The compact disc was amazing for gaming. More data, cheap to manufacture with incredible sound compression. The future looked bright. For video game publishers in the early 90’s, this incredible format was the perfect vehicle to show what their cutting edge systems and games could do. This urge to be cutting edge opened the gateway to the flood of FMV games. It’s especially true when we look at systems like the Sega CD and how heavily their marketing campaigns leveraged FMV gaming to promote the capabilities of CD-based gaming.
The real appeal of FMV gaming was being able to place the gamer inside a movie or a TV show, and American Laser Games took this opportunity to make Western, Gangster, Police and Zombie themed titles for most of the early CD-based systems, including the Sega CD.
We’re previously reviewed the Sega Menacer Light Gun for the Mega Drive, along with 3 of its compatible cartridge games. Now we’re looking at the rest of the Menacer-compatible library, consisting mostly of full motion videogames and why FMV games failed.
Sega Menacer compatible CD games
All the FMV titles American Laser Games released for the Sega CD were compatible with the Menacer (with some also compatible with the Sega Mouse and Konami Justifier). Titles like Snatcher on the Sega CD were not compatible with the Menacer and required the Konami Justifer to be used in the shooting sections.
When it comes to FMV gaming, the Sega CD may be the worst play to play these older full motion videogames. As the devices get older, load times can be impacted because the video is consistently streamed from the disc. The video quality of the Sega CD was significantly lower than its competition (3DO, CDi, DOS), the constant disc-access makes the games hard to play and frankly, the Sega CD had SO MUCH MORE going for it.
With the Sega Menacer, it really failed to have the support it needed from Sega. With only 3 cartridge titles released for the lightgun, the American Laser Games actually form the bulk of the library of Menacer compatible games.
Mad Dog McCree + The Lost Gold
Both the first Mad Dog titles were released on the Sega CD and take you deep into the wild west to duel Mad Dog himself.
In the first game, you track the nasty gunslinger through the saloon, sheriff’s lockup and bank with the gameplay occasionally broken by a duel or a challenge as you progress. The Lost Gold was less linear as you choose a guide but still required you to play through all of the missions to reach the end.
Based off an incredibly 90’s high-octane television cop show, you use incredible, brute force to shoot bad guys in the face. There’s no grey areas, no moral or ethic qualms, just you and an itchy trigger finger.
You lose if you shoot the hostages and you can pick which stages per tier you tackle first. That’s the extent of gameplay variation. Out of all the American Laser Games on the Sega CD, this one is the most linear BUT has some incredible effects and stunts to keep you hooked (for a few minutes).
Who Shot Johnny Rock
Johnny Rock is a musician who has been put on ice. As a private investigator working deep in the seedy mobster underground, you need to solve the case of his murder. The bad guys are hot on your tail as you search various locations, find clues and make phone calls to discover who the real killer is.
Zombie shooting on the platform makes sense.. Right? Well, instead of a spooky location, we’re stranded on a desert island full of wacky, tropical zombies. Corpse Killer, similar to Who Shot Johnny Rock, allowed players to navigate the island to find buried treasure, get better ammo, health power ups and chase down the mad scientist releasing the crazed zombies.
Why FMV Games Failed – Dan Laughton
Full motion video (FMV) games mark a point in history where I believe developers lost a sense of what made games fun in the pursuit of realism. We have and always will have an industry that pushes to achieve the unobtainable sense of realism. Technology and its utilization continue to aid us in that pursuit. Whether it’s through sound design or graphical prowess, things are getting better. But I can’t help but feel that why we play games can get lost in this impossible pursuit.
Elements of a fun game
There are integral elements that all games have in some capacity, whether they be explicit or not; the single most important being gameplay. Story, music and graphics all can play their part, but in varying capacities. There are plenty of examples of games throughout any point in gaming history that have no story or barely any yet they’re very highly regarded. Super Metroid, Resogun and Dark Souls are great examples (keeping in mind that the stories exist in the games, but aren’t necessary for enjoyment). Many games have ambient musical tracks that fade into the background as a result of the action or sometimes just rely on sound effects to get you by, so this isn’t a necessity either. Graphics are where we begin to lose focus.
I believe that graphics need to be utilized solely as a means of effective conveyance. What this means is that graphical prowess needs to be sufficient enough to make us feel immersed in the game and know what we’re dealing with. When looking at the previously mentioned Super Metroid and Dark Souls, they are visually different. But I feel that both are similarly effective at being able to immerse you in a game world. Both properly convey environmental changes, different enemies, types of threats and how to interact with each respective world. One is just pixelated due to graphical limitations of the 16 bit era, the other has an expansive 3D world and most importantly, both are really fun to play. Focusing heavily on the gameplay, they needed the graphics to be able to let the player know how they are interacting with their world.
This is effective conveyance; something that many full motion video games just don’t have and a key reason why FMV games failed.
The Sega CD didn’t do FMV gaming many favors
Do FMV games lack engagement?
FMV games have varying degrees of success with how they look. Most of them look pretty decent and they generally improve the newer they are. But where they are more lacking is in their means of engagement with the player. I’ve never felt particularly engaged with an FMV game because they are so heavily based in graphics and the “choose your own adventure style” like in a book, but not gameplay. Some FMV games have quick time events so I remember I’m playing a game, but some have long-winded expositions before playing, making me forget I’m playing a game. It’s nice that every player will experience the game in the same way if they complete it, but there’s very little engagement or skill involved in terms of actually interacting with the game. They’ve always felt like movies with confusing interruptions. This is not an effective conveyance in my mind.
When you look at FMV games the focus seems to be centered on graphics and story, followed by gameplay. Due to the limitations of the style of game, they fundamentally can follow no other format other than some interaction after things are done in the acted out world. Graphics can be a wonderful thing to focus on, but I don’t believe FMV is the way to do it. I think the pursuit for realism always has to be grounded in a proper conveyance for the gameplay. The Last Guardian is a great example of this. The game looks unbelievable in the graphics department, but it was absolutely necessary in order for players to develop a meaningful relationship with Trico. That’s because the movements and emotions of Trico can only be accomplished with modern hardware. FMV games look better than ever, but they still suffer from less-than-engaging gameplay.
So while I appreciate where FMV games tried to go and accomplish, but I still can’t stand them. They were influential with the rise of disc-based gaming, like the controversy in a game like Night Trap, but I still found them boring and unimportant. I understand why people like the genre, it’s all a matter of perspective and what you want out of a gaming experience. Personally, I want to challenge my reflexes with shoot ‘em ups, run ‘n guns and other intense genres. All of these are aspects are where FMV gaming fails. What are your thoughts?