Longer Cutscenes: Keeping Them Engaging

Cythera

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I could probably do a longer title - you know, to match with the longer cutscenes topic?
Okay, that was really poor humour. Perhaps that's a way to keep a longer cutscene engaging? ;)
Alright, no more bad humour, I promise. A big part in a lot of RPG's is story and characters. It's a role-playing game. It makes sense to anticipate more, and longer, cutscenes.
But how long a cutscene is too long? How long do you personally pay attention to a cutscene before you're spamming 'enter', hoping the end is near? What factors into that - do pretty animations make you tolerate a cutscene for a longer period of time? Character motion? Jaw-dropping plot reveals? And how often will you allow cutscenes to appear before you're cursing the game you're playing?
I want to start a discussion regarding cutscenes, and peoples' opinions on them - specifically longer cutscenes.
How do you as a player feel about them? How do you as a game dev go about making them?
 

Wavelength

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Last month in this thread, I made the following remarks on how long opening scenes should be:
Wavelength said:
Now, as far as how long your first scene should be, honestly I think it depends on the quality. Can your scene "wow" the player with its visuals or its sense of action? If you can keep the player wowed, your opening scene can be 5 minutes long and few people will complain (see Final Fantasy 8). If your scene is simpler, try to keep it to 2 minutes - 3 minutes max. If your opening scene doesn't have any active elements, and it's just characters talking (or even worse, scrolling text), keep it to around one minute. I know that sounds incredibly short, but so is your player's attention span if you're not giving them anything to engage with.

I feel that this guidance, in particular, works with any cutscene. The more visually stunning it is, and the more active elements (characters running around, jumping, fighting, visually showing emotion, using different movement patterns from each other...) that there are, the longer you can make it without the player getting bored. It's usually a slightly shorter amount of time than you'd expect.

If your story is hitting its climax, and the writing is good enough (and unpredictable enough) that the player is hanging on edge with every word of dialogue - yes, you can bend these limits. But in general, you want to aim for infrequent cutscenes that are just a couple minutes long - and go even shorter if you don't have the skills to choreograph visually-interesting scenes.
 

standardplayer

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Longer cutscenes are awesome if the story is engaging, and they're done 'well'. My definition of 'well' starts with not having a semi-static scene the whole time.
Especially in RPG Maker, if you aren't doing something to change up the scene, it can get pretty boring.
I like to switch views, do zooms/cuts, have wipes or fades while dialogue continues.

The length of the cutscene can be pretty directly related to whether or not people will want/should have the ability to skip them.

Finally, after you've played a game once, often times you don't want to watch every cutscene over again.
The length of cutscenes matters most to me when they're not done 'well' and/or are unskippable.
 

CraneSoft

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Before I talk about cutscene length, I'll begin with this statement from a dev's standpoint:

Have a Message Skip function in your game so cutscenes can be skipped at the player's choice.

Personally I think more games should have this feature by default. There is nothing you can go wrong by having this and I as a player finds it absurd to be required to sit through every cutscene and having press Enter 100 times every time I replay it due to a game over or simply have to reload the game for some other reason.

It's a role-playing game. It makes sense to anticipate more, and longer, cutscenes.
No. Cutscenes are simply one way of storytelling and are by no means need to be long or all over the place in any role-playing game. If your game has any real gameplay besides just reading the story, the average player will NOT look forward to repeatedly watch cutscenes, especially long ones. RPGMaker games are generally short (average 2~4 hour games), so I wouldn't want to be spending 50% of that time reading cutscenes.

Now for the actual topic, for me the average cutscenes should not be exceeding 2~3 minutes per "scene" that is, when there are no transitions between maps and its just a few characters talking in one area. Character motions and animations can certainly help prolong a scene depending on its context, but ideally you wouldn't want to exceed the 5-minute mark. That is usually enough time to portray most scenes.

The exception to the 5-minute-max rule is cases where you are doing some major plot reveals and exposition and is able to provide enough shock factor to the player to keep them engaged throughout the whole thing, just don't overdo it unless it's a purely story-oriented game (which you shouldn't have to worry about length anyway if 90% of the game is about reading cutscenes)
 

Oddball

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I'm of the opinion that cut scenes need to be as long as they need to be. Can you take a cutscene and convey the information much quicker or seperate it into chunks as people interact with objects? Do it, they'll see it at they're own pace. Is there an emotinal but long cutsecne? How short can it be and still get the information and emotion across? If cutting it down interferes? Leave it. If you can delever in a few short actions, do it

Basicly, cut the filler unless it's so funny or artisticly beautiful that it draws the audince in. That's what the purpose of cutscenes is anyway. Also, not infodumping and giving information in small chunks could be a way to peak peoples curiosity so they want to keep playing. Rather than it feel like they want to kick out a guest because they overstayed they're welcome, but the guest keeps giving valuable information, so they suffer in silence
 

standardplayer

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Something important to mention, as a finite idea is that there needs to be a clear distinction between 'cutscene' and just a regular old scene in a game.
To a lesser extent, a scene is a lot of things in a game, but I'll give it two categories:
Dialogue scenes
Cutscenes

Most things belong in the first category. Cutscenes are meant to do something other than what the regular game looks like all the time. Even if it just means more emotion animations and more movement. But use this rule (if you're over 20, I'd say this would serve you especially well from the older rpg days)

If you can't picture letter-boxing the screen over it, it shouldn't be a cutscene, and should be treated as something else. :b
 

Milennin

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Any time a cutscene is a cutscene when it could just as well have been playable, it should have been playable. Like, if you walk the main character over to a different place, let the player do the walking (unless it's really far and used to avoid a bunch of backtracking). That way you split your cutscene in two, it doesn't feel as drawn out as when it's one connected cutscene.
With long dialogues, always find ways to cut down on unnecessary text. Bits of fluff here and there is fine, but if you can turn a 3-minute dialogue into 1-minute dialogue without losing context, it's worth cutting those lines. Additionally, have movement happen. There's a lot of options, like moving sprites around, camera movements, battle animations, screen flash/shake etc.
Personally, I really like text choices during dialogue, even if they don't matter in the longterm, at least it keeps me thinking about what's being said and it lets me steer a dialogue in a direction I might find more interesting.
 

Cythera

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Whew, I'm so glad the tolerances of cutscenes are more than I thought it would be, so long as the scene is active.
I never thought of adding a skip cutscene option before, since players may skip important information. I think something like that would have to available only if the scene was watched previously.
 

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