Her Story's Android Release, and the Lack of FMV Games

A new wave of FMV games has yet to arise from this acclaimed success.

Her Story Screen Capture 1
Image from Her Story. Sam Barlow

Sam Barlow's Her Story is out now on Android, a year after it launched on iOS and PC, and quickly became renowned not only for reviving the full-motion video genre, and for telling a unique mystery story that the player has to discover through watching one-sided interrogation video clips. The game has been written about extensively, from my review of the mobile version elsewhere to great Metacritic scores,  and interesting opinion pieces. But what I'm surprised about is that in the year since Her Story first released to it now releasing on Android for the first time, why is it the only major FMV game to release?

Her Story is an oddity in that it tackles the FMV genre, which has generally been mocked in the past. The FMV game was a byproduct of the early days of the first CD game systems. These games, such as Sewer Shark and Night Trap, featured shoddy acting and were plagued by slow loading times, and mediocre gameplay at best. They quickly became a laughingstock, and not taken seriously as anything more than a mere novelty. The CD format did start to improve – FMVs, and bigger-scale games were introduced over time as more powerful hardware took advantage of the CD format, but FMV games were rarely to be seen again.

Her Story interestingly tries to solve many of the problems of the FMV format in one way by being not about interactivity at all. In fact, the 'gameplay' as it is can be simmered down to a glorified game of Google searching. The experience is largely passive, yet active. You have to piece together the mystery for yourself, trying to figure out what's happening from the one-sided questioning database, figuring out what is happening based on subtle clues. It's perhaps the great strength of this game – it uses video and the power of human acting, with well-written scripting from Sam Barlow (known for his work on Silent Hill Shattered Memories), not to mention a great performance from Viva Seifert, to get the experience across. 

In many ways, getting a subtle emotion across is a challenge in video games these days. We have very powerful rendering tools available but are in the uncanny valley when it comes to accurately rendering human emotions. This isn't to say that it's impossible for computer-generated characters to represent subtle emotions at all, just that a flesh and blood human is better at it.

In reality, it makes a lot of sense for FMV games to return. Times have changed to where making FMV content is easier than ever. High-end smartphones can take fantastic video, not to mention even decent quality DSLR cameras, which TV shows have shot on. Even an enterprising content producer could shoot on Red cameras and get digital-cinema-worthy content. And there are plenty of aspiring actors who are open to the idea of working in various new forms of media – video games are not as much of an outlier as they were years ago. And if anything the rise of digital media distribution has increased the amount of writing talent out there. It's easier for authors to get published and get feedback, even in informal methods such as fanfiction. And as we see with YouTubers, it doesn't take the traditional Hollywood structure to make compelling content that people want to watch.

The rise of digital distribution has helped with interactive fiction, in particular. A genre that once had a foothold in gaming because it was tough to render graphics of any complexity at all died off as graphics got better. But now that we live in the age of digital distribution and indie games, it's possible for developers of all sorts who are inspired by the written word to create fascinating interactive experiences that are driven by narrative.

Video distribution is not an issue nowadays either. Back in the day, video distribution, not just creating it, was a challenge because of the need to distribute on disc-based media, not to mention trying to squeeze them on CDs. Digital distribution services have little issue with file sizes nowadays, HD video compression is exceptional. Even solutions could exist through cloud-based media and services, such as centered around YouTube. Interactive video games have happened through just YouTube alone, an app layer could be an intriguing proposition.

Interactivity is an issue with FMV games, and Her Story uses an entirely passive experience. But while Her Story is largely a passive experience as far as the FMV goes, why couldn't a more interactive game happen? With the rise of indie games, and many of the barriers for good FMV fallen by the wayside, this feels like an underserved gaming market or at least an opportunity for indie developers and aspiring filmmakers to partner up with each other in meaningful ways. And considering that Her Story earned awards and acclaim for Barlow from all over the globe, not to mention surely helping him get new gigs working on a WarGames interactive media project and a sequel to Her Story, someone with a different spark in the same vein as Her Story could do something really cool with it and the concept of FMV gaming.