The Return of FMV Games

There’s a time and place for everything and it’s not unusual to see a brilliant idea flop because the public just isn’t ready for it. FMV, or Full Motion Video, games are games that use live action videos in place of conventional graphics. They had a brief run in the early to mid-nineties before disappearing; that is until their recent resurgence over the last few years. At the time using videos was seen as a cheaper alternative to producing ugly looking sprites. However, while the games may have looked better they were less interactive and back in gaming’s infancy this was a big problem. Over the last two to three years though we have seen a new class of developers attempting to revive the FMV genre and personally I love their work.

As previously mentioned the lack of interactivity was a big problem for the original run of FMV games. Titles like Mad Dog McCree and the “infamous” Night Trap were competing for attention against classics such as Street Fighter 2, Mario Kart and Mortal Kombat. This was also occurring during the Sega-Nintendo console war when the two giants were busy putting on their best displays. So FMV existed as a niche genre for a time; unable to compete against established franchises and new gameplay innovations. Most titles were published on Sega consoles, primarily the Sega CD, and the decline of the company also helped to end this style of game making.

Fortunately, “What is dead may never die but rises again, harder and stronger.” There have been a few examples of FMV games over the years but nothing particularly noteworthy until about 2009. At this time, Digital Ad agency Silktricky produced The Outbreak, a free to play zombie survival FMV. I highly recommend trying it and provided a link for those so inclined. While it may seem like a simple, perhaps overdone, zombie story The Outbreak is important as it shows a different type of developer taking an interest in video games.

 

The Bunker released in 2016 to a fair bit of buzz and some mixed, but generally positive, reviews. The game tells the story of one man living in a fallout bunker; the last survivor in fact. This man goes about his daily routine until one day an alarm begins to sound and he has to break from the one thing keeping him sane in order to find out what it means. While that’s all well and good the truly interesting thing about The Bunker is that is wasn’t produced by a game studio. It was produced by Splendy a company currently working on six different films. The Bunker is their only game to date and while they do acknowledge that it is a game; the marketing for it really pushes its cinematic nature. This leads me to conclude that the major players behind the FMV revival are in fact the film industry as opposed to the game industry.

The Late Shift released this year by a company called Ctrl Video was billed, by them, as “The World’s First Cinematic Interactive Movie” and indeed you won’t find the word “Game” in their marketing. Despite their apparent desire to distance themselves from video games The Late Shift is an excellent story with surprising production values and a fairly large cast of characters. It follows Matt; a night parking lot attendant who finds himself caught up in a plot to steal a valuable artifact. Things quickly spiral out of control leading to one of seven endings depending on the players choices. With an estimated budget of 1.5 million, the game (sorry guys that’s what it is) is certainly impressive and a decent showing of what can be done in the right hands.

While the film industry may be making the most noticeable push when it comes to FMV games that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones putting them out. As one would expect more than a couple of indie developers have stepped up to create their own FMV games. Her Story, released in 2015, is a game in which you watch a series of interviews the police conducted with a young woman about a missing man. The gameplay involved typing keywords into a police database in order to unlock more clips as you attempt to piece together what really happened. It’s simple, lovingly crafted and enthralling as seemingly innocent clips take on a new context as you learn more over time.

The Infectious Madness of Dr. Dekkar, also released this year, operates on a similar basis. You play as someone investigating the death of the psychiatrist Dr. Dekkar by speaking with his patients. Players type questions which are then answered by the patients. The game searches for keywords in your questions in a similar fashion as Her Story. In both of these games we see one of the biggest advantages of live action video; people can emote properly. L.A Noire was considered amazing for its use of Mo Cap to capture realistic facial expressions but even that doesn’t compare to actual human faces.

In addition to the emotional performances that actual actors can bring to a game FMV has a few other benefits. Some would argue that having actual humans increases immersion compared to  traditional 2 or 3d art. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the best way to provoke an emotional response I will say that it can be an amazing tool for connecting with an audience. Another potential benefit is cost, Dr. Dekkar features over 1600 responses and about seven hours of film; it was made for under 3000 pounds. Anyone with a camera and a bit of programming knowledge could potentially create an FMV and that opens up so many possibilities. The indie market is full of unique experiences that we would never see in the Triple A gaming market and a large part of that is due to how much easier it is to create a 3d platformer compared to the latest open world action adventure title. FMV could potentially lower the barriers to entry even further allowing for more developers to tell different stories. At the end of the day it just means more games for us.

Lastly, when there is blood in the water it draws sharks and in this case one of the biggest sharks of them all has come sniffing around. Ubisoft and Elijah Woods oddly enough announced Transference at E3 this year. An upcoming FMV VR title for PSVR that apparently revolves around uploading ideas or memories from one person’s brain into another’s. With the quote “A psychological thriller that merges movies with games” it’s readily apparent that Ubisoft is taking a similar stance to the film companies. I could write an entire article on how this is just another example of companies watering down games to maximize profits by appealing to a wider audience. However, I’ll spare you the obvious and admit that a virtual reality FMV game does sound pretty cool.

FMV games have had an interesting history from niche title to forgotten relic to modern spectacle. At present, there are a number of good titles from a variety of developers and it would seem as though more are on the horizon. While it’s hard to say what this will mean for the genre as a whole it would appear as if it’s thriving; at least for the next few years. Few other genres are so accessible as to allow for nearly anyone to create a game yet still valuable enough that companies are willing to sink huge sums of money into them. FMV games currently hold an interesting, if not unique, position in the gaming world and I can’t wait to see what happens next.