplace.

If your cutscene is warranted by the story and needs to be there, you shouldn’t need to worry about it. As long as your text is interesting in some way - informational, well written, funny - it is never unwelcome, especially if the player has been working toward it and is invested in the story.

In general, avoid lengthy game-opening exposition/lore-dumps if possible. I always get twitchy if I am playing interactive fiction that doesn’t seem to want to let me interact. The player shouldn’t feel like they’re needing to do research to understand your story. And if you can trim and polish any longer text down to an efficient sheen and get the player back to interacting as quickly as possible, that’s just good writing. You can always trim more.

You said you don’t like “press space to continue” but you want to strike a happy medium between a wall of text and bullet-points. Sometimes this can be fudged by putting tiny interactions or choices in the cutscene. Consider that a cutscene can be an interactive scene and needn’t be only text.

You could temporarily trap the player in a cutscene location and have them walk down a long corridor while they ruminate on their situation doling out text each time they move. If the player just battled a dragon, maybe it knocked all their inventory out of their hands and they need to pick everything up, which gives you natural pauses for the player to relate bits of inner-monologue upon retrieving each item. If the player is remembering a conversation, you could do an interactive flashback and let the conversation play out with scenery and room detail the player can decide to interact with. If the cutscene is the mad scientist discovering his secret formula, you can temporarily throw the player into the scientist’s role and let them play that character, discovering the exposition via interaction.

Sometimes, you just gotta do a cutscene. Just make sure it’s engaging and interesting in some way.


Excellent and valuable pointers, thank you!

You may have misunderstood me. I’m perfectly fine using the “press space to continue” mechanic, because it helps space out the text and doesn’t make the game world take turns.

My problem was with making the player use the “wait” command, specifically. It’s not clear when the player should use “wait”, and it feels like the player has to forfeit an opportunity. That’s why I prefer “press space to continue”: the expectation is clear, the player doesn’t sacrifice turns, and will easily recognize when they’re “back in the driver’s seat”, so to speak. Again, sorry if I didn’t word my thoughts well in that last post, lol.

Interactive scenes are a good idea, but for this cutscene specifically, the player character isn’t in a position to interact much at all.


I just want to share a bit of the chaos I’m dealing with while writing this cutscene, and I don’t know of a better place than in this thread.

This cutscene takes place in the room that the player solved (or failed) the first puzzle in, and not only does the cutscene vary based on success status, but I need to effectively scan the room for the states and placements of all the objects, and adjust how the characters in the cutscene take actions and speak, based on those states. So yes, the cutscene is meant to be on the shorter side of medium-length, but I’m spending multiple days writing it, and organizing code to effectively make the cutscene
print correctly.

This is why I don’t have much of a functional game, but I’ve already spent days on it: Implementing sensory overload mechanics, some new verbs, but especially this accursed cutscene!

That’s all. Have a great day, everyone, lol.

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Ahaha…ha… um…

So, I finished all the cutscene logic and writing, and uh…I have drastically underestimated how large it was gonna be…

It’s uh…about 2,150 words. Spanning about 3 whole pages if I dump the transcript into a word processor.

So, uh… yeah… Those writer habits hang on for dear life. First of all, I think I have identified a few parts that the player does not need to absolutely immediately know before the rest of the game starts, but that’s only maybe 10% of the cutscene. Some other parts I can try to shave off, maybe trim 10% of the size, but then stuff stops making as much sense.

So, uh… GG, I guess. I need to figure out what I’m gonna do now. The absolute curse here is there’s really not much breathing room for me to adjust things. So I’m either gonna need to do something really weird/awkward to fix this, or my audience is just gonna have a short story for an intro ahahaha.

I swear to you, it did not feel like it spanned these many words. Right now, the goal was to go for interesting and immersive, but if I shave too much, it loses that, and it will still be too lengthy to pass for utilitarian. Idk.

I’ll post something that can be tested soon, but I gotta tweak some stuff first.

How do people usually send their stories to testers?

EDIT: I talked it over with my partner and a few friends. The consensus is that if I trim it, it becomes utilitarian, and then the length will not have decreased enough to avoid being boring. It’s better to be engaging if you’re stuck dealing with length. I was considering having a “headspace/dreamspace” puzzle while the cutscene plays a little bit each turn, but my partner said that nothing is more infuriating than having to take in important information while managing a separate task. Additionally, if someone is trying to read it without distraction, then they will have to spam the “wait” command, and we all know how I feel about that. So it looks like I will have to hope my skill as a writer carries me on this one, and whoever sticks through it will probably be in my audience. One of them said “if I’m playing a text adventure, I expect to read. 2,100 words is nothing.”

Another possibility is to have a mini-puzzle from the perspective of another character split the cutscene in half, but if you finished the warmup puzzle, found a large a 1,000-word chunk of text, finished another puzzle, and found another 1,000-word chunk of text, then that sets up your brain to think there will be 1,000 words waiting for you after every task, which is false. So I think it might be better to front-load this to correctly set up player expectations.

So, uh…away we go, I guess. Honestly, it’s probably good that I underestimated the length; it means it’s probably engaging enough.

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Ask here.

I like testing, so feel free to PM me directly if you want a looksee.

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there’s a running counter to show the player how many more sections there are to go, so it doesn’t seem endless.

This is the most important, IMO. I’m more likely to stick with things if I know how much there is.

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My opening text is about 2200 words followed by a warmup area of several easy puzzles, followed by another 2200 words of expo to transition into the main game. Then halfway through the (very long) game there’s another key scene of 2000 words. And I haven’t written the ending yet…


This is extremely reassuring to read. Thank you for being there with me.