Idea: Using Split Screen and Picture in Picture For Cutscenes in Video Games

Cutscenes are vital for passing on emphasis, storyline, emotion, and plot informing to the player. Unfortunately they interrupt gameplay. So players watch and enjoy cutscenes their first time through the game but skip them during subsequent play throughs. This cold shoulder attitude towards cutscenes gets worse in multiplayer games, which tend to avoid cutscenes altogether (and unfortunately story, plot, and emotion too). This is because cutscenes in multiplayer games have to be either watched or skipped by everyone playing so that one player isn’t in game while the others are still watching (same reason why multiplayer games don’t let one player pause the game for everyone). Thus cutscenes, and other storytelling elements, are left out of many of today’s modern multiplayer games and gone with them are the deep and meaningful emotions that were once created.  

Instead of dedicating a short cutscene to introduce the giant savage mutated crocodile in the sewers and set the mood for the battle that’s about to start, it now just pops up and attacks you without any emphasis. No tention. No emotion. Boring. The magic is missing.
Remember the first licker fight in RE2?

Here’s that same fight without the cutscene.

Notice the absence of magic.

A lack of cutscenes in some multiplayer games have led to the creation of shallow, emotionless, dumbed down gameplay, with little to no backtracking or item hunting, a lack of area adventuring, and virtually no emotional interactions with NPCs (non-playable characters). This lack of depth has created an A.D.D. like gameplay experience, where there is so little meaning and story in the game that developers have to constantly move the player to new areas to keep them entertained. And at the end of a player’s journey, he looks back and realizes how little there is that’s worth remembering. It’s sad when millions of dollars are spent creating gunshots, explosions, and go-go-go’s in a game that ultimately adds up to nothing emotionally.

So let’s bring back cutscenes using Picture in Picture and Split Screen methods. This way we don’t get in the way of gameplay but can still relay story, emotion, and information to the player.

There’s 5 ways we can display cutscenes:

  • corner picture-in-picture (traditional PiP)
  • 1/3 split screen (cutscene minimized, in game maximized)
  • 50/50 split screen (equal split between cutscene and in game)
  • 2/3 split screen (cutscene maximized, in game minimized)
  • full screen cutscene

Left 4 Dead 2 Mockups

In Left 4 Dead 2’s “The Parish” campaign we pass an evac center filled with the luggage and dead bodies of people who were waiting to be evacuated on buses but were slaughtered by the military. Nick, a character with a criminal, selfish, con-artist, gambling background notices and shows care for them. The game itself has very few cutscenes, very little story, nearly no plot other than to survive, and very emotionless presentation. It would have been nice to see a detailed emotional expression on our survivors’ faces when they announced things that helped build their character.

I’ve invested almost 400 hours playing Left 4 Dead 2 and as much as I’ve enjoyed it I have to say it’s one of the most shallow, boring, emotionless games I’ve played. It’s completely dependent on online multiplayer to keep you entertained. Of course weather or not you have an enjoyable and memorable experience depends on who you play with or weather the servers are up or if you have an internet connection. The game sold like crazy so focusing on multiplayer elements over storyline wasn’t a bad idea, but I wonder how many more copies the game could have sold if it had a more engaging storyline and plot. I want to be able to say “man that was an amazing game, I’ll always remember it” instead of “I’ve had so many inconsistent gameplay experiences that I can’t remember a particularly good one, oh wait, now I remember, that one time we turned svcheats on and spawned fence castles ontop of the hospital, but that was us, not the game, we weren’t even suppose to do that.”

Resident Evil 5 Public Assembly Mockup

Without PiP: The level would load up. Chris and Sheva would run down the winding path until they go into the house. Then this cutscene (YouTube video above) starts and shows how their contact gets decapitated, the villagers cheer, then the megaphone guy sees Chris and Sheva in the house and alerts the villagers to attack them. The cutscene ends and we’re back in-game to fend off the villagers.

After PiP: The level loads up, and the cutscene starts playing on the left side of your screen while you and Sheva make your way down to the house and pick up items, reload, and prepare yourselves along the way. The picture-in-picture cutscene ends after it shows your contact getting decapitated and the villagers cheering. Then when you enter the house the picture-in-picture cutscene starts up again showing the megaphone villager seeing you through the window and alerting the others. A much more engaging experience I think.

In this scene Excella is high above you in a control booth about to unleash an infected enemy on you, telling you about Uroboros, evolution, and hinting at her plans. With picture-in-picture cutscenes you can run around and collect items and prepare to fight the infected enemy while the cutscene goes on in the background.

Additional Options

  • Cutscenes can start out “maximized” or “full-screened” with “press [tab] to minimize” displayed, allowing the player to shrink the picture in picture box down if they don’t want to watch the cutscene or completely remove the cutscene from the screen.
  • Players can be given options as to how they want to view cutscenes (corner, 1/3, 50/50, 2/3, full screen) in the options menu.

Things to keep in mind

  • A game’s cutscenes need to be designed with PiP in mind, and still there are some cutscenes like intros and endings that shouldn’t be shown using PiP. Also, traditional corner picture-in-picture is too small for console versions of a game so it’s best to use the split screen PiP.
  • PiP isn’t widescreen so plan out scenes accordingly so nothing important gets cut off on the sides.

Extra presents for my readers: Someone replaced Excella’s character model with Chris’s in the cutscenes and it’s hilarious.

Also, before I messed around with RE5 and Left 4 Dead 2 screenshot mockups I made some concept art on paper and colored it in PhotoShop to show off the picture-in-picture idea. I’m a terrible artist but hey, at least you can tell what’s what.

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