Segues


Videogames are filled with transitions: loading new levels, initiating scripted sequences, obtaining special powerups, etc. These are often accompanied by the familiar wipes, fades and cuts of the film industry.

The effects themselves mask pit-stops necessary for resource (re)allocation. The segmentation also creates a natural variety and lets developers work on separate parts of the game that are only later stitched together.

In short, these transitions are functional. However, they are not smooth.

segue, n.

  1. A quick and uninterrupted change to the player’s avatar or surroundings that often facilitates new gameplay.

The above definition is rather nebulous, but it’s based on a simple concept: a smooth flow keeps the player immersed. Segues do this by removing the awkward parts of transitions that break immersion, namely disorientation and helplessness.

Some of GTA IV's more hyperbolic praises were attributed to its seamless world and the ability to carjack any vehicle...

Disorientation can take place quite easily as the camera cuts to a different point of view, or a different scene entirely. All of a sudden the player is expected to parse the change — to keep up with the fast-forwarding presentation — while filling in the gaps. Humans are quite good at this, but it’s a somewhat taxing effort that’s easy to get wrong.

Helplessness is strictly rooted in ignoring player input. Videogames are inherently interactive, and taking away control to show a transition strips the player of engagement. Plus, it’s never fun to wait on a loading screen.

Of course many videogames are quite abstract, but for the most part the medium tries to simulate various facets of the real world. There are no “bumpy” transitions in everyday life — aside from maybe losing consciousness — so it makes sense to limit them in videogames as well. That’s not always possible, but if the choice is there, it should be an easy one to make.

...while Fable 3's most common criticism seems to be its anything-but-smooth hand-shaking minigame.

As hardware, technical design, and production methodologies have advanced, so has our ability to implement segues. Vehicle sections now take place in the same maps as on-foot action, level geometry gets dynamically streamed in, scripted sequences play out as the player explores the environment, etc. These are almost universally praised as they make for some very memorable moments, but smooth transitions have been around for a long while.

Here are just a few of my favourite examples:

1). Spy Hunter’s Boat Segments

Spy Hunter was famous for giving players the ability to drive into the back of a moving truck. This was done at full speed without any camera wipes, but it wasn’t even the game’s greatest segue. No, that honour goes to the car-to-boat segments.

These had the player race through a dockside garage only to emerge in a different vehicle without slowing down for a second. It wasn’t the most realistic transition, but like many moments in Spy Hunter, it perfectly emulated the craziness of action-movie sequences.

2). Metroid’s Morph Ball

The Morph Ball has been a staple of the Metroid series since the inaugural title, and has always been an excellent example a segue.

Turning Samus into a diminutive sphere is effortless and presents the player with an all new moveset. The morph ball’s abilities also grant the player new options for combat and exploration, and switching between the two modes is quick and easy (even in the somewhat underrated 3D sequels).

3). Lost Odyssey’s Intro

Lost Odyssey’s FMV opening depicts a dark and epic battle. As the presumed hero fights his way through the ranks of bizarrely armed soldiers, there’s a brief pause in the action. The camera pans around, and a menu pops up! All of a sudden the player is in the game, and it’s waiting for his input!

There’s a slight hitch here, but it’s barely noticeable and makes for a fantastic intro. Sadly, the rest of Lost Odyssey is a veritable catalogue of awkward segues.


What are some of your favourite examples of smooth (or bumpy) transitions?

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  1. #1 by Carlosizzy on November 20, 2010 - 6:13 pm

    Defanately the Halo games. All the vehicles and how they handled and interacted was great, and switching between them was always smooth. Best vehicles in a FPS ever!

  2. #2 by justradek on November 20, 2010 - 8:47 pm

  3. #3 by Martin on November 21, 2010 - 4:08 pm

    Perhaps a lot smaller, but Far Cry 2 had fantastic animations for getting into and out of vehicles, which really helped with immersion.

    • #4 by The Management on November 21, 2010 - 5:00 pm

      It’s a good example, and Halo really set the bar for a lot of these FPS/third-person vehicle transitions.

  4. #5 by VelvetFistIronGlove on November 28, 2010 - 3:47 am

    I’ve not played Lost Odyssey, but the opening cutscene in Beyond Good and Evil is similar to what you describe, smoothly segueing from cinematic, to player interaction, and back again.

  5. #6 by Jarett on November 29, 2010 - 12:38 am

    Some boss battles in Final Fantasy XIII had seamless transitions from cutscene to battle, namely the Barthandelus battles.

  6. #7 by Dagda on November 30, 2010 - 6:48 pm

    If we allow segues that are purely game design, rather than papering over any digital resource-related cracks, then my favorite variety has to be the minor segue of pressing a button to equip a new tool. See a pair of gunmen managing to reach durable cover at close range, switch to your shotgun and move to flank. See distortions in the air while playing Stalker, pull out a rusty bolt to throw so as to test for anamolies. See your enemy’s playstyle shift in Soul Calibur, and adopt a different stance in response. The act of reading the environment and changing your game accordingly, in more than one sense of the word.

  7. #8 by Jason T on December 6, 2010 - 10:50 am

    I actually really enjoy TV serial-style segues in more or less narratively linear games. It worked a lot better in Alone in the Dark than in Alan Wake, though, as the former allowed you to save and quit BEFORE the recap, rather than just dragging you right into a recap for what you just did.

    And on the other end of the spectrum, as much as I enjoy the game, Fallout New Vegas has got to have some of the worst segues I’ve ever seen. I realize this is a challenge of having an open-world “sandbox” game and is largely a function of the engine used for it, but the bizarre sense of unreality during travel is even more pronounced than in Fallout 3. As you travel on foot, mountains blink in and out of existence in the distance. Entire buildings fade into being directly before your eyes, obscuring the horizon you had a clear view of a moment before. And, of course, you must sit through a loading screen while going in or out of any building.

    GTA IV did indeed spoil me for this kind of thing.

    • #9 by The Management on December 12, 2010 - 8:13 pm

      Yes, the Gamebryo engine does have some pretty significant technical issues, although I did think that VATS was a pretty good example (for the most part) of smooth transitions.

  8. #10 by Faviann on January 4, 2011 - 11:24 am

    From what I understand, God of War 3 would be an excellent example of what you’re explaining. If I remember well the whole game introduction is a mix of cutscenes and gameplay seamlessly transitioning between both. The battle against Poseidon (first ½ hour in the game) show pretty well what I’m talking about:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usZvk3EvSZM&hd=1

    Maybe I’m confusing all this with long takes… (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_take)

    Anyways thanks explanation. It’s one those things that help you understand why you’d perceived some transitions as amazing.

    • #11 by The Management on January 4, 2011 - 11:44 am

      I haven’t played God of War III yet, but I’m sure it has its fair share of smooth transitions based on its trailers and the previous titles. The fully game-controlled camera makes it easier to pull this off, and it results in some breathtaking scenes (like entering the besieged Athens in the original game).

  9. #12 by Mirweis on January 14, 2011 - 8:47 pm

    Nice post. I’m surprised though that Uncharted 2 didn’t pop in the list. For me (and probably thousands more fans), what makes Uncharted 2 an outstanding game is the relentless pace of seamless transitions between gameplay and cutscenes. Since the very first train-wreck sequence to the very last bridge rush, playable segments and cinematics blend together to give the most thrilling and well paced experience. The transitions are so smooth that you would constantly find yourself frantically mashing your X button hanging from a ledge as if your own life depended on it while it’s a pure scripted sequence.

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