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I'm currently developing a 3rd person game with dynamic cutscenes (using in-game objects instead of a pre-rendered video). During some playtesting of my game I noticed that some of my playtesters would have trouble identifying when a cutscene would end, sometimes killing them because they didn't react in time. For example:

  1. Player walks into hallway
  2. Cutscene start
    1. Camera pans to look behind player
    2. Monster drops down from the ceiling behind player
    3. Player character starts running by itself
  3. Cutscene end
  4. Player expected to keep running, but doesn't know cutscene has ended so doesn't respond in time and gets killed.

My playtesters comments:

  • They can realize when a cutscene starts because something out of the ordinary happens (e.g. camera view changes).
  • They sometimes don't realize when a cutscene ends because the out of the ordinary thing doesn't change back (e.g. camera view doesn't revert to normal).

What I've tried:

To try and teach players that it's common for I used popups during the tutorial stage of the game:

  1. Cutscene end.
  2. Display message "Hey! Did you know you can ACTION by pressing KEY?"

I've also tried to give them examples during the tutorial where you have to be quick after a cutscene by pausing the game after the cutscene and displaying a popup, giving them time to react:

  1. Cutscene end.
  2. Game pauses.
  3. Displays popup: "You're being hunted! RUN by holding SHIFT!"

Both of these methods makes the user realize (at that time) that the cutscene has ended, yet it doesn't seem to successfully teach them that this will happen in the future and they are still confused about if a cutscene has ended. I don't want to have these popups after the tutorial stage since it sort of defeats the point of tense moments.

So my question is: How can I more clearly convey to the players that my cutscene is about to end without explicitly telling them?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your popups likely didn't work because they train players that a cutscene will always have such a popup when it is followed by a time-critical situation. So when you suddenly do that without a popup, the player will be rightfully confused. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Oct 9 '17 at 20:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've seen some games that move the player character automatically after a cutscene, if the player doesn't do something else (at least for a short time). This could help you bridge the moment between "I'm looking at a cutscene" and "Oh, I think I have to move!". I think GTA V does this. \$\endgroup\$ – looper Oct 11 '17 at 22:28
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In my experience, such integrated cutscenes (that is, using the in-game render) tend to use camera angles & perspectives that differ from the game play. For instance, if the game is played in 1st person mode, the camera shifts to a 3rd person view for the cut-scene.

You could adjust the display to use letterboxing, pillarboxing or windowboxing during the cutscene & then switch back for regular play. Less commonly, I've also seen filters used (for instance sepia tone, black & white filter or 'vintage film' overlays) to indicate cutscenes, but these are usually for flashbacks or other special purpose cutscenes.

If the nature of the game permits, you could also reinforce the transition via game dialog. Here's a questionable example (maybe hire a better writer than I did):

NPC: Player, when I say give the signal, you need to [game action] as fast as you can to the exit.

Player: No, NPC I can't, I [emotion] you too much to do that.

NPC: There's no time! You must [game action]! Go!!

You could put some sort of cutscene timer indicator on the screen. Given what you've already tried, I'm skeptical it will give you the desired result. On the other hand, it's also easy to implement. It also might create a sense of tension - if the plot of the cutscene feels unresolved & the timer is almost done, it might foster an "edge of the seat, how's this going to play out" feeling.

Lastly, if you have the luxury of testing in a way that allows for it, asking you player base might help. Maybe they're all expecting something that we're not imagining here. You'll need to apply you developer's intuition as to if their suggestions are any good - I think Jesse Schell observed that players are good at spotting when things are off, but not necessarily so good at knowing how to fix them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The points about the camera are good advice. Especially in 3rd person games (such as the OP is developing), the camera usually rests in a specific angle behind the player character. If the cutscene uses cinematic angles and then the camera re-establishes its usual position behind the character, that's usually a sufficient signal for the player that gameplay will resume now. To be safe though, add an extra 2-3 seconds after the cutscene before there's actual danger. Boxing in the display also works. See also the newer Tomb Raider games for cutscene-gameplay transitions. \$\endgroup\$ – Pahlavan Oct 9 '17 at 9:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another visual cue could be to remove any UI elements when the cutscene starts and then make them appear again the moment the cutscene is over. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Oct 9 '17 at 20:38
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Is it possible for your cut scenes to end at a place/time in which the player feels a sense of urgency or need to move, shoot/block/defend? One of the things I liked about the Last of Us is that it was really good at integrating cut scenes pretty seamlessly into the game. Generally they would all end at a time when you needed to run, shoot, duck, or otherwise take some kind of action. They would also have the focus of the cut scene disappear once it was over (ie giraffe eating a leaf then it turns and runs off). So for your scenario, just remove #3 from the equation and the player will take action as the monster is closing in on them.

I also have seen people take a zoomed in approach, where your field of view seems to narrow during a cut scene and then when it's over you tend to zoom back out to your regular field of view. Then you don't have to do so much changing of perspectives with the camera.

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If your cutscenes are skippable, have the key to do so on-screen during the cutscene. Then, remove the key (and option!) to do so several seconds before the cutscene ends. The prompt disappearing is the cue for the cutscene nearly ending.

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