Some Thoughts on Inside and Cinematic Gaming (Review) – Writing on Games (1080p 60fps)

SPOILER-FREE – no story discussion, all footage and mechanical analysis is from the early game (seeing as a few people have asked).

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(Review code provided by Playdead PR)

So I’ve been thinking a lot about Playdead’s follow-up to Limbo, Inside. Not necessarily about the political and sociological critique it presents in its story, but about how this game opens up a discussion regarding the concept of ‘cinematic gaming’.

‘Cinematic’ is the most overused term in gaming history (being attributed to any game with cutscenes in a bid to ‘stack up’ to Hollywood), and this overuse has kept at bay a potentially interesting conversation about how game development is genuinely influenced by cinematic techniques, and how this affects the player experience. Inside acts as perhaps the keenest example of framing and pacing being influenced by cinematic techniques in recent memory.

Consider this piece a part review, part analysis of these techniques. In this episode of Writing on Games, I break down some examples of this cinematic influence at play, but also talk about why this potentially creates an identity crisis for the game that I’m not sure it escapes from.

Ninja Gaiden footage from ThereturnofUdth, Super Mario Bros footage from Nintendo News, Gears of War footage from Xbox, Call of Duty footage from Activision.

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Comments

minch333 says:

The fail state thing you said, I’m not too sure I agree with. The witcher 3 I think disproves the idea that all player fuck ups have to be a failure of the player in a gamey sense. I was pretty happy with the consequences of my geralt’s actions in the game, as was geralt himself, but when looking at what could have happened if I’d chosen him a different path, although the consequences could be considered fail states, they more showed an expression of tragedy by the writers as negative consequences deriving from good intentions or different principles. Having said that, the death mechanic is certainly a fail state!
Anyway, great video as always man 🙂

SeamasOS says:

At the end you really hit the nail on the head with why the game is receiving so many 9’s and 10’s. Many critics seem to confuse that because it provides a good jumping off point for discussion, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the game is actually mean that the game does anything particularly brilliant with what it has. That said the art and music made this game for me, it really sold the bleak atmosphere even if it did dip off a little in the underwater sections.

Ryan Hollinger says:

My problem with Inside was that it’s WAY TOO derivative of Limbo, which is vastly superior game because it was a much more focused experience. I think Inside suffers from it’s delivery. There isn’t really anything going on when you actually consider what you do. It’s very simple, but in a bad way. It’s a walking simulator that feels unintentionally lazy to a relative degree but uses it’s stylistic delivery as a means to mask it’s paper-thin design. The puzzles don’t always work in context to the narrative, but rather as you said, serve a padding purpose. To me, it felt like it was trying to give you mechanics to work with when really it’s delivery didn’t require them.

Firewatch was a better execution of a similar formula. It uses the idea of ‘hiking in a forest’ for emotional effect, but that’s of course, if you’re willing to engage with the kind of story it’s trying to tell.

Hade Shoup says:

this looks like a good spiritual sequel to Limbo, and not just because of the little boy.

Chris Gledhill says:

Thinking of cinematic games, will you ever do a video on FMV games? They’ve died off now, though I’d argue David Cage’s games are an evolution of them, but it’s the most obvious comparison of games trying to be movies. The “Tex Murphy” series are favourites of mine but I can still see their flaws.

Gonna be an Oak Studios says:

and that the devs change the rules for puzzles when they want, which destroyed any challenge since the player is not considering how to use the rules the game taught to solve the puzzle but instead what the rules have been changed to. the best example is the inconsistency of the zombies following you off ledges.

iWillWakeYouUp says:

Love the background music.
Great video as always.

Richard Derrig says:

I don’t fully agree with what you’re saying here Hamish, but you make fantastic videos and you definitely deserve more subs.

nomedia says:

Perhaps games should focus less on set pieces and more on emergent gameplay? I find set piece reliant games are often to be difficult to get immersed in.

legendsofevil says:

I disagree with everything you said in this video. The puzzles of Inside never felt like roadblocks in the way you describe it. Every encounter in this game showcases good story context around what is happening with the boy. You argue that Inside attempts to disguise the mechanical nature of its encounters with cinematic trickery, but I don’t think that argument stands on much ground because every encounter in this game is well grounded in reality and serves a purpose in advancing the plot. In other words, it is not the cinematic trickery that disguises the mechanics. It is the actual story SUBSTANCE that is disguising it because every detail in the game world has a reason for being there from a narrative point of view. There is a lot of downtime in this game for sure, but I do not consider those moments as padding. Developers have to convey a reasonable amount of downtime in order to execute a balanced story driven game. Otherwise the game world would be putting too much importance towards the player rather than itself. I have played a lot of games that try to provide emotional story experiences, and a lot of those games are good in their own right. But no game has reached the standards of where Inside is in our gaming industry.

Stewart LaPan says:

Still haven’t played this game, but you basically described exactly what I hated about Limbo.

Vighnesh Sivakumar says:

You say that it works better on a more meta level since the “game” part of the game gets in the way , but my thoughts are exactly the opposite. On a moment by moment basis, the game’s sense of direction and cinematography is brilliant. It does an amazing job of conveying information in a sharp, efficient, and engrossing manner. The overall experience is a fascinatingly post-modern narrative with an exceptional sense of atmosphere.

I think the problem you are having is that you are looking only at the immediate emotional effect of each cinematic moment, rather than the narrative importance of the shot.

Pablo Reina says:

Loved the video! I’ve heard people say that the game is a good experience, but not necessarily a game. I personally haven’t been able to play it due to it not being available in the PS Store. What do you think about games that are considered better movies than actual games? For example, the Last of Us is regarded by some as an amazing movie, but only a good game by some in the industry.

Robert Cardoso de Freitas says:

I felt the same way about Limbo. Once the spider arc finishes, the game starts relying too much on mechanical puzzles that don’t add much to the experience. I get the transition to the indudtrial atmosfere, but the box puzzles that came with it were very underwhelming.

Avant-Tom says:

This series satisfies my desire for videos of in depth film analysis. So I subscribed. I recognize how much time you spend writing these.

Raphaela Leite says:

Please play and review pathologic by icepick lodge.

Joseph Anderson says:

I really disliked this game. Great video Hamish. Lots of good points here.

selimword25 says:

I just found your channel and love what I’m seeing! So few critics engage with games as critically as you do so I am very happy that you exist and I look forward to future videos.

PostMesmeric says:

Before watching this video, I thought that I was one of the only people who did not find Inside to be a flawless experience and GOTY contender. Many of the issues I had with it were similar ones that were expressed in this video, such as pacing and flow. But even as someone who disliked this game, I’ve been seeing a TON of discussion over this game, both from people who liked it and people who found problems with it. I really enjoyed hearing your perspective on Inside, as cinematic natures of games seem to be a nebulous and ethereal discussion. I really wouldn’t have expected Inside to be the arbiter of that discussion this time, but that’s why I really love channels like this, channels that address these subjects with games that might not come to mind first when the conversation starts. Great work!

Thomas Giles says:

Great video, man! I haven’t played the game yet, but I loved Limbo, and will be picking up Inside soon.

Would it be fair to say that the puzzles in a game that’s more about story and atmosphere that come _from_ that story and atmosphere work much better? Like having to dive under the water to get past the light, or jumping at the right time to escape the dogs, things like that. From the video, they seemed to work pretty well.

Whereas the “and now a puzzle” puzzles were more jarring, and interrupted the overall narrative, rather than adding to it.

Bag Of Knives says:

Good video my dude. I’ve not had a chance to play this yet, but my pal is doing a video on it and he told me that the puzzles felt like needless padding too – that’s a shame, especially when you say that some puzzles are incredibly cohesive. I look forward to playing it!

Gabriel Gallardo says:

I actually think that Inside benefits from most of what you think it isn’t right. It’s more like a middle ground experience for me. I do think that most of the time it feels scripted, but if it wasn’t that way then it wouldn’t feel as thrilling as it feels. It was a conscious design choice that aims to mold players feelings and expectations in one particular way. It wouldn’t be the same otherwise and I really don’t find better solutions to most of the set pieces they crafted.
That been said and although I mostly disagree with your take on Inside I will still suscribe to the channel. You do have very interesting points on the matter. Good content mate!

GiantTabby says:

I want to get around to playing Inside, since I enjoyed Limbo.

I kinda hate how so many people throw the word cinematic around for games. The idea of a motion picture with placement and movement of the camera is pretty broad for almost any game (except for visual novels).

But if I had to name a game that executes cinematography in notable ways, it would have to be Shadow of the Colossus. The way the camera works balances player control and a focused guidance. Especially in how the camera makes me feel both alone and disempowered against the intimidating scope of the world.

ProphetSong says:

I’m surprised that you didn’t talk about how the game’s puzzles all revolve around some kind of control over the will of someone else, given the whole orwellian dystopian future thing.

sd19delta says:

My problem with the game was that it ended too soon.
I was enjoying every part of it until it just ends, and made me feel a little cheated.
I don’t have a problem with the cost of this game, it’s that I wanted there to be more.

bo brown says:

I am one of the people who would give this game a perfect score, but I’m also the kind of person who loves art of the “slow burn” pursuasion. This is the strongest critique I’ve heard so far.
I had a very similar experience recently with resident evil 7, feeling my tension broken by the trial and error nature of the boss fights. (The first two Jack conflicts, particularly) so I am with you in that.
Great video as always. Thoughtful and humble.

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