"Economy of storytelling, too, is crucial in both. In screenplays and movies, you're always whittling scenes down to their essence. The same is true for games -- only more so. Cutscenes, I was forewarned, could be no longer than two minutes (about half as long as a crucial movie scene.)
"Early on, Neversoft President Joel Jewett pointed to the "X" button on a controller and said to me, "That's the enemy." When you're writing these scenes, he continued, always remember there's a player sitting on that button just waiting for an excuse to punch it."
Similarly, there are folks out there that fast-forward through films until they see a gunfight. Or some nudity. Or are just skimming through a flick waiting for a scene with some sizable gore. Should films be whittled down to two minute vignettes, containing only the barest of plot elements, all moving forward for an overly wrought shoot-out?
Neversoft, developers of the Wild, Wild West-oriented Gun seem to think so. Our hero, Colton White is out hunting with his pa, Ned (voiced by the gruff Kris Kristofferson, and if you didn't know it by his voice you'd certainly realize it from the character model) when a bear attacks! After dispatching the bear, Ned and you take off for the harbor to sell the dead carcass to the locals when the boat is attacked by banditos! Then oh no Ned dies in the attack! And surprise! The boat blows up! But not before Ned admits that he is not your real father! To get to the root of the banditos and your past, you head to town, a scant two minute horse ride away! But you need a horse first! Oh look, there just happens to be a guy with a horse right here! But you need to race him for his extra horse first. But you easily win! But now he and his bandito friends are going to rob and kill you instead! But you easily shoot him down! But oh no, the local brothel that has the information you need for whatever reason is under attack! By banditos!
I'm sure you get the general picture. From varmit-hunting with Ned to being ambushed by Indians the absolute moment you exit the town boundaries, Gun is a halting, stop/start experience. There's no build-up, no tension, no excitement, just scenes where you're shooting and scenes where you're on the cusp of being shot at. Sure, you can take your own downtime by running aimlessly around the sparsely populated town or saddle on up to a Wanted poster for an unfulfilling side mission but that's devoid of drama and unsatisfying. Instead of the majesty of the epic Western, we get the cheap shoot 'em up.
There are no substantial lone treks across desolate, untamed wilderness, just tiny swathes of land that your horse can transverse before you can say 'tarnation'. The world is compressed, tiny but also hollow, insubstantial, seemingly to prevent the player from boredom and consequently smashing the "skip scene" X button. You're never out of bullets (at least in your pistol), your opponents are numerous and disposable and thanks to an overly generous continue system, death merely results in maybe losing five minutes of game progress. Tops. Easily surmountable obstacles never get boring!
Neversoft needs to worry less about constantly engaging the gamer and more about creating an engrossing world. The "X" button isn't the developer or writer's enemy, it's the impetus behind pressing the "X" button that they want to avoid: frustration. A sense of scope and presence of atmosphere drive the genre, not just the conflict between the cowboys and the indians. It may be unfair for me to judge Gun based solely on its adherence to a more action-driven and familiar formula (as well as the two hours I let myself absorb of it), but the shoot 'em up Western is nothing unique from your prototypical shoot 'em up aerial combat game, or shoot 'em up first-person shooter. While a hail of bullets will keep most users glued to their controller, what's the point of a Western motif for your game if it fails to include uniquely or optimally Western devices? Gun is pared down to the barest of narrative essentials simply to progress the action, and while that's great for those that are easily distracted or have a low tolerance for sitting still, it leaves us with two minute long cut scenes that feel hindered and emotionally vacant, comprised of simple strings of violence. There's a lot to fight for in the West, but sadly it's all glossed over in favor of making sure the audience is stimulated beyond thought. There's another button Joel Jewett should have pointed out to Gun's writer: the power button.