Lately I’ve been playing an awful lot of Dynasty Warriors 8 Extreme Legends on my PS4 (because there’s bugger all else to play on it) It’s a stupid, stupid game but one I love. It’s the worlds greatest stress ball, as you a hero from Chinese history go about decimating an entire battlefield, with any weapon you like (A bamboo scroll is a weapon in this game, and it’s quite good). The dialogue is badly translated in a wonderful way, the word ‘benevolence’ is used a surprising amount, character motivations make no sense, and there is a bright red horse called Red Hare.
See? The horse is red!
So why am I writing about it? Well the games cut scenes are very perplexing to me. Which ever character the player uses in game, that character can mow down hundreds if not thousands of poor peasants, just by randomly mashing the buttons. Particle effects go flying around the screen, time stops as the player powers up a super move, but in cut scenes, they lose all the power they just had. It’s as if they cinematic camera used to film them, saps all the life out of them, leaving them withered husks, who can be blown over by the slightest of breezes. It’s something that happens quite often in games, and I call it Cut scene Kryptonite.
The well documented case of Superman VS the Flasher
Like Superman, almost all video game characters are too powerful. After a while the game needs to throw greater and greater challenges at the player in hope of stopping their endless onslaught. Dynasty Warriors is a perfect example of this, with the player character able to dance through entire armies, so what happens when the story line calls for some one to be captured or even killed? simple, do it in a cut scene. While watching one scene in Dynasty Warriors, a character by the name of Guan Yu had been surrounded and is then killed rather quickly. Big whoop you may cry, but this feller had just killed over 700 men and is known as the god of war (No relation to dear Kratos, I think)
Dynasty Warriors is not the only example of this of course, pretty much every game is guilty of it in some way or another. In most shooters, the player can usually take a full magazine to the face before needing to take a moment to recover, but in cut scenes, a single shot or blow to the head and you’re out for the count. Can you remember every time you opened a door in a game only for someone to knock you on the back of the head? it happens pretty dam regularly. Having revisited Far Cry 3 lately I’ve noticed just how many times Jason Brody is knocked on his arse by Vaas. In that game it’s a rather handy way of ending the action and begin a character moment with Vaas. The famous ‘Defintion of Insanity’ speech begins in that very way, with Vaas tricking Brody. As a way of transitioning to a different scene, having the player be knocked out again and again does get jarring, especially since in game Jason can be attacked by a bear and walk it off.
Get used to seeing Vaas from below.
Other examples of cut scene Kryptonite include
- Bubi drugging BJ in Wolfenstein the New Order
- Bruce Wayne getting captured at the start of Arkham City (Yes it would have been odd seeing Bruce Wayne fight off prison guards but still!)
- When Conner is put into prison in Assassin’s Creed 3
- Basically when ever the player is captured
So why are moments of cut scene Kryptonite put into games? Mostly I find it’s to get the player in a new environment with a new set of challenges, if we take the Far Cry 3 mission I’ve mention already as a case study it goes like this
- Start off laying explosives on a truck in a village before climbing a water tower to prepare for fight
- fight commences, player is tasked with killing off all hostiles
- Once enough hostiles have been killed, the player is told to chase after a truck with prisoners on it
- Upon catching up to the truck, the player is then ambushed by Vaas who knocks the player out (CSK of this scenario)
- Player awakens in different location to Vaas going a bit mental. Thrown down a hole.
- Escapes hole and begins fighting back.
The CSK allows for a quick and seamless transition between stages of a mission, when one wouldn’t occur naturally. It also has the added effect of making the player go ‘Jesus, WTF’ as they are beaten down by a NPC they hadn’t seen (mostly because the NPC spawns from no where). Of course the CSK allows for other things to happen, the player can be brought into contact with another character, for a bit of face time, typically with one character in a position of power over the other. That’s not something that could really be done too often in game play itself, as a man with a machine gun and knife isn’t libel to look up to any one. That’s where the intimidation factor of the Kryptonite comes in, take away the gun barrel that is ever present in the bottom right hand side of the screen and suddenly you’re far more inclined to pay attention and be on your guard.
CSK moments can happen while the player is sill in control of the character. Half Life 2 has the scene where Dr Freemen is locked in a pod as it travels through the Citadel, powerless to change course. Once he’s released from the pod, poor Gordon then has to see his impressive arsenal of weaponry (and Crowbar) as they are taken and disintegrated before his very eyes, only for the gravity gun to be super charged and become the finger of god (Not the Combines proudest moment). The moments before getting the super powered gravity gun are some of that games most tense moments, as you wonder ‘How the hell do I survive this’.
It’s these moments of tension and fear that I feel make the use of cut scene kryptonite so common. When a player holds more weapons than the average SWAT team, it’s a way of saying that those fancy guns mean bugger all. That said no matter the intention of the developer / writer, there will typically a small disconnect that makes the use of the CSK feel cheap and maybe a tad lazy. That no more plausible reason could have been engineered to progress the story does smack of lack of imagination from the developers. Characters do not need to be face to face to communicate, you do not have to be powerless to be intimated and feel fear. What this how essay is really asking for experimentation in how a story is told, how we interact with the games story and how it interacts with us.