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September 10, 2008

Week 7 Readings: The Storyboard & Pre-Rendered and In-Game Cinematics

Filed under: ECU MInT,GDT3102 Writing for Games — steve @ 2:05 pm

Week 7 readings from:

Pardew, L. (2005). The Storyboard. Beginning Illustration and Storyboarding.

Freeman, D. (2003). Writing Pre-Rendered and In-Game Cinematics Opening Cinematic Techniques. Creating Emotion in Games: The Craft and Art of Emotioneering

The Storyboard:

Certainly one can view the storyboard as a far more direct means to describe a visual proposal than through the written word. As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words”: not only do they put conceptual thought to paper that all in the development team may see, they also serve as a point of reference, a form of visual documentation, that can be referred back to as the need arises.

 Storyboards in games development, according to Pardew (2005, p. 57), are used for “Planning cinematic sequences; Developing animation; Showing complex action; Showing non-player actions”. As a cinematic or cut-scene is essentially a scripted sequence of composed animated shots then naturally the storyboard would be used in this case as they are used in the film and animation industries to describe the sequence of shots, composition, camera views/angles and movement. By planning out the intended action it becomes easier to identify where problems in the sequence might arise, where shots may be missing, or timing issues that had not been identified initially.

In the animation industry, storyboards are also used as the basis for an ‘animatic’. The animatic indicates the basic duration of the animation [i.e. sequence timing] to which completed frames, scenes and audio are placed as the animation development cycle takes place. In the film industry the animatic can serve a similar purpose for the development of the musical score that the composer would normally compose prior to or at least during the filming of the production. Without the animatic the composer would have little sense of the timing of the thematic tension that the film’s director was intending to achieve.  So, not only does the storyboard serve the purposes of a visual plan of a sequence of shots, it also serves as the foundation of the initial production.

Pre-Rendered and In-Game Cinematics:

In the design of in-game cinematics or cut-scenes, Freeman (2003) suggests that we can learn a lot from the film industry in the design of the narrative content and what he terms “character diamonds” (p. 391). However, we should also be aware that gamers choose to play a game to ‘play’ rather than to watch lengthy, non interactive cut scenes no matter how engaging the content may be designed. The example that Freeman gives (pp. 393-405) of how he rewrote one of his student’s scripts is perhaps an example of going too far with an in-game cut scene – it is lengthy, not to the point, and one could quickly see that the game player would be ready to click “next” to re-enter the gameplay experience.

The example shown in  the week 7 GDT3102 Writing for Games Tutorial class of an extremely lengthy cut scene from Half Life 2 [that was more of a monologue from a NPC than a dialogue involving the player's avatar] was certainly an example of a cut-scene getting out of control. It was far too long, far too one-sided from a narrative perspective, and really the pertinent bits of information that the player needed to be aware of to progress further in the game got lost in the ensuing monologue. Freeman’s example script, though indicating dialogue rather than the monologue referred in the Half Life 2 example, still contained perhaps too much character back-story than was warranted. Did we really need to know that Colby, in the four years that Dalton had known him, never carried his own matches? If Colby needed matches in the next level to solve a problem, then yes, that sort of information would be of particular worth to the player. Otherwise it was just filling the back story with character padding in an attempt to turn the cut-scene into a Hollywood drama. If one wants to watch a movie then one will buy (or perhaps rent) one – not by loading up a game and then watching 3D visualisations of almost realistic polygons with questionable dialogue timing.

In Freeman’s defence, he did state (2003, p. 393) “Because I rewrote the scene for the purposes of demonstration, I crammed into it tons of techniques. In a real cinematic, you might want to use only a portion of the techniques that are used here”. Hmmm, I wonder how much a “portion is”: a pinch, a teaspoon, a tablespoon, half a cup? Although the example dialogue by Freeman’s student did seem rather ‘wooden’, one did not feel that his own extreme re-working was necessarily a better solution for an in-game cut-scene.

 

References:

Pardew, L. (2005). The Storyboard. Beginning Illustration and Storyboarding. (pp. 55-69). Boston, Massachusetts: Thomson Course Technology.

Freeman, D. (2003). Writing Pre-Rendered and In-Game Cinematics Opening Cinematic Techniques. Creating Emotion in Games: The Craft and Art of Emotioneering (pp. 389-416). Indianapolis, Indiana: New Riders.

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