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The cutscene in the original Pac-Man game exaggerated the effect of the Energizer power pellet power-up Pacman-cutscene.png
The cutscene in the original Pac-Man game exaggerated the effect of the Energizer power pellet power-up

A cutscene or event scene (sometimes in-game cinematic or in-game movie) is a sequence in a video game that is not interactive, breaking up the gameplay. Such scenes could be used to show conversations between characters, set the mood, reward the player, introduce new gameplay elements, show the effects of a player's actions, create emotional connections, improve pacing or foreshadow future events. [2] [3]

Cutscene sequence in a video game that is not interactive, breaking up the gameplay.

A cutscene or event scene is a sequence in a video game that is not interactive, breaking up the gameplay. Such scenes could be used to show conversations between characters, set the mood, reward the player, introduce new gameplay elements, show the effects of a player's actions, create emotional connections, improve pacing or foreshadow future events.

Gameplay is the specific way in which players interact with a game, and in particular with video games. Gameplay is the pattern defined through the game rules, connection between player and the game, challenges and overcoming them, plot and player's connection with it. Video game gameplay is distinct from graphics and audio elements.

Pace (speed)

Pace, also called rhythm or tempo, is the rate of activity or movement, such as in running or the flow of events in an entertainment piece.


Cutscenes often feature "on the fly" rendering, using the gameplay graphics to create scripted events. Cutscenes can also be pre-rendered computer graphics streamed from a video file. Pre-made videos used in video games (either during cutscenes or during the gameplay itself) are referred to as "full motion videos" or "FMVs". Cutscenes can also appear in other forms, such as a series of images or as plain text and audio.

Pre-rendering is the process in which video footage is not rendered in real-time by the hardware that is outputting or playing back the video. Instead, the video is a recording of footage that was previously rendered on different equipment. Pre-rendered assets may also be outsourced by the developer to an outside production company. Such assets usually have a level of complexity that is too great for the target platform to render in real-time.

Computer graphics Graphics created using computers

Computer graphics are pictures and films created using computers. Usually, the term refers to computer-generated image data created with the help of specialized graphical hardware and software. It is a vast and recently developed area of computer science. The phrase was coined in 1960, by computer graphics researchers Verne Hudson and William Fetter of Boeing. It is often abbreviated as CG, though sometimes erroneously referred to as computer-generated imagery (CGI).

A full motion video (FMV) is a video game narration technique that relies upon pre-recorded video files to display action in the game. While many games feature FMVs as a way to present information during cutscenes, games that are primarily presented through FMVs are referred to as full-motion video games or interactive movies.


The term "cutscene" was coined by game designer Ron Gilbert to describe non-interactive plot sequences in the 1987 adventure game Maniac Mansion . [4] The Sumerian Game (1964), an early mainframe game, introduces its Sumerian setting with a slideshow synchronized to audio recording. [5] Pac-Man (1980) is frequently credited as the first game to feature cutscenes, in the form of brief comical interludes about Pac-Man and Blinky chasing each other, [6] though Space Invaders Part II employed a similar technique in the same year. [7]

Ron Gilbert American video game designer

Ron Gilbert is an American video-game designer, programmer, and producer. His games are generally focused on interactive story-telling, and he is arguably best known for his work on several classic LucasArts adventure games, including Maniac Mansion and the first two Monkey Island games.

<i>Maniac Mansion</i> 1987 video game

Maniac Mansion is a 1987 graphic adventure video game developed and published by Lucasfilm Games. It follows teenage protagonist Dave Miller as he attempts to rescue his girlfriend from a mad scientist, whose mind has been enslaved by a sentient meteor. The player uses a point-and-click interface to guide Dave and two of his six playable friends through the scientist's mansion while solving puzzles and avoiding dangers. Gameplay is non-linear, and the game must be completed in different ways based on the player's choice of characters. Initially released for the Commodore 64 and Apple II programming by Carl Mey, Maniac Mansion was Lucasfilm Games' first self-published product.

Sumer Ancient civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia

Sumer is the earliest known civilization in the historical region of southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq, during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ages, and one of the first civilizations in the world along with Ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley. Living along the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates, Sumerian farmers were able to grow an abundance of grain and other crops, the surplus of which enabled them to settle in one place. Prehistoric proto-writing dates back before 3000 BC. The earliest texts come from the cities of Uruk and Jemdet Nasr and date to between roughly c. 3500 and c. 3000 BC.

In 1983, the laserdisc video game Bega's Battle introduced animated full-motion video (FMV) cutscenes with voice acting to develop a story between the game's shooting stages, which became the standard approach to game storytelling years later. [8] The games Bugaboo (The Flea) [9] (1983) and Karateka (1984) helped introduce the cutscene to home computers. Other early video games known to use cutscenes extensively include Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken in 1983; Valis in 1986; Phantasy Star , Maniac Mansion , and La Abadía del Crimen in 1987; Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter , and Prince of Persia and Zero Wing in 1989. Since then, cutscenes have been part of many video games, especially in action-adventure and role-playing video games.

Shooter games are a subgenre of action video game, which often test the player's spatial awareness, reflexes, and speed in both isolated single player or networked multiplayer environments. Shooter games encompass many subgenres that have the commonality of focusing on the actions of the avatar engaging in combat with a weapon against both code-driven NPC enemies or other avatars controlled by other players.

<i>Bugaboo</i> (The Flea) video game

Bugaboo , later published in Spain as La Pulga, is a computer game created in 1983 by the Spanish team of programmers Paco & Paco for the ZX Spectrum. Later versions for the Commodore 64, Amstrad and MSX were produced. Bugaboo, besides being the first video game made in Spain, is one of the first computer games to include cut scenes. Its publication marked the official beginning of the Golden Era of Spanish Software. It was ported to the Amstrad CPC under the name Roland in the Caves, to exploit the CPC's recurring Roland character. A sequel was released in Spain by Opera Soft under the title "Poogaboo", made by Paco Suarez, one of the authors of the original game. Paco Portalo, the other member of Paco & Paco, left the project after the publication of the original game for the ZX Spectrum.

<i>Karateka</i> (video game) 1984 video game

Karateka is a 1984 martial arts action game by Jordan Mechner, and was his first published game, created while attending Yale University. It was originally programmed for the Apple II, then widely ported. The game was published in North America by Broderbund, and in Europe by Ariolasoft. Along with Swashbuckler (1982), Karate Champ (1984), and Yie-Ar Kung Fu (1985), Karateka was one of the earliest fighting games.

Cutscenes became much more common with the rise of CD-ROM as the primary storage medium for video games, as its much greater storage space allowed developers to use more cinematically impressive media such as FMV and high-quality voice tracks. [10]

CD-ROM pre-pressed compact disc containing computer data

A CD-ROM is a pre-pressed optical compact disc that contains data. Computers can read—but not write to or erase—CD-ROMs, i.e. it is a type of read-only memory.


Live-action cutscenes

Live-action cutscenes have many similarities to films. For example, the cutscenes in Wing Commander IV used both fully constructed sets, and well known actors such as Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell for the portrayal of characters.

Mark Hamill American actor, producer, director, and writer

Mark Richard Hamill is an American actor, voice actor, and writer. Hamill is best known for playing Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars films, which won him the Saturn Award for Best Actor three times. He is also known for his voice acting in animation and video games, especially for his portrayal of the Joker, beginning with Batman: The Animated Series in 1992.

Malcolm McDowell English actor

Malcolm McDowell is an English actor, known for his boisterous and often villainous roles. He trained as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Some movie tie-in games, such as Electronic Arts' The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars games, have also extensively used film footage and other assets from the film production in their cutscenes. Another movie tie-in, Enter the Matrix , used film footage shot concurrently with The Matrix Reloaded that was also directed by the film's directors, the Wachowskis.

Pre-rendered cutscenes

Pre-rendered cutscenes are animated and rendered by the game's developers, and take advantage of the full array of techniques of CGI, cel animation or graphic novel-style panel art. Like live-action shoots, pre-rendered cutscenes are often presented in full motion video.

Screenshot of a pre-rendered cutscene from Warzone 2100, a free and open-source video game War Zone 2100 - Dropship cinematic.png
Screenshot of a pre-rendered cutscene from Warzone 2100, a free and open-source video game

Real time cutscenes

Real time cutscenes are rendered on-the-fly using the same game engine as the graphics during gameplay. This technique is also known as Machinima.

Real time cutscenes are generally of much lower detail and visual quality than pre-rendered cutscenes, but can adapt to the state of the game. For example, some games allow the player character to wear several different outfits, and appear in cutscenes wearing the outfit the player has chosen. It is also possible to give the player control over camera movement during real time cutscenes, as seen in Dungeon Siege , Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty , Halo: Reach , and Kane & Lynch: Dead Men .

Mixed media cutscenes

Many games use both pre-rendered and real time cutscenes as the developer feels is appropriate for each scene.

During the 1990s in particular, it was common for the techniques of live action, pre-rendering, and real time rendering to be combined in a single cutscene. For example, popular games such as Myst , Wing Commander III , and Phantasmagoria use film of live actors superimposed upon pre-rendered animated backgrounds for their cutscenes. Though Final Fantasy VII primarily uses real-time cutscenes, it has several scenes in which real-time graphics are combined with pre-rendered full motion video. Though rarer than the other two possible combinations, the pairing of live action video with real time graphics is seen in games such as Killing Time . [11]

Interactive cutscenes

Interactive cutscenes involve the computer taking control of the player character while prompts (such as a sequence of button presses) appear onscreen, requiring the player to follow them in order to continue or succeed at the action. This gameplay mechanic, commonly called quick time events, has its origins in interactive movie laserdisc video games such as Dragon's Lair , Road Blaster , [12] and Space Ace . [13]


Director Steven Spielberg, director Guillermo del Toro, and game designer Ken Levine, all of whom are avid video gamers, criticized the use of cutscenes in games, calling them intrusive. Spielberg states that making the story flow naturally into the gameplay is a challenge for future game developers. [14] [15] Hollywood writer Danny Bilson called cinematics the "last resort of game storytelling," as a person doesn't want to watch a movie when they are playing a video game. [16] [17] Game designer Raph Koster criticized cutscenes as being the part that has "the largest possibility for emotional engagement, for art dare we say," while also being the bit that can be cut with no impact on the actual gameplay. Koster claims that because of this, many of the memorable peak emotional moments in video games are actually not given by the game itself at all. [18] It is a common criticism that cutscenes simply belong to a different medium. [19]

Others see cutscenes as another tool designers can use to make engrossing video games. An article on Gamefront calls upon a number of successful video games that make excessive use of cutscenes for storytelling purposes, referring to cutscenes as a highly effective way to communicate a storyteller's vision. [17] Rune Klevjer states: "A cutscene does not cut off gameplay. It is an integral part of the configurative experience", saying that they will always affect the rhythm of a game, but if they are well implemented, cutscenes can be an excellent tool for building suspense or providing the player with helpful or crucial visual information. [20]

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri</i> 1996 tactical first-person shooter video game

Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri is a 1996 tactical first-person shooter video game developed and published by Looking Glass Technologies. Set in a science-fictional depiction of the 24th century, the game follows a faction of humans who colonize the Alpha Centauri star system to escape from the Hegemony, a totalitarian Earth government. The player assumes the role of Nikola ap Io, the leader of an Alpha Centauri military unit, and undertakes missions against pirates and the Hegemony.

An interactive film, also known as an interactive movie or movie game, is a video game that presents its gameplay in a cinematic, scripted manner, often through the use of full-motion video of either animated or live-action footage.

<i>The Daedalus Encounter</i> 1995 video game

The Daedalus Encounter is a 1995 interactive movie puzzle adventure game developed by Mechadeus and published by Virgin Interactive for MS-DOS. The game was ported to the 3DO by Lifelike Productions and published by Panasonic. The premise of the game is that there are three space marines who have fought as part of an interstellar war. One of them, Casey, has been brought back to life by his partners after a space accident and he is now a brain grafted in a life-support system. In order to save themselves, the three characters and the player solve all sorts of puzzles.

<i>Star Wars: Rebel Assault</i> video game

Star Wars: Rebel Assault is a rail shooter video game developed and published by LucasArts for DOS, Apple Macintosh, Sega CD and 3DO Interactive Multiplayer systems, set in the Star Wars universe. Released in 1993, it is the first CD-ROM-only game to be published by LucasArts. The game's story focuses on a young pilot called Rookie One as He or She is trained by, and subsequently fights for, the Rebel Alliance in the Galactic Civil War.

<i>Corpse Killer</i> 1995 video game

Corpse Killer is a game released for the Sega CD, Sega CD 32X, 3DO, Sega Saturn, Windows 95 and Macintosh computers that features live action full motion video in a format similar to other games developed by Digital Pictures. It was later remastered for Steam, and PlayStation 4. The quality of the full motion video on the Sega CD version is less than that of the others. Corpse Killer was the first CD game released for the Sega 32X.

<i>Command & Conquer</i> (1995 video game) 1995 video game

Command & Conquer is a 1995 real-time strategy video game developed by Westwood Studios and published by Virgin Interactive. Set in an alternate history of modern day, the game tells the story of a world war between two globalized factions: the Global Defense Initiative of the United Nations and a cult-like militant organization called the Brotherhood of Nod, led by the mysterious Kane. The groups compete for control of Tiberium, a mysterious substance that slowly spreads across the world.

<i>Bug!</i> 1995 video game

Bug! is a platform video game developed by Realtime Associates and published by Sega originally for its console, the Sega Saturn. It was first released: in North America, in 1995, just weeks after the Saturn's launch there; in Europe. on September 15, 1995; and, in Japan, on December 8, 1995. It was also ported to Windows 3.1x and Windows 95 in 1996 by Beam Software. Notably, the game is one of the earliest examples of 3D platforming, as well as one of the first platform games released on the Saturn. However, its style of 3D platforming is restricted to a track, unlike many in the genre that allow for unrestricted movement in all directions.

<i>D</i> (video game) 1995 horror adventure video game

D is a horror themed interactive movie and adventure game developed by Warp and directed by Kenji Eno. It was first published by Panasonic for the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer in 1995, later being ported to the Sega Saturn, PlayStation, and MS-DOS. The story follows Laura Harris as she goes to investigate a hospital after learning her father went on a mass murdering spree and barricaded himself inside. The hospital morphs into a castle upon her arrival, which she must explore to find her father. The player controls Laura through computer generated full motion video (FMV) sequences, and must complete the game within two hours without a save or pause function.

<i>MegaRace</i> 1993 video game

MegaRace is a racing video game created by Cryo. It features pre-rendered 3-D graphics and over twenty minutes of full motion video of fictional game show host, Lance Boyle. It was released for DOS in 1993. It was then released for the Sega CD and the 3DO the following year. It spawned two sequels, MegaRace 2 and MegaRace 3.

<i>Time Gal</i> 1992 video game

Time Gal is an interactive movie video game developed and published by Taito and Malone Films, and originally released in Japan for the arcades in 1985. It is an action game which uses full motion video (FMV) to display the on-screen action. The player must correctly choose the on-screen character's actions to progress the story. The pre-recorded animation for the game was produced by Toei Animation.

<i>Strahl</i> (video game) 1993 video game

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<i>Creature Shock</i> sci-fi first-person shooter video game released on the PC and 3DO

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Quick time event type of gameplay

In video games, a quick time event (QTE) is a method of context-sensitive gameplay in which the player performs actions on the control device shortly after the appearance of an on-screen instruction/prompt. It allows for limited control of the game character during cut scenes or cinematic sequences in the game. Performing the wrong prompt or not at all results in the character's failure at their task and often in an immediate game over, or a life being lost and being shown a death/failure animation.

A variety of computer graphic techniques have been used to display video game content throughout the history of video games. The predominance of individual techniques have evolved over time, primarily due to hardware advances and restrictions such as the processing power of central or graphics processing units.

In video game culture, an adventure game is a video game in which the player assumes the role of a protagonist in an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving. The genre's focus on story allows it to draw heavily from other narrative-based media, literature and film, encompassing a wide variety of literary genres. Many adventure games are designed for a single player, since this emphasis on story and character makes multi-player design difficult. Colossal Cave Adventure is identified as the first such adventure game, first released in 1976, while other notable adventure game series include Zork, King's Quest, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Myst.

Wing Nuts: Battle in the Sky is a game published by BMG Interactive Enterainment and developed by Rocket Science Games for MS-DOS systems in 1995.

Late Shift is an interactive film and full motion video adventure video game written and directed by Tobias Weber. The participative film technology behind the title was developed by CtrlMovie Ltd. The title was screened at many international film festivals, including The New York Film Festival, Raindance Film Festival, and the Festival du nouveau cinéma.


  1. Matteson, Aaron. "Five Things We Learned From Pac-Man". Joystick Division. Archived from the original on June 16, 2016. Retrieved January 16, 2012.Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help) "This cutscene furthers the plot by depicting a comically large Pac-Man".
  2. Hancock, Hugh (April 2, 2002). "Better Game Design Through Cutscenes". Gamasutra . Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  3. Aaron, Marcus (2014). Design, User Experience, and Usability. User Experience Design for Diverse Interaction Platforms and Environments. Springer. p. 662. ISBN   3319076264 . Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  4. Buecheler, Christopher. "The GameSpy Hall of Fame". GameSpy. Archived from the original on March 11, 2011.
  5. Willaert, Kate (September 9, 2019). "The Sumerian Game: The Most Important Video Game You've Never Heard Of". A Critical Hit. Retrieved September 10, 2019.
  6. Gaming's Most Important Evolutions Archived June 15, 2011, at the Wayback Machine , GamesRadar
  7. Space Invaders Deluxe, Accessed on line March 28, 2011.
  8. Fahs, Travis (March 3, 2008). "The Lives and Deaths of the Interactive Movie". IGN. Retrieved March 11, 2011.
  9. "Bugaboo, un hito en la historia del software español", Universidad de Extremadura, 2009, p.33. (Spanish).
  10. "The Next Generation 1996 Lexicon A to Z: Cut Scene". Next Generation . No. 15. March 1996. p. 32.
  11. "Killing Time". Electronic Gaming Monthly . No. 76. Ziff Davis. November 1995. pp. 142–143.
  12. Rodgers, Scott (2010). Level Up!: The Guide to Great Video Game Design. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 183–184. ISBN   978-0-470-68867-0.
  13. Mielke, James (May 9, 2006). "Previews: Heavenly Sword". Archived from the original on June 4, 2011. Retrieved December 19, 2007. Some points in key battles (usually with bosses) integrate QTE (quick-time events), which fans of Shenmue and Indigo Prophecy might like, but which we've been doing since Dragon's Lair and Space Ace. Time to move on, gents.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  14. Chick, Tom (December 8, 2008). "A Close Encounter with Steven Spielberg". Yahoo!. Archived from the original on August 7, 2011. Retrieved December 11, 2008.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  15. Dutton, Fred (November 17, 2001). "Del Toro, Levine speak out against cutscenes". Eurogamer . Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  16. Brown, Nathan (September 3, 2011). "Bilson: Cutscenes Are Gaming's "Failure State"". Edge Online . Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  17. 1 2 Sterling, Jim (November 3, 2011). "In Defense of the Videogame Cutscene". Gamefront . Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  18. Koster, Raph (December 7, 2005). "The Pixar Lesson". Raph Koster's Website. Raph Koster. Archived from the original on October 7, 2008. Retrieved October 7, 2008. Well, that would leave the part that has the largest possibility for emotional engagement, for art dare we say, in the bit that can be cut with no impact to gameplay whatsoever. This is why I say that many of the peak emotional moments we remember in games are actually "cheating" – they’re not given to us by the game at all, but by cutscenes.
  19. Holmes, Dylan (2012). A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games. Dylan Holmes. p. 92. ISBN   1480005754 . Retrieved November 19, 2014.
  20. Klejver, Rune. "In Defense of Cutscenes" . Retrieved November 19, 2014.