It always makes me smile seeing how cyclical the world of video games can be. One genre of gaming that has received the harshest criticism over the years has been the full-motion video or FMV-style games. They were a product of the introduction of CD-ROM technology in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and by and large most of those early FMV games deserved all the harsh criticism they received. In the majority of cases developers just plain didn’t know what to do with the vastly expanded storage capabilities of the CD-ROM format, and so sticking full-motion video cutscenes into games “just because you could" became standard practice and the FMV game genre was born by developers creating entire games out of live action cutscenes that were pieced together into an interactive story.
The main problems with FMV games back then were first that the technology of the time couldn’t do justice to the media itself. The choppy, grainy, muddy-looking FMV segments on Sega’s 16-bit powered Sega CD add-on for the Genesis were pretty vomit-inducing, and even higher end computers of the time didn’t fare a whole lot better. The FMV genre became a joke and, even years later when technology could produce results that would do the genre justice, the stigma was still there. The second big problem with FMV games was that developers back then really didn’t have the budgets necessary to hire good actors. Early FMV games are filled with some of the most cringe-inducing performances of all time, across any type of media, and that too fed into the stigma that FMV games just plain sucked and always would suck.
It really would take more than two decades for that to change, when indie developer Sam Barlow released a game called Her Story on mobile and desktop back in 2015. The game had you searching through a database of fictional police interviews with the wife of a missing man. Your job is to find clues in the interview tapes that you can use to solve the mystery of the missing husband. Her Story was a smash hit critically and commercially, and went on to show that the FMV game format could in fact be used to make a compelling experience if you had good acting, good production values, and a premise that uses full-motion video scenes in a way that makes sense. Since Her Story nearly 5 years ago, FMV games have had a bit of a resurgence.
Whew! That long-winded history lesson was just my way of saying there is a new FMV game out on Steam today and coming to mobile and other platforms later this year, and it somehow simultaneously gives me heavy vibes of those early FMV games as well as the much improved contemporary versions from the last few years. It’s called Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure, and it’s an interactive re-telling of probably the most famous entry in the classic Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks: Deathtrap Dungeon. And the entire thing is expertly narrated by real-deal actor Eddie Marsan! Check out this trailer.
Now as you probably know, this isn’t the first time that Deathtrap Dungeon has been released in an interactive digital format. The title is available in Tin Man’s Fighting Fantasy Classics app and more or less features the original book in digital form but with some excellent illustrations and some very handy features like stat-tracking, mapping, and dice rolling. It’s a fantastically streamlined way to experience the book without much fuss. But this, THIS is like someone guiding you through the book and playing Dungeon Master to your own personal adventure. And not just someone, but a real-life English person! Who is extremely well-spoken! This honestly reminds me of something you’d be able to play on the library computers at my middle school in the early ’90s, but with all the fantastic production values and advancements of a modern game.
Deathtrap Dungeon: The Interactive Video Adventure is the first release from developer Branching Narrative Ltd, and it is available as of today in Early Access on Steam for both PC and Mac for a price of $9.99. The game will make its way to mobile and other platforms sometime later this year, and for some reason this game is totally speaking to me and I can’t wait to get my hands on a mobile version when it hits.