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News & Features Discussion  » [Column] General: Cutscenes, Story, and Questing, Oh My!

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Associate Editor - News Manager

Joined: 6/28/10
Posts: 16258

OP  9/23/12 10:06:05 PM#1

Story and how it is told is an integral part of any MMO. In her latest column, Pokket gives her unique take on, as the title says, cutscenes, story and questing. Read on before lending your voice to the conversation in the comments.

There are many MMOs out there that have good stories; it's just their execution of portraying their story may have been bad. For the longest time, the best way for a lot of these games to give the story to the players is through quests. The quests basically had "wall of text" to read through so a player would understand why they are doing what they are asked of the NPC and, more often than not, a player would just click accept, without reading, and be on his way. There was nothing terribly wrong with this way of feeding the story to players, but over time games started to experiment with this method. I suppose the most obvious experiment was adding cutscenes.

Read more of Hillary Nicole's Pokket Says: Cutscenes, Story, and Questing, Oh My!

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Follow me on Twitter: @MMORPGMom


Apprentice Member

Joined: 10/08/11
Posts: 78

9/24/12 7:11:21 AM#2

I think the main crux is that developers lean too much on how things are done in other media when they want to tell their story.


Wall-of-text quests descriptions? Think newspaper articles, they are built the same way.

Cutscenes? Think any movie/film. Yes, even TOR. They work in other BW games because your decisions in conversations really affect the world around you: You're playing the game in those dialogues. They don't work in TOR because simply put, whatever you 'decide' in conversations has no meaning at all. And that makes them superfluous. You're not playing the game, but sitting passively through what might just as well be auto-dialogue.


Now, we all know Half-Life and what it did to the genre of VG in general: It showed us that video games are a unique storytelling medium that has its own tropes and methods of getting a story across effectively: HAVE IT HAPPEN AROUND US WHILE WE PLAY!


And that is precisely why the Death Knight starting area works so well: Because all around us, we see the story, we play a part in it, and it unfurls around us. It takes full advantage of the Game as a medium: You are no passive consumer (movie and text), you are actively playing while the story happens.


And I think that more MMORPG developers should realize that they, too, can use the strengths of video game storytelling instead of relying on crutches borrowed from other media.


Advanced Member

Joined: 7/29/06
Posts: 61

9/24/12 7:24:07 AM#3

Blizzard likes to refer to their storytelling as "story throgh demonstration" which is exactly what you saw with the DK starter area.


This has been prevalent in WoW ever since, there were many epic moments in Cataclysm where, while you're in the action, the story is being played out to you... I think, without question, this is the best presentation layer of stgory I've seen in an MMO. If you haven't leveled through Cataclysm, you owe it to yourself to do so.


They took it a bit "too far" in Cata at some points though, especially in Uldum, because there were some cutscenes there that took control away from your character, which is what I don't like. They should tell it to you in the game world, with you in control of your character.


That's what makes TOR and all BioWare games so... boring to me is that if I wanted to watch actors tell me a story, I'd watch a movie. Instead, I want to EXPERIENCE the story as it's unfolding, and no one does that better than Blizzard.



Elite Member

Joined: 2/27/07
Posts: 7205

9/24/12 7:28:50 AM#4

While I am going to pick on SWTOR because it is the latest in a long line of failures in this industry, it is not the first with this problem, nor will be the last.

SWTOR's failing, too many cutscenes and voice overs.  All that expensive fluff that gets boring and unnecessay after awhile.  If they had devoted even half of all that work into making a better crafting system and more actual content they would probably not be having the problems with declining populace right now.

While fluff is nice, there is such a thing as too much of it.  Stupid developers, can't seem to get that through their thick skulls.

They could have spent 1/4 of the money on SWTOR and still come out with a far better game.  No wonder the Bioware founders fled after watching that disaster unfold.  I guess they thought that if they could out fluff Blizzard they would have a winning formula.  It is quite obvious not one of these designers ever played MMO's for any length of time.


Apprentice Member

Joined: 3/10/06
Posts: 341

9/24/12 8:34:14 AM#5
I think LOTRO did cutscenes right IMO.  They only did cutscenes for the main story lines and only for certain ones so I found that they were "special"  I really thought I would like the SWTOR story thing, but as Pokket stated after awhile they become boring.  They would have been much better served perhaps only doing them for the class story arc and a few quests here and there.
  User Deleted
9/24/12 8:54:09 AM#6
I never minded quest hubs and I still don't. Nowadays there are so many cutscenes I just skip them. That is with the exception of wow. There cutscenes have been far and few and thus I actually find myself watching the full scene in its entirety at least once maybe more. Swtor did have way to many for my liking, and your characters story in GW2 also has to many for my liking. If I'm grinding out the story quest, I want to keep going not stop and watch a cinematic. I think wow gets a pass on a lot of things though from me because its once if those things you just start to appreciate, yes I've been there done that blah blah blah, but at some point in tike you do just slow it down and take it all in. I think GW2 had the sentimental value wow has for so many, I could see myself soaking it in as well, but its a greasy game, it probably has its peak number of players playing right now ( until tonight :-) and its the best time to be advancing in GW2 and there won't be another primetime like right now for GW2. Fast forward 3 years, its just not going to have the players coming back and enjoying cinematics like wow will and does.

Apprentice Member

Joined: 11/08/08
Posts: 3068

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

9/24/12 9:07:28 AM#7

SWTOR went overkill on the cut scenes. Every quest, every side quest.  Eventually you just space barred though them all.  It is a shame that they put 90% of the content into cutscenes and not playable content.

Hopefully new mmo's will learn from that and never make that mistake again.  There needs to be a balance between playable content vs cut scenes.  I think cutscenes can be nice in story telling, but when your doing daily repeatable, nobody wants to hear the story of the 3 sith brothers who went into the cave over and over again.



Advanced Member

Joined: 1/31/10
Posts: 13

9/24/12 10:05:27 AM#8
I enjoyed the cutscenes in TSW the most of any game so far.

Apprentice Member

Joined: 9/24/12
Posts: 385

9/24/12 11:28:43 AM#9
Question: Why do you write an article about story, cutscenes and questing and NOT write about Secret World??  Because it wins in every category by a long shot? Sorry but this article is incomplete

Advanced Member

Joined: 3/24/09
Posts: 1835

9/24/12 11:52:39 AM#10

I'm not a big fan of how most MMO's do "Story" and specificaly thier use of cutscenes because it severely limits the characters ability to have some creative input into the narrative of the game.  It basicaly assigns you the role of "actor" in a script someone else wrote for you, rather then a "role-player" or player in the game world who's actions have some effect over your own destiny.

Coming from the MUD world, which is about as "sandbox" as you can get, they have loads more story then most, so called, story driven MMO's. They take an entirely different approach, though, it's entirely based on live events where there is a GM controling an NPC, spawning mobs and firing of "atmospherics",  they even have methods of changing the game environments in response to what's happening. This allows for a great deal of creative input into the story on the part of the players.  Such events also tend to "cascade" into vastly larger number of players then were actualy directly involved in the event itself, as other players REACT to the event and start to interact with other players in interesting ways who's reactions might have been different (e.g. formation of rival factions, etc). Then of course there are the player driven/initiated events where the players are essentialy pro-actively creating thier own mini-storylines for others to interact with. I've even seen GM'spick these up and get involved in ones that have grown significantly enough.  Point is that the world is not a static, prescripted place but rather an environment that is constantly evolving and changing based on what is happening and much of that shaped by player input. There are tons of story's going on all the time, and every player has thier own.


That is not to say that the GM's must surrender ALL control over the environment and story arcs, for the world is a much bigger place then just the players and thier are forces much more powerfull then they moving within it.  That is another way to show story within a game environment, and one where cutscenes can even be used. That is to show or hint at events that are transpiring in the world of which the players have no direct control and are merely witnesses. For example, you could show the characters a fight between 2 dragons in the sky in the far distance. The key here is that you are never actualy assuming control over the player characters and dictating to them how they must interact with the story. For example you wouldn't have a cutscene where the character must say "Yes General, I agree to serve you and investigate the dragons" .... that takes control away from the player. Taking control away from the player and how thier character acts is a cheap and amaturish way of introducing story into a game. If you must have a situation where the player has no input into an event...simply allow them to be witness to the event in a way they could not possibly interact with it...whether witnessing from afar, having it come to them in a vision, seeing it in a magical scrying devices, etc. Those are ways to add drama and story into a game without turning the player into a robot. YMMV.


Novice Member

Joined: 9/10/12
Posts: 5

9/24/12 11:57:39 AM#11

What does "story" mean?


The examples cited in the article suggest situational / historical context intended to create a frame around in-game content.  Seemingly, these frames come in two flavors: a way of making in-game content feel larger than it is; or, a way of deliberately making in-game content more narrow by suggesting to players the ways they're "supposed" to interact with it.


IMO, both of these ways of thinking about how to write fiction in an MMO miss what's interesting about the new medium.  They're trying to force MMO fiction to behave like pre-MMO fictional media.


There's a linearity to these backstories which conflicts with the way events unfold in MMOs.  They have a pre-MMO structure, where "Things are the way they are now because x happened --> and then y happened because of x --> and then z happened because of y --> and that's how we got to where we are now --> thus, here's what you're supposed to do in this world / quest / zone / etc.."  But, MMOs themselves explode those contraint structures.  Think of a simple fork in the road, with a sign saying "Hey, you should go this way -->".  What's the point of putting a sign there to try to constrain the behaviors of participants?  Isn't a cutscene simply a more sophisticated road sign?


To me, this all implies that MMO content authors are still trying to figure out how the new medium works.  For example, for a while after invention of the movie camera, early commercial films were simple, static, one camera documentations of stage plays.  It took several years for filmmakers to evolve the techniques and conventions we take for granted today: more than one camera; cuts between camera angles; close-ups, wide angles, dissolves, and so on.  Eventually those static one-camera films came to be seen as backward-looking and self-limiting.  I believe this is what y'all are experiencing now when you point out that cutscenes etc. feel unsatisfactory: that kind of fictional frame around MMO content fundamentally misses what the medium is about.

I am a developer of TriadCity, an advanced text-based virtual world. Please take my bias into account when you read my posts. Link:


Novice Member

Joined: 4/28/05
Posts: 107

9/24/12 12:15:13 PM#12
For me, playing an MMO is mostly about participating in an interactive story. For anyone to complain about the cutscenes getting in the way of levelling, just sounds silly to me. Its like saying the game was getting in the way of the game. 
  User Deleted
9/24/12 12:26:25 PM#13
Right now everyone at mmorpg and really the entire gaming community except for a small handful of haters is sleeping, trying to rest up for mists of pandaria. Once the gake hits, they are going to logon and hit the first quest hub, complain about quest hubs, click accept, then go do the quest, after about 3 or 4 quests they will completely forgot about complaining about quest hubs and be so immersed in character progression it won't even matter. World of Warcraft!!! It's never going to die!!!

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Joined: 3/10/06
Posts: 341

9/24/12 12:55:41 PM#14
Originally posted by divmax
For me, playing an MMO is mostly about participating in an interactive story. For anyone to complain about the cutscenes getting in the way of levelling, just sounds silly to me. Its like saying the game was getting in the way of the game. 

I think that cut scenes when done correctly can enhance the story, but in some cases they can be intrusive and ruin it.


Novice Member

Joined: 10/05/11
Posts: 29

9/24/12 1:11:10 PM#15

Good article Pokket!

As for GW2 I would agree that I could live with the NPC talking instead of cut scenes,but it is nice when NPC's are adressing each other in the conversation so I know who is talking to who instaead of chat bubbles or just the audio.

As far as SWTOR goes, I had high hopes for this game and supported and defended it for the first couple of months, and once I realized how boring and repetitive it became and how abandoned it was. I left with shaking my head in disappointment. I do agree that there were to many cut scenes. The only cut scenes that should have happened should have been the main story line. The reason for the cut scenes is the dialogue choices, however no matter what dialogue choice you select you will end up on the same path and the only thing it effects is your companion affection level. Now if the choices actually branched your path in different directions then the population may have been greater.

As far as WoW goes, there is no real story behind anything, you may have short questline stories that spanes a few quests here and there, however there is no story that goes from begining to end. It's all about finding the yellow exclimation marks above NPC heads.

TSW has to many cut scenes as well, everytime you meet a new NPC with a quest a cut scence is played. If you repeat a quest the same cut scene is played. It is nice to get a feel for the npc you are trying to help and also tells an over all story but they could reduce some of it. The other issue I have is that my character never speaks even when the NPC asks questions.

One of the main issues MMO's suffer from now is the fact that they make leveling way to fast. You always see maxed level characters within a week of launch. This is one of the  reasons so many people will say a game fails, beacuse everything ties to your leveling process. If you can max out a week after launch then end game will last about a week and then you are bored and go look for the next MMO. I remember Playing WoW when it released and it took months, almost a year to get to level 60, this is why I stayed for years because I invested so much into leveling my characters that I didn't want to just pack up and leave it behind. Then the expensions were released and with each one the leveling process became faster and easier.



Hard Core Member

Joined: 5/28/04
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9/24/12 1:12:34 PM#16
Spoiler: there is no red...  End spoiler.

Novice Member

Joined: 10/25/11
Posts: 292

9/24/12 1:39:20 PM#17
Originally posted by Yakamomoto
Question: Why do you write an article about story, cutscenes and questing and NOT write about Secret World??  Because it wins in every category by a long shot? Sorry but this article is incomplete

I would have to agree! TSW has the best cut scenes out of all of them in my opinion.  I can only think that Pokket hasn't played TSW...


Advanced Member

Joined: 8/17/09
Posts: 1137

9/24/12 1:57:45 PM#18
Yep, echo that TSW has the best store/lore, voice acting and cutscenes I've ever seen in an mmo.

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Joined: 3/24/09
Posts: 1835

9/24/12 1:59:13 PM#19


I think your post hit's the nail exactly on the head. Many MMO Developers either don't understand how to work under the new paradigm or they are frightened about some of the implications of working under the new they aren't really able to take advantage of alot of the functionality that a paradigm like an MMO can open up.

Ironicaly, it was many of the older online games (MUD's/MUSH's) and some of the early MMO's where the developers seemed more comfortable working under the new paradigm or more willing to experiment with it. Perhaps because for them it wasn't really a new paradigm, it was simply an extension of the sort of game mediums (PnP RPG's) they had grown up playing.



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Conquering tomorrow, one today at a time.

9/24/12 2:59:55 PM#20
Originally posted by Yakamomoto
Question: Why do you write an article about story, cutscenes and questing and NOT write about Secret World??  Because it wins in every category by a long shot? Sorry but this article is incomplete

Because I am not going to write about a game I wasn't interested in and didn't play. I got to experience some of the game in beta, but it just didn't get me hooked to the game and, ultimately, I didn't want to spend money on it when I had other games I wanted to buy (I'm poor :s). I'm not saying the game was bad. I'm just saying it wasn't my cup of tea. And I don't really agree with doing a report that analyzes games and you include games you have very little experience with ^.^

On that note, that's why you all should leave comments! If you think TSW had great cutscenes, you're obviously welcome to comment. Heck, I want to go back and give the game another chance now just to see for myself again @_@ lol

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