Cutscene-Making Tips

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The major question here is: What makes up a good, effective cutscene in a game? How can we make even the most cliche, traditional "wake up in the morning and it's time for adventure!" cutscene tick?

Cutscenes play a crucial role in creating atmosphere and fillers in your story - so, naturally many people like to use them in their games. It's hard not to use them when making an RPG. However, I've noticed that not everyone can execute them well, and sometimes even the great game makers out there will struggle to find the best way to make something happen in a cutscene. RPG Maker does a good job with making things easy, but not everyone quite has the resources of epic scenic pictures and character artwork at their disposal.

So, essentially, the purpose of this thread is to share any ideas you have for eliminating "awkwardness" and just overall making cutscenes look snazzy! Feel free to share any comments you have in general, as well. I'll go ahead and post some of my initial ideas and add some more later. Not everyone might do things the way I do, and that's cool. If anyone has other ways of doing things, I will gladly add them, too! This thread might not see the light of day, but it also might maybe eventually help someone out, so OK! B)

You might also find this tutorial to be helpful if you're a beginner.

*I'm going to label some of these if they are specific to a certain maker, but I've never used anything before VX, so if anyone spots something that can be done or can't be done via events in XP, let me know please. :)




Character-Related

Joining the Party
Spoiler for:
yuyu! - Fade in, and out
When a new character is introduced, sometimes it just feels so awkward to have them "hop" into the party. In the past, I've tried having the screen fade out and showing a "<This Person> has joined the party!" message with some snazzy ME playing. I've found that lately I prefer to simply keep things...well, simple. A simple (dammit) method I like to use is: fade out, have them join, get rid of them on the map, and then fade in. It's stupidly simple basic and seems to draw attention away from the fact that they just popped away and popped up behind you like some freaky teleporting ninja.


[VXA] VianoceGames - Get in line!
This method is to have the newest addition to the party walk to the end of the caterpillar line, where he/she would appear when added as a follower. It may be challenging to do, but will ultimately look more realistic. What you could do is work in a party movement that makes it easy to know where they'll be standing when you make the newbie adventurer move to his spot in the line.  This has to appear natural, though! For example, try having the new character open a door (maybe to a jailcell or something) and allow the player to walk out of it and have the new character slip behind them. This could make things look very smooth! Get clever with it!

Eliminating Player and Followers awkwardness
Spoiler for:
[VXA] yuyu! - Temporarily replace them for actual events
Sometimes, you can gain a lot more flexibility by replacing the player and followers with events. Make them transparent before the map even loads and you can work wonders! For example, if you want them all to be in random positions of the map when it loads, instead of them all walking in like one giant caterpillar.


[VXA] yuyu! - Stop stacking up!!!
I get really annoyed when I teleport the player and all the followers are stacked up in my square like a buncha creeps. One way I've found to get around this is to have the player take a couple steps forward after the transfer, if possible. If you use a fade in and fade out, you can easily disguise the steps and it will just look like you guys all walked into the same building without standing on each other's heads like a human pyramid.

*VX and XP don't have default player followers, so you would have to use scripts.


[XP] Heretic - Caterpillar Methods
The style I have decided on requires scripts to pull off. I have the whole caterpillar also walk completely off the screen, then on the next map, I have them walk from off the screen to on screen.  One of the scripts I wrote for XP (caterpillar based on Zeriabs) allows characters to "walk off the map" specifically for the purposes you mentioned.  Scripts also allow events flagged as a "\door" to close once the last Caterpillar Actor has walked out of the door.  Or at least play a sound if the door is not visible because its at the bottom of a room and not the top.

The main thing I like about the caterpillar (the one I did based on Zeriabs) was that it uses actual events as your followers.  This allows total control over the movement of each Caterpillar Event.  I put in a ton of extra stuff to allow the caterpillar to take a step backward automatically, pile up, fade in and out, (includes easy scripts for fading events), and other stuff I thought should have been included in XP but was later included in Ace, such as having the Player graphic turn toward or away from an Event.

Introducing Characters
Spoiler for:
yuyu! - Give a bit of time for development first!
This is really more of a story-based thing, too, honestly, but it does offer some cutscene-related advice and I already typed it so, nyah. I often find it extremely awkward when someone walks into the tavern, sits next to you, and then is suddenly poking his nose into your business and then decides to stalk you by joining your party. There's got to be a bit of dialogue and introduction - you can't just rush into commitments like running around and saving the world together. Buy him dinner first. Perhaps he's really just going on adventure date to help you out with one thing and then changes his mind afterwards and decides to stay.

Also, it helps if it doesn't seem like that character's sole purpose was to walk into that tavern and randomly join your party. He has to have some reason why he's there in the first place. Maybe he did mean to join your party to pursue some mutual goal. But if it's a fairly random encounter, don't just make him walk in and say "hey letz b frends" as if some unknown compelling force dragged him into that tavern for no apparent reason.


Flapbat - Give them a reason!
Adding members....  This is a tricky one for many people.  The solution is to not have characters join the party without reason.  It should never seem forced.  If you look at Xenogears, the lead female lead doesn't permanently join the party until about 10 hours after she has been introduced and been featured in many scenes.  It happens at the right time, and wouldn't make sense ahead of time.  In fact, Xenogears does an awful lot of things right regarding character intentions and dialogue. 

While adding extra scenes to explore the depth of characters before they join can be a good idea, they can also be superfluous.  Especially in the age of voice-acting, many mainstream RPGs have been littered with meaningless dialogue that adds absolutely nothing to the story except to say, "Look!  They're doing the dishes and chatting!  Players can relate to that!" Nevermind that the story is actually about killing giant robots and stopping the rise of an undead god.  Dishes.  Yeah.

Lastly, I'd say it's all about character motives.  Many people have an interesting story into which the characters simply don't fit.  You need to find characters that fit the feel of the story you're presenting, or better yet, allow the characters motives and personalities to influence the direction of the story. 

Body Language
Spoiler for:
Heretic -
Time and time again, cutscenes are not about the dialogue, they are about Body Language.  90% of communication is done through body language, and Cutscenes really give game creators a chance to show off their eventing skills and express that body language.  It is still very possible to do in RPG Maker, and almost somewhat easier.  Cutscenes are more than just having two characters stand face to face and spout dialogue at each other.  Movies dont do this, why should games?



[VX/VXA] yuyu! - Sprites and facesets
In many games, such as the good ol' Final Fantasy games, the character graphics will take on many poses while talking. Obviously, this requires a lot of spriting, but seems to be well worth the effort. Since not many of us are expert spriters and can't quite sprite 10 different poses for each character, sometimes body language can be displayed through facesets that have multiple emotions per character. If you're not much of artist, consider looking up some RTP facesets (a lot of people like to make them) or maybe even Kaduki's facesets.

*Using balloon icons might also help out a bit.


yuyu! - Twists and turns
My favorite method of displaying body language with the limitations of sprites is to have them turn in many directions. It goes a long way when the characters all actually look at who's talking. It can be a bit creepy and robotic if they all look at that character at the same time, though. So, I also like to add differing "wait" times before each turn for each character. Say, one guy will wait 25 frames before turning to the Player, and another guy will wait 18 frames or whatever.

One of my personal favorites is the "Turn at Random" feature in VXA (maybe VX?). I like to set a good ol' "Turn at Random", "Wait 30 Seconds" to repeat. Having the player look random directions can create a sense of panic, or even confusion. Altering the wait time in between can simply make the player (or event) seem like he is just looking around out of boredom.

Another one of my favorites (I have a lot of favorites) is to make the NPCs creepily watch the player. This can be done by using "Turn towards player" with a small wait time, set on repeat. This can probably get annoying if used in excess.

Having characters exit the map
Spoiler for:
yuyu! - Transparency and no-wait trick
It's always a good idea to have that character leave in a more natural way - such as using a door, instead of teleporting (unless he's a wizard, then that's okay). After he reaches the door, you can flick "transparency on" via movement route. If you want things to look a bit more natural, the players can continue to talk as he exits. Just make the event not wait before continuing and add possibly a bit of pauses before they begin talking. We wouldn't want them to talk about him behind his back until he's a bit farther away, after all!
*This trick can have a similar effect when someone enters. Not everyone is going to silently stare as someone walks in the door and walks towards them.


Text and Dialogue

Using just the right amount of text
Spoiler for:
yuyu! - Triple-Check yourself
Ugh, why am I even writing about this one? I'm probably the most flamboyantly verbose person on the planet. ._. Although this is more of a "writing" thing, I think it still easily belongs here. In many of my previous games, the player had to fight through endless mountains of text and dialogue. In many other games, people do the complete opposite and give you basically no dialogue. It's tough to find the right balance and you might find yourself in need of a buddy to play test it for you. One trick I like to do (usually inadvertently) check my cutscene dialogue over 3-4 times in game.

Too much? Ask yourself, with every dialogue box: "does this NEED to be said?" Don't be afraid to cut things out or even save those witty remarks for later.

Too little? Don't be afraid to add in little fillers - but they have to be on-task and provide at least some extra atmosphere to the game. It's probably not a good idea to throw in 10 messages of "OK TIME TO FIGHT" before a drooling beast boss attempts to rip off your arms. Because, you know. Atmosphere. You're kind of in a rush to rip off its arms first.


Chaos_Zexion - One sentence per dialogue box
I also like to make only a sentence or so per dialogue box. It's a pet-peeve of mine, stuffed dialogue boxes, and rpg maker games are full of them.

"Oh hey, did you know about that magic box that has
  magical powers and stuff? It's an ancient artifact that
  was made by witches of the 13th century. It can be
  dangerous in the wrong hands!"

In a real conversation, a person wouldn't just blurt all this information out at once. Instead it would be something like:

"Oh hey, did you know about that magic box that
has magical powers and stuff?
- insert optional hero reply or break here -
It's an ancient artifact that was made by witches of the 13th century.
- break -
It can be dangerous in the wrong hands!"

Text SEs
Spoiler for:
[Can find scripts with any maker] Heretic -
The way that a character speaks is far more important than what they say.  Sometimes sounds can be useful to "give a character a voice".  I enhanced Wachungas MMW script so it now plays sounds per letter, or every 3 letters, depending on how you set it up.  Although I put it in and thought it would be neat, I dont use it very often.  That may change if I find better sounds though.

"Wait" Pauses
Spoiler for:
yuyu! - Too much or too little?
Pauses - much like silence - can add a lot of character to a cutscene, but also a lot of annoyance. There's a fine line between "this character waits awkwardly after your main character made a joke, thus implying that he wasn't sure how to react to it" and "wait, did the game just crash? Oh. Another pause." Simply being aware that you can use pauses for added effects - but not for TOO long - may help in small ways.

Mid-message pauses
Spoiler for:
yuyu! -
When an NPC spills his heart out to me in one giant text blob, it kinda freaks me out. Maybe that's just me. Your good buddies "\." and "\!" can come in handy when you want to break down text a bit and create a feel that your characters aren't just speaking in run-on sentences (period or no period). Personally, I like to add a "\." or two after each sentence, and ellipses "...". If you really want to make the guy pause, you can use "\!" and force the player to hit the action button to continue. All things in moderation, though.


Music Stuffs

Music Transitions
Spoiler for:
yuyu! - The Silent method
This is my biggest foe whenever it comes to making proper scenes, so I'm just going to share my coping methods. Don'tcha just hate it when you have to make the music suddenly shift from calm and peaceful to OH MY GOD SOMEONE IS ATTACKING ME!!! Yeah, me too. One way that I found is helpful to get around this is silence. Pure silence. A few text bubbles of silence can go a long way and even might help create a bit of additional suspense.

Music fade-in
Spoiler for:
yuyu! -
RPG Maker lets you fade out music, but you can't make it fade in? What gives! In this case, try this: Set the desired music to play at, say, volume 30. Wait a few frames. Set the same song to play at 50. Wait a few frames. Etc. Keep building it up until the song is at 100.

Quieter Music
Spoiler for:
yuyu! -
If you want to minimize the effect of the music and create a more "peaceful" situation, feel free to adjust the music to be quieter. Avoid a drastic drop or increase in volume as that can be really awkward.


Other things

Other things to AVOID
Spoiler for:
Flapbat - Dialogue waiting on music
Forcing dialogue to fit the timing of music or just for dramatic effect is almost always a terrible idea!  Allow me to choose when I want to close your freaking dialogue box instead of being forced to wait an extra three seconds after every text dump!  The inflection, timing, and meaning of dialogue, like books, comes to life in the mind of the reader through their own interpretation.  Don't try to force players to see the story the way you want them to see it.  Present good and polished dialogue, and let them stay in control of how they interpret and imagine it.
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This looks great yuyu. I'm glad you wrote it. These tips would have helped me back when I was still trying to make games.

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Thanks, Modern! :-)

I'm hoping it might bring a little life to these parts of the forums, but even if not, I figured it was worth a shot. B)
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Lots of good stuff right there.  I think the only thing I didnt really cover at all in my "collection" demo much of what you mentioned about the music and adding / removing characters from a caterpillar.  I agree that using a more "natural" way moving instead of wizarding around makes games seem that much more "polished".  That "natural" way of moving I tried to incorporate into the "collection" also.  Such as opening doors, then having the entire caterpillar walk into the door and fade out automagically as they do.  Other things like caves (theres only one in the demo) the characters also walk in.  Most of what I do is just moving between maps. 

Scripts

The style I have decided on requires scripts to pull off.  I have the whole caterpillar also walk completely off the screen, then on the next map, I have them walk from off the screen to on screen.  One of the scripts I wrote for XP (caterpillar based on Zeriabs) allows characters to "walk off the map" specifically for the purposes you mentioned.  Scripts also allow events flagged as a "\door" to close once the last Caterpillar Actor has walked out of the door.  Or at least play a sound if the door is not visible because its at the bottom of a room and not the top.

Eventing

The main thing I like about the caterpillar (the one I did based on Zeriabs) was that it uses actual events as your followers.  This allows total control over the movement of each Caterpillar Event.  I put in a ton of extra stuff to allow the caterpillar to take a step backward automatically, pile up, fade in and out, (includes easy scripts for fading events), and other stuff I thought should have been included in XP but was later included in Ace, such as having the Player graphic turn toward or away from an Event.  Another little script I wrote was to allow an event to move directly to a new location, like Jump, but without jumping.  Its useful if you want your characters to move around in a direction that isnt one of the defaults of up down left or right, or the diagonals.  Such as a Wizard that launches a fireball that isnt in a straight line, like at three characters at once.

Pauses

Totally dead on and absolutely right.  The way that a character speaks is far more important than what they say.  Sometimes sounds can be useful to "give a character a voice".  I enhanced Wachungas MMW script so it now plays sounds per letter, or every 3 letters, depending on how you set it up.  Although I put it in and thought it would be neat, I dont use it very often.  That may change if I find better sounds though.

Cutscenes

Time and time again, cutscenes are not about the dialogue, they are about Body Language.  90% of communication is done through body language, and Cutscenes really give game creators a chance to show off their eventing skills and express that body language.  It is still very possible to do in RPG Maker, and almost somewhat easier.  Cutscenes are more than just having two characters stand face to face and spout dialogue at each other.  Movies dont do this, why should games?

The default XP engine really needs some enhancements to be able to do what you describe.  Even fading in music, or a crossfader would be great.  Fortunately, since we can script for XP and up, there are a lot less limitations, but at the expense of greater skill required to create a game.

So, just out of curiousity, what scripts are you using to pull off all the techniques that you mentioned?
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Hmm, I don't know if this falls under mid message pauses, wait pauses, or just the right amount of text, but I also like to make only a sentence or so per dialogue box. It's a pet-peeve of mine, stuffed dialogue boxes, and rpg maker games are full of them.
Quote
Oh hey, did you know about that magic box that has
  magical powers and stuff? It's an ancient artifact that
  was made by witches of the 13th century. It can be
  dangerous in the wrong hands!
In a real conversation, a person wouldn't just blurt all this information out at once. Instead it would be something like:
Quote
Oh hey, did you know about that magic box that
has magical powers and stuff?
- insert optional hero reply or break here -
It's an ancient artifact that was made by witches of the 13th century.
- break -
It can be dangerous in the wrong hands!

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Very good ideas, guys! :) I'll add them into the original post.

@Heretic - These are all simple eventing tricks in VXA that require no scripts. I'll go ahead and specify the maker, though. Just so XP/VX users won't say "hey wait a minute...where do I find that option?!" :P

*edit* I also added a couple simple methods to the "body language" subject. :)
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Very good ideas, guys! :) I'll add them into the original post.

@Heretic - These are all simple eventing tricks in VXA that require no scripts. I'll go ahead and specify the maker, though. Just so XP/VX users won't say "hey wait a minute...where do I find that option?!" :P

*edit* I also added a couple simple methods to the "body language" subject. :)

Have you considered putting together a Scriptless VXA Demo to show the "right" and "wrong" ways to perform these tips?  The demo could be quite useful to others by using the events in the demo as a Template for their games...
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Have you considered putting together a Scriptless VXA Demo to show the "right" and "wrong" ways to perform these tips?  The demo could be quite useful to others by using the events in the demo as a Template for their games...

That's a good idea, too! :) If I get the time, I might do that - or maybe post screenshots instead, so I can keep up with things a bit better.
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I'm necro-posting on this one, but this is a neat subject.  I'd say what makes or breaks a games story for me is the dialogue.  All of it, including minor NPCs.  Dialogue should be consistent!  That is to say, don't have your cutscenes seem really polished, and then have a bunch NPCs you can talk to that have butchered grammar and break the 4th wall.  If you want an example of this done right, check out Grandia 2 (or Grandia 1, to a lesser degree).  All the NPCs fit in their world very nicely. :-)

Adding members....  This is a tricky one for many people.  The solution is to not have characters join the party without reason.  It should never seem forced.  If you look at Xenogears, the lead female lead doesn't permanently join the party until about 10 hours after she has been introduced and been featured in many scenes.  It happens at the right time, and wouldn't make sense ahead of time.  In fact, Xenogears does an awful lot of things right regarding character intentions and dialogue. 

While adding extra scenes to explore the depth of characters before they join can be a good idea, they can also be superfluous.  Especially in the age of voice-acting, many mainstream RPGs have been littered with meaningless dialogue that adds absolutely nothing to the story except to say, "Look!  They're doing the dishes and chatting!  Players can relate to that!" Nevermind that the story is actually about killing giant robots and stopping the rise of an undead god.  Dishes.  Yeah.

Lastly, I'd say it's all about character motives.  Many people have an interesting story into which the characters simply don't fit.  You need to find characters that fit the feel of the story you're presenting, or better yet, allow the characters motives and personalities to influence the direction of the story. 

Oh, I almost forgot... Forcing dialogue to fit the timing of music or just for dramatic effect is almost always a terrible idea!  Allow me to choose when I want to close your freaking dialogue box instead of being forced to wait an extra three seconds after every text dump!  The inflection, timing, and meaning of dialogue, like books, comes to life in the mind of the reader through their own interpretation.  Don't try to force players to see the story the way you want them to see it.  Present good and polished dialogue, and let them stay in control of how they interpret and imagine it.

My two cents :-)

-flap

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Neat additions! :) Added them to the thread, as well as cleaned the place up a bit.
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Added a new "Joining the Party" tip that I learned from Vianoce. Thanks again! :D


Just a reminder: If anyone else gets any ideas, feel free to necro here. I won't care. I promise!
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