In 2018, Night Trap came to the Nintendo Switch after already seeing a 25th Anniversary release on other platforms in 2017. For a long time, Night Trap was seen as an oddity, a game only worth mentioning because it was silly and because of its place in the history of video game controversies. But the demand for the re-release has been high, and from various interviews, podcasts, and other resources, I’ve seen a legitimate interest in Night Trap both from a historical and technical perspective. At the same time, several modern games have gone back to that very same well, but with contemporary technology and gameplay. There’s an inherent fascination in some corners of the gaming industry with combining live action with video game play, and that extends all the way from indie to AAA spaces.
Night Trap’s comeback was a bumpy road, but it eventually came together. A shady, failed Kickstarter almost killed the idea before it could even get going, but thanks to the help of Limited Run Games, the idea finally came to fruition a few years later. After selling through its physical copy allotment, it’s clear that people at least still love the idea of Night Trap, of what that game represents, and its history.
But instead of history, let’s look at where we are today. Let’s look at Her Story, a game that is almost entirely FMV-based, that not only has been successful and ported to multiple platforms, but also won awards. That game was represented on stage at The Game Awards, for goodness’ sake. And sure, a big part of Her Story’s success was its storytelling, but part of its storytelling success is in its gameplay mechanisms, and those aren’t possible without the Night Trap-like conceit. Another appeal to FMV gaming is its relatively lower development cost, as well as its flexibility in being able to do all kinds of weird stuff, but with simple and accessible controls.
Speaking of accessible and weird, how about the Chuck Tingle game Kickstarted in the Butt: A Chuck Tingle Digital Adventure. This is a straight-up FMV game, perhaps closer to Night Trap than even Her Story. It’s made on a small budget, with a final Kickstarter number of just over $80,000. It’s also planned to be released for free when it’s finished. Now, you may be wondering who the heck Chuck Tingle is. Dude’s a writer of pseudo-ironic erotica novels on Amazon, that are often about abstract concepts pounding attractive men in the butt. There’s a while ‘Tingleverse” thing now, and as Tingle’s meme power has grown over the years, so has his status as a sort of “motivational speaker but the weird internet version” evolved.
Now that the weird stuff’s out of the way, what about the discs and downloads you’re running off of your precious, powerful video game consoles? How about Quantum Break, the most recent release from Max Payne and Alan Wake developer Remedy? That game wasn’t a smash success, but it did modestly well as an Xbox One exclusive back in the days of the Don Mattrick disaster. In this game, after dealing with some lengthy downloads, there was actually a TV show-sized amount of live action content. Depending on choices made in the gameplay, the player would end up seeing different scenes as well, depending on how the story goes. It’s basically Night Trap on a baller budget.
There’s one more game I want to talk about, one that isn’t out yet. It’s called The Quiet Man, from Square Enix. It’s a game meant to run about three hours, and will be sold at a low cost. It’s a brawler, looking pretty similar to an earlier Square Enix game called The Bouncer. It’s split between normal video game play, and live action cutscenes. It’s almost like an interactive movie, the way it’s being presented. And since the Square Enix machine is behind it, it’s going to get some serious pushing behind it despite being a comparatively small title. The more information that has come out for it, the more people are buzzing for it, despite a muffled response to its E3 2018 debut.
What I’m trying to say is, despite how corny live action content is a video game can be and has been, people still want it. Or at least, they’re still fascinated by it. There’s an inherent draw to the idea that is manifesting itself in surprising success in games that use it, and a return of sorts to the concept in larger, non-indie projects in a gaming generation that has more room for risks again. From Night Trap to The Quiet Man, the use of live action footage in games in still alive and kicking.