When is a cutscene OK?

I’ve been writing out few scenes that comprise a significant puzzle in the late midgame of my WIP, and it seems that I can’t avoid a cutscene here and there. Well, I’m not sure if “cutscene” is the right word, because the the actions that are narrated without the player getting a chance to intervene are pretty small and not significant to the story in and of themselves. However, I really can’t come up with a way to put control into the hands of the player. The result is a paragraph after the few commands in this sequence describing a bunch of little actions taken by the player to arrive at what I hope is the obvious goal of the PC for this scene.

In another part, near the end of the game, I have a more significant cutscene. This one is a different problem altogether; the main reason for it being a cutscene is that I can’t think of anything for the player to do during that narrative other than waiting. I think it would be worse form to make the player type “WAIT” a few times to get through a scene than to just narrate it.

Any thoughts on this? :slight_smile:

Doesn’t sound like that big of a problem – but really, I think you should just go with it and see what your testers think. It’s easy to overthink these issues. Just do what seems okay to you, and get the feedback you need in the beta stage.

As a general rule of thumb, I would say that there is nothing wrong with having a small number of longer cut scenes in your game. “Info dumps” are generally disliked because they take you out of the rhythm of play; but it’s fine to break that rhythm now and then. Being allowed to sit back and just read about something that happens can be a good reward for a player who has been spending thought and effort to get to that stage of the game.

I think it’s fine to just describe a series of events if the player character wouldn’t have control over them anyway, or if they’re just menial steps that it wouldn’t be any fun for the player to have to do one by one. What I would be wary of is putting things in a “cutscene” that would make the player think, “wait, that’s not what I would do in that situation” or “why am I not in control of this?”

As for the second question… if you have a long scene, I do think it’s better to break it up over multiple turns rather than one big block of text. Even if the player can’t do anything that will meaningfully affect what happens, I would still recommend at least allowing him to examine things while it’s going on, just to increase the illusion of actually being present and not just watching a scripted event. If the player just types “wait,” he has only his own unimaginativeness to blame if it feels tedious.

This is generally fine, as long as you avoid putting the most fun or important stuff in cutscenes. This can be thought of as an extended version of player-friendly implicit actions (as when OPEN DOOR deals automatically with locks that you have a key to).

As a rule of thumb, assume that the player will have forgotten everything that happens in a cutscene by the time they get to the end of the game. (They might remember it that long, but then again they might forget it by the time it scrolls off the screen.) If there’s anything that’s really crucial to the experience of the game, it’s better to make it interactive. If the cutscene you’re talking about is just a necessary segue to get the plot to the next stage, you’re fine: edit to deliver the necessary information as efficiently as possible, and move on to the next stage of the story. If you’re envisioning it as one of the most important parts of your story, then you may have a problem. This is largely a matter of focus: if you’re writing a game about martial arts, don’t make the fights cutscenes – unless what you’re really interested in is the relationships between the martial artists, in which case you could make the fights cutscenes and load all the interactivity into conversations.

The framing of a cutscene is important, too; if a cutscene is a memory or a Meanwhile or viewed through a telescope, the player will have less expectation of being allowed to interfere. If a cutscene takes the protagonist over and makes them actively affect proceedings, your justifications need to be a bit stronger. Similarly, the kind of agency that the player has been led to expect is important: is this a story about the protagonist being trapped by their world (Rameses) or about having great power over it (Gilded)? How fine-grained is that control? (If you’ve just spent a hundred turns fiddling with an intricate lock, it’s going to be a bit jarring if this is followed by a cutscene where you punch the bad guy, propose marriage and move to Manitoba. But then again, there can be good reasons to jar the player.)

And the last factor, the big one, is how much you trust your writing abilities. If you’re confident that you can write well enough to keep your audience riveted for two or three paragraphs, then you obviously have a bit more slack to play with.

You’re right – it’s not really a problem, definitely not at the stage of implementation. As I was thinking through the difficulties I was having drafting these two scenes (in pre-written transcripts), I started wondering about how the cutscene might legitimately be used in IF.

That’s good to hear. So, I conclude that the level of agency that the player is given can vary, but even if several broad actions are assumed from one command, it’s not really a cutscene (or if it is, it’s an acceptable one) unless an unreasonable amount of text is given in an infodump. Unless, of course, that infodump isn’t actually unreasonable given the situation and pacing. :wink:

I think I agree with that, but I would want the scene to at least give the player meaningful things to examine or otherwise explore, things that perhaps won’t be available at all after the scene. Sometimes, I think it might even be a good idea for scripted scenes to slow down so the player can examine a few things. Ideally, I would like to imagine what a real person would be doing in such a situation, even if only thinking or taping his or her foot, and somehow give the player the opportunity to interact in that way, but that’s much too hard and hypothetical.

I never thought about it that way before. What I wrote is a similar affect to that of implicit actions, but the reason for the implicit actions in my case is that I can’t be sure that players who enter those commands intend to move the PC toward the goal, or whether they’re just trying the commands to see what is possible in the current location.

That sounds like good advice, and I’ll have to think it over carefully. However, isn’t the opening text displayed at the very beginning of the game and the closing text when an ending is reached a kind of a cutscene that is very important to the story, at least in many cases?

I never thought to consider that before! Thanks.

When the opening text prints, the player most likely has no idea what the IF is even about; it doesn’t feel like a loss of control since they never had control over the PC in the first place. By the time the closing text prints, hopefully the central conflict has been resolved, and if it’s well written, the player will be satisfied with what (s)he has accomplished already.

I think of it as a matter of player satisfaction. The player likes to have a lot of autonomy, so you should try to avoid controlling them too much. On the other hand, the player also does not want to be bored with doing menial or trivial things over and over, so we automate some of it. Once the conflict has been resolved, the player is less motivated and has less of a desire for autonomy.

Well, a lot of the same considerations apply – you shouldn’t put things in the opening or closing text that would be better as interaction, for instance. And, like cutscenes, you should keep introductory and closing text as compact as possible. And you shouldn’t introduce a lot of information in an intro and rely on the player retaining it all.
But because they’re not interruptions, some considerations don’t apply. And because of their special position they’re likely to have a much bigger influence on player experience than other non-interactive sections.

This is interesting – I have a guilty love of long, drawn-out, World According To Garp-style epilogues, but they’re rarely attempted in IF. The main example I can think of, in Gun Mute, is probably the least satisfactory part of a hugely satisfying game, but I think that’s largely down to special features of the game – Mute’s interactions become even more limited when shooting isn’t a useful way of dealing with his environment.

It doesn’t sound like there is a problem at all. Sometimes control is wrested from the player for the sake of the story (though of course, tread lightly here because the chance of annoying a player is high); it’s usually better to have a textdump than just spooling out stuff through responses to “wait.”

Others have touched on versions of these points already, but basically I think a cutscene is just fine provided it either (A) is clearly setting up something fun for the player to sink his teeth into immediately after or (B) feels like a reward of some kind (happy ending, milestone, etc). If it manages (A) and (B) at the same time, so much the better.

And of course, no amount of well-designed functionality can excuse a cutscene from being bland or bloated.

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Thanks, again, for all the replies.

I think the main goal is to make something happen in response to a logical command at any cost, and a small cutscene might be a good idea if the alternative is a sequence of commands with which the player will have to play “guess the verb”, or which might be too repetitive. If you have to take some control away from the player to make something happen the right way, the important thing is that the players logical commands advance the game.

And I think it helps to discard any thought of “taking control away,” anyway, because a well-done cutscene doesn’t really take, it only gives. When a cutscene is appropriate, the player won’t feel robbed of anything.

I’ve got a story with a number of flashbacks. Is clearing the screen before and after (on a keystroke) or putting it in italics (or both) sensible to differentiate it from the game proper?

And how many cutscenes is too many?

Some players get pissy about screen clearing because they lose their past actions, which they could otherwise scroll back over. You could get a similar effect to a screen clear by just linebreaking a bunch, to put a visually obvious gap of white between the pre-flashback, in the flashback and then back-to-the-present moments, without destroying the scrollback.

Italics sounds good, but you might not need those either. Just try it and see how it looks and feels. After all, if the flashbacks are long, italics might start to grate, too. But we can’t spend our lives living in grate fear.


Bronze has a ton of flashbacks, but they’re never very long, so they can go in the normal flow of the story. It helps a lot that they’re presented as things the protagonist is remembering, as opposed to just appearing to the player out of nowhere.

If a flashback is longer, or less connected to the current action, then it makes more sense to clear the screen. You can mitigate the reaction severedhand refers to if the screen-clearing occurs at some transition in play, where the stuff after the flashback is new and doesn’t require me to remember what happened before the screen cleared.