When you conjure up images of what a retro game is, rarely does your mind settle on a vision of one of the Sega CD’s classics like Night Trap or the PC masterpiece Phantasmagoria, both full-motion video games that used an admixture of movie and gameplay elements to tell a story and involve the player in its outcome.
A showcase for the then-nascent CD-ROM format, FMV games as they were fondly called were often not held in the highest esteem in terms of gameplay and variety. They tended to be linear narrative affairs that placed pizzazz over substance and the games suffered because of it. To be certain, these were not games in the traditional sense. Rarely was there any sort of combat or variety in setup and even rarer still was the need to consult websites like I Want Cheats because there wasn’t any way to really cheat these games aside from knowing what choices to make and when.
But that doesn’t mean some of them weren’t standouts. Take those mentioned above, add in Myst and Return to Zork, among others, and you have a genre that did more than just capture a film’s basic skeleton and put it into a video game. You have puzzle elements, strong narratives, and a need to pay attention to what you’re doing akin to a platforming game. Put the rat in your pocket in Return to Zork. Watch what happens.
Well, it seems this stalwart of the 1990s video gaming scene will be making a comeback if indie efforts are any guidepost Coming on the back of the recent re-release of the aforementioned Sega CD classic Night Trap, indie devs behind the games “Her Story,” “The Bunker,” and “The Late Shift”is seeking to further blur the lines between Hollywood-style movies and video games.
In an interview with Variety, Tom Zito, of Digital Pictures, said: “The real idea behind it was, how do you make television interactive? How do you put programming on television that allows people to interact with what they’re seeing on TV? From our standpoint, the technology was allowing us to deliver to the consumer a new type of TV.”
Initially conceived as a game for Hasbro’s canceled VHS-based Control Vision home console, Night Trap instead made its way to the new CD-ROM format and found a home on the Sega CD, a system desperate for games to show off what CDs could do that cartridge could not.
One of the main drawbacks of FMV games was that being based in a video medium, the final effort was quite fixed and the player had little impact aside from making decisions.
Zito describes it best when he references FMV games as being like a beautiful roll of wallpaper, “Let’s assume you have these beautifully printed images on a roll of wallpaper and you roll that paper from the top to the bottom and then you have in the foreground some kinds of elements that you can move around on top of the wallpaper. The problem with FMV games, fundamentally, if you were limited to that piece of wallpaper. The player couldn’t go anywhere they wanted to go in that environment.”
But as the equipment to capture video and place it into a digital format has become cheaper, and as indie outlets like Steam and the various console channels have become more popular, making new FMV games in the indie scene is increasingly a more viable proposition than ever before. We expect to see more such creations that blur the lines between film and game in the future.