Live Actor Videos: Yay or Nay?


Years ago, in the early days of CD-ROM, live actor video footage was very common. Today, this is almost completely unheard of. Computer generated graphics are the standard. I recently tried the PS3 demo of Command & Conquer Red Alert 3 and was shocked to see live actor footage in a new game.

During it’s popularity, live actor footage had a bad reputation among gamers; it was the quick time events of the early 90’s. Gamers generally disliked it for a few reasons:

  • It’s presence implies games that you watch rather than games that you play.
  • It creates a discontinuity between gameplay graphics and cut scene graphics. In other words, playing a 3D rendered character and then switching to watch a live actor can kill the immersion of the game.
  • Part of the allure of video games is that they are a showcase for flashy technology and programming. CG cut scenes show of the skills of the artists and programming teams. In-engine and in-game cut scenes are common bragging points. Live actor video is the complete antithesis of all of that: it avoids programming and technology.
  • The quality of the acting is generally horrible. The field of video games may be known for bad stories and writing, but the live acting is an order of magnitude worse.

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The Red Alert 3 acting is a rotten example: it’s purposefully campy, silly, and outrageously stupid.

However, today is a different time. We’ve seen a few games grow by leaps and bounds in delivering quality dialog, humor, atmosphere, and voice over work. I’d like to see a more serious dev team give this a shot and try to deliver something genuinely innovative. What do you think: good idea or is this a technique that should stay buried?


Written by: Darrin - Contributing Editor


  1. #1 by Mike on March 31st, 2009

    Nay. It seems like a waste with all the complaints of rising development costs. I much prefer well done in-engine cut scenes like MGS4, GTA IV, Gears, RE5, etc.

  2. #2 by Segitz on March 31st, 2009 [ 1470 Points ]

    I always loved live action cutscenes… ever since CnC1 and Wing Commander :D I also love, that they brought them back with CnC3.

    “Killing the immersion” you say? I say it is the direct opposite to some degree. As a kid, I was imagining being Captain Blair flying the spaceships, blowing up Kilrathis… Today, most games have stories as an afterthought (at least most seem that way), not as the fundament. Metal Gear is a welcome difference, yet many reviewers say the cutscenes suck… I just don’t get why… I love them, and so do MANY others… most of my friends state MGS4 as their favourite game of the PS3. (well, all except one, because he doesn’t like “slow paced” shooters).

  3. #3 by teflon6678 on March 31st, 2009

    only if it serves a purpose and can match up with the game.
    So with C&C its to be funny and pay homage to the first few instalments that also had live actors. Oh, and dont forget that eye candy doesnt have to be graphics :p

    But there is a middle ground. Heavy Rain is being developed with massive attention to detail. Motion Capture is used heavily, but at the same time, the design team have created a character who has then been matched as closely as possible to an actor with similar body weight and face, then they sourced the actual clothing etc. etc. So a virtual performance, but from real actors, and translated into video gaming reality. Its quite exciting to see something that films have done on a few occasions make its way into games.

    But for live action, its really only for when its fun these days. Theres enough horse power in modern consoles to give us characters and models that begin to approach the uncanny valley,

  4. #4 by Mr Pickles on March 31st, 2009

    If it’s video of Gemma Atkinson and Jenny McCarthy, then, hell yes.

  5. #5 by Hentaku on March 31st, 2009

    Nay. For all reasons provided in article, they apply to me.

  6. #6 by Paranoimia on April 1st, 2009

    100% in agreement with Mr Pickles. I <3 Gemma.

  7. #7 by Glitch on April 1st, 2009

    I actually really enjoyed the very beefy human actors in the original Resident Evil intro for the first Playstation. I know the acting and the lines were bad, but I think the way it was made really was in line with survival horror genre and the horror b-movies.

    So if it is made in accordance to the game, that is, if it “fits” the game, then by all means use real live actors.

  8. #8 by Julian on April 2nd, 2009

    I say yay!


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