Steven Spielberg interview

His comments regarding cut scenes are pretty interesting in that I wouldn’t expect him to have actually given any thought to storytelling in videogames. Clearly he has done so. I also find it interesting that he, as a film maker, doesn’t like the parts of games that most closely resemble films. He recognizes that games are unique and should tell stories in ways suited to the interactive nature of the medium itself. I thought his involvement with EA was nothing more than a vanity thing, but perhaps he can actually bring something new and interesting to games.

Spielberg is clearly an intelligent man, and he appears to be a much more knowledgeable gamer than most people have given him credit for. I wonder what his reaction will be when he gets to the “nuclear event” in Call of Duty 4.

Yeah, I’d kind of expect an attitude like that. Cut scenes are almost always just bad movies interspersed inside a video game, and a person who has made some very good movies probably wouldn’t be too excited about that.

I was really surprised by Boom Blox. When I first heard he was working on a game, I assumed we’d get some horrible mess that tried to tell a deep story (which makes me a bit worried about his second effort now). Lo and behold the first game he worked on comes out and it is highly focused on tight gameplay and is arguably something that might be confused for one of Miyamoto’s lesser efforts (I don’t mean this as a ding on Boom Blox or Spielberg in any way, this is extremely high praise in the general sense). Of course, I have no idea how much real hands on impact he had on the title, but still…

But didn’t he also have a bit of a hand in Medal of Honor, and The Neverhood? To say nothing of Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair…

And what would eventually become The Dig, although it was a film concept first, wasn’t it?

He’s the one that confusing why Tom brought up Half-Life. That’s my point.

Paraphrasing the conversation:

SS: Cut scenes suck for narrative. They just take people out of the experience and then everyone goes back to shooting and forgets the narrative.

TC: Ya, too true man. But some games try to avoid the problem all together. Have you played Half-Life?

SS: Of course, dude. But not all games let you skip the cut scenes, like this Bad Company game.

End Paraphrase.

This doesn’t invalidate Spielberg’s point, which is a good one, but one many of us have made before. To Tom’s credit, he asked the interesting follow up question or at least tried to, by asking about Half-life. Essentially, Tom was trying to get at Spielberg’s ideas on how games could do this successfully by getting his reaction to one that we think has been generally successful by integrating the narrative into the gameplay.

Instead, Spielberg responds by talking about skipping cut scenes. How do you make the connection between Half-life and skipping cut scenes? You don’t, because the latter is a solution for skipping narrative that’s annoying and the former is a solution for including narrative.

So we have no idea what Spielberg thinks of Half-Life or its relevance to the discussion because he dismissed it as irrelevant, which betrays he either doesn’t remember it or he hasn’t really played it. If he had actually shown the insight to realize why Tom was asking, then I’d be impressed, even if it was as common as his insight about cut scenes. Instead we get the People equivalent of grasping for gamer cred.

I mean, I really don’t see how else you can read that. How do you guys read it? You know, other than, “Hey man… it’s sooo cool this famous director said he played Half-Life.”

That’s an interesting take on what he said. Because right then he didn’t feel like waxing on about the greatness of Half-Life’s storytelling, he has no gamer cred?

No, that was Players on G4. I remember when I guy said, “I remember playing Mario when I was a kid, they should make a Nintendo for a Xbox.”


No, but analysis isn’t “waxing on about the greatness of Half-life’s storytelling.” He could have offered something as simple as “Half-Life’s successful at storytelling but even then, the game can’t control where the player chooses to look” or “Half life gets around this by rendering the events around the player as they play. However, it’s also a mostly linear experience, where the player is directed forward and many interesting things happen in front of him or her. As games have become more non-linear, it’s harder to direct where the player will look.” Or heck, even, “It still had that poorly implemented ending.” Instead, he gets hung up on when you can skip the scenes.

It’s just as informative to discuss why and more importantly how something is successful as it is to focus on what’s not successful in other games. As someone who makes a living in storytelling and plays videogames, you think he might have some interesting ideas on the successes or the differences between the mediums. To me, it just seems telling that he didn’t make those connections. It’s also interesting that the only examples he really gives are EA games, except the ancient Pong. Although, I guess that’s to be expected. shrugs

If he’d said ‘yes, but that style is rare’, or ‘but that style is limited because you have to sit through the conversation multiple times’ it would be different. Instead he didn’t acknowledge the point (not all games have cutscenes, per se). That’s what people are saying.

This is a pretty sweet piece. Did you get a chance to tell him how lame Indy 4 was, though? ;)

Hey, that’s actually a good point. :) Tom should interview Sebmojo.

Well, ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little. Heh. That is pretty bad.

Wait a minute, how can anyone just have begun playing CoD4?
That game is over faster than you can say Steven Spielberg.
I started this on a Saturday morning after getting up really late (had been a longer night) but still was finished before lunchtime.
Sure, it’s intense and all, but it should’ve got 20% deducted from it’s score because of sheer shortness. But I disgress.

Nice interview. Some little things make me doubt he know’s what he talks about here, but then again, I don’t really care, so … nice interview. ;)


I don’t think he said he didn’t like cutscenes. He said he hadn’t liked the cutscenes he’d experienced so far because there was no synergy between them and the gameplay, causing players to forget about them once they got into the action.

That doesn’t necessarily mean he dislikes the idea of cut scenes, and therefore supports the unskippable in-game story scenes of games like Half-Life 2. He might just think that more work needs to be done to connect the gameplay and cutscenes in such a way that they become a seamless part of the same narrative.

The edit in bold is how I read his statement. Half-Life is pretty ancient, so if it was the solution, then why don’t all games made these days use its solution? Half-Life is irrelevant because he’s complaining about how games are made and it is in no way indicative of a trend. If Tom had brought up Bioshock, then maybe (assuming he’s played it) he would have said something like, “Yes, Bioshock handles story much better, I hope more games evolve that style.”

They do not have to transition between storytelling and gameplay, which is part of Spielberg’s point. Having no attempt at story is worse than a half-assed cutscene-only story, but the cutscene style of story telling is just a terrible one.

I’d actually take that line of thought a step further and say that the problem is the attitude expressed in Tom’s question, even more so than the medium of cutscenes. Even Bioshock, which is great about integrating the storytelling into the continuity of your characters actions is still essentially built around a “story - game - story - game” structure. The enemies and rooms are designed to be game challenges, and the reward for completing the challenges is more story. The ending does somewhat wrap your actions into the story, but not in a way that makes it really feel like you were creating story as you went. Portal is probably the only scripted story I’ve played where I did feel that way, because the challenges were so integrated into the story.

the cutscene style of story telling is just a terrible one

I don’t think it’s terrible. I don’t think it’s ideal, nor best suited to games, but I’d rather watch one minute of a well made cut scene, than be locked in a room for ten minutes of a poorly made real time scene that tells me the same amount of story.

At the moment the alternatives to cut scenes aren’t very good either, so they are a simple design choice. What gives the player the best experience with the tools, skill sets and experience we have?

I don’t understand the reasoning that simply giving the player some control increases immersion. My immersion is broken just as badly by a cut scene as by the ability to pile objects on a characters head and have them not react.

And locking me in a chair and allowing me to move my head while showing me a cut scene… and unlike cut scenes you can never skip these real time events!

Err, what? If people choose to ignore successful examples, that makes those examples irrelevant? No. There are plenty of movies with poorly implemented narratives made each year, but there happen to be so many films made, that we have plenty of good ones to take our minds off the many more bad ones. But I never suggested Half-life was the solution, but rather a solution for including narrative.

However, he didn’t have to agree that Half-life is an instructive example. That would have been a relevant and interesting discussion. Instead, he just ignored it to focus on whether you can hit ‘B’ to skip the scenes. You all seem to be conveniently forgetting that latter point.

And really, Half-life’s use of scripted events and in-game narrative has informed just about every single first person shooter since, whether or not they included cut scenes you can skip, which again shows he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about.

Either he hasn’t played it–in which he’s just paying lip service to an interviewer–or he doesn’t remember the game. Neither of which is worth the nerd chubbies or virtual head assploding that seems to be going on around here.

I mean, we have someone here, who potentially is in a unique position to offer insights into both mediums. Instead, we get an observation that you would get by plopping anyone in a chair with a video game. It’s a good–but common–observation and I don’t mean to take away from that point, just the nerd love for a throw away acknowledgment that he played Half-life. He didn’t even reference it himself.

They do not have to transition between storytelling and gameplay, which is part of Spielberg’s point.

Actually, he seems to think you do…

But he happens upon something relevant to Bioshock…

Which I guess is partly why the audio recordings work relatively well to disseminate story in FPS games, like Bioshock. Personally, I can’t play and listen that well, so I always had to stop, but I’m sure many players didn’t have to.

You guys are being very generous with his answers, without really looking at what’s there. He’s movie director that occasionally plays games. His thoughts have shown to be no more useful with regard to narrative and games than if you asked a doctor or a janitor who played games. But I’ll leave you all to your nerdgasms.


When I play a videogame, I play to the end and then I go back and adjust the level. I always begin with a medium difficulty level and then I’ll go back a second time on the hard level. Then if I love the game, I’ll play it a third time on the expert level.

Steven Spielberg is a more hardcore gamer than I am. Let me contemplate that for a moment.

According to the rumors reported in EGM LMNO might be on hold.