Gamasutra - The Problem of the Cutscene
Gamasutra has a wordy but interesting feature op ed posted by freelance gameplay designer Martin Herink, entitled The Problem of the Cutscene which deals with the use of cinematics in game narratives:
The cutscene has always been, and will continue to be, a useful aesthetic tool for the expression of the story and of the narrative. The problem of the cutscene as such is not its existence inside the interactive space of the game. Players, in fact, appear to enjoy the additional layers of immersion which it can provide. The problem with its use ought rather to be viewed as the inappropriate sequencing of what is a fundamentally contemplative medium within the context of an inherently kinetic one...
The author goes on to give some examples of successful cinematic cutscene use:
Max Payne 2 is a superb example of the way that episode-based editing can lead to a positive integration of the cutscene. What MP2 did was attach a narrative framework with multiple character perspectives to mission-driven gameplay. Each mission was limited in length and offered in a variety of settings (from hospitals to construction sites). In order for the narrative sequences to be triggered, gameplay goals had to be met...
And touches on cinematic cutscenes as a reward in Diablo II and Final Fantasy:
Interestingly, in the case of Diablo II, the use of the cutscene in relation to the narrative was also further removed from the kinesthetic relationship that develops between the player and the avatar through the use of the parallel storyline (that is, a pre-rendered cutscene which does not concern the player or the avatar immediately, but which instead follows other characters and shadows the events of the game's dramatic progression through an external perspective).
The other and even more popular example of cut-scene use can be seen in the case of Square Enix games, especially the Final Fantasy series...On the aesthetic front, Square Enix games still predominantly follow the same guidelines that have already been set out, and in this way they also respect the player's expectations of the game. As a reward, the cutscene is predominantly a question of of rhythm and pacing, allowing the narrative to move forward on visual and contemplative terms; an episode of gameplay will be rewarded with a cutscene and the expectation is therefore fulfilled.
By following a few simple guidelines regarding rhythm and pacing but above all by respecting the player's experience of the narrative game not as a singularly kinetic experience upon which we must force the narratological semblance of cinematic tact, but rather as an experience that shifts and morphs according to our relationship with each...moment, the long history of narrative cinema can offer us novel new ways of engaging the player not only in play but also the...world of which such play is a part.