195: The Cutting Room Floor

The Cutting Room Floor

"Interactive movie" isn't a phrase most of us remember fondly, but for a brief period in the '90s, this forgotten genre of games captured the imagination of the gaming public. Rob Zacny looks at a couple of the genre's best examples and what contemporary developers can learn from them.

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I think many games would benefit from deeper characters. While not so much a part of say, fighting games, or indeed many FPS games, those with aims towards real character empathy require it to function properly. I'm going to point out Silent Hill 2 as one which enabled the player to empathise.

It might just come down to my dream that one day I'll find a game in which every single character feels real. They have personal effects, the story of their lives playing out in their own mind and in characterisation.

Oh, and there'd have to be a serial killer. Or ghosts. Or something to make it scary as hell. Now that's a game I'd obsess over.

Labyrinth:
I think many games would benefit from deeper characters. While not so much a part of say, fighting games, or indeed many FPS games, those with aims towards real character empathy require it to function properly. I'm going to point out Silent Hill 2 as one which enabled the player to empathise.

It might just come down to my dream that one day I'll find a game in which every single character feels real. They have personal effects, the story of their lives playing out in their own mind and in characterisation.

Oh, and there'd have to be a serial killer. Or ghosts. Or something to make it scary as hell. Now that's a game I'd obsess over.

Try Fahrenheit. Or Indigo Prophecy, depending on where you live..

Ha, was going to mention Gabriel Knight 2 in the comments by the writer beat me to it. For an exercise in an "interactive movie" that is consciously campy and ridiculous, Phantasmagoria is wonderful salute to cheesy B movie horror. The scene where he kills the Cable Repair Guy may be one of the greatest moments in gaming history.

Surprising to see The Last Express get this level of praise - what is it, twelve years now since it was launched? Pity it didn't get even this much hype when it came out, because this was - and still is - a truly great game that maybe five people ever played. I'm just glad I was one of the five. The Last Express is the only game I've kept on my hard drives for twelve straight years. I usually go through many games per computer, but The Last Express has now seen the demise of two of my computers, and (as long as it works on Vista) will probably still be there when this one bites the dust.

Here here to not abandoning the so called "interactive movies"! Granted, I have never really played one of the 90s titles you mentioned, but being an MGS fan, I have heard the term attributed to games quite a few times.

Great article.

I agree very much with the points made in this article, people reject the thought of a video game as an "interactive movie" as a knee-jerk reaction, but it's really not a bad idea at all. Some really amazing stuff could be accomplished with current technology too.

Something just reminded me of the Last Express the other day, what an odd coincidence.

One of the most interesting games in terms of "interactive movies" I can recall is Final Fantasy X. This is a game that seriously decreased the apparent freedom of the gamer (no explorable world map) in exchange for a linear travel progression. This managed to add a feeling of progress, in really truly exploring the game world, that previous Final Fantasies didn't succeed in.

Wing Commander III is also an interesting game to mention due to its FMV movies, but its prequels may be better examples. Wing Commander II, specifically, was a massive, more successful attempt at telling a cinematic-style story with excellent gameplay - far superior to the kind of placeholder space battles of WC3.

I rember 'The Last Express' quite well (escapcially the dream scene in the beginning...) and as I have stated several times on this website: I liked 'Kanew & Lynch' very much, simply because the two guys were very well fleshed out. I am sick of mute/grumpy super-space marines with predictable plots and the emotional range of toast.

Yep, I miss em too. But i don't really see the industry moving in that direction anymore. All of the old titles of what I thought of as "adventure games" seemed to die when the industry went 3D. There have been a few titles near the mark (Mass Effect for one) but as game rentals seem to push the market in terms of sales, these longer playing titles seem to disappear.

I never played the Last express, but the WC series, Full Throttle, Myst games kept me up hours thinking my way around and through the characters, settings, etc. The way those types of games envelop you is something that no two-hour movie can ever approach.

Edit - sp.

Can I just say, I am thrilled that someone else has at least heard of the Last Express. However, I can't say that I pine over the loss of full motion video. To be honest, with a 3D or animated character you are never forced to face the fact that it is really some budget-actor in front of a blue screen and thus I argue there can be greater immersion.

I can say I HATE games that try to control you to make the story work. But I can say this sounds enjoyable. I just wouldn't call it a game. As a game it would fail but calling it a movie makes things better

I think we can broaden the definition of game, or we could create a new definition for these things that seem like games and movies combined. Probably the reason most adults these days see games as puerile, is the fact that the gaming scene is dominated by those uber-beings whose range of emotion goes from pistol to laser cannon, but then again, the availability of quality games such as you describe The last express is a bit... shall we say superfluous?

Played Dreamfall: The Longest Journey? Someone (Funcom/Ragnar Tornquist) is still making games with artistic ambition. The way I see it they are to story what Crytek is to graphics.

My hope is that the race towards better graphics has to end somewhere, and at that somewhere gamers and the games industry will turn their attention towards something more important. Or more likely it will end up like TV with Discovery Channel on the "retard" end of the scale and MTV on the "particularly unintelligent vegetable" end, with everything else being rare exceptions.

Oh, Funcom staff are currently working on The Secret World, putting the whole The Longest Journey-series on hiatus. Well, it took 8 years from TLJ to Dreamfall: TLJ, so having to wait should surprise noone. We'll allways have books, I guess.

One of the last games to sucessfully use video cut scenes was Dark Forces II Jedi Knight. It was made at the start of 3-D graphics, so the characters look a bit funny to modern eyes, but the video cut scenes are great. If they lifted the cut scenes from that game and added more scenes to fill in the gaps, they'd have a better Star Wars movie than Episode I, II or III on their hands. The interactive 3-D parts were kind of linear, but were still very challenging. I had to resort to cheat codes to see the end of the game, but the fact that I struggled through the tough spots (especially the nearly impossible jumps) to see the end of the game instead of just giving up and uninstalling it shows how compelling the story was. It's totally possible to have your cake and eat it too. You can have a challenging action game with graphics and have compelling live-action cut scenes at the same time. I'd like to see more games do it besides Command and Conquer with the current generation of consoles.

I actually prefer live-action cut scenes to animated ones. As amazing as some of the current gen animations are, they still can't make the characters express emotions the way a real actor can.

I've always wanted to play The Last Express. Now I really feel the need to get a copy of it.

Too bad Steam or GOG don't currently have it....in the future, maybe?

In terms of interaction, I definitely think that gamers will accept limited interaction if that means they get a story that is worth watching unfold. Unfortunately, the games industry is lacking a little in the "amazing story" department.

wow, this is by far the best article of the month. really, REALLY got me thinking, and reappraising my thoughts on video game structure... i'mma re-read tomorrow so i can actually post some THOUGHTS up here. for now, all I have is praise

"The best game is that which governs the player's actions least..."

Or something like that.

But, seriously, I have to disagree with this article. While I won't speak to the quality of the experience had from going through "The Last Express" (as I have not heard of it till now) I'm very much at the opposite position of what makes a "good game".

A game needs a few important qualities to be deemed as such: challenge, rules, goals, and interaction. If a "game" is lacking in these qualities then it ceases to be a game and becomes something else. An interactive movie is a great idea, and it may lead to a deep emotional experience, but it's not a game; it's one step away from popping in a DVD and "interacting" by watching the scenes in order as chosen by the audience.

Games need to be played. Without interaction there is no player--only an audience member.

Tetris may have zero character development (what characters?) and zero plot development (what plot?) but it contains the core necessities that a game must possess. In this way, "greatness" (substitute Pac-Man, Pong, etc. if you don't think Tetris is worthy of the tag "great") can be had without any emotional direction from the developers. The converse situation, emotional experiences lacking in the fundamental necessities, cannot yield great games--no matter how rich the characters seem.

Interactive movies are too much on the fringe. They may be great experiences, but, as per my view on the medium, they cannot be great games since they are not games.

Even so, I'd love to download The Last Express to find out what it's all about, since I've little doubt that it's magnificent after reading everyone's thoughts about it.

I'm very happy to see some Last Express love today :)

L.B. Jeffries:
For an exercise in an "interactive movie" that is consciously campy and ridiculous, Phantasmagoria is wonderful salute to cheesy B movie horror. The scene where he kills the Cable Repair Guy may be one of the greatest moments in gaming history.

Woah, I think I got that game for about $.02 at a tag sale in my town (I came out with a massive cardboard box of old-school games and some good books. The cost? $1). I still haven't installed it, but I might now. That sale was great, I had lost my copy of Secret of Monkey Island, but I found a pack of the first three games in the series there.

I played a 1997 PC game called 'Private Eye' which is a game based on Raymond Chandler's 'The Little Sister'. The graphics were taken from the graphic novel but it was otherwise smoothly animated and you could follow the novel and get through each part.

It is by far my most favourite game because of the wonderful story (Chandler is a genius!), the indepth characters and the fact I didn't have to point and shoot. I have played The Last Express as well, but Private Eye I haven't lost over time.

Perhaps Private Eye isn't much of an 'Interactive Movie' although there were lots of conversations and actions beyond my control. I thought of it as an interactive graphic novel, because that is where the images came from. It literally became a comic book coming to life with me pressing the plot along.

Fucking awesome article. It's the first time I've heard about The Last Express in years. I bought the game back in 1997, I was 11, I still have the original box and CDs, it's a sort of personal treasure of mine. I was so absorbed with it, so obsessed, even when I was just a kid and I barely knew anything about history (sure, I knew WWI existed, little more) the game sucked me in so much... a guy in my class also bought it, and we talked long about the game, in the end we created a friendship that still lasts today. This game has been quite important for me, and never again have I felt that way towards any other videogame. Sure, it's 15 years old right now, but it still does things better than most games today, it is more absorbing and believable than any Unreal Engine super-duper coolness game.

I'm glad to read this article, and to see that someone remembers this game as fondly as I do. Personally I thought Chronos was particularly charming as a character, the perfect cross between a "villain" (just partly, of course) and a perfectly exotic gentleman. So much class, and that voice... so handsome and smart. Abbot the British gentleman, Alexei the russian anarchist, Vasilei Alexandrovich, the old bastard, and his lovely grandaughter. So much time has passed, and I still remember the names of every character in that game.

"Why don't you make us sing?"

 

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