The Power of the Cold Open
A boy stumbles in the middle of a dark and foggy forest.
While sailing through a raging storm, two men evade incoming gunfire.
INSIDE and Uncharted 4 are two examples of the use of the cold open. Both are radically different yet achieve the same result. They compel you to PLAY.
Storytellers try to find the quickest and most effective ways to engage their audience. If done properly, the cold open does exactly that.
Placing the audience in the middle of the story caters to two important human traits. Our curiosity and our need to connect the dots.
Curiosity Killed The Cat
INSIDE drops us into the middle of a dark and moody forest. At the start of my first playthrough I remember asking myself several questions. Who is this boy? Where am I? What do I need to do? None of these questions were random. The designers were aware that I was going to ask myself these questions. In fact, they were counting on it.
The vagueness of the situation creates a mystery and this mystery engages the audience. Designers can use your curiosity as a storytelling tool. Your own thoughts and feelings help drive the experience forward.
What Does it All Mean?
Human being are great at pattern recognition. So much so that we often try to make connections where there none at all. For example, read the following four words:
Lake, Sleep, House, Candy
Your brain automatically tries to make sense of these words, and subconsciously orders them in such a way to tell a story. To be honest, there is no pattern here. These words were randomly generated by a application online.
By starting in the middle, a storyteller has a better chance of engaging the audience because they are trying to catch up to the narrative.
Uncharted 4's cold open leaves us with a lot of questions. These questions linger in our mind well past the end of the cold open sequence. We constantly ask ourselves how does Drake get from this situation to the epic boat sequence at the start of the game?
Story Comes First
What I love about the cold opens in INSIDE and Uncharted 4, is how drastically different they are from each other.
Uncharted 4 uses the common cold open trope of beginning with a flash forward.
INSIDE places you somewhere in the middle of a story and never looks back.
Both are totally different in tone and intensity yet hook the player in nonetheless. They serve their story well and don’t feel out of place.
To instantly compel the user to play and engage in an experience is the biggest power any game designer can have on his/her audience.