Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In defence of FMV games – PART 3

Excuse the rushed nature of this, but I wanted this final entry done before Derboo commences his week-long Koreathon. Following on from part 1 and part 2, I conclude my ludicrous attempt to examine every FMV game ever. Unsurprisingly it turns out I’ve barely scratched the surface. But it gives me an excuse to use more of FMV-meister Tom Zito’s semi-erotic photography (it would be fully erotic, but I’m under strict orders to censor my entries to be work safe). Tom was of course the head of Digital Pictures, which made a lot of console FMV titles, all of which I enjoyed tremendously. Tom, if you’re reading this, we of HG101 can be your friends. But only if you want us to.

Starblade (3DO)
Rails-shooter featuring polygon graphics, ported from an early 1990s arcade game. I seem to recall reading somewhere, debate regarding the nature of the visuals: whether pre-rendered streaming FMV footage, or real-time generated polygons. Taken from an NTSC-uk topic...
Siland: Silpheed on the MCD is an odd one, it's not strictly playing video in the background, but yet, nor is it playing realtime 3d, it's sort of streaming poly co-ords from the disc. Basically the bulk of the 3d calculations have been precalced, and then are streamed from CD and rendered in the frame buffer as it goes. Isn't there still some argument over how it is done, or has the question been answered conclusively? Personally I think it is simply streamed video of CG that was originally rendered using the MCD's colour palette to avoid artefacts, how you describe it being done is much cooler though.
Rebelli0n: Rendering the video using the MD colour palette wouldn't avoid artefacts, as compression artefacts are independent from the palette used , they are result of the reduction of information in the video, with a lossy codec. However, it could be argued it's using some form of lossless compression, that because it's all flatshaded, and low colour it maybe is efficient/low bandwidth enough to be viable on the MCD. On the flip side, You could argue that the polygon method is itself a form of video compression. But, what ever it is, you can’t go far wrong thinking of it as video really, it’s only the people who think it's a shining example of why the MCD is a misunderstood 3d powerhouse who are wrong.
Either way, it’s available for the Sega CD, with enhanced versions on the PS1 and 3DO.
SCORE: ***

Supreme Warrior
I’ll admit I downloaded this with the intention of playing it on my Xbox emulators. Not having the instructions, I could never work out how to actually fights – various icons pop up, implying I need to push a button, but I soon died and saw Game Over. Still, this is 2-disc game and gets super bonus points for having both English and Cantonese dubbing (a disc for each). There doesn’t seem to be subtitles for the Cantonese version, but it sure does remind me of those old subtitled Hong Kong films I used to watch as a kid.
Hadleyb asked:
For anyone that's ever played Supreme Warrior - ever seen the scene where the fire boss is in a paddling pool with a rubber ducky? I triggered it once by mistake and have never got it since or found anything online about it. One of my favourite FMV games ever for sure.
SCORE: ***

Technically impressive, since they managed to fit a lot of high-quality footage onto just one disc. Over-reliance on difficult QTEs and limited lives let it down slightly, but it’s a great yarn the first time through. You control a guy’s mind via remote control and have to help him survive various goons, from skateboarding, to an aeroplane, to a grizzly bear in the woods. This has a lot of diversity!
SCORE: ****

Voyeur (CDi)
Loading this up presents you with a keycode entry screen – designed to prevent minors from playing it. And with fairly good reason: there’s several scenes showing young women in sexy lingerie (including one featuring a lesbian kiss), scenes of bondage and S+M, plus overtones of incest and other questionable things. Though it’s nothing more than you’d find in an episode of CSI, or such like. You sit in an apartment and, at your leisure, watch the Reed family in their mansion, using a zoom video camera. You can also look for clues through open windows, reading computer screens and memos left in the open. The object is to find out who wants to betray future president Reed Hawke and who he will kill, so as to warn the family or inform the police. It’s actually a very clever thriller which, much like Johnny Rock, manages to achieve more with its limited FMV footage than Heavy Rain managed with its dynamic engine. There is some clever randomisation as to which family member you should warn, ensuring it plays differently each time.
SCORE: *****

Thunder in Paradise (CDi)
This is a two-disc set, with the second disc containing an entire episode of Thunder in Paradise, an achingly bad rip-off of Nightrider, set in a military speed-boat, complete with 1980s-styled guitar-riffing song. This is another amazing title which epitomises a lot of what I like in FMV games. Live-action C-grade actors (Hulk Hogan!) making idiots of themselves, hi-resolution and top quality video footage (it requires the CDi video card), fast-paced blasting action and an element diversity in that, depending on what you do in earlier chapters, you take control of different characters later on. It’s not a huge change, but the slight alterations to later levels keeps things interesting and encourages a repeat playthrough. The story involves Hulk Hogan’s thoughts being copied and used in a military cyborg-human which can turn invisible, which then runs amok, prompting them to jump in their speedboat, put neural transmitters on, and shoot random enemies with a “soft gun” on a tropical island. It’s full of other amazingly ridiculous things – at one point you can access two music videos in-game. One features nothing but dozens of bikini clad women running around an island, while another features quick-edited shots of Hulk Hogan’s head alongside shots of his boat, timed to ripping guitar music. What more could you want in a game?
SCORE: *****

The high-score is because this is actually great fun with other players. It’s not deep, or worthwhile, it’s just silly fun. It’s fun for the same reason that Buzz and other gameshow titles are fun – the enjoyment is dependant on other people and actually has little to do with the game itself.
SCORE: ****

Earth Command
Quite a decent world strategy sim: you’re in charge of the planet and you can decide everything, from which countries are allowed guns to how much tax others must pay and what kind of pollution laws there are. I don’t think it works quite as well in practice as it sounds (when I banned guns in certain South American countries, there was suddenly a rise in armed militants), but it’s a neat and very ambitious idea. Plenty of FMV too.
SCORE: ****

Lost Eden
Not really so much FMV, this is more of a graphic adventure, featuring talking dinosaurs in some fantasy land. My CDi’s memory died on me so I never got very far. I have no idea how good it is – could be an interesting slow-burning adventure. One for HG101 to cover perhaps?
SCORE: n/a

Snow Job (3DO)
Technically very accomplished FMV game, which is a lot of fun and unfortunately not very well known. Predating the Casebook games (see below), there are similarities between the two in terms of the 3D photo-realistic environments.
In Snow Job you play ex-cop Jock, who has to head to New York to investigate your ex-lover Lara and the fact that she might be about to get murdered. You meet up with old cop buddies, hacker dudes, and brush shoulders with gun carrying criminals, all over the course of a week, trying to solve the mystery before time runs out. And if you dawdle, you may wake up one morning to find yourself staring down the barrel of a gun. In a way Snow Job does pretty much everything Heavy Rain does, and more, albeit without QTEs and generally a much better written story. The copy-buddy dialogue is quite good for a start. Gameplay mainly involves visiting areas and looking for clues via the panoramic viewfinder. One major aspect involves solving a daily crossword puzzle found in the newspapers which you have to buy – the criminals are communicating via the newspaper, and solving it each day grants you access to their computer server.
There’s also a 3D maze section, and dialogue options. The criticism is that with such ambitious scope, it’s also quite difficult, and missing a single clue early in the game could lead to game over later on. Otherwise it is excellent, and arguably one of the best games the genre has to offer in English.
SCORE: *****

the FEAR – PS2
This game comes on 4 DVDs, which should give an idea of how much high-quality video footage is contained within. I actually wrote a review of this for NTSC-uk. Here’s sample:
A bevy of young, slim women, all aged between eighteen and twenty-five, along with a few men, end up going to a giant mansion with a disturbing and troubled history, all with the intention of making some films. The doors shut, they’re trapped inside, and slowly one by one they start getting killed in increasingly gruesome ways. Eventually it’s left to one man to save the day, rescue the woman, and make it out alive in order to enjoy his reward. The FEAR gives the player direct control of movement within the environment. Addressed by the NPCs only as ‘Mr Camera’, everything is viewed in first person with control being very much like old dungeon crawlers such as Wizardry, sans the random battles. Every angle of the house has been painstakingly filmed along with close-up views of important areas. Movement is done in great big strides, with ninety-degree-angled turns. Each and every step having been filmed in order to maintain coherence and fluidity. At each ‘standing zone’, the player can choose to get a closer look at and examine detailed areas, for clues or valuable items such as keys. There are a grand total of 1251 pre-recorded cut scenes to search for that, once viewed, can be watched again at the player’s leisure via a “Specials” menu. While there is fun to be had from playing through the game and watching the cinemas, a great deal of the time the player will be left wandering the haunted corridors, bored and waiting for the next cut scene to kick in. Which is a shame, since had it been translated it would have been the pinnacle of FMV gaming.
SCORE: ****


Crime Patrol / CP II: Drug Wars

Quick Draw Show Down (by CJ Iwakura)
This is among the hardest FMV games ever made. You need split-second timing for the expert levels. You can't pull the gun from the holster until the icon says so, and the expert mode is ridiculously strict. The 'boss' is a real-life quickdraw expert, and he is FAST. (Also, the villagers run out and loot his body when you win!)

The Last Bounty Hunter (by CJ Iwakura)
Far as I know, this was the 'last' ALG game. It's like an extended Mad Dog McCree game, and really good(and difficult). I never got to play it until it got a DVD release(better than nothing).

Braindead 13
Animated sci-fi FMV-esque game, it is absolutely hilarious. A slacker electronics repair guy goes to a haunted mansion to fix a mad scientist's global domination machine, and gets assailed by his crazy variety of monsters and mansion traps. A must play.
"You're not one of those funky-lookin' mad scientist guys bent on takin' over the WORLD are ya?"
"How did you know?"
"Man, I've played a LOT of video games, and I KNOW an average-"

Power Rangers (by CJ Iwakura)
Should also mention the Power Rangers FMV game on the Sega CD. It’s silly, but fun, possibly done by the Masked Rider team. It’s a quicker nostalgia trip than watching the episodes again, that’s for sure.

Escape from Cyber City (by anonymous)
Ever heard of Escape from Cyber City? It was an animated FMV game for the CD-i and was quite good, if I remember correctly. I ask because I actually owned it as a kid (I was unfortunate enough to actually have a CD-i instead of a REAL game console), and nobody else seems to have ever heard of it. YOUTUBE LINK.

Gabriel Knight
Tex Murphy
I’ve not played any of these three, but they appear to be quite accomplished titles for the PC, and each has a rather meaty feature on HG101. Click the links in the names for more. Otherwise, Sean Lane posted the following in the comments:
The only games I actually liked of these amount to four. Gabriel Knight 2 and the last three Tex Murphy games. They all still have that B movies quality feel, but something about the characters really makes them believable or not as "over-the-top" as many FMV games tend to be. I especially like the way the Tex Murphy series handled the acting and presentation, with each sequel toping the last in seriousness, believability, humor, writing, and performance. But those games of course play like adventure games,and you get the added benefit of the characters thinking or talking between movie sequences, creating a much stronger bond than an on-the-rails FMV game or one filled with a ton of QTEs.

O Story (PS2)
Very early PS2 release, it’s kinda described as an FMV dating-sim. Taken from Wikipedia: The player takes the role of a young man who dies in a motorcycle accident. He is sent back to earth as a ghost by Ai, the angel of love, who tells him that he may revive if he gains the love of a girl named Lina within six days. There’s a fairly good GameSpot review.

428: Fusa Sareta Shibuya de
The above video is really good, despite the annoying advert at the start. Famitsu scored this a perfect 40/40. Taken from Wikipedia:
“428: Fusa Sareta Shibuya de is a visual novel set in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo where the narrative is presented using a combination of scrolling text, live action stills and video sequences. It’s an adventure game where players take part in events from the perspectives of multiple protagonists, all acting in parallel with no knowledge of each other. Set in the modern Japanese city of Shibuya, Tokyo, the characters are involved in a mystery that cannot be solved without their interactions, and the plot is advanced by following clues found within the game's text and accompanying video sequences and making decisions on which path each protagonist should follow.”
Unsurprisingly we will never, ever see this in the west. Ever. Which I find rather saddening. Available on Wii, PS3 and PSP.

Imabikiso (忌火起草)
Another visual novel by Chunsoft, featuring FMV clips. A demo was available on PSN but is not anymore. Available for PS3 and Wii. Very little info available online. Halverson’s PLAY magazine did a preview, by Casey Loe I think, and he said he’d like to see it in English. Look at the screenshot. How could this not be totally awesome in English?

Casebook series
A cool series of short, photo-realistic FMV games with a 3D viewer model similar to the one in Snow Job, and what would appear to be some fun little detective stories. Best of all, these are download titles selling for $5 each (well, they are quite short). I would love to see these on one of the current three consoles – I contacted the team asking if they had such plans, but didn’t hear back from them. It’s developed by a small team in New Zealand. A demo is available, but I had trouble downloading it – it went very slowly. The official website.

It’s a bit disappointing to end this three-parter with what is, comparatively, a mediocre title, but it’s the latest in the genre to see release (apart from the Casebook titles – though they’re PC only), and it’s cheap. Two dollars. That’s two hundred pennies, or cents, or whatever you call them. That’s not a lot of money. Here it buys you 15-20 minutes of FMV horror, part choose-your-own adventure, part QTE. The game starts with you waking up in a shed, your hands and feet bound by tape, a masked murderer wandering off into the woods. You need to escape, after which your chased by your assailant and need to avoid him by hiding and running through the woods. After completing it, you unlock various police case files you can read, which flesh out the story. It’s alright. Not amazing, but for $2 a decent download. Mainly it’s worth playing to think to yourself: you know, a full-blown HD FMV game would be pretty rad. The FMV, when played on a PS3, is pretty grainy (the iPhone version might be better?), and some later sections feel repetitive, but if you’ve read this far then you obviously have an interest in the genre. There’s worse ways to spend $2, and hopefully extra sales would encourage the team and other developers to release something more ambitious on consoles.
SCORE ****


We now live in an age where large games can be easily and cheaply downloaded, and we also have the benefit of massive storage media such as Blue-Ray. All of this would allow for cheap distribution of older FMV games, or the creation of modern, high-definition games which are designed around the lessons learned over nearly 30 of FMV game development. The Wii already allows the downloading of some Laserdisc games, albeit with problems due to sloppy porting, but there is so much more that the genre can provide us.

I hope that over the past three entries I’ve convinced you that FMV games do have merit, and can be enjoyable. The question is, would you buy a modern FMV game if it were in HD and had some well crafted gameplay elements? Would you pay $10 to download the Casebook titles on a current gen system, or $10 for the PS1 version of Psychic Detective on PSN?

I personally hope that we start to see a resurgence in FMV games.


  1. Damn there really is alot of FMV games here I was thinking they stopped making them years ago!

    Though you didn't mention which consoles all the games (movies?) were on (I'm guessing they're cdi).

    Oh, 428: Fusa Sareta Shibuya de, I think that was gonna get an english translation at some point, fanmade or official I forget. Personally I'd love to see some of those games (re-)released over here in the UK at some point in the future, some look damn fun!

  2. Interesting article. I really didn't know there were this many FMV games in existence to be honest. That Hulk Hogan one looks like a ton of fun. Maybe I'll see if I can mess around with that one one day.

    Also Braindead 13 had a lot of gorgeous animation but it played almost exactly like Dragon's Lair except for some free roaming and a tiny amount of adventure type elements. I bought that game for PC about a decade ago, finished it, and I think resold it to someone. It had it's merits, but I guess it wasn't exactly my type of game. It sure would have been a blast to work on though.

    Also my ham handed comment was reposted. I should double check my grammar next time.

  3. A game featuring Hulk Hogan on a speed boat fighting cyborgs to cheesy hair metal, dude I am so sold on this one. Thanks for the heads up.

  4. I remember searching the Japanese PSN for a demo of 428, but (at the time I checked,) they didn't have one.

  5. It's apparently also available for the PC, and yes, it is crazy awesome. And not just for the pointless bikini music videos they padded the disc out with.

  6. There's also just about every game released for NEC'S PC-FX console, the king of anime FMV games.

  7. Starblade's original arcade version is available as an unlockable on Tekken 5. Also, it's not an FMV game: it's a real time 3D rail shooter

  8. Cyber City was a port of a limited-release arcade game called "Freedom Fighter." Sort of like Cliff Hanger did with Lupin, FF used footage from the second and Third Galaxy Express 999 movies along with new footage (sort of like another rare Laserdisc game, Taito's Space Cruiser Yamato). The other thing it did was zoom in on the footage so that the player could pan across the screen (similar to LD racing game Star Rider). There's other information on it (and a number of the FMV games mentioned in the earlier blog posts) at the Dragon's Lair Project website at www.dragons-lair-project.com/

  9. Cheers for the additional info guys.

    As for Starblade, even if the arcade version used real-time polygons, the home ports would appear to be FMV.

    Either way, there's a lot of overlap with this genre.

    Anyone had the guts to email Tom Zito about these entries?

  10. You've confused Silpheed and Starblade in your post. To clarify, yes, Starblade on the 3DO uses a giant, game-long FMV for the backgrounds (twice, in fact - one using a normal recording of the arcade game pre-rendered, and a second time rendered from the ground up for the 3DO with texture mapped polygons) and overlaying sprites over the hitboxes.

    Silpheed, however, utilizes FMV backgrounds, and real-time polygons for the ship. this is extremely evident by simply viewing the viewable ram while the game is running, and by checking out the model view option (which lets you rotate the ships in real time, as many early polygon games did).