Welcome back to Shack Chat, our Friday feature where the Shack Staff opines on a subject related to video games, then invites our Chatty community to weigh in. This recurring feature offers the staff an opportunity to learn more about our gaming tastes and invite you, our readership, into the discussion.
This week's topic arose from a discussion the Shacknews staff had off the cuff. FMV is less a genre, more an art style that can be applied to any genre, but is most commonly associated with point-and-click adventure adventures. For fun, we decided to organize our answers chronologically according to release. Each entry is accompanied by a video of gameplay so you can see how much FMV changed--or didn't--as technology evolved.
Have fun reading the entries, and be sure to respond to our picks and share your own in the Chatty comments below.
Question: What’s your favorite FMV game?
Dragon's Lair (1983) - Ozzie Mejia, Senior Editor
I'll be honest, I haven't played a lot of FMV games, but one of the few that I remember is this arcade classic. Yes, I remember being hypnotized by the gorgeous Don Bluth animation that played out in Dragon's Lair, which looked much more like a Saturday morning cartoon than an arcade game. And just imagine impressionable young me wanting to see more of the story play out as I pumped in about… oh, I don't know… about $20 worth of quarters into the machine. It was worth it to watch Dirk the Daring get killed over and over in more and more hilarious fashion. The animation still holds up, even if this game's quarter-munching business model doesn't.
Mad Dog McCree (1990) - Blake Morse, Rootin’ Tootin’ Cowpoke
If you took the world’s worst spaghetti western script and gave it to a local community college theater troop to produce you’d probably end up with something similar to Mad Dog McCree. It’s your standard stranger rolls into town and saves the day cowboy story.but the acting is just flat-out godawful. The prospector looks like a sunburnt Michael McDonald that would be just as likely to bust out a banjo rendition of Taking it to the Streets as he would to mine for gold.
But when I think FMV games this is always the first one that comes to mind. It’s corny, timing a shot properly was almost impossible, but dang if it just ain’t chock full of enough nostalgia to make me forgive all its shortcomings.
Zombie Dinos (1992) - Greg Burke, Lives in the mines
For FMV games one system comes to mind. The Philips CD-i. My Dad had purchased one, and the games were pretty much all FMV type games. And although none we really good, they sure were memorable. One called Zombie Dinos, which featured a puppet named Dexter the Dineoroid, and voiced by Cam Clarke, who’s best known for being Leonardo in the 80’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoons. The game involved you traveling around a map and answering various questions about Dinosaurs from different eras. The funny thing is the game was particularly hard with it’s questions, the only era i ever got any questions right were the Jurassic era. The game certainly stuck in the mind for years due to it over the top acting and hard dinosaur questions.
Night Trap (Oct. 1992) - Kevin S. Tucker, The Implication
I've never actually played an FMV game that I remember, but I'm pretty keen on video game history, and Night Trap is a title that has always stuck out in my mind. It's wrapped up in that whole 1990s controversy in entertainment, where bureaucrats and politicians were trying to effectively censor "violent" video games and vulgar music. Along with the first Mortal Kombat, this game and the furor surrounding violent or realistic games eventually spawned the ESRB.
One of the things I like about seeing Night Trap in action is that it's very much of its time. If I had found a chance to play it around the time of its release, it very likely would have been on the Sega CD, which is a total throwback in itself. It's so campy, too — it makes you wonder what the hell people were thinking getting so offended by it. Was this the future of games? Realistic full-motion video with implied violence and B-movie horror tropes? Safe to say those folks would probably soil their shorts if they played something like Resident Evil 7 in VR.
Gabriel Knight 2 (Jan. 1995) -David L. Craddock, Longreads Editor
The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery is my favorite FMV game, and I submit that it may be the best of its kind. It’s a point-and-click adventure crafted with the perfect storm of solid writing, good-to-strong acting, and technology that managed to surpass the charm and warmth of the original GK’s pixel art.
Commonly known as GK2, The Beast Within was a manifestation of developer/publisher Sierra’s priorities at the time. Jane Jensen, series creator and lead writer, received word from co-founder Ken Williams that the company’s adventure games would shift from pixels to full-motion video. Rather than hedge her bets on the new tech, Jensen went all-out, writing a staggering 600-page script and getting involved with casting.
In the 1990s, FMV games were infamous for terrible writing, even worse acting, and cheap set design. That was by necessity: Video games had not yet matured into multibillion-dollar productions. GK2 proved controversial to fans, but not because of its visual style. Whereas older titles had used a complex visual interface of verbs to carry out actions such as Walk, Talk, and Open, GK2 (as well as Phantasmagoria) incorporated the “smart cursor,” which would automatically perform the player’s desired action based on context: click on the ground to walk, click on an item to examine or retrieve it, and so on.
Jensen had to incorporate the smart cursor; the directive was given to her. Even so, it ended up being the right choice. The game still contained its share of brain-bending puzzles, but the smart cursor streamlined the verb-based interface so players could concentrate on those puzzles as well as the story, which unfolded over a then-unprecedented six CD-ROMs.
GK2’s visuals looked a tad grainy then, and they look even worse now, but the game still holds up. I’ll never forget the characters, nor my first time playing through the first video game that (mostly) felt like a Hollywood blockbuster.
Phantasmagoria (Aug. 1995) - Asif Khan, Doer of things for Shacknews
One thing that I absolutely love about the FMV genre is campy performance acting, and Phantasmagoria has some of the absolute best (terrible) actors. The game is full of awful ways for the protagonist to die, and toed the line of a Cinemax Adult film with the quality of its script. It was actually a fun game to play, if you were able to look past the awfulness.
Total Distortion (Nov. 1995) - Brittany Vincent, Senior Editor
Thank you for your service, Pop Rocket, and for bringing us the greatest "game over" tune you could ever have possibly gifted the world with. Thought you were hot. Guess what? You're not. You are dead, dead, dead. Maybe it's worth dying over and over just to experience this tune over and over. I could play this game for hours. In fact, I might just do that whenever I have some free time, possibly when I'm 60.
The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker (May 2017) - Josh Hawkins, Calculated Gamer Guy
With over 1600 full motion videos included in the game, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker sees players take on the role of a psychiatrist who must solve the murder of the recently deceased Doctor Dekker, all while treating his strange patients along the way. The game features a unique text input system, which allows you to ask questions freely of the patients.
What’s most intriguing about The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, though, is the game’s very unique replayability. Each playthrough sees a random murder chosen, which means you can play through the game several times and experience different paths and outcomes. The game also includes some heavy Lovecraftian themes, which I’m a huge fan of seeing more of in video games.
The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker might not be one of the classic FMV games like Night Trap, but it’s still definitely a title worth exploring and experiencing thanks to the multiple endings and haunting soundtrack. If you’re looking for a slow burn mystery with tons of underlying themes, then this is a game you’ll want to experience for yourself.
Super Seducer 2 (Oct. 2018) - Chris Jarrard, Probably wouldn’t fit on a single CD-ROM
While it may not have the rich history of the titles my colleagues have chosen, Super Seducer 2 is my favorite FMV game. In it, you are tasked with talking you way into sexy times with a variety of people using multiple choice menus. The writing is a mixture of crass with a slight hint of clever and you are just as likely to have more fun failing than you do “winning.”
The actors in the game give generally strong performances, particularly the main guy. While many parts of the game can feel sleazy in today’s climate, it avoids being cruel to its subjects. I’d like to think that anyone could enjoy trying to pick up a hot lady when the choices you are offered are to compliment her outfit or give her a live raccoon.
Super Seducer 2 also gets bonus points for being playable without having to hear the constant whizzing of a CD-ROM drive.
Agree with our picks? Disagree? Agree to disagree? Chime in in the Chatty below.
David Craddock posted a new article, Shack Chat: What's Your Favorite FMV Game?
Back in the day, that Black Dahlia Murder adventure game with Dennis Hopper and occult nazis.
But I’ve had Sony’s new Erica in the back of my mind since it’s very creepy announcement. I’m going to pick it up and give it a go before Halloween rolls around. It looks pretty twisted and with good branching.