Geek Revolt

Let’s Put the ‘Game’ Back in Gameplay


Medal of Honor arguably pioneered it, Call of Duty undoubtedly homogenized it, and the Uncharted series would not be the same without it. I am speaking, of course, of the cinematic gameplay that has become so pervasive in modern gaming’s most popular titles. Developers are in constant competition with one another to make their moments bigger, better, and more memorable than the other guy’s bigger, better, and more memorable moments.

Everyone remembers the nuclear explosion that ends a protagonist’s life in Call of Duty 4. No one will forget hanging out of a falling cargo plane while, holding on for dear life, while fighting off goons in Uncharted 3. Though these moments were memorable, I’m starting to wonder  — are developers getting a little too much inspiration from Hollywood? So much so, that they are forgetting that we are meant to interact with these games?

The moments mentioned above are great — don’t get me wrong. But I’m beginning to wonder, when will developers make these moments more than just a spectator sport? Certainly, these games aren’t representative of everything out there. Dark SoulsDishonored, and Bioshock thrive off of gameplay that makes memorable moments not only happen naturally, but in a unique fashion. Everyone’s experience with the aforementioned nuclear blast is identical, but I am doubtful that very many people had a similar experience with Dishonored.

Dishonored - The Study of Stealth - YouTube

Certainly, the scale of these cinematic moments can’t be matched with current technology. Outside of a controlled environment, it would be very hard to make something like Uncharted 2‘s gunfight in a collapsing building a regular occurance. But that begs the question — aren’t these “cinematic moments” what, well, the cinema is for? When gameplay is being reduced to mere button prompts, all for the sake of making something pretty happen onscreen, aren’t developers getting a little ahead of themselves?

When it comes down to it, games live or die by their mechanics. If something doesn’t work right, or the mechanics are too simple for their own good (read: Asura’s Wrath), the game suffers. God of War ushered in an era of games whose most epic onscreen moments boiled down to QTEs — a few timed button presses on the player’s side. We’re witnessing some impressive things unfolding onscreen, but, as players , we are doing very little to make it happen. Isn’t the whole idea of a game to delve into an interactive world so that we have some control over what’s going on?

Why are games in such a hurry to catch up with Hollywood. Why do games even need to be anything like Hollywood? We have this unique platform that allows us to give the players the power to do just about anything they want, and instead, some of the biggest games out there rely on what boils down to an interactive story book. Anyone who has experienced the tension and air of mystery in Metroid Prime, the thrill of possessing a pack of rats just in time to dodge out of the way of a guard’s watchful eye in Dishonored, or the dread that comes with turning any corner in Dark Souls can attest to this – the most memorable and unique moments in our medium take place not when we are passively watching them unfold, but when we are experiencing them for ourselves.

Hi all, this is Daniel Hill speaking. I'm a 23-year-old Duquesne Print Journalism/Digital Media Arts graduate whose interest in games turned into something of a long-term career goal. Besides gaming, I love reading, working out (I currently work in personal training at a gym), and recording music every now and again.
  • Uncharted is my favorite IP this gen, but all the scripting does get annoying. Like every time Drake would jump on a ledge, it crumbles. It’s all for show and you’re never in any real danger.

    Tomb Raider is going in this direction, cinematic action over gameplay. In the old games you actually had to line up and time your jumps, I doubt that will be the case in the reboot. The trend seems to be “take control away from the player”.

    • Kaizin514

      In all fairness, if you don’t move from that ledge… you die (like 50% of the time).

      • Yeah, if you sit there like a deer in the headlights. You have to go out of your way to die on those parts, that’s why I said “any real danger” 😛

  • In all fairness, I actually liked the way Asura’s Wrath turned out. I don’t think the game would’ve been the same without its cinematic feel and abundance of QTEs. In fact, I’d say the developers clearly knew they were going over-the-top with the game and so instead of half-assing it they just went all out, which is probably why (in my personal opinion) it turned out great the way it did, ironically enough.

    With that said, however, I do agree that many of the games nowadays put too much emphasis on the cinematics. Normally I wouldn’t have a problem with cinematics, but if it shortens the actual duration of gameplay from 20+ hours to less than 10 hours because of the resources spent to include cinematics then we have a problem, especially if the game debuts at a retail price of around $60 USD.

    I guess this is why The Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim in particular, feel quite refreshing. Their “cinematics” (or should I say cutscenes) are incorporated into the game in real time. There are no moments in which you can sit back and watch the story unfold, why? Because the story literally unfolds before you as you go. You can actually miss out on events if you’re not careful or perceptive enough, and one player may experience the same event differently from another just simply based on where he/she is at the moment. For example, one player may be able to watch a dragon attack ensue from far away, but another player may actually end up “experiencing” the same attack right on ground zero. The game doesn’t care where you are or what you’re doing right at that moment; if a cutscene is triggered, it’s on. The point I’m trying to get with this is that the game implements cutscenes without detaching the player from the game, and so gameplay is left uncompromised.

    • I totally agree on your point of view on Asuras Wrath. It was great as it was, but someone would have a hard time arguing mechanical complexit, and a lot of games are suffering.

  • Camara Wilson

    Great write up, imo, this boils down to control mapping, some games that did rigth by it are max payne 3 and mgs 4 and some extent resident evil 6, the way the characters can still interact whether being knocked down/over was very good …i dislike qte’s except in heavy rain

  • GaySkull

    The Story.

    That is what its all about.
    No story, no game.

    If you ask Shigeru Miyamoto what is the most first and important design element of his video games is– story.

    When Miyamoto put a story in Donkey Kong game play that is when video games took off from just being video games and turned into a story telling medium.

    And that story is how the gamer’s journey to beat the game.

    Before, as technology allows it, the story is how the gamer play’s the game pretty much.

    Now that technology advances how you play it took many different forms.

    From Ninja Gaiden’s Cut Sceens
    to Legend of Zelda’s Ocarina of Time’s Contextual Gameplay
    to Shen Mue’s Quick Time Events
    to Uncharted’s Set Pieces

    They all work perfectly to tell how a story unfolds as the gamer progresses.

    It’s how game makers use these techniques that makes these video games fun, entertaining and magnificent.

    After all it all boils down to pushing one button.

  • Well written article! I agree with you, but as bonezai in the comments pointed out, it’s mainly the story that hooks you to a game, not the mechanics. At least for me.

    One thing I would like to add to the discussion is the quick time events (QTE). I agree with you that QTE’s are bad, but not because of that it takes away interaction from the player. I have a disability that among other things limits my ability to react quickly to things happening. I’m rarely pressing the correct button in time for a QTE.

    I loved Heavy Rain for its immersive story, but unfortunately I “lost” the game (I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t played it yet, but those who have played it know what I mean). I “lost” it, not because I couldn’t figure out who the killer was in time (I did it quite early on), but because I missed too many QTE’s. For me, a mystery/crime/thriller kind of game shouldn’t be about quick reactions at all. I think many games are relying too much on motor skills, but that’s a whole other discussion.

  • This is why I loved Kid Icarus: Upprising: most of the dialogue took place during the actual gameplay, instead of a bunch ot cutscenes.