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Theatre and the RPG Cutscene I: Status

writing theatre script cutscene mood status

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#1 Emmych


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Posted 14 November 2012 - 08:29 PM

All the world’s a stage:
how stage techniques and theatrical know-how can improve your cutscenes

HEYO, Emmych here with a tutorial! I've been thinking about how to talk about this for awhile now, and I think I've finally got it!

Today I’m gonna teach y’all about some basic theatre stuff (seeing as how I spent a good few years of my life immersed in it) and show you how you can apply that to your game cutscenes. In order, the topics I’ll touch on are as follows:
  • Status
  • Blocking a scene
  • Pacing and establishing a platform
  • Tone
I’ll get into what each of those terms mean when I hit up those topics specifically. For now, let’s get started and get learnin’!

So the first thing you're probably asking: "what is status, anyway?"

Most scenes take place between two or more characters. Since this is the case, characters typically have a different status than their scene-mates. And no, I’m not sayin’ Cloud will be Muted while he’s in a scene with poor Poisoned Tifa – I mean status as in, well… status! It’s a thing an actor keeps in mind when doing a scene with another actor. Who has the power in the scene? Who has control over the situation? Who is persuading, and who is being persuaded? Who is in charge? Etc. etc. so on and so forth. Keep in mind, too, that this isn’t social status we’re talking about, but status in an individual situation! Someone could be a king, but have lower scene status than their obnoxious court jester!

Here’s an example to better illustrate what I mean. Think about a confrontation with your boss, or your teacher, or even your parents. Maybe you’re asking for a raise, or a paper extension, or permission to go over to Betty Boobs’ house and potentially get to first base. In this situation, the person you’re confronting has the power to either give you what you’re asking for or not, and therefore have a higher status than you. I like to think of it on a scale of 1-11 (because we go to 11 here, baby) – how would an interaction between a 1 and an 11 look? A 5 and a 6? A 3 and a 10? A 3 and a 2? By figuring out who holds the cards in the scene and where a person falls, the dialogue and blocking (where a person is positioned, how they move, how they physically act in a scene) falls outta your fingertips effortlessly!

Status and Stakes
Let’s explore another example to get a better idea of what I’m talking about, and show how a character’s status is altered when they have something at stake. First, let’s think up a situation and stick two characters in it.

Our two characters, Suhkie and Petra, are roommates. Their conflict is a messy kitchen. They’re both gonna have equal status and we’re gonna assume they get along really well. To add some personal stakes, Suhkie’s boyfriend is coming to visit, and Petra has left the mess in the kitchen. Let’s see what happens!

(Suhkie enters the living room. Petra is chilling on the couch and watching TV)

SUHKIE: Hey, Petra, the kitchen is really dirty and my boyfriend is gonna be over in like 30 minutes. Can you help me clean this up?

PETRA: Mm, I’d love to, but I’m really into my show right now.

SUHKIE: I appreciate that, but I really could use your help, since you made the mess in the first place.

PETRA: Well, I guess that is reasonable. I contributed to the mess, so I should help clean it up.

SUHKIE: Thanks! I really appreciate how agreeable you are. We’re such great roommates and fantastically responsible adults.


But none too interesting, I’m afraid! Suhkie has the same status as Petra, so she isn’t afraid of asking for what she wants. Likewise, Petra isn’t afraid of saying no to someone with the same status as her. So, let’s switch it up – now Petra is gonna have a status of 3 instead of 5, while Suhkie is getting bumped up to a 7.

(Suhkie enters the living room hurriedly. Petra is chilling on the couch, watching TV)

SUHKIE: Petra, you left a mess in the kitchen. My boyfriend is coming over, and he can’t see it like that.

PETRA: (she looks a little nervous) I’m sorry! Would you like me to clean it up now?

SUHKIE: That’d be great of you, thanks.

PETRA: Okay. I can finish my show later – after your boyfriend has gone home, of course! I’m sure you guys will want the living room, right? I have a paper to write anyway, ahaha.

SUHKIE: You’re so thoughtful, Petra.

See how the power dynamic changed? Suhkie doesn’t even have to ask Petra to clean – Petra’s low scene status makes her feel vulnerable and subservient. It also changes the dynamic of their relationship: doesn’t seem so perfect and fabulous now, does it?

Let’s see what happens when Petra has the status in a scene.

(Suhkie enters the living room hesitantly. Petra is chilling on the couch, watching TV.)
SUHKIE: U-um, Petra? Are you busy?
PETRA: I’m right in the middle of a show, but I don’t mind if you’re quick.
SUHKIE: Oh! Oh, well, if you’re in the middle of something, that’s okay, I guess. I just noticed that you forgot to clean up after lunch – which is totally fine, don’t get me wrong – but my boyfriend is gonna be over in 30 minutes, and I wanted to cook with him.
PETRA: Well… sorry, I guess? I was super tired after work today.
SUHKIE: No, no, don’t worry about it! It’s cool, I can clean it up. I don’t mind. You were tired; I shouldn’t have even asked. I’m sorry!

Again, the scene shifts when the power shifts. Playing with this – as well as playing with how high or how low a status is, and how big the gap between statuses is – can make for really interesting scenes.

Further Examples and Your Homework
First off, take a look at this video:

The character you want to pay attention to here is the Sultan! Look at how his status changes depending on who he interacts with. In the first scene, with Jasmine, both characters have a similar status – probably equal to one another! In the next scene, with Jafar, the power dynamic is dramatically different. Pay attention to these differences and pay attention to how they affect the scene.

Your homework (which you can share here if you decide to do it!) is to write two scenes that share one character. Practise keeping them true to their character while letting their status remain fluid. For example, the Sultan remains a bouncy, distractible character that is just trying to please everyone and do what must be done. So, what is it that changes? What stays constant throughout these changes?


Also, I’ve now decided that I’m gonna split up these tutorials into parts, since, uhh… well this ended up being super long and I don’t wanna talk alla y’all’s ears off in one go, ahahaha. So stay tuned for part two, yo!

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#2 Touchfuzzy



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Posted 15 November 2012 - 08:40 PM

Theatre is also a good place to look for inspiration in cutscenes for another reason that you didn't state: Theatre has to rely on more cues than facial expressions to express a lot of the tone. For obvious reasons (from sitting in the audience in several of the productions my daughter has been a part of, just trust me, even with the best makeup, its hard to tell anything other than a vague sense of "smiling" or "frowning")

Now theatre tends to rely on tone of voice, but they also rely on actor movement, both gestures (which are not the easiest thing to duplicate in RM if you can't sprite) to just movement along the stage, which you can TOTALLY duplicate.

Static cutscenes suck, Make sure people are moving. Have them step away and face away from the other characters when making a dramatic soliloquy, have them step up in other peoples faces when angry. Have them step to the side when confronted by someone and they are unsure. There are a million small cues you can show just by making characters MOVE when they are talking.


#3 Emmych


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Posted 16 November 2012 - 10:35 PM

Haha, that's what my next tutorial is gonna be about, actually! GREAT MINDS THINK ALIKE, I SEE~ B)
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#4 Touchfuzzy



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Posted 18 November 2012 - 06:09 AM

That or since my daughter got into theater I've been to way too many productions. (Seriously, I'll be honest, theater isn't my thing, nothing against people who like it though.)


#5 XPKobold


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Posted 20 November 2012 - 10:30 AM

This is very interesting considering how difficult to make each event in a cutscence flow together.

#6 Clareain_Christopher


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Posted 24 November 2012 - 12:42 AM

Good read. Thank you for the tutorial~

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#7 Shake0615


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Posted 26 November 2012 - 06:24 PM

Very enlightening! I look forward to the next installment in this series.

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