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Article - 'The art of cinema' by Guest

An item about Game Design posted on Jan 14, 2004


TDZ takes a look at cut scenes and cinematics in your RPGs


The Art of Cinema

**Cue corny 60’s game show music**

Announcer: Welcome to another episode of…
Announcer: That’s right! And here’s your host, the Drunken ZOMBIE!!!

Hey hey, audience! It’s me, the Drunken Zombie! (Hey Bob, cut the damn music!) I’m here today to talk to you about cinema. No, not the place you go to see the newest movies. I’m talking about scenes in your game.

Cinema has always been used in RPGs to show an event sequence that just can’t be acted out by the player. Often it involves a lot of walking characters and talking characters. But since it’s such an important part of the gaming scene, (Heh, I made a pun) then why do I keep seeing it done incorrectly?

Beware; this article will contain some information about emotions. However, you should consult other articles, (such as the ‘When Emotions Run Free’ series) for some more in-depth information.

When first designing a cinema sequence, you should consider it like an introduction sequence. (Refer to the many articles about effective intros/endings for more information.) Each sequence should be well thought-out and planned before a beautiful event can be constructed.

Yes that is one of the most important parts of the cinema sequence; the planning. If you want to have deep, riveting scenes that make the player laugh/cry/run for their mothers, chances are you shouldn’t begin writing the sequence at the same time you’re typing it into RM2k/3. That’s just a weird way of saying: Plan it out, and don’t just go from scratch!

These cinema sequences are also often referred to as ‘cut scenes’. That term applies well to some situations, but not others. If you actually analyze the word cut scene, it means to ‘cut from one scene to another’. Most of the time, your cinema sequences will only take place in one scene, under one premise. I’m basically saying, don’t call your cinemas cut scenes, because it’s the wrong term, sort of. Plus, ‘cinema’ sounds classier.

Anyway, back to my point. Another thing you will definitely want to do is establish a mood for your sequence. In a lot of games, you see sequences where it shows something that happened long ago, or just recently in the past. A lot of times, you see these sequences in black and white. This works well, but often gets a bit boring. Try a deep yellow/gold for cinemas that take place in the past for a varied feel.
Another important thing is sound. The proper selection of music is critical to any game, any time. However, lots of cinema sequences in amateur games do not have any sound effects. No, sound effects are not only for battle anymore! Use sound effects and use them often. Nothing sets a mood for a dark graveyard like a dark blue/gray screen, complete with fog, eerie music and a wolf howl or two.

Oh, I’ve missed an important topic. Character actions. When writing a cinema sequence, put yourself in one of the character’s shoes/socks/bare feet. If you just found out that, say, your family was murdered, are you going to stand there with that same stupid look on your face, arms at your side, and say ‘Okay’? I think not. I would imagine that the character would be shocked, confused, and above all, deeply saddened. He might sink to his knees, crying out to God, cursing him for taking his family away from him. But that’s just me.

If a character suddenly gets ambushed from behind a building by another person, show the action! Show the stalker jumping from behind the corner, show the collision with the characters, and show the character knocked to the ground. Even simple pixel art skills should let you do this.

Another important thing to cinemas are battle animations. Even if you don’t use battle animations during battle, you can still use them to show emotion, or thunder, or just about anything. Think of them as pictures you can animate. I personally use them a lot for depicting emotion without the use of facesets. Simply get a little white speech balloon with a big ‘!’ in it, show it over the character’s head, and you’ve got a pretty nifty looking ‘surprised’ emotion. Battle animations can even not include animation, if you like. You could create a simple thunder-n-lightning sequence with ‘em, for example. Just make a new animation, put a sound effect of thunder and a flash of white/yellow/blue light. Maybe even include a screen shake. The possibilities are endless.

Chipset selection is another important thing to consider when writing a cinema sequence. The chipsets should match the mood you are trying to achieve through the cinema. Try to co-ordinate the music, chipsets, characters and sound effects, along with riveting writing, and you’ve got yourself an excellent cinema.

Now it’s time for my Final Fantasy. I mean Thought. My Final Thought.


Cinema sequences are a great way to portray emotion between characters. Using the right combination of memorable music, realistic chipsets, flashy and exciting battle animations, and riveting dialogue, you can change the mood of your game’s sequence immediately. Try to include many beautiful cinemas in your game, because they give the player a break from saving the world, even if just for a little while, and if done right, help spark the player’s interest about the game once again. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: No matter how good the rest of your game is, no one’s going to play past one really bad point, so, work hard on everything!

This is the Drunken Zombie saying “This article has 0% interest for pre-approved readers” for some reason.