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Introduction – Who Are We?. Marty Stoltz Studio Cinematic Director, Midway Chicago Stranglehold, The Suffering: Ties That Bind, Mortal Kombat: Armageddon/Deception/Shaolin Monks, Psi-Ops, Sanitarium Richard Rouse III Director of Game Design, Midway

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introduction who are we
Introduction – Who Are We?

Marty Stoltz

Studio Cinematic Director, Midway Chicago

Stranglehold, The Suffering: Ties That Bind,

Mortal Kombat: Armageddon/Deception/Shaolin Monks,

Psi-Ops, Sanitarium

Richard Rouse III

Director of Game Design, Midway

The Suffering, The Suffering: Ties That Bind,

Drakan: The Ancients’ Gates, Odyssey,

Game Design: Theory & Practice

introduction cinematic games
Introduction – Cinematic Games
  • What are “Cinematic Games?”
  • Often people mean:
    • Better/more cut-scenes
    • Better story/dialog
    • More custom-scripted
    • High drama moments
    • High production values
    • A highly immersive experience
introduction cinematic games4
Introduction – Cinematic Games
  • Heavily loaded term
  • Avoid “Hollywood Envy”
  • Don’t want
    • Interactive movies
    • Uninteractive games

"One day soon, calling a game ‘cinematic’ will be a backhanded compliment, like calling a movie ‘stagy.’"

  • Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner
introduction cinematic games5
Introduction – Cinematic Games
  • A new definition of “Cinematic Game Design”
  • Draw from cinema’s 100-year-old library of techniques
  • Integrate these devices into actual gameplay
  • Not just copying, expands our medium
cinematic technique 1 character framing
Cinematic Technique #1: Character Framing
  • Rule of thirds creates good compositions
  • Mental map allows audience to take fragments and make sense of them
  • Careful use of eye-lines
  • Example from:

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

character framing gameplay application
Character Framing: Gameplay Application
  • Same rules of scene composition apply
  • For third person games, avoid placing the character dead-center
  • Examples from:

Splinter Cell

Shadow of the Colossus

cinematic technique 2 camera following a character
Cinematic Technique #2: Camera Following a Character
  • When tracking a character, principles of photography apply to the cinema
  • Still obey the rule of thirds
  • Avoid “computer” camera moves
  • Example from:


camera following a character gameplay application
Camera Following a Character: Gameplay Application
  • Wherever the player moves the camera, always keep the avatar well framed
  • Avoiding fading out/making the avatar disappear
  • Balance player control with good shot composition
  • Example from:

Max Payne 2

cinematic technique 3 slow motion
Cinematic Technique # 3: Slow Motion
  • Many films have used slow motion to emphasize the beauty/brutality of a scene
  • Can also be used to slow/quicken an event where the audience won’t notice
  • Simulates real-life dramatic events seeming slow
  • Example from:


slow motion gameplay application
Slow Motion: Gameplay Application
  • Lots of games have stylishly used slow motion as a game mechanic or an FX component
  • Slow motion can also be a tool for storytelling
  • Could also be used more subtly
  • Example from:


cinematic technique 4 visual storytelling
Cinematic Technique #4: Visual Storytelling
  • Inform the viewer about person and place
  • Scene works without dialog/exposition
  • Start wide and end close: close shots at end for progression and impact
  • Example from:

Rear Window

visual storytelling gameplay application
Visual Storytelling: Gameplay Application
  • Player should learn about the fiction through play
  • Every element is important: art, animation, voice, audio, etc
  • Repetition of key details is necessary
  • Example from:

Half Life 2

cinematic technique 5 subjective p o v
Cinematic Technique #5: Subjective P.O.V.
  • Often multiple non-realistic effects can be combined to make the audience see a scene from a particular character’s POV
  • Effects include: FOV adjustment, slow motion, exaggerated lighting, screen filters, audio mix
  • Example from:

Raging Bull

subjective p o v gameplay application
Subjective P.O.V.: Gameplay Application
  • Used for literal sensory changes:
    • Drunk (GTA)
    • Drugged/Stoned (Rise of the Triad/Narc)
    • Dream Sequences (Max Payne)
    • Shell Shocked (Mercenaries)
  • Could be used more subtly to indicate emotional state of the main character
cinematic technique 6 parallel editing
Cinematic Technique #6: Parallel Editing
  • Inter-cuts two scenes that are happening at the same time
  • Great way to build suspense
  • Example from:

The Silence of the Lambs

parallel editing gameplay application
Parallel Editing: Gameplay Application
  • Underused technique in games
  • Not the same as plot-driven cut-aways
  • Perfect for breaking up long navigational sections, if kept short & quick
  • Has to be done carefully to not frustrate or confuse the player
  • Example from:


cinematic technique 7 split screen
Cinematic Technique #7: Split Screen
  • Similar to parallel editing, but different pacing
  • Can be used for suspense or emotional juxtaposition
  • Example from:

Kill Bill

split screen gameplay application
Split Screen: Gameplay Application
  • Also underused in games
  • Excellent for in-game storytelling
  • Do not force the player to intently watch multiple views simultaneously
  • Example from:

Indigo Prophecy

cinematic technique 8 picture within picture
Cinematic Technique #8: Picture Within Picture
  • Mini-story that happens in the background of a scene
  • Can be used to juxtapose two narratives or themes
  • Example from:

Citizen Kane

picture within picture gameplay application
Picture Within Picture: Gameplay Application
  • Depending on a game’s camera & perspective, differently techniques apply
  • Careful placement makes scenes non-disruptive but also likely to be seen
  • Example from:

Another World / Out of this World

cinematic technique 9 building tension
Cinematic Technique #9: Building Tension
  • Keep the pace changing but maintain a general direction
  • Don’t be afraid to slow things down in an action sequence
  • Use audio to keep the audience on edge
  • Example from:


building tension gameplay application
Building Tension: Gameplay Application
  • Design game mechanics in ways that will give the player some information, but not all of it
    • Motion sensor in Marathon and AvP
    • Radio static in Silent Hill 2
    • Audio design in System Shock games
  • Interactive music perfect for building tension in gameplay
cinematic technique 10 mis leading the audience
Cinematic Technique #10: (Mis)Leading the Audience
  • If audience figures out the story: bored
  • If audience can’t figure anything out: confused

(Both are bad.)

  • Hitchcock said: audience likes to be one step ahead of the story
  • Mislead audience away from what will actually happen
  • Example from:

A Clockwork Orange

mis leading the audience gameplay application
(Mis)Leading the Audience: Gameplay Application
  • Games have repetitive mechanics
  • Players expect them to work consistently
  • Thus players are susceptible to being misled
  • Be clever/devious in how you mislead, but don’t go for “cheap shots”
  • Example from:

The Suffering

cinematic game design ten techniques
Cinematic Game Design: Ten Techniques
  • Character Framing
  • Camera Following a Character
  • Slow Motion
  • Visual Storytelling
  • Subjective P.O.V.
  • Parallel Editing
  • Split Screen
  • Picture Within Picture
  • Building Tension
  • (Mis)Leading the Audience
  • Contact:



  • Final slides available at: