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Sumerian

Video Game Dictionary - Where Do "Cutscenes" Come From?

Cutscene

IPA /kʌt siːn/

Definition

A cutscene, or sometimes called a cinematic, is a non-interactive sequence within a game between gameplay scenes. They’re often used to show dramatic moments or events not possible in the games engine or gameplay.

The word cutscene was coined by Game Designer Ron Gilbert in 1987 for the game “Maniac Mansion” for its non-interactive sequences. The term referred to the cuts between scenes in Film.

There is a distinction within cutscenes of “on the fly” rendering, in-engine cutscenes, and pre-rendered cutscenes which are videos played within the game. Pre-rendered cutscenes were often used when games were graphically inferior to today’s games but are still used regularly.

There’s also FMV cutscenes, meaning full motion video. Those cutscenes use clips from real life, filmed usually specifically for the game. There are many notable examples of this in games historically, but now are generally used in FMV-specific games.

Impressively the first cutscene, although used introductorily instead of in-game, was actually in 1966. This was a game called “The Sumerian Game” designed by Mabel Addis, that ran on mainframe computers. That’s right, those giant computers that we can only imagine today.

Since then, cutscenes grew into an integral part of the way games told their stories. In many titles from the 70s onwards, cutscenes were used to progress the story, where gameplay would often be completely mechanic focused.

One interesting note on the use of cutscenes is their criticism by two major film directors, Steven Spielberg and Guillermo Del Toro. Both criticized the use of cutscenes, calling them intrusive. Spielberg discussed that developers should avoid this breaking in the gameplay, and instead have the story flow naturally within the gameplay.

Cutscenes are still common in games and regularly feature in titles across every platform and genre.

Example usage

“Oh I loved that starting cutscene, really immersed me in the world.”

“Seriously, another cutscene!? There’s so many in this game.”

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