Hold to Skip

It’s Wednesday. This means I should have been working on TRAUMA. Fortunately I did!

I finished the the volume slider integration and went on working on yet another small feature: skipping cut-scenes. Cut-scenes are a rather controversial part of games today. Many consider cut-scenes as sign of failure to integrate gameplay and story. I do understand the concerns. However I wouldn’t go that far. I think it is a valid tool for communication as long it is not over-used. As always I think it is a matter of measure.

Let us look into other media as comparison. Movies are a visual medium. The admonition “Show, don’t tell” summarizes quite nicely how to generally communicate in movies. Following this admonition, voice-overs, lengthy monologues and – god forbid – plain text shouldn’t be even considered by movie makers. Yet those techniques are sometimes successfully used in the most iconic movies such as Star Wars (opening crawl), Fight Club (voice-overs) Blade Runner (voice-overs and monologues) and many more. They are tools and it really depends on how you use the them.

I use cut-scenes in TRAUMA. I don’t know if I over-use them but they are an integral part of the concept. I am aware that I need to be careful with them so I want to make them work as good as I can. If there is one thing that game developers often get wrong when using cut-scenes is that they can’t be skipped.

Games are often played repeatedly and it is inevitable that at some point players will come across the same cut-scene twice. In such cases an otherwise pleasurable experience can turn sour. It can be quite annoying having to sit trough a cut-scene you don want to watch. It’s true that you can’t skip a movie in a cinema but in this case, sitting and watching is the whole point. Also, DVDs allow skipping individual scenes just fine.

But of course there is always the flip-side. As a game developer you invested a lot of time in cut-scenes. You’ve written a story, you invested considerable resources to produce the cut-scene. You don’t want you baby to be disposable too easily. So at the very least, you want to make sure that users won’t skip the cut-scene by accident. If a player skips a cut-scene by accident he might need to jump through a whole bunch of hoops to undo their mistake.

It’s an interesting interface design problem. What do you do? You can make the skipping button hard to find but that increases the chance that users won’t find it even if they do want to skip. This means you have to add a note that reminds users which button to press, but that simply looks awkward. You can add a dialogue box asking users if they REALLY want to skip but dialogue boxes are inefficient, annoying and don’t work anyway..

A solution I don’t see implemented too often is the following one: EVERY keyboard or mouse button can be used to skip a cut-scene. However, you need to hold that button for at least a second. When a user doesn’t press a button long enough, a note appears in the corner to explain. This ensures that users will be able to skip the cut-scene if they want to. This also ensures that users won’t skip the cut-scene if they click accidentally.

Hold Button to Skip

Every button can be used to skip a cut-scene. You need to hold it for a second. A note in the upper right corner appears if you don’t press long enough.

I implemented this solution today and it works well. I even went the extra mile. Not only the closing and opening cut-scenes skip-able, but EVERY longer animation in the game is.

I don’t think it is perfect solution but it’s the best I could think of in this situation. How do you find that system? Have you seen better cut-scene skipping systems in other games? Did you have some particularly bad experiences?

P.S.: I recommend LoadingReadyRun’s Unskipable for a humorous take on the subject.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

9 responses to “Hold to Skip”

  1. Clayton Hughes

    Interesting solution, one I haven’t seen before. I’m sort of fond of the double-press I’ve seen in a few games recently: First button press pauses the scene and throws up a pause menu. One button to skip, another to unpause.

    It’s no fun to have to go pee but be stuck watching the scene so you don’t miss anything, either!

    I don’t know that I’ve seen it done apart from the Wii Motion Plus video, but I think requiring the user to watch each cut scene once, and then saving that information and allowing it to be skipped after that isn’t necessarily bad (and certainly desirable, in a situation where you’re trying to CYA like the WM+ video).

    1. Krystian Majewski

      You are absolutely right. I completely forgo that aspect – being able to pause a cut-scene is a quite important feature. While you are at it, you could also implement a function to rewind a cut-scene in case the player was distracted and missed a part.

      Of course the disadvantage is the increase of complexity for what should be a trivial task. Suddenly it’s not just about pressing a button, you have to deal with a menu structure.

      But I agree that it should be the preferred solution at least in games where cut-scenes are long and frequent. I shall check how that works in Metal Gear Solid 4. Haven’t played it for too long.

  2. Aaron

    Your solution is certainly fairly good and better than most.

    My prefered choice is a little different, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it. If you go to the trouble of making a cut scene then it should be important. Tell you some of the story that will be missing if you skip it. Therefore, I’d like games to track each cut scene I have watched, and only allow skipping after I’ve watched a scene once already. Multiple viewings are redundant and should ALWAYS be skippable. I’ve skipped enough scenes in games inadvertantly that I’d rather just have the option taken away the first run through.

    There are many that have no tolerance for story in games and skip anything skippable immediately. It’s probably not a good perspective from a warm fuzzy design point of view, but I think these people are there own worst enemy and should either be playing a different sort of ADHD game or be forced to follow the narrative once for their own good. Of course this all depends on story and scenes being good enough that they warrant watching which is so subjective everything should probalby be skippable just as you did.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Making the game remember if you watched a cut-scene was also suggested by Clayton above. It sounds reasonable. There are however some rare but significant exceptions. I was already in quite a few situations where I didn’t want to watch a cut-scene even for the first time.

      This happens for example if you want to show a specific part of the game to a friend or at a presentation in front of a larger audience. You might also re-play the game on a different system, the save file might get corrupted or you might have deleted the save file on purpose to get a fresh start.

      More specifically, I recently wanted to demo Little Big Planet for 2 of my co-workers. We put it in the PS3 in the office and jumped into the editor. However, we couldn’t just start building stuff, the game actually forced us to do all of the tutorials first even though I was already perfectly familiar with the game. This shouldn’t happen.

      If the system for skipping cut-scenes is in place you should just use it universally. Sure there are always people, who skip story no matter what. But you won’t change their mind if you force them to watch.

  3. GhostLyrics

    >I don’t think it is perfect solution but it’s the best I could think of in this situation. How do you
    >find that system? Have you seen better cut-scene skipping systems in other games? Did you
    >have some particularly bad experiences?

    May I ask why you don’t think this is the perfect solution? Because to me it seems like it is.

  4. Nels Anderson

    I think my preferred solution to skipping cutscenes is having an obvious button (start, spacebar, whatever) bring up a media player-esque pause menu. From that menu, one option is resume, the other is skip (and as you said, rewind or restart could be a good one too).

    I think a trickier problem to solve is skipping lines of dialog that occur inside of the game. It should be easy to skip lines intentionally, but hard to do so by accident (PC games that have skip on the right mouse button are particularly guilty of that). Having a pause menu for every line is obviously way too heavyweight.

    What I ended up implementing for DeathSpank was pressing the usual cancel/close button (B/circle) skips the line. Pressing any other button shows a small “Press B to skip” message that fades out in about a second. Seems like a viable solution. Are you addressing this in Trauma at all, or is it not even relevant?

    1. Krystian Majewski

      Hello Nels, nice to hear from you!

      Yeah that media player menu was suggested above. I completely agree. I might go back and implement in in TRAUMA as well. However, even though I have frequent cut-scenes, they are mostly quite short. Some animations I have are as short as 5 seconds. It might feel a bit mis-proportioned to have an entire menu dedicated to skipping them.

      The line skipping problem is indeed a tricky one. Basically I think it’s a variation on the cut-scene skipping problem but it needs to be something that can be done quickly and repeatedly.

      From what I understand, you solution is a mixture of my current cut-scene skipping (hint appears if you are doing it wrong) and one of the methods I listed above (making buttons to skip difficult to find by accident). It looks like a sound solution to me as long as your button layout is consistent with the rest of your game. I was wondering – what happens if you keep holding the B button? Will it skip just one line or continue skipping through the entire conversation?

      This isn’t really a problem that came up in TRAUMA. All lines in TRAUMA are spoken in the background while you play. There is no need to skip them because they don’t stop game-play. Because adventure games can appear stiff and static, it was important for me to make sure the flow of the game is interrupted as little as possible. I presume such a solution isn’t possible in Deathspank?

      1. Nels Anderson

        Ah ha, I did figured any dialog TRAUMA would have would be more integrated into the gameplay.

        DeathSpank has traditional, Monkey Island-esque dialog interaction, so they are modal with the rest of the gameplay. Press B closes menus as such elsewhere, so it is kind of the “cancel/stop” button. And it’s one press per line of dialog, so holding the button for a split-second too long doesn’t skip multiple lines on accident.

  5. sirleto

    for me it looks like a superb solution.

    one could go and experiment with users what “good” amounts of needed holding times are (1second? 3seconds?).

    i especially believe its great to hide the box and only show it after a button down occurs. people are used to skipping, and actively trying to do something to get what they want (get past whatever they do not want to see aka skip) means pushing buttons (tapping the touchscreen, clicking the mouse, etc.).

    i personally would use that, stay with it. but try not to incorporate axis movement (analogue joysticks or mouse movement tends to have jittery errors or people or animals or whatever accidentially move them more than only a second).


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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