It's becoming a tedious, knee-jerk response to dismiss almost any game if it contains hours of expository, non-interactive cut-scenes to tell a story as the player progresses. But why do so many gamers and games developers hate on cut-scenes?
Perhaps it is the painful memory of the puerile, adolescent storylines and tedious gameplay-ruining cut-scenes that mar many of the Japanese big-hitters such as the Metal Gear and Final Fantasy series that sticks in the craw. Or perhaps it is the fact that many gamers are simply not very interested in good storytelling, preferring to get straight into the action.
"I hate cut-scenes, because they get in the way of my gameplay," says editor of TechRadar.com, Patrick Goss, echoing the thoughts of millions of hardcore gamers out there. "If I want to watch TV, I'll go to my Sky+ box.
"Bioshock wasn't too bad," admits Goss, when pressed, "but I still prefer Half-Life's cut-scene free approach." Much like most Counter-Strike obsessives, he is almost always immediately annoyed by cut-scenes in games, noting that the recent Deus Ex was particularly irritating.
Telling stories effectively
Storytelling is the "emotional glue between games and people" according to Blitz Games' studio design director John Nash. "It's that simple. The mechanism of delivery and subtlety of touch in application by the designer sets the tone and quality of the narrative experience in the game."
Nash is critical of the over-reliance on cut-scenes by some developers to tell a story, preferring to opt for "a more complex blend of narrative delivery" to make storytelling far more effective, such as delivery of narrative elements via dialogue, visual story telling in the games' environments and via audio "to create a richer, more immersive story. Humans are multi-tasking, emotional beings; games need to engage with players on all levels."
Effective cut-scenes really should be one part of the game storyteller's armory and an over-reliance on long, boring non-interactive sections in any game is clearly no longer acceptable to most casual players, let alone the hardcore.
Additionally, it is the use of cut-scene footage in TV and online ads that also often causes a bit of a stink amongst gamers that know better.
"Sometimes cut scenes are just plain cult, other times they are plain crud," explains Andy Payne, CEO of Mastertronic and Chairman of UKIE, the trade body for the interactive entertainment industry.
"Indeed many gamers just think cut scenes are a cop-out nowadays and an unnecessary distraction. One issue that does need to be watched is the use of cut scenes in ads.
"For seasoned gamers, these fool no one, but for new customers, sometimes these can be downright misleading, even with the rider 'footage is representative of actual gameplay'. Making the story flow into the gameplay has always been a challenge, but as graphics get better and better, it is a challenge that the best games developers will take on with relish."