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This genre came about with the invention of laserdiscs and laserdisc players, the first nonlinear or random access video play devices. The fact that a laserdisc player could jump to and play any chapter instantaneously (rather than proceed in a linear path from start to finish like videotape) meant that games with branching plotlines could be constructed from out-of-order video chapters in much the same way as Choose Your Own Adventure books could be constructed from out-of-order pages, or the way an interactive film is constructed by choosing from a web of linked narratives.
Thus, interactive movies were animated or filmed with real actors like movies (or in some later cases, rendered with 3D models), and followed a main storyline. Alternative scenes were filmed to be triggered after wrong (or alternate allowable) actions of the player (such as 'Game Over' scenes).
An early attempt to combine random access video with computer games was "Rollercoaster," written in BASIC for the Apple II by David Lubar for David H. Ahl, editor of Creative Computing. This was a text adventure that could trigger a laserdisc player to play portions of the feature film Rollercoaster (1977). The program was conceived and written in 1981, and published in the January 1982 issue of Creative Computing, along with an article by Lubar detailing its creation, an article by Ahl claiming that Rollercoaster is the first video/computer game hybrid and proposing a theory of video/computer interactivity, and other articles reviewing hardware necessary to run the game and do further experiments.
The first commercial interactive movie game was the 1983 arcade game Dragon's Lair, featuring a full-motion (FMV) cartoon by ex-Disney animator Don Bluth, where the player controlled some of the moves of the main character. When in danger, the player was to decide which move or action, or combination to choose. If they chose the wrong move, they would see a 'lose a life' scene, until they found the correct one which would allow them to see the rest of the story. There was only one possible successful storyline in Dragon's Lair; the only activity the user had was to choose or guess the move the designers intended them to make. Despite the lack of interactivity, Dragon's Lair was very popular and addictive, and has since received a remake on modern day gaming consoles (except with a complete genre change).
The hardware for these games consisted of a laserdisc player linked to a processor configured with interface software that assigned a jump-to-chapter function to each of the controller buttons at each decision point. Much as a Choose Your Own Adventure book might say "If you turn left, go to page 7. If you turn right, go to page 8," the controller for Dragon's Lair or Cliff Hanger would be programmed to go to the next chapter in the successful story if a player pressed the right button, or to go to the death chapter if he pressed the wrong one. Because laserdisc players of the day were not robust enough to handle the constant wear placed on them by constant arcade use, they required frequent replacement. The laserdiscs that contained the footage were ordinary laserdiscs with nothing special about them save for the order of their chapters, and if removed from the arcade console would readily display their video on standard, non-interactive laserdisc players; to this day they are still much sought-after by laserdisc collectors.
Several laserdisc-based interactive movie games followed Dragon's Lair's format, with slight variations. Space Ace, made the next year by the same company and animator, added "branching paths" to the formula, in which there were multiple "correct moves" at certain points in the cartoon, and the move the player chose would affect the order of later scenes. Super Don Quix-ote and Esh's Aurunmilla both overlaid crude computer graphics on top of the animation to indicate the correct input to the player.
Because Dragon's Lair and Space Ace were immensely popular, they spawned a deluge of sequels and similar games, despite the astronomical cost of the animation. To cut costs, several companies simply hacked together scenes from obscure (at least to American audiences of the day) anime, creating games like Cliff Hanger (with footage from the Lupin III movies Castle of Cagliostro and Mystery of Mamo) and Bega's Battle (with footage from Harmagedon).
In the late 1980s, American Laser Games produced a wide variety of live-action light gun laserdisc video games, which played much like the early cartoon games, but used a light gun instead of a joystick to affect the action.
When CD-ROMs were embedded in home computers, games with live action and full motion video featuring actors were considered cutting-edge, and some interactive movies were made. Some notable ones (which, unlike Dragon's Lair, are considered adventure games) are Voyeur, Star Trek: Klingon, Star Trek: Borg, Ripper, Black Dahlia, The X-Files Game, Phantasmagoria, Bad Day on the Midway and The Dark Eye. Others, in the action genre, are Braindead 13 and Star Wars: Rebel Assault.
In the early 1990s, Atari Corporation's last game platform, Jaguar was developed and in 1994 received an add-on CD-ROM module. An interactive movie format named GameFilm was developed and patented for Jaguar CDs that used Apple's QuickTime format video clips. These clips were organized in a branching tree-like structure that offered users alternative paths to solve mysteries or to succeed in a quest. Several interactive movies were produced for Jaguar and demonstrated at trade shows, but the Jaguar platform failed in the market soon after.
Due to the limitation of memory and disk space, as well as the lengthy timeframes and high costs required for the production, not many variations and alternative scenes for possible player moves were filmed, so the games tended not to allow much freedom and variety of gameplay. Thus, interactive movie games were not usually very replayable after being completed once.
From the time of its original introduction, the DVD format specification has included the ability to use an ordinary DVD player to play interactive games, such as Dragon's Lair (which was reissued on DVD), the Scene It? and other series of DVD TV games, or games that are included as bonus material on movie DVDs.
Aftermath Media (founded by Rob Landeros of Trilobyte) released two notable interactive movies for the DVD platform. Their first release was Tender Loving Care (featuring John Hurt), this was then followed by Point of View (P.O.V). Currently, such games have appeared on DVDs aimed at younger target audiences, such as the special features discs of the Harry Potter film series.
There have been some recent video games that have used this approach using fully-animated computer generated scenes, including Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain (both created by Quantic Dream). Heavy Rain is dramatic thriller that uses minimal player input. During many scenes, the player has limited control of the character and chooses certain actions to progress the story. Other scenes are action sequences, requiring the player to hit appropriate buttons at the right time to succeed. Heavy Rain has numerous branching storylines that result from what actions the player takes or fails to complete properly, which can include the death of major characters or failure to solve the mystery.
Game designer Chris Crawford disparages the concept of interactive movies, except those aimed at elementary-school-age children, in his book Chris Crawford on Game Design. He writes that since the player must process what is known and explore the options, choosing a path at a branchpoint is every bit as demanding as making a decision in a conventional game, but with much less reward since the result can only be one of a small number of branches.
Some studios hybridized ordinary computer game play with interactive movie play; the earliest examples of this were the entries in the Origin Systems Wing Commander series starting with Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger. Between combat missions, Wing Commander III featured cut scenes with live actors; the game offered limited storyline branching based on whether missions were won or lost and on choices made at decision points during the cut scenes.
Other games like Bioforge would, perhaps erroneously, use the term for a game that has rich action and plot of cinematic proportions—but, in terms of gameplay, has no relation to FMV movies.
The term is an ambiguous one since many video games follow a storyline similar to the way movies would.
- The Interactive Movies Archive
- The Dragon's Lair Project: A repository of information about laserdisc interactive movie games
- Brazilian interactive movie