In the early days of the Video Game 3D Leap, Game Engines were not capable of rendering 3D models with the level of detail that they can today in real-time, and developers had no choice but to use extremely low-polygon models that only vaguely resembled the shapes of characters and objects in the game's world, in order for the games to still perform well.
One way around this was the concept of "pre-rendering", where higher-polygon 3D models were rendered once and used as still images. Sometimes the pre-rendered images could still be interacted with, and other times they only functioned as fancy backdrops. In both cases, this required the games to have a Fixed Camera, as a more dynamic camera would require more angles for the images to be rendered from, which would've largely defeated the point of pre-rendering them.
Pre-rendering wasn't limited to just in-game graphics, however, many games also pre-rendered their cutscenes, in order to improve the presentation of the story, and from that, players' investment in said story. In Licensed Games, cutscenes often took the form of (heavily-compressed) clips of the work they were licensed from. Not all pre-rendered cutscenes used 3D modeling, some took full advantage of the looser limitations and used fully-animated 2D cartoons, others even used live-action actors.
Pre-Rendered Cutscenes are also known as "Full Motion Videos" (or "FMVs" for short), though the term isn't widely used today, and is mostly used to refer to Live Action Cutscenes and Interactive Movies. See those pages for more detail.
As game engines got more powerful, pre-rendering saw a significant decline in use, though it is by no means gone entirely. Announcement trailers for new games are still often pre-rendered and feature no in-game footage at all, and some games still use pre-rendering for budget or presentation reasons.
Pre-Rendered In-Game Graphics
- Zelda's Adventure features a pre-rendered world viewed from the top-down, similar to the classic Legend of Zelda games.
- Five Nights at Freddy's: Every single frame in the games in pre-rendered, any animations that play (namely when an animatronic attacks and jumpscares the player) are in fact just large video files.
- Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors: The backdrops are pre-rendered 3D models, while the characters are depicted with a handful of static 2D illustrations.
- Bram Stoker's Dracula on the Sega CD used pre-rendered video for the backdrops in-game, with Digitized Sprites overlaid.
- inFAMOUS: Every major cutscene is illustrated as a Motion Comic.
- The LEGO Movie Videogame uses clips from the movie for its cutscenes.
- Solatorobo uses anime cutscenes.
- Tail Concerto uses anime cutscenes.
- Tomb Raider: Every game developed by Core Design (save Angel of Darkness) used pre-rendered cutscenes, though some were rendered using the gameplay engine instead.
- Assassin's Creed: Valhalla: The "First Look Gameplay Trailer" is, in fact, just a montage of pre-rendered cutscenes that have been misleadingly advertised as gameplay. It is unclear if the scenes featured in the trailer will even be in the final game, as a disclaimer at the bottom of the trailer reveals that the footage is only what is "expected" of the final product.
- Syberia uses pre-rendered cutscenes.
- Halo: Most of the games made by Bungie used in-engine cutscenes, but many of the games made by other studios used pre-rendered cutscenes. Sometimes this would create limitations for the story, like preventing the player characters Fireteam Crimson in Halo 4: Spartan Ops from appearing in cutscenes as Character Customization could not transfer to pre-rendered graphics.
- A Bug's Life used clips from the movie as its cutscenes.
- Buzz Lightyear of Star Command used clips from the series as its cutscenes, which lead to some repetitive dialogue as the same few clips were used every time you completed a level, despite the game also featuring new voice lines by the series' cast in other areas.
- Donkey Kong Country:
- Donkey Kong Country Returns uses pre-rendering for the intro, the Final Boss's introduction, the ending, the reveal of the Golden Temple, and the transition from the opening area of the Golden Temple to the main level. Three of these cutscenes have three variations depending on which Kongs were present, making a total of twelve pre-rendered cutscenes.
- Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze has the only two pre-rendered cutscenes — the intro and the ending.
- Gex: All three games feature elaborate cutscenes that show how Gex gets dragged into the plot of that particular game. Each game's ending cutscene is similarly pre-rendered, though they tend to be shorter.
- The PS1 version of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile had pre-rendered cutscenes for the intro, as well as the scene where Klonoa and Huepow go to Cress, and the ending. In the Wii remake, all of these cutscenes were rendered with the in-game graphics.
- Most Mario sports games have intro cutscenes that are rendered using the in-game engine. However, Mario Kart 64, Mario Golf Toadstool Tour, Mario Power Tennis, both Mario baseball games, and Mario Kart Wii use pre-rendered intros (although for MK64, the in-game engine was used to create the intro, but was still pre-rendered video).
- Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom has an anime cutscene for the title sequence and another one for the ending.
- Pac-Man World: Both opening cutscenes, both ending cutscenes, and the Animated Outtakes are all pre-rendered.
- The Sly Cooper series uses 2D comic book-style cutscenes.
- Sonic the Hedgehog:
- Sonic CD: Every cutscene is a fully-animated 2D-cartoon.
- Sonic Adventure: The opening cutscene before the title screen, most scenes involving the Egg Carrier, and Perfect Chaos's introductory cutscene are all pre-rendered. The remaining cutscenes are done in-engine.
- Sonic Adventure 2: The scene of the Tornado escaping from the exploding Prison Island used a pre-rendered video of the island blowing up, and then the Tornado was a real-time 3D model placed in front of the video. The cutscenes of the Eclipse Cannon firing at the moon, Sonic and co. taking the shuttle to the ARK, and about half of the cutscenes in the Last Story are also all pre-rendered, as are the opening cutscenes before the title screen — both the logo splash screen on the original Dreamcast version and the extended opening cutscene on Sonic Adventure 2 Battle.
- Sonic Heroes: Nearly every cutscene is pre-rendered, the only ones that aren't are the occasional level introductory cutscene, which not every stage even got.
- Shadow the Hedgehog: The opening cutscene before the title screen, and most cutscenes involving Shadow talking with Black Doom or learning about his past onboard the ARK are pre-rendered.
- Sonic the Hedgehog (2006): The opening cutscene at the start of the game, the flashback of the Solaris Experiment, the ending cutscenes of each campaign, and half the cutscenes in the Last Story are pre-rendered.
- Sonic Mania: The opening and ending cutscenes are fully-animated 2D cartoons.
- Stinkoman 20X6 has a fully-animated Animesque intro, presented in extremely low resolution to mimic the kind of cutscenes consoles like the Sega CD could render.
- Toy Story 2 used clips from the movie as its cutscenes.
- Ty the Tasmanian Tiger's story cutscenes are all pre-rendered, while its in-level cutscenes are done in-engine.
- The Command & Conquer series, while famous for its live-action cutscenes (mission briefings), also used 3D-rendered cutscenes between most briefings and the mission start, or after the mission end.
- Starcraft I started as Warcraft II IN SPACE!, until the devs saw a much more advanced RTS being showcased at a convention. They immediately rebuilt the game from the ground up to become the version known today, and only learned later that the "game" they'd been inspired by was actually pre-recorded footage, with an employee only moving his mouse around as though he were playing.
- Warcraft III: The in-game cutscenes use standard unit models, while every campaign ends on a cinematic cutscene. The expansion only uses in-game cutscenes except for the very beginning when Illidan summons naga from the seas and ends on a much more complicated animated instead of a cinematic.
- The PlayStation 2 and Wii ports of Rock Band, and the PS2 port of Rock Band 2, had the actual note highways and HUDs rendered in real-time, but in order to make the game look as good as its Xbox 360 and PS3 counterparts, the backgrounds were pre-rendered videos from those versions rather than being rendered in real-time. Sadly, this meant the game lost all of its character customization features in the process.
- Space Channel 5: All areas in the game were pre-rendered video footage, and the characters are 3D models put in front of the video. This would sometimes result in Ulala and the others looking as if they were floating because sometimes their character models would not be properly aligned with the background.
- Dragon Quest IX: One plotline quest requirement is for the player character to show up alone and wearing a certain set of armor. It's a rather transparent justification for the fact that the following animated cutscene shows only one person wearing the all-encompassing armor, when in-game models allow for huge amounts of customization (and there are no preset party members, only random ones) and every weapon has its own model. Fortunately, it's a pretty awesome cutscene.
- Final Fantasy:
- Final Fantasy XIII: A handful of important cutscenes are pre-rendered, though most are done in-engine.
- Final Fantasy XV: A short montage of scenes from Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV depicting the fall of Insomnia are used during Chapter 1, and a handful of other cutscenes are also pre-rendered.
- Final Fantasy VII Remake uses clips from Advent Children in the fight against the Whisper Harbinger.
- Kingdom Hearts has them at the beginning and end of the games.
- Though most cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts II were done in-engine, the cutscene before the Battle of the 1,000 Heartless was pre-rendered. It shows in that the characters in the player's party have their default equipment, unlike other cutscenes where Sora, Donald, and Goofy use the weapons the player equipped them with. This is probably because more than 1,000 objects would have been far too many for the PlayStation 2 to render all at once.
- The Tales Series is known for having anime cutscenes, including an anime intro with an Anime Theme Song, since the first PlayStation installment. However, the original Nintendo DS release of Tales of Hearts came in two versions, where one had the standard anime cutscenes, the other version had 3D pre-rendered CG cutscenes. Needless to day, the version with the 3D CG cutscenes wasn't a big seller, and thus it remains the only release in the franchise to feature that style.
- Resident Evil 3: Nemesis used pre-rendered cutscenes for its more important moments, such as Nemesis killing Brad.
- Silent Hill: The opening cutscene before the title screen and every cutscene that introduces a new character are all pre-rendered. The credits feature Animated Outtakes which are also pre-rendered.
- Final Liberation: Warhammer Epic 40,000's cinematics featured live-action mixed with pre-rendered graphics.
- Virtue's Last Reward: Any scene where a major revelation plays out — dubbed "Event" scenes — is typically depicted with a series of pre-rendered shots, though a handful of them are fully-animated.
- Iron Helix: Every frame is pre-rendered, as you can only move forward and backward one screen at a time, and turn left or right 90-degrees at a time, so only a handful of screens and animations were necessary. The arm of the probe that the player can raise to interact with certain elements is pre-rendered, too, with only a handful of sprites for every possible position it can take on the screen. Cutscenes are a mixture of live-action and pre-rendered graphics, with the Sega CD version featuring a couple of exclusive cutscenes, one of which is entirely pre-rendered, the other is solely live-action.
- Myst: Every frame of gameplay is pre-rendered in every game except for Myst V: End of Ages. Every interaction with an object triggers a pre-rendered cutscene, and characters are portrayed by live actors. Myst V uses real-time rendering for everything, including characters.
- MegaRace: In the first two games, the backdrops of the cutscenes, which feature live actors, and the racetracks themselves are pre-rendered. This is most noticeable if you drive backward on the tracks in MegaRace 2, since the Fixed Camera was obviously not intended for that. The first game is on-rails, so you cannot drive backward in that one. The third game is rendered entirely in real-time, though the cutscenes are still live-action.
- The original arcade version of Killer Instinct featured prerendered backgrounds, sprites, and ending cutscenes.
- Beginning with Final Fantasy VII on the PlayStation, the Final Fantasy series became famous for its high quality pre-rendered cutscenes that integrated flawlessly with the pre-rendered backgrounds. The high production values and visual spectacle of these cutscenes were crucial to popularizing Japanese RPGs with western audiences, who found previous games' 2D sprites unappealing for conveying complex plots and characters.
- Final Fantasy VII: The in-game environments and cutscenes are all pre-rendered, and characters' in-game 3D models are extremely primitive. "Seamless" cutscenes (like some elevators or perspective shifts) have the in-game models rendered on top of them,note while the "flashier" cutscenes would have characters pre-rendered in the cutscene with higher-detailed 3D models. Strangely, some (like Cloud jumping atop a train) use the in-game models, prerendered.
- Final Fantasy X: The backdrops and some cutscenes are pre-rendered.
- Virtually everything in Indivisible is a hand-drawn 2D illustration, including the characters, enemies, and backdrops. The game also features fully-animated 2D cutscenes by Studio Trigger and Titmouse.
- Resident Evil (Remake): The opening cutscene and the environments in-game are pre-rendered, while the player character, enemies, and NPCs are rendered in real-time. Interacting with certain objects or solving certain puzzles will also trigger a pre-rendered cutscene.
- Mr. Bones had both pre-rendered cutscenes, and pre-rendered animated level backgrounds.