Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cutscenes +

Originally Posted by DOAM:
The only problem with cutscenes using our characters, is that of the RP'er. What if my guy doesn't like Picard, because he's my father. But whenever I go to train, the bastard just stands there and doesn't even talk to me! ... The "game" taking over someones character is rarely a good idea, IMO.
That's a really good point.

To go even further afield with the idea of "cutscene," what if instead of simply watching/listening to a canned speech you could actually interact with a special character through branching dialogue (or more)?

Can you imagine being one of the Starfleet officers in the bar on Space Station K-7 (from TOS: "The Trouble With Tribbles") when the fight with the Klingons starts? (Maybe as a reward for protecting the timeline you got sent there by the Department of Temporal Investigations to keep an eye on the Deep Space 9 crew when they went back....)

This would turn a cutscene into a dynamic encounter between the player's character and an NPC. (Which, if we're just talking dialogue, means being able to reuse the code written to support branching dialogue, so there's no technical problem.) After the conclusion of some major event, you'd find yourself whisked off into an instanced location to meet some special character, who would know something about you (including your recent success or failure) and who would give you some choices to which you could respond as you felt was appropriate.

Would this feel too much like "interference?" Would it address the potential objection by dedicated roleplayers to more focused cutscenes?

(Actually, I think if this approach to cutscenes were considered, it would be possible to make it work for all kinds of players. Roleplayers could follow the dialogue options they think their character would take; world/simulationist players could choose the options that yield interesting system-information about the universe of the game; and gameplay-focused players could choose the options that allow them to receive some kind of valuable collectible, or perhaps even to initiate combat with the special character. Wouldn't this be more fun than a one-size-fits-all static cutscene that everybody just hits the Escape key to break out of?)

A potential problem with this level of interactivity is the user who just sits there and does nothing. How long should a user be able to occupy a cutscene?

There's no technical impediment to the special character checking his/her/its watch and, after a minute or two, saying something like, "If you don't reply, I'm going to assume [whatever]," and the user would be given another chance to make a choice. After another minute or two of dumb insolence, the special character could just say, "So be it," pick the least favorable option for the player (or pick randomly), and the cutscene ends.

Finally, I'm sure there are some who'd object that this kind of dynamic instanced interaction with an NPC doesn't count as a "cutscene." I think a careful reading of the idea of "cutscene" allows even this kind of thing, though.

A cutscene is just a scene that's used to cut between two pieces of action. Although in the past these scenes have often been pre-rendered bits of video, that's just a convention. Half-Life showed that it's not necessary to break up the action this way; you could instead include scripted sequences using the game engine to link action segments.

So why not run with this idea in a MMORPG? How cool would it be to encounter one of the legendary Star Trek characters in a properly dramatic setting as a way to signify an important shift in your character's circumstances? I haven't played every MMORPG that's out there, but I'd be surprised if there aren't already some games that are already taking this kind of approach to cutscenes.

If not... well, then, here's another opportunity for the developer of Star Trek Online to be an industry leader.