Opening Movies/Cutscenes


May 1, 2013
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Honestly, my preference for the intro is to never start "in media res". I need some set up before you throw me into combat or whatever passes as your actual story.

What I need, as a player, is some set up. I need to know who I am, what I'm doing, some basics about the setting, and then you can turn me loose. If this takes you 20 minutes to establish, I don't much mind, so long as it sets up all the information I'm going to need for a while.

I get irritated with games that are deliberately obtuse or vague. "For the sake of creating mystery". I don't need a mystery at the beginning. I need you to set up the primary storyline and conflict. The fact that you have a mystery isn't going to sway me into playing your game. At this point, such a thing is cliché. Everyone does it, and it's frankly quite dull.

As a player, what I require are a set of objectives, some world building so I have an idea of how to measure my own opinion of the world and characters I'm interacting with, and a bit of background so I know who I'm playing as.

So, let me give a couple examples:

Mass Effect 1 - You're given a brief introduction by "signing in" as your character, creating the profile, having people narrate about it, saying you're picked for something. The game gives you a short text scrawl about what the titular "Mass Effect" actually is and where it comes from, then sets up the stage that your race is new to the galactic scene, and then drops you into another cutscene that introduces your ship's pilot and a main character. You are then given the opportunity to interact with them by choosing dialogue options. From there, you're given control over your character and can wander about the ship talking to people. You are given no nav points or objective markers so you need to talk to people to figure out where to go. You will, inevitably, pick up lore information that has nothing to do with anything right now in the course of figuring out where you need to be... because you're curious. When you finally get to where you're supposed to be, you've probably spent about 20 minutes talking to people and doing nothing except that. Then, they tell you that you're being evaluated for "Spectre Candidacy" and this mission is a test. You're also shown that your mission is now a lot more complicated since something terrible is going on, on the planet you were to have your test on. What follows is about another 20 minutes of combat against easy foes. You're then dumped onto "The Citadel", where you'll likely spend the next 2 or 3 hours talking to a lot of people, picking up quests, and doing a very tiny amount of combat. The game does not actually "begin", until you become a Spectre and leave the Citadel. The opening clocks in at about 4 hours or so for a new player.

This is a fantastic introduction.

Elex - I recently picked up this game as I wanted a new RPG to play and it had advertised itself as "open world" and "be whomever you want". Here are the problems... The game tells you nothing. Who am I? I'm a member of what are essentially "the ruling class" of factions. I was coming back from a mission and was shot down. Okay, by who? My own people looks like. They tell me they shot me down "because I failed my mission". They then shoot me and leave me for dead. What mission? How do they know I failed? When I wake up, someone has stolen all my gear and I'm out to get it back so that I can seek revenge on the guy who shot me down. Wait, what? Why am I seeking revenge if I failed a mission? Isn't this standard operating procedure for the faction I belong to? Later, my character narrates to himself that I want to find out why this guy shot me down and I'm going to beat it out of him. Okay, what's going on, now? I was seeking revenge, and now he has the same questions I do? I meet a member of a faction that calls themselves "Berserkers" and he tells me to join them. I try talking to him to get more information about the world, but get very little of it. When I arrive at his village, I try talking to other people, but there are too few to interact with, and nobody is really giving me much information about the world. They plant trees, essentially, and hate technology... and... That's it. By this point, I'm about 3 hours into the game.

I have yet to really pick the game back up, because... What reason is there for me to actually play? I don't know anything about the setting or characters other than "it's post apocalyptic, and is divided by 4 factions, of which I am kicked out of one and need to join one of the remaining 3". My character is meant to be a "blank slate", except I'm given zero opportunity to be a blank slate since my character has all his own emotions and monologues and such.

My goals are whatever the mission objectives are telling me to do. The first of which is "get your gear back". Why do I care about my gear, other than it's mine? Is it good gear? Is it necessary to the plot? No idea. But, to even get to it, the game tries to keep me locked into this surrounding starting area 'cause my level isn't high enough to make the insanely long trek to get my gear back.


Therein lies my problem. One of these is basically massive info dumps for 4 hours with intermittent play, but I enjoyed every minute of it as it informed me of who I am, what I'm doing, what my goals are, who the antagonist is, etcetera. The other, I didn't enjoy very much at all, 'cause I have no idea what is going on, why someone is the antagonist, what my ultimate objective even is, or even who my character is. By the time I can explore the galaxy as Commander Shepard, I know everything I need to know. By the time I can explore the world of Elex, I know practically nothing, and none of the NPC's even bother to fill me in on the setting.

You want to give your players control over their character as soon as you possibly can, but there is no harm in info dumps so long as it remains relevant, realistic, and establishes your game from the outset. You can take as long as you need to set that up, so long as you give your player access to their character as quickly as you reasonably can.

For example: I have never minded the opening of Skyrim where I'm bound in a wagon and heading for execution. I can do very little except turn my head. I can ignore the NPC's around me, or listen to them as they set up the main conflict as well as the Imperials. Or, I can ignore them and look at the scenery. This is about 5 minutes of doing nothing except moving my head. Then, the character creator. Another 10 minutes if I'm finicky about my looks... and I rarely am since I'm going to cover them with armor for 99% of the game anyway... and then another 5 minutes of just running away, unable to do anything except move and jump. Then, I'm put into a tutorial and my bonds are gotten rid of, so I can do whatever I like. 30-50 minutes later, I complete the dungeon, gained some levels, and the open world is mine to explore. But, I've learned a lot about the world and had the plot dropped on me as well as my next objective.

I need some set up to any game I play. I need to know why I'm killing whatever I'm killing, what my motivations are, what my objectives are, and what a reasonable person acts like within your setting.

I may not need to know all about a war that I have no context for. Unless I'm a soldier in that war and am meant to understand my role in that war.

Some things should just be generalized.

To that end, my opening is... fairly long.

It sets up the main conflict and why it exists. It sets up each of your future party members (who show who they are by actually interacting with the world). It sets up who you are (The Chosen One!) and what about the world has changed as a result of your mere birth and existence. Then... cutscene continues to tell you that you need to accomplish a specific goal and regain your memories to fill in the gaps of what happened. You're given free reign at that point. It's about 20 minutes of cutscenes to get you there. To set up who you are, your main conflict, the characters you will be interacting with, and your main objective. They are scenes to set up the core of the world and the core of the relationships you'll be having with characters. You seek their backgrounds if you care. You can seek more information if you care. But, you need that baseline understanding to keep you from "flying blind".

Your setting and objectives should never be, "figure out what's going on". Because, frankly, once you figure out what is going on... it's pretty much universally disappointing. Not knowing is more powerful than ever knowing.

It is less interesting to discover "oh, this is all in my head" in comparison to, "I had a mental break because of X event". The "what" is usually less important than the "why" in terms of a mystery.

Consider for a moment: Is it more interesting to know "You have these powers because you're The Chosen One" or "You are The Chosen One because of X"?

It is generally more interesting to know why something is happening instead of what is happening.

As for skipping cutscenes...

Honestly, do you think players will play your game more than once? I rarely play an RPG more than once. One and done. It was a great story. I don't want to sit through another 40 hours of doing it again. Or another 20. Do I need to skip your cutscenes? Not really, no. I'll need them for my current playthrough. Unless your RPG is designed to be played more than once... you don't need an option to skip cutscenes or tutorials.

Well, okay... if your tutorials are as silly as "use WASD to move" and don't cover more important details... then yeah, I want to skip them.

That's my two cents on the subject.


MSD Strong
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Jul 22, 2014
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A word about "lore dumps" before I answer the original question: Lore dumps are a sort of "lazy" way to start out your game. If they're done well, they're fine, but if they're boring, they risk losing the player's interest from the very start. Lore can be sprinkled in through the early game instead of dumped on Minute One - that, of course, might leave you wondering what to actually put on Minute One. Here's what I think:
  • If your narrative has an instigating event (a meteor hits the world, turning it into a post-apocalyptic wasteland; characters are transported into an isekai world; the hero's mentor is killed and leaves him with a mission), that should be your very first scene.
    • An exception can be made if it's extremely important to get a taste of "how things were before", but be careful. Most of the time, this leads to an unengaging start, and that's not worth the greater emotional impact when the instigating scene does eventually happen.
  • If your narrative does not have a specific instigating event (an evil you don't see until later has been prophecized for 1000 years; the hero willingly sets out for new horizons; an oppressive empire is running the continent and needs to be taken down), your first scene should be character interaction. Without an immediate and active plot hook, the best strategy is to get players connected to your characters.
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.

And as far as whether your opening scene should be skippable, the answer (as with any cutscene) is always YES. If you're worried about players absolutely skipping it, you can add a Yes/No prompt when they hit the skip button.

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