Scripted events are a game design tool that can be used well or poorly just like cutscenes. A lot of recent big-budget games have relied excessively on them, such as the introduction of Grand Theft Auto V, which railroads the player through so many tightly-controlled sections of gameplay that the sequence plays out very similarly for everyone. I felt not only bored due to the lack of interaction, but downright patronised because it gave the impression I couldn’t be trusted not to mess up the exciting action scene.
Although this may sound like a petty gripe but it actually may be a symptom of a pervasive problem in gaming.
When I play a game, I generally want to feel like my actions are accomplishing something, even if it’s only ever an illusionary accomplishment. Part of that satisfaction comes from thinking that my particular choices make a difference to the outcome of a situation, be it a dialogue choice or my tactics during a battle. What I’ve noticed is that when a game is designed with too much focus on scripted events, my actions cease to feel very satisfying and I suspect this is the root of the issue.
Half-Life is a series which caused waves by trying to integrate its story seamlessly into the world rather than cut away to a pre-rendered video. At the same time, though, Half-Life 2 was praised for its physics engine, which allows for all manner of mischief and lends an element of unpredictability to fights. Narrowly escaping a dangerous situation feels so much more personal when the game allows for some variety in how a scenario plays out, like when a stray rocket demolishes the wall you were using for cover in Red Faction: Guerrilla. Meanwhile, I quite enjoyed my time with Sleeping Dogs, but couldn’t stop noticing how many of the exciting moments were rigidly choreographed.
Drama comes from conflict and the unexpected. If your game plays like a rollercoaster with no deviation from a set path, don’t be surprised if people aren’t impressed once the initial gimmick wears out its welcome.
Image rights: Valve Software (Half-Life 2)