Objection! Whatever Happened To FMV?

Objection! Whatever Happened To FMV?

Remember FMV – the stuff they put on television ads to make your parents buy you a Mega CD? Would you like to see it return, or should it be consigned to the garbage bin of video game history to fester and rot for all eternity? Darren Wells, Editor of OXM Australia has a soft spot for FMV; I want it to be cast into a fiery pit of sulphur until the end of days.

DARREN: I’ve got a confession to make: I have something of a soft spot for FMV in games. Growing up in an era when audiences were invited to believe that a red block on a black background was an intergalactic battleship cruising through the vast expanses of space, the introduction of full-motion video stood out to me for its more realistic representations. Here were people that looked like actual people! They moved, they spoke, they did stuff! All of a sudden, games looked like they could take on the likes of film and TV head-on, and with every title that managed to rope in an actual name-worthy actor, things were gearing up for an intriguing kind of media warfare.

But then, something happened. As FMV evolved from being merely a component in established genres (Under A Killing Moon, Wing Commander III) to a genre unto itself (Quantum Gate, The X-Files Game), it fell out of favour. Audiences realised that what little gameplay was provided was simplistic and repetitive, as the novelty of watching a scene unfold diminished upon each forced viewing. Even the packages themselves felt bloated – seven discs for a single game was not uncommon. Thus, the FMV genre faded into history, and as real-time 3D graphics and gaming hardware became more and more powerful, it was no longer called upon when it came to injecting realism or visual flair into a title.

Which leads me, finally, to my question: given the limitations – and, I would argue, the benefits – of full-motion video, as well as the current state of games technology and the expectations of today’s audiences, does FMV have a place in modern gaming?

Objection! Whatever Happened To FMV?

MARK: FMV always bothered me. Perhaps it was because, as a teenager, I had a Nintendo 64 instead of a PS1. I remember seeing the Final Fantasy VII commercial and responding with my best adolescent impression of an arrogant sneer. Even at the peak of FMV’s success, I always preferred my gaming experiences to be as seamless as possible, especially in terms of art. I didn’t necessarily enjoy being ripped out of my game universe into a world that was entirely static – it felt insincere. I would like to answer your question with a question – in what way could bringing back FMV be a positive thing? Considering the visual leap we’ve seen since its demise, in what way do you think FMV could provide new, meaningful experiences to gamers?

DARREN: Oh, there’s no denying the divide between gameplay and cut-scene was jarringly awkward – those blocky arms and legs of real-time polygon characters were worlds apart from the soft, detailed curves of their pre-rendered counterparts. And given that today’s gaming tech has evolved to a stage where the former now has the finesse of the latter, perhaps there’s no longer a need to utilise FMV in this sense. But that’s not to discount it altogether – games can craft original real-time characters, but what about humans that already exist?

For all their bells and whistles, the human brain can still pick out a phony person a mile away. All the bump mapping and self shadowing in the world can’t hide the fact that this is but a digital approximation of a living thing. There’s just no getting around it. But actual video footage of an actual person? Now there’s realism. Instead of watching a zombie puppet of Laurence Fishburn investigate a case in the next CSI game, what about shooting new footage on the set of the show? What about using that talent and those production values to make a game adaptation look like its source material, and to make its characters look less… creepy? Characters that originate in the digital realm – Marcus Fenix, Duke Nukem, Generic Bald Guy In Random Action Game – work because there’s no real-world equivalent, but perhaps those that began life on our movie and TV screens need to be treated a little differently if we’re expected to accept them.

Me, I don’t see any harm in using FMV as an element, rather than the game. Why shouldn’t we explore the idea of mapping, say, footage of a rising sun onto a painting in an art gallery of the future, Harry Potter style? Why can’t games integrate video into its 3D world? If The Darkness can pack the entirety of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the off chance a player flicks on the TV to see what happens, other titles can investigate similar ways in which the technique can work for them, rather than shun away from the stigma of video. Likewise the broadcast segments featuring actual news anchors in Fight Night Champion lend a similar air of authenticity to the Pay-Per-View stylings of Rocky’s final fight in Rocky Balboa – it’s how audiences consume this media in the real world, so why shouldn’t cinema, a medium with its own mis-en-scene, adopt that of television if the requirements call for it, and the message can benefit from it?

The FMV genre, however? That’s another kettle of cheese…

MARK: I’m happy to admit that FMV has its place. I really enjoyed those Fight Night Champion sections – it really added to the experience. You make a great point – it really grounded the story in a level of realism that a designed from scratch polygon model would struggle with. It gave me that rewarding feeling that I was participating in an event that was real, with real consequences – such a great addition.

I guess in that context FMV is worth using.

I also love the idea of using FMV liberally, in a more abstract manner. You mentioned the idea of a sunset – I like that. Imagine a very real captured sunset being layered over a rendered universe – in the right context that would look tremendously surreal.

It’s all about the way it’s implemented. In my mind using FMV for traditional cut-scenes is a relic and I’m glad to see the back of it – but used in a creative responsible manner, in an attempt to create a unique, dazzling art style? That would be interesting.

Objection! Whatever Happened To FMV?

DARREN: The way I see it, that’s where FMV would best be suited today. We’ve seen the downsides of creating pure FMV-driven games, and given their limitations and what today’s audiences expect and respond to, I’m not sure there’s ever a hope – or a need – for that genre to be revived. However, I do acknowledge its role in gaming’s timeline. Over the weekend, I approached former HyperBole CEO Greg Roach, a man who in the mid-90s oversaw the creation of a number of FMV titles such as Quantum Gate and The X-Files Game. I asked him: what’s your post-mortem on The X-Files Game, and on the whole FMV movement in general?

He responded: “I think FMV posed the questions that real-time 3D is now answering – how to get emotion, connection, and believability. I’m quite proud of The X-Files, flaws and all. By now I guess it’s considered something of a milestone. I’d love to remake it in 3D.”

Yet even he acknowledges the role of FMV has changed: “In the right context, interactive FMV has a place – probably not in games, though. Lots of great I-FMV happening on the web.” Perhaps, given the popularity of video-based sites like YouTube, that’s where devotees can ensure it lives on – as a fun diversion, a curio. A project that anyone with a camera and an internet connection can throw together, available to be played for free. Same way that people still code their own text-based adventure games while the industry focuses on making its next blockbuster shooter. Those who want it will create it.

So, where have we landed on this? As a technology, it seems that we’re cool with FMV being used and integrated into today’s polygon-based worlds – video used as set dressing, as garnish, or as a backdrop. But the era of video cut-scenes (pre-rendered prettiness as a reward) or FMV adventure games is one we won’t be replaying anytime soon.


    • Both great games for their time, and WCIII has the extra benefit of starring an ex-porn star. My wife still drags out Phantasmagoria from time to time (we managed to get an import into Australia – it didn’t meet ratings requirements).

  • Booo FMV!

    PS1 sucks! N64 had heaps better graphics!

    Heh, seriously it’s good to see that FMV videos have largely been relogated to “realtime” demos for new Sony consoles.

    Crysis 2 actually had a fair bit of FMV thrown into the story through loading screens and the like- funny that the best looking game going round (on consoles anyway) was one of the few noteworthy recent titles to include it.

  • What about the little cutscenes in the newer Command and Conquer games? I thought they were a neat little addition, rather than just having a voiceover radio or something.

    • They have been in C&C from the start not just the newer games

      And they were IMO integral to the games they portrayed story better than the graphics of the time ever did

      Plus they also work to establish your character as a real person who has some sort of advanced real time battle display.

      So you are actually taking orders from a real person instead of some poorly animated person

      Long live Kane 😀

    • I was wondering though the whole article when if they were going to get to C&C. I find the cutscenes in it to be fantastic. Cheesy as all hell, but great nonetheless.

  • Be serious now, was this inspired by LA Noire? To me, that’s the most recent incarnation of FMV.
    Anyway, while I loved Pandora Directive and Toonstruck, they were both from a time when graphics were outstripped by gameplay. This is no longer the case.
    While there is potential to having FMV as part of a game, I doubt it will ever truely return.

  • I didn’t mind FMV, though I really only started to notice it around the time I played Final Fantasy X, mainly because there was such a stark contract between the gorgeous FMVs and the jaggy as hell in-game rendering.

    The game I most fondly remember was the first Jedi Knight game, with it’s actual filmed cutscenes with real actors and poxy special effects. The actors seems to take their roles really seriously, and I often wondered if they knew this was just a spinoff game in the star wars universe, or if these people thought they’d be the sci-fi pop culture icons of a new generation.

    That said though, production values were fairly low – these days I wonder if filming real actors wouldn’t be cheaper than creating an animated FMV. Obviously the easiest solution for developers is just to render cutscenes using the in-game engine and frankly i’m happy with that. the more the overall quality of the visuals are, the better these scenes will look. It’s already gotten to the point where you watch some trailers and you think you’re watching a video when you’re really watching gameplay.

    Come next-gen and I’m convinced FMV will be completely redundant.

  • A personal favourite has always been Spycraft: The Great Game.

    I think Mark gets it half-right – FMV has value as a style/art choice, but that should apply as much to FMV cutscenes as to FMV gameplay. Case in point: Red Alert 3 and its cast of cult favourites whose scenes had practically zero effect on gameplay.

    (and who doesn’t fondly remember Seth and Kane in the cutscenes from the original C&C?)

  • Final Fantasy XIII on the Xbox360 had lots of FMV’s. You could tell, because they had artifacts and looked like a shitty quality .mpeg file.

    Oh yeah, I went there.

  • I think the pinnacle of FMV was not any sort of live action capture but the character movies at the end of Tekken 2 & 3 – at one point my whole life was based around seeing those movies I think. Of course from about Tekken 5 onwards the in-game graphics actually looked better than the FMV so the appeal was gone.

    As for live action FMV – I don’t think ever played a game with it – save for watching a video reel about the Sega CD and thinking to myself “but how is that a game?” I think people are still asking that question!

  • I always remember the disappointment of seeing this amazing looking FMV and then being presented with a playable character made up of about 17 polygons.

    Those were the days!

  • I haven’t (but I will) read your article, but the games I play still seem to have a bit. Not as much as the old PSX days but some.

  • I have five words:

    Team Extreme: Operation: Weather Disaster.

    I don’t know where this game came from or why we have it. But I remember playing it as a kid and it being fricken hilarious.

  • FMV can work well. Its probubly best suted for RTS. C&C any one?

    There was a point & click game that used FMV for the whole game, and I think thet pulled it iff rather well.

    However, if the aim of a FMV is to make it is cheessy as posuble, then stay away. They only time chessy works is when its cheesy, not forced cheezy.

    • Indeed but there are ways you could use it properly even in a shooter.

      Not your Cod or BF3 shooters.

      But Something a little Tron or Portal like.

      Trapped in a computer would probably work best because then it would make sense in the fact that you could be viewing the recording off the webcam.

      It could be utilised but it won’t be.

      HQ footage would take up too much space on the crappy formats we have as it is.

      Really hoping the next gen consoles go with a minimum of 50Gb on a Disc. And at least 8GB of RAM.

      Doesn’t mean they have to use it all but it’s much more preferable to move to a medium that you haven’t been pushing the limits of since day 1 of your this generation

      Granted MS tried with HD-DVD but it was doomed the second it wasn’t in launchday 360’s

  • Yay FMV! Disclaimer As long as it’s CGI and not live action.

    When I gamed, FMV scenes were the reward, when you got to a new level or completed a game and got a super sweet cut scene, that felt like a worthwhile reward in the pre YouTube (hell pre internet for most) darkages. I kinda miss those rewards, especially learning that Diablo III might not have them, Blizzard were the kings of the FMV scene.

    But full motion movie scenes, like the type in Wing Commander III were just so mind numbingly bad you wanted them to end. Does anyone seriously remember how goofy the Kilrathi looked?

  • I remember Myst, and the creepy guys in their books. At first it was little weird. Seeing a screen of static in a book, then… was that a face? Building all the way up to insane laughter and angry shouts at you, still coming through the static. Kinda freaky as a kid.

  • I think even Live-action FMVs could have a place in modern games, but like the article states, it has to be used properly.
    The thing that comes to mind for me is the Myst series (especially the later ones). There you had an entirely pre-rendered world, (but you could easily substitute it these days for a modern, well-rendered environment) with live-action footage of people overlaid on top. In places it looked odd, but in general, the effect worked quite well. Like Darren stated, it could be used for tvs and paintings… Or even a scripted event happening in the sky: Just render a video over the skybox. Why not?

  • I’d love to see it used in GTA V for the different TV stations or if there was a drive in Theatre in the game you could literally ‘drive in’ and watch a full movie. Too cool.

  • FMV’s are are the best!!

    I’m very disappointed developers seem to be moving away from them these days. 🙁

    They should be taking better advantage of things like blurays to fit more hd fmvs into games.

  • Nobody appears to have mentioned The Lawnmower Man. An absolutely forgettable game, bearing no relationship to the absolutely forgettable movie whose name it shared. Neither, of course, bore any relationship to the short story by Stephen King from which they drew the name.

  • Looking back it wasn’t that great a game, but I still have a soft spot for Return to Zork, which was sort of halfway between these examples.

    Note also that some games that are quite capable of rendering stuff in-game end up not doing so. Gears of War, for example, has a few FMV sequences. They’re not video of actual people, but obviously they involved setting up the engine in a very specific way or doing effects which they couldn’t do in real time on the system, so you get a recording of the render instead. I suspect this will probably be the last generation of systems where this will be remotely necessary though.

  • I could watch Gemma Atkinson in C&C3 all day. FMV is awesome – but I bet insanely expensive and risky.

    And I chose Flint over Rachel.

  • Oh how I love and still cherish Under a Killing Moon. The main creator of that went on to create a new title called Three Cards to Midnight, which is quite good. You can pick up Under a Killing Moon on Good Old Games though – I highly recommend it!

  • I have a big soft spot for FMV games as well. Though they could tend to be frustrating when repeating sections with no way of skipping ahead…

    I had a game called Star Trek: BORG that was FMV-based and there was a specific part that I couldn’t get past no matter how many times I tried. It involved a split second window of opportunity to hit a button on an unconscious man’s phaser so that when he woke up and shot at a borg drone to save you he wouldn’t have to recalibrate, thus failing.

    But the short window of opportunity lasted all of about 1 second and getting the click to register correctly, triggering the ‘pressing the button on the phaser’ scene, was near impossible.

    So you had 1 second to correctly solve a pixel-hunt basically…and if you failed it kicked you back to the beginning of the entire scene.
    That was MADDENING! But I do love me some Q, so I kept trying 😛

    good times

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