Interactive games-movies – what is this genre?

Talk about big-budget AAA games turning into movies has been going on for a long time. This trend is opposed by another – the fashion for Dark Souls and all sorts of retro platformers with a high difficulty bar. In fact, games do not simplify or overcomplicate things out of nowhere – publishers are sensitive to the needs of the audience. There has always been a demand for games that are close to films. Let’s trace their history from the 1980s to the present day and mention noteworthy projects, including future ones.

Movie games on LaserDisc
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, slot machines were in a strong position in the industry. It was in the arcade halls that a new storage medium for games, LaserDisc, appeared. Laserdisc is the optical disc, the grandfather of the DVD. Its diameter is 30 cm, like a gramophone record. On a laserdisc, you could record a Hollywood movie or … an interactive cartoon like Dragon’s Lair (1983).

Dragon’s Lair holds the title of the most famous LaserDisc arcade game. It was created by Disney native Don Bluth, later director of the cartoons All Dogs Go to Heaven and Anastasia. Visitors to the arcade halls of Dragon’s Lair were attracted by first-class animation. In the story, the knight Dirk rescued Princess Daphne from a castle full of dangers. The gamer was required to pull the stick and press the button at the right time to help Dirk out. Depending on the action, timely or late, the machine showed different scenes. The deaths of the hero are especially comical here, fans collect them in almanacs.

A viewing session of Dragon’s Lair cost 50 cents instead of the standard 25 cents. Visitors weren’t put off by the double price. The change cheerfully poured into the coin acceptor, giving Dirk an extra heel of lives. The success of Dragon’s Lair sparked developer interest in the new genre.

Bluth himself later drew Space Ace (1984), similar to Dragon’s Lair, only in space. In addition, it is distinguished by the choice of difficulty level.

On the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean, in Japan, anime was driven onto laserdisc. Take Road Blaster (1985), an interactive film about an avenging driver chasing biker gangsters. The Japanese Data East pulled the plot and setting from George Miller’s Mad Max.

Mention deserves Mad Dog McCree (1990), a virtual shooting range in the scenery of a western. Here we are not talking about a cartoon, but about pre-filmed pieces of video with “live” actors. The controller was a light gun.

FMV: cinema instead of gameplay
The aforementioned Mad Dog McCree is a representative of the so-called FMV games. FMV stands for Full Motion Video. This refers to pre-recorded videos with real actors or pre-rendered scenery, on which computer graphics are “layered” in the process.

The surge in popularity of FMV games in the first half of the 1990s is related to an interesting fact. The fact is that the CD-ROM came to the gaming industry when it was not yet ready for this, holding on to cartridges and floppy disks. The population already had set-top boxes and computers with CD drives, but there was no content for them. The empty space was taken by FMV games. We list the notable projects of that time.

In Night Trap (1992), you babysit teenagers vacationing in a mansion. There are several cameras in front of you – switch and activate traps so that teenagers are not harmed by, um, vampires. Similar uncomplicated gameplay is implemented in Double Switch (1993). Night Trap contains scenes of violence. She, along with Mortal Kombat, forced American officials to create an ESRB rating system so that parents know exactly what they are buying for their children.

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Sewer Shark (1992). Rail shooter in a post-apocalyptic pre-rendered environment. The goal is to exterminate the monsters in the sewer tunnels.
Star Wars: Rebel Assault (1993). Also a rail shooter like Sewer Shark with digitized footage from the original Star Wars trilogy. They offer to play, of course, as a rebel pilot.
Voyeur (1993). In front of you is a mansion, as in Night Trap, but from a neighboring house you peep what is happening in the rooms behind each of the windows. The developers borrowed the idea from the film Rear Window (1954) by Alfred Hitchcock.
Prize Fighter (1993). Black and white boxing from the first person. Of the sports FMV games of that period, one can also recall basketball in the 1-on-1 format Slam City with Scottie Pippen (1994).
Cyberia (1994). A mixture of clumsy adventure and virtual shooting range with backdrops that were impressive at the time.
Fahrenheit (1995). FMV project of a rare subgenre – in front of you is a firefighter simulator.
Phantasmagoria (1995). One of the high-profile and scandalous projects from Full Motion Video. In the center of the plot is the writer Adrian Delaney, who works in the horror genre. Together with her husband, she lives in a gloomy castle in New England (northeastern United States). Things go awry when a demon inhabits her husband… Phantasmagoria is remembered for its abundance of scenery and unusually brutal murder scenes. The developers shot so much video material that instead of one CD, they had to use seven – for the number of chapters.
The X-Files Game (1998) moves into the third season of The X-Files. Mulder and Scully are missing, and it’s up to a young FBI agent to find them.
In the second half of the 1990s, FMV games could no longer compete on equal terms with projects with 3D graphics. Filming was expensive, and the result, compared to some Shenmue, Omikron: The Nomad Soul and Outcast, looked miserable. FMV-adventures and shooters got a bad reputation due to low resolution and compression artifacts. Games on early CD-driven consoles were further let down by their limited color palette. As a result, interactive films practically disappeared from stores for several years.

David Cage Ideas
The revival of the genre is due to David Cage, the French developer and founder of Quantic Dream. His works have a truly cinematic scale and charm, and they are sold in millions of copies – not an arthouse level, but blockbusters. The Frenchman himself writes scripts and manages production.

David Cage’s first interactive film project was Fahrenheit (2005), known in North America as Indigo Prophecy. The Frenchman simplified the controls and took advantage of the division of the frame into fragments, as in comics. Cage did not pursue variability, the choice in Fahrenheit affects whether you see additional episodes or not.

Heavy Rain (2010) is praised for its interesting plot. The game has become a symbol of PS3, like the Uncharted series and The Last of Us. And the object of ridicule from the “hardcore” audience. Heavy Rain spawned the “Press X to Jason” meme (Jason is the protagonist’s son who dies at the beginning of the game), indicating the dominance of QTE.

Beyond: Two Souls (2013) received less of a standing ovation because it moved further away from games and into movies. The script seemed to the press not as catchy as in Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit. But what pleased Beyond: Two Souls, so it’s graphics and facial expressions. On the old PS3, she looked great.

Finally, in 2018, Cage and Quantic Dream released Detroit: Become Human, which is about the plight of androids (slaves and workers) in the not-too-distant future. The development of the story is influenced by small actions and major decisions, the endings are a whole car, but they sometimes differ from each other in minor details.

Game Detroit: Become Human (PS4)

Cage is currently working on Star Wars: Eclipse. Oddly enough, this is an action game, not an interactive movie.

Sam Barlow’s experiments
British Sam Barlow is one of the creators of Silent Hill: Origins (2007) and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (2009). In the 2010s, he plunged into indie development.

Barlow caught the attention of the audience with the interactive film Her Story (2015). You are required to enter key queries on the police computer, as a result you get several videos of the interrogation of a woman. Her husband is missing, your task is to sort out the case. The interviews are cut into small pieces, the videos do not drop out in chronological order, it is necessary to restore the sequence, write out the keywords and check them.

Her Story was followed by Telling Lies (2019). The concept is the same, there are four heroes. You watch video calls between them and videos from hidden cameras. The story is not stupid – about the introduction of an FBI agent into a group of environmental activists.

Barlow’s interactive films look like arthouse compared to Cage’s projects. Nevertheless, trying at least one of them, Her Story or Telling Lies, is definitely worth it.

What’s on the horizon
It is impossible to write in detail about all the notable studios involved in interactive films within the framework of one material. Some of them we have taken a place in the section about future releases.

The Centennial Case: A Shijima Story (premiering May 12, 2022). A story about a writer working in the detective genre. Together with her, you will solve the murders committed in three eras: in 1922, 1972 and 2022.

The Quarry (June 10, 2022). Horror about children’s camp leaders and their farewell party – not as fun as expected. The Quarry is run by Supermassive Games, best known for its interactive movie Until Dawn (2015). As in the old hit, in the new game, any of the characters can die due to a wrong choice or a failed QTE.

Until Dawn – PlayStation Hits (PS4) 1 199 *
Immortality (summer 2022). Sam Barlow’s next project is about the fictional actress Marissa Marcel, the star of three unreleased films. This time you will not get information through keywords. Get ready to click on objects on the screen.
The Dark Pictures: The Devil in Me (2022). The fourth installment in the The Dark Pictures horror series by Supermassive. After a ghost ship, an abandoned city and an underground temple, the British studio will frighten with a copy of the Murder Castle, the hotel where the American maniac Henry Holmes tortured and killed guests at the end of the 19th century.

The Wolf Among Us 2: A Telltale Series (2023). Telltale Studio organized the production line of interactive series. Among the recognizable – The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. Although the decisions made in some episodes influenced the subsequent ones, in reality it all turned into an illusion of choice. Telltale series pretended to be adventure games, but gamers did not really believe in such a genre definition due to the small number of puzzles and the emphasis on QTE. In 2018, Telltale suffered a collapse, first laying off several hundred employees, and then completely closed. The new Telltale was founded by other investors. They bought the brands owned by the former studio and hired some of its former employees. The press and gamers will judge the revived Telltale on the second season of The Wolf Among Us, based on the Fables comic.
Wales Interactive games. The British publisher has produced some good interactive films in recent years: The Bunker, Late Shift, The Complex. Now this is his main specialization. It will be interesting to see what projects Wales Interactive will expand its catalog with.
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Watching an interactive movie is more than just going to the movies. Even in those representatives of the genre where the gameplay is utterly constrained, you somehow influence what is happening. Over the past 40 years, the replay value of interactive films has increased, but they also cost more to produce. Outright empty shells are much less common than in the 1990s, and gamers are showing undisguised interest in the releases of Quantic Dream and Supermassive.