Steven Spielberg: Master Game Designer

Spielberg

Look at the timeless classic Boom Blox, headed by Spielberg. Full of emotional brevity, flawless gameplay, and endearing characters, it will stand the test of time as a fantastic example of impeccable game design. I know the tears poured relentlessly from my eyes when I saw each block fall as a result of my mistakes.

It’s because of this shining example of a game that we should all bow our heads in reverence when Spielberg talks gaming. According to the Oscar-winning director, cutscenes only detract from the overall gaming experience.

"You know the thing that doesn’t work for me in these games are the little movies where they attempt to tell a story in between the playable levels. That’s where there hasn’t been a synergy between storytelling and gaming. They go to a lot of trouble to do these [motion-capture] movies that explain the characters".

Truer words have never been spoken, O Dalai Lama of the gaming world. Your blockbuster films (Indy’s Crystal Skull adventure was by far your best work!) supercede any sort of knowledge anyone else may have concerning "little movies where they attempt to tell a story." It’s easy to sympathize with you. What was Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots? A movie? Far too much watching and not enough playing. What’s more, the scenes did nothing for the story. It was an exercise in laziness, not having to provide actual gaming content. Personally? I would have rather read lines and lines of dialogue, or have had to pick up items that forced me to put the story together myself. That would have been the more artsy, intelligent path.

Boom Blox

No, cutscenes never do their part in creating any sort of respectable or sensible link between gameplay and the storyline that’s being established. It’s a much easier route to place the exposition of a title’s plot in various locations throughout the game a la Dead Space’s logs and Gears of War 2’s collectibles. This leaves the story entirely open for interpretation to the player, thus clearing out any confusion that might have occurred with cutscenes. It’s even rarer to find a game with a complete, cohesive story that begs any sort of emotional response from its player. Final Fantasy VII was a mishmash of unintelligible garbage. That flower girl who perished? I didn’t even know who she was, because the cutscenes were such trash. What were they trying to accomplish there?

All joking aside, I respectfully disagree with the vitriol Spielberg has spewn all over the industry and talented developers who work hard to make games as good as they can possibly be (granted, with quite a few exceptions). Just because he, as a filmmaker, feels that the "little movies" in games are not doing the job that they’re supposed to, should any of us care? Excuse me, but what goes into making a game whole — graphics, non-glitchy gameplay, sound, voiceovers, and keeping it fun — is quite an ordeal. It’s a wonder any games do manage to tell engaging stories, what with all the manner of detail that is put into so many different types of titles. Cutscenes are not meant as a substitute to gameplay. How else do you want developers to get their point across? Rather than being exposed to Rapture via a cutscene, would you have rather appeared there, with no explanation given? If you stop and think about it like a level-headed individual, then what logical ways are there to expose a storyline without stepping aside and letting a video or the characters do so themselves?

It seems to me that Mr. Spielberg here believes that since he must be a moviemaking prodigy, it will be a cold day in hell before any sort of piddling video game can match the theatrics and quality that can be presented in real movies…even though you and I know that games and movies share so many things in common it’s ridiculous. It seems to me that he has very little knowledge of what said scenes actually contribute to so many of our favorite games out there. What’s more, a scene does not have to incorporate such mechanics as motion-capture to tell a story. Sometimes, a simple animation or a few words of dialogue can convey a story far better than any mission or block of text ever could.

So what’s next? Perhaps Spielberg will dazzle us with his "I-can-do-it-better" cutscene prowess, perhaps in a new Medal of Honor title that actually stands out from the pack of wartime shooters. If not, perhaps he should stick to what he knows from now on.

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