There are many different reasons specific videogames are great. Some have outstanding characters, some have surprisingly intelligent writing, and some contain beautifully orchestrated music. While all of these individual aspects are important, designing a game that perfectly combines them all is the real art.
It is this direction of a videogame that often gets overlooked by the general gaming population. There are a million gamers that adore the opera scene in Final Fantasy VI, for instance, but how many people know who directed it? Heck, I don’t even know and that is one of my favorite videogame sequences of all time!
For every amazing videogame moment, there is a director or designer making sure every pixel is in the perfect place. And this is a near impossible feat to successfully accomplish. How many forgettable videogame moments could have become classic if only for the adjustment of a camera angle or slightly redirected music cue?
One of my favorite videogame cutscenes ever occurs in modern classic Beyond Good & Evil and really helps me appreciate the fine art of directing a videogame. Hit the jump to revisit a tragic moment made all the more emotional due to its simple, yet stunning direction.
People that know me know that I am obsessed with Beyond Good & Evil. The recent action/adventure game is one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time, but sadly sold only, like, three copies. And if you are one of the two other people that own it, I salute you ... and kind of want to be your new best friend.
Beyond Good & Evil tells the story of a young woman named Jade. When she was young, Jade lost her parents and has since been raised and cared for by a wonderful half human/half pig creature named Pey’j. Jade is so close to the extremely lovable Pey’j that she refers to him as her uncle. Even though it is unconventional, the relationship between Jade and Pey’j is like that of a father and daughter.
Together, the two of them take care of a large group of children who lost their families to an evil alien race called the DomZ. To earn money, Pey’j fixes machines and Jade freelances as a photographer.
After their home is attacked by the DomZ at the beginning of the game, Jade and Pey’j join IRIS, a secret underground network that spies on government organization Alpha Section. You see, IRIS believes that Alpha Section is working with the DomZ to kidnap and drain helpless citizens of their life force.
With Pey’j in tow, Jade travels to many different locations in an attempt to unravel the shady intentions of Alpha Section and put a stop to the DomZ once and for all.
While investigating an old Alpha Section factory, Pey’j is kidnapped by the DomZ and taken away to an unknown location. (You can read all about the dramatic capture right here, as I featured this on a very early Memory Card.)
Sad and alone, Jade is fortunate enough to team up with a new companion once Pey’j is tragically separated from her: the cocky, but loyal, Double H.
With Double H by her side, the pair eventually learns that Pey’j was taken to the DomZ lunar base on the surface of the moon.
Using an upgraded version of Pey’j’s ship, Jade and Double H manage to fly to the moon and sneak inside the heavily guarded lunar base.
It is here inside the moon fortress when the next Memory Card moment occurs: Jade’s moment of silence.
The DomZ lunar base is one of the trickiest dungeons in the game, forcing Jade and Double H to solve some mind bending puzzles in order to move forward.
Once they reach the heart of the structure, Jade and Double H notice an elaborate security system surrounding a glowing cocoon. Upon further investigation, Jade realizes that the cocoon houses her beloved Pey’j.
Determined to save him, Jade and Double H are required to solve a complicated puzzle involving bright beams of light being redirected to form a specific shape.
As the last beam of light falls into place, the security system surrounding the cocoon shuts down.
Jade runs forward and -- with the help of Double H’s powerful armor -- breaks open Pey’j’s prison.
With a thump, Pey’j’s body falls on the hard ground.
He is not moving.
Jade runs to his side and props up Pey’j’s head.
Still no movement.
Double H places his ear on Pey’j’s chest. Looking up at Jade, Double H slowly shakes his head. There is no heartbeat.
A moment passes as Jade takes in the horrible news.
Pey’j is dead. Her uncle, her family ... gone forever.
With this, Jade whispers to her fallen uncle:
“I’ll come back for ya’ ... I’ll bring you back home ... “
Jade squeezes Pey’j’s hand tight as Double H walks away, giving Jade a moment alone.
The camera slowly pulls back as the beautiful piano music accompanying the tragic scenes fades away.
Jade uses the raw emotions inside of her to push through the final set of obstacles and confront the evil force that caused all of the devastation.
Lucky for her -- and the player -- when Jade eventually defeats the DomZ High Priest she is infused with a mysterious power that has been hiding inside of her all these years. Once this power is unleashed all the captured citizens are freed and Pey’j is unexpectedly (and triumphantly) brought back to life.
Reunited, Jade and Pey’j return to their home; a family once more.
You can watch the brilliantly directed moment when Jade finds Pey’j right here (I apologize in advance, but it doesn’t start until 8:28):
Yes, finding Pey’j dead is a shocking revelation and one of the saddest videogame moments of all time, but the true power and beauty of this magnificently simple cutscene can be attributed completely to one thing: direction, direction, direction!
I am always amazed how little praise is given to the creative minds that direct videogames (and the cutscenes in particular). All it takes is one small misstep in any of the myriad of included pieces (music, voice acting, cinematography) and a cutscene will completely fall flat.
Watch the above scene again and really take note of all the details.
Most importantly, observe how the director allows the scene to play out through the use of multiple extended beats. Nothing is rushed. Instead, each moment is carefully constructed and lasts for just the right amount of time.
As soon as Pey’j falls to the ground a few quick shots are spliced together, mimicking the chaos and urgency of the scene.
As soon as he hits the ground, however, everything is slowed down to a crawl. As the gorgeous music plays in the background, Double H leans forward and listens for a heartbeat. Cut to a close, extended shot of Pey’j’s lifeless face. Finally a long shot from above is used to establish all three characters. As Double H stands up and shakes his head the camera pulls back ever so slightly. And keep in mind that, again, none of these shots are rushed. They hold for just the right amount of time to trigger the right set of emotions in the player.
And then the killer shot: a close-up of Jade’s eyes as she realizes the truth. No annoying dialogue or timed button press gameplay ruins what is happening on-screen. All the player sees are two polygonal eyes staring straight ahead. With just this, the player knows exactly what Jade is feeling. The whole thing is beyond brilliant.
Continuing on, the scene then switches to a series of smoothly edited shots of Jade looking down, Jade squeezing Pey’j’s hand, and finally Jade telling Pey’j she will come back for him.
All of this closes with a perfect final image of Jade slowly standing up and walking away from her fallen uncle. As the music fades out, the cutscene seamlessly turns into actual gameplay and the player is free to move on.
It is also worth mentioning that this entire scene has such a quiet feel to it. The music never really crescendos to the point of being too loud, and Jade’s two lines are spoken in just a whisper. The shocking silence of all the action is another reason everything works so gosh darned well.
As I brought up before, any one of the small details of this scene could have been different and completely ruined the moment’s overall impact. Had the music been a little too dramatic, things could have come across as not genuine. If just one edit was rushed or one shot framed poorly, the player could easily become confused and distracted and all the built up emotions would be drained.But none of this happens. Why? Because the exquisite direction ensures everything comes together perfectly.
While there are many videogames that contain amazing cutscenes, something about Jade finding Pey’j’s body really sticks with me. The scene’s overall emotions combined with the simple, yet highly skilled direction easily make it one of the most memorable videogame moments of all time.
Beyond Good & Evil 2 cannot come soon enough.
The Memory Card Save Files
.01 - .20 (Season 1)
What's Up? Our panel at PAX Prime 2014, Far Cry 4, Destiny Beta, Vietnam & a ferret
8:00 PM on 07.25.2014