Full Motion Video games are like a 6 year olds school play, terrible but we are never allowed to say. Instead we smile politely and clap and say it was good. The heyday of FMV games was the early 90s when Sony released Johnny Mnemonic and became the first film studio to release a video game…back when the ‘video’ part of that meant just that.
Soon after Electronic Arts followed up with Mark Hamill in Wing Commander III (and IV). The 90s were awash with FMV games, Night Trap (1992), 7th Guest (1993), Phantasmagoria (1995). It was going to be the next big thing.
Full Motion Video never worked though.
The reality was very different from the hype. Usually offering limited gameplay and using second rate actors who couldn’t create a scene if they had a tantrum in a shopping mall. It was gamers who saw through the hype to realise they actually offered very little and the FMV game died along with punctuality, Fax machines and MC Hammers’ parachute pants at the end of the 90s.
So when ‘Not for Broadcast’ landed on my desk, I was less than excited.
A full motion video game with what looks like second rate actors in grainy rendered footage and cheap backdrops; where you play an trainee broadcast editor for a nightly news programme.
Look, it’s not that hard. Choose the angles, roll the ads, and bleep the swears, but as the tutorial warns you, just keep in mind that how you show these people will change their lives…and maybe yours.
The controls are simple enough and you are introduced to them well in the first level broadcast and the game is outstanding. You begin a year in the job at the start of a new government taking power and one of your first edits is a statement from the winning party leaders.
Things become more sinister and your choices are more subtle as the game advances. For example, having picked up the skill of editing out swear words over a couple of broadcasts, you are then instructed by the station boss to bleep out overly critical statements of the government as well. So when a faux gangster rapper, who spends the entire interview lying and talking garbage, takes the stage for an unrehearsed song that criticises the government, what do you do? Do you edit out the swearing and the criticism or do you allow it and make this prick a hero or perhaps allowing it will get this prick arrested? The choice is yours.
Not for Broadcast consistently puts you in these difficult and subtle positions; asking if you will cooperate to keep your job because you need to to keep your family together? Or if seeing what is happening under this new regime and the impact that has on your family, will you try to undermine it?
The impact of your choices plays out in text based updates of family life between broadcasts and is tied to what is going on in the country.
This heavy theme of coming police state and your facilitation of it is juxtaposed with the actual broadcast material which is pure comedic gold. So much so, that I don’t much care about my family updates I want to get to the shows. There’s so much going on it’s glorious.
Not only are the jokes puerile in that we frequently deal with the leader of a multi-national company called Rymmington Svist and at one point interview an ex-con called Tit-Wank Tony who unleashes everything on a live interview we might have secretly wished for in our head, but the stories and presentation of each item is delightfully observed and presented.
We have to manage a god awful teenage drama presentation about bullying, a bizarre new sport that has an imaginary round and is invaded by streaking nude protesters, a new tv show for kids about farm animals boufing, one of those inexplicable letharios that seem to do and offer nothing and yet are nationally famous lying in bed hosting a quiz about himself, and so many more wonderful characters that offer delicious comment on society. It is glorious choosing what to do with them? Do you deliver the clean edit you are supposed to or do you broadcast the rants that are supposed to be off-screen? Do you present the message these terribly self-righteous people want to deliver or do you show the tired, eye rolls of the individuals forced to share an interview with them.
Do you cut the adverts short to expose your lead anchor slagging off the guests he is returning to interview or not? There are lots of choices here and all of them are recorded in your edit that went out to the nation that you can rewatch at anytime.
Not for Broadcast isn’t without some small problems though.
I had occasional crashes and had to restart levels and failure and loss of viewers means you are sacked and have to restart the level as well. This can be a bit tedious as we’re running a show here and there are often lengthy things to repeat, but these issues were very infrequent and are enormously outweighed by the sheer fun the game consistently delivers.
Not for Broadcast is still in Early Access and some people like to leave Early Access games alone until they have launched, but you really shouldn’t here. It’s entirely worth it even as it is, despite there being more updates in the pipeline.
Not Games just released one of those, a second large update made during the lockdown of the last 18 months, which has not hampered their style or commitment one bit as they simply introduced an hilarious lockdown of their own in the game, developing a storyline about teddies that come alive and hunt people down requiring society to hide in our homes.
This allows all sorts of observed fun of lockdown; people wearing pants only on the bottom half, fake backdrops and people pretending to be outside, people caught eating lunch and not ready for the camera to be on them and forgetting to switch it off.
The death-teddies eventually invade the studio and become another difficulty to deal with as does a passing storm that electrifies some of the buttons making them unusable. The game winds up the chaos continuously with each broadcast and never lets you stop laughing.
I tell you this is the best Full Motion Video game I have ever seen and is one of the best games of any type I’ve played all year. An hilarious ride with stacks of replayability.
Not for Broadcast is available for about $25 and is worth every penny in current form with more updates to come. My Friends…the revolution will be televised, just put me in charge of broadcasting it will you.
In 2017 Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, scoffed at the idea of competition with the answer that Netflix biggest competition was sleep. In 2019 Hastings reasserted his view of Netflix inhabiting Olympus by dismissing the idea that they were remotely interested in the games streaming market.
For the large part Hastings has been right; at the end of 2020 Netflix smashed through the 200 million subscribers barrier and holds the top spot by some distance in global figures, with over 30% more subscribers than Amazon Prime and nearly double the largest Chinese streaming service.
But there have been rumblings in Mordor in recent weeks; insiders say that Netflix has been shopping around for executives to help it enter the Gaming Streaming market?
There are two key reasons why Netflix has changed its mind on games streaming.
Firstly, Netflix has an increasing need to change what it is doing and domestically it’s under pressure. In 2020 alone it lost a third of its market share in the US, from 29% down to 20%. It has had to compete with the entry of HBO Max, Disney+ and the continued growth of Hulu.
Netflix grew by four million subscribers globally in the first quarter of 2021, which represents its smallest first quarter growth of the last four years and they’ve downgraded their new subscribers forecast from 10 million to just one million in the second quarter of this year. This prompted an 8% drop in share price a couple of weeks ago and whilst the stock has rallied, signs for the future remain brittle. In the last four years Netflix’s growth rate has slowed every year, down from 34% growth to 24% and this year is looking considerably worse.
Overall in 2021 it expects to only break even.
Any way you look at the figures and trends, that growth is slowing and competition is squeezing Netflix. It is still top of the tree, but if it wants to remain there it has to do something else.
I want it all
The second reason Netflix will stream games is that the market has simply become to big to dismiss.
The TV-on-demand market is expected to be worth $87B by 2024.
By comparison the global games market is expected to exceed $200B in 2023 and $300B by 2025 by some estimates. Even when we factor in that just over 40% of that games market is mobile games the remaining market is still double the TV on demand sector.
Netflix cannot simply allow its competitors to carve up this larger and expanding market.
Gaming history is littered with new players to the market who arrived with a smash. Most recently Sony and Microsoft barging to the top of the pile with their consoles. Nintendo has fought back with the Switch, but the future lies in streaming though tv. In this sense Epic have bet on the wrong side of the coin in trying to woo people with a new store and Google (as usual) is facing the future with Stadia and Microsoft has XBox Game Pass. Microsoft are betting big on this with a stack of day one releases as their focal selling point for them in the recent E3 presentation.
The thing the successful companies who barge into the market all had was technical know how and Netflix is king of streaming. This skill and infrastructure puts them in a great position to enter the streaming games market.
Netflix pioneered streaming for mobile phones and today streaming accounts for 80% of all mobile internet traffic and successfully developed a seamless service where you can download, pick up, switch devices and lose not a second of where you were. They accounted for 15% of all global internet traffic in 2020. Think about that for a minute…15% of all global streaming came from this one company.
Having seen the difficulties of Epic in getting past the gatekeepers like Apple in their recent court case and Google in setting up Stadia and a reliable streaming service, it seems obvious that Netflix has a well established infrastructure that is reliable and capable of delivering gaming. They have significant tech capability to wade into this growing market and they have already dabbled in this direction. Remember interactive tv programme Bandersnatch and Minecraft story mode? Both were significant hits and proved Netflix capable in this field. They will have learned a great deal from these.
They have also been developing games/TV tie-ins lately in Castlevania and The Witcher. This gives them an extra dimension of clout for possible exclusives in future. In all, Netflix has been acquiring interest and experience in the interactive games arena.
Don’t stop me now
Lastly and perhaps most potently…you are the reason they will win.
Sure, Amazon has purchased Twitch and is trying to tie in gaming that way and Google had to build Stadia with the problems that have gone with it, but more people have Netflix than anything else and it is simply going to be too easy to add on the games element.
My wife stores her pictures in Google photos; not because it is the best service but because it is the most convenient and integrated service. She has Google Drive and it’s linked to her phone, so it’s easy for her to store those pics she takes on her mobile and keep her memory clear. I have Amazon Music, again, not because it is the best music service, but because it is the easiest to have with what I already have. I have a Prime account and have Alexa in the house…so naturally when thinking of which music streaming service to choose…why complicate things by going elsewhere?
Hammer to fall
So when Netflix starts offering a games streaming service… you’re in. You can claim you won’t be, but why have two applications or interfaces when you can have it all in one place? You won’t…you’re in.
Consider also that the growth of cloud gaming in the future is going to come from the young, most of whom at 11 or 12, whenever they start gaming will need parents to pay for the service when they start. If parents have Netflix more than any other service They will pay for the add on. They will have some element of oversight with a company they know, trust and that regularly tops customer polls. That will be game over.
In the same way that sports teams give free tickets to schools and why Google gives free Drives to students…locking in future loyalty, so too with the gamers of the future being locked into Netflix. It’ll be too much of a nuisance for most to bother changing.
If you can make the choice easy for the customer and you can provide a reliable service then you will likely win. Netflix can do both and they cannot afford not to be part of the future of how we play games.
To quote from The Matrix…that “ding” sound, flashing you through the colour band of the Netflix logo when you press play on an ‘Original’ show. ’That is the sound of inevitability’.
War, good God y’all… What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.
Turns out Edwin Starr was wrong. War, Uh-huh…yeah, what is it good for? Turns out it’s absolutely great for computer games.
Where would we be without the FPS? Still throwing pine cones across the sandpit and claiming I had been revived by Jeff and wasn’t dead. From Command and Conquer: Red Alert, through Call of Duty and Company of Heroes, I’ve loved them all along the way. Hold on there big dog, I know what you’re thinking…FPS.
Watch This Review:
Eximius Review – FPS / RTS Hybrid Fun
Eximius: Seize the Frontline, from Ammobox Studios is just out of Early Access and is blast. It is an FPS / RTS Hybrid. Whaaat… Yes. You can play the game just like Company of Heroes and you can play it just like Call of Duty. You can even play it both ways at the same time if you want to. How is this even possible you ask?
Eximius is, in simplest terms, a 5v5, squad based arena battle set in the near future of a collapsed political order. Two factions vie for control of the future world order: Axeron Industries, the product of a global financial elite trying to reestablish order. They have units based on robotics to save people from front line combat. The other side is the Global Security Force (GSF) who are made up from the surviving political world order prior to collapse.
All this set up matters naught though and is swiftly forgotten once you are past the opening intro. Simply pick a side and go through training. There is no real consequence to the side you pick except the choice of weapons, units available and some inevitable variation in play style to suit your differing strengths. Mostly they are similar classes but with slightly different qualities.
Point, Shoot, Smile
The controls are pretty standard and so is the weapons training. There is nothing confusing here – machine guns, pistols, bazookas, EMP weapons, etc. Everything is comfortably familiar. There is a good sound to the fire system, the weapons have variable recoil, but upgrades can improve stability. They sound powerful and act heavy, pleasing stuff. On the battlefield the draw distance for shooting is pretty good, even with standard weapons.
When you leave training, you can choose to join an ‘Open game’ which is just a rolling restart game with whomever joins and the remaining spots made up with AI players. Or you can join a specific 5 man team to take on a set scenario or you can tackle a variety of maps and missions yourself, offline with a team of AI support. There is lots of variety and the AI is of such a good standard that you need never worry about matchmaking to get a game. There are always at least two of these happening at any given time.
All of this seems like a pretty standard Battle Arena game and you’d be right. What sets Eximius apart is that only four of your squad of five play as FPS officers on the battlefield. The fifth man plays the game RTS and from a standard zoomed RTS view of the battle.
Commander and Conqueror
It turns out that what really makes the difference to your team is the Commander. They provide tech upgrades, they can build tanks, different classes of soldiers, they assign a support group of soldiers to you or not and they can drop strategic supply points to enable you to refill ammo and change weapons as you meet different foes. They play Command and Conquer whilst you play Counter Strike and you can talk to each other, ask for things like re-supply, reinforcements or decide attack plans and changes. It is a quite excellent achievement to blend these two game styles seamlessly together and talk/plan across them at the same time.
There is a rare breed of revered heroes called ‘Battle Commanders’ by Eximius community who are players capable of playing the Commander role and capable of jumping into the FPS fight at crucial moments to rectify some part of their grand plan and never losing sight of the overall plan and time in the frontline.
I tried being the Commander once or twice…let’s just say I need practice. I have mostly been playing as an Officer on the battlefield and sometimes my human Commander would provide ammo and weapon upgrade stations for me to use and sometimes they wouldn’t. In one match it became clear that the Commander had his plan and I wasn’t in it, I could die and respawn frequently but there would be no upgrade points for me.
In another we had upgrades and I joined the fray attempting to follow other Officers in direction and battle as support. The Commander rarely attached soldiers to me for support, clearly deeming my contribution unreliable, this was until a crucial point late in the battle when we were losing heavily that I slipped away changed my weapons and crossed to the other side of the arena undetected. I destroyed a tank holding position, protecting a flag point.
The response from my Commander was instant. He held battle back where I had come from and sent me as many reserves as he could from reserves to support what he recognised as a decisive move. We went on to capture several nearby resource points and the enemy were crippled. We lost less than 20 battle points to the enemy teams 300 from this moment on. The post game chat was full of delight and congratulations. These are the moments you play Eximius for.
It isn’t a perfect game, the learning curve is initially steep, but there is a lot of potential in the game for varied styles of combat. More variety of weapons are being added and of course, more skins and customisation. The development team is dedicated, improvements are frequently made and what might be thought of as currently lacking does not detract from the glory of the game.
Eximius is a Latin word meaning ‘excellent’ and Seize the Frontline is indeed an excellent game. It is not just another battle arena with thrown together assets; it is a well thought out game that offers a deepening level of skill the more you play it. They have a welcoming community in the Discord and the game is structured so that newbies can join a team of veterans and not hamper the chance of victory severely. War, uh huh, yeah…may well be good for computer games, but me? Good God y’all I am far from Eximius at it. It is fun though…see you in the fight.
Stephen plays on Eximius: Seize the Frontline as Alt_Ending and is easy to defeat. Take a good look at my face because all you’re going to see from the floor just before you respawn is the back of me walking away.
E3 has been digital this year because of the pandemic and before it became E503 with a crashing website on Saturday, ChasingXP were there with media access. Dodging the predictable dripping mouths watching Battlefield and Elden Ring reveals we have kept our eyes on the Indie scene with a plethora of games being revealed through the Day of the Devs, the fantastic tongue-in-cheek Devolver show and the Guerrilla Collective’s presentation. In all, the games presented topped a hundred.
Sifting through all of this, I’m bringing you my top 5 indie games featured at E3, most of which are due out in the next six months.
Watch this review on YouTube
Moo Lander – The Sixth Hammer
A beautiful, looking but mad game based around cows and the pursuit of milk to save your planet. I know…but trust me this is ace. Working like a platformer, it looks very much like GRIS, but unlike that Moo Lander opts for some wondrous humour and then starts throwing in RPG upgrade trees, speech choices and shooter elements.
None of this is overwhelming and all of it delivers a mightily impressive game from the Bulgarian development team who are richly deserving of their showcase spot at E3 this year. I’m led to believe that all the talk of Herd Immunity this pandemic is actually a reference to God Mode in Moo Lander and if that doesn’t help you walk on the sand then you lactose.
Moo Lander is vastly better than my jokes and is out in Spring 2022, but a playable demo is available over on Steam and I strongly urge you Moove over there and check it out.
Second on my list…
Sable – Shedworks
From Shedworks, a two man development team founded in a shed in North London. You play Sable, a young nomad girl. Guiding her from a third person perspective. This 3D puzzle/platformer has been on my radar and wish-listed by me for some time. Showcased as part of the Guerrilla Collective, it is a gorgeous looking game that makes you feel like the Mandalorian on your own land-speeder. Explore the remnants of ancient civilisations, glide, hover, leap your way to the treasures and answers and forge your path through a rite of passage in this strange, beautiful world. Sable promises to be a wonderous adventure when it is released later this year.
Third on my list of highlights is…
Severed Steel – Greylock Studios
A supercool looking FPS, heavy on bullet time, stunts and neon, making it feel like the violent child of Superhot and Far Cry: Blood Dragon. The development team of Greylock studio describe the game as stylised gun violence and bloodshed. It oozes pace and action against a glossy cyberpunk, Matrix-like backdrop. It does not yet have an official release date, but given it was included in this years’ Guerrilla Collective during E3 you can expect to somersault onto your monitor and double tap you in the eyeballs sometime in the next year.
Fourth up is…
GRIME – Cloverlite
A Metroidvania, Souls-like platformer from Clover Bite, due to be released from the ever reliable Akupara Games. You are the product of some form of vacuum collapse in a side-scrolling adventure where you explore your surroundings, meet interesting creatures and destroy them, absorbing their powers to grow with each victory. Surreal, beautiful and with options to vary your playstyle through skill-tree choices – Grime drops later this year and promises to be an action/RPG combat fest. So eyes peeled for this dark fantasy.
Last up on my list is the wonderful…
Last Stop – Variable State
Set in London this is a third person adventure where you play as three different characters all set on a super-natural collision course. Developed by Variable State, who won a BAFTA for the FBI adventure – Virginia in 2016. An unexpected body swap, a game of amateur detective that goes wrong and an ex-spy trying to save her family from the threats of a blackmailer. Last Stop promises to be a rich story of adventure and intrigue. Find out what connects these characters in July, when you can board this ride of discovery.
Be sure to check out Jeff Nabor’s top five from E3, they are completely different to mine, but just as awesome looking.
‘I’m back! Back in the New York Grove’, sang Ace Frehley in 1978.
Shortly after, KISS took off their make-up and Ace Frehley then left the band. They had become a bit dated, silly even? So, too, the platformer. They came to be seen as undemanding, linear games; the preserve of younger kids who like the cartoon presentation of these games.
Even efforts to compete with the advent of 3D did little to halt the decline of the platformer from its market share heyday of a third of games sales to 2% by 2006, but whisper it like Ace Frehley… the platformer is back.
Sunblaze, developed by Games from Earth, is a 2D single screen platformer harking back to classic days. It’s title screen opens with a popping tune reminiscent of early Mario music and the soundtrack throughout is top notch.
You are Josie, a cute pony-tailed little girl whose father is a retired old superhero. Better than that though, Dad owns a Superhero training simulator – well of course we’re gonna try it. It is during the training session that we…err train and are taught all the basic moves in the game environment; the double jump, the dash, hang crawling, hitting things or jumping on things causes them to fall and this can break obstacles.
These are all the usual, expected staples of a precision platformer and they are introduced quickly and seamlessly. It’s a joyous start.
Then the training simulator goes wrong and you are stuck inside and have to fight your way through various colourful levels to escape back to Dad.
One of the starkest things about Sunblaze, right from the start, is how darn quick the game is in almost every respect. Sunblaze treats death in the best way, from red sauce to resurrection in a millisecond. Instantaneous and unforgiving failure is followed by instant play again without even the need to press a button.
Speedrun Death Challenge, Anyone?
There surely has to be a contest for who can rack up the most deaths in under a minute? Then when you complete a level there is no fade screen or load screen, the screen simply melts into the next level like the moment you see a magic eye image…boom it’s there and you are stood right where you were but in a different room, facing a different puzzle.
The pace is amazing, making the experience a pretty continuous one and emphasising the positive part of that, no matter how you are doing.
Pretty soon however, you start meeting those challenging levels where the game demands you put together your newly learnt moves into combinations in order to whizz around the board.
Each level (created by a friendly rainbow unicorn, naturally) needs to be solved and they become more a complex puzzle each time. There is an order of doing things, hitting jedi training robots, dropping blocks, exploding TNT, squashing laser gates, breaking glass barriers and all sorts of other things.
Pretty soon you start each level with a moment of pause to survey the puzzle in front of you and try to figure out a way to the end. As the game progresses, each new chapter introduces more hazards. There are spiked floors, poisonous coral, explosive oil drums, volcano spitters, and evil computers.
Played normally, Sunblaze is a pretty difficult game. It isn’t called a Precision Platformer for nothing. You know what you are in for when you see that the game keeps a death counter and a timer. There’s going to be competition with speedruns and lowest deaths (or as I prefer, posting a screenshots of completing a game with an unbelievably high death count).
Death comes in many forms and frequently, you can explode into residue on touching spikes, be crushed entirely by a moving block or fried in classic cartoon style of shocking your skeleton when caught in a laser gate. If it all proves too tough there are a multitude of difficulty settings that operate seamlessly.
Firstly there is a Zen Mode which is, effectively a rookie mode and gives you the whole game and story with fewer levels and a reduced difficulty, so the game can be played by a variety of ages and capabilities.
On top of that you can switch on various cheat functions that remove the game cap or cooldown on abilities such as infinite jumps or infinite dash. You can even make levels easier by giving yourself the ability to ignore volcanos and laser gates by switching on invincibility or to smash glass barriers on contact and avoid the perils of messing with squashing blocks. These accessibility options can be combined in any mode; play the standard mode and tackle a particularly hard level by switching on infinite jumps for example?
A Variety Of Deaths
Sunblaze is a great game with a wealth of accessibility. It knows what the flaws of a platformer are and if gets around them confidently. You will never be stuck for too long, you can always tweak the game parameters a little for one level of the whole game and experience much the same as someone else who plays the more skilful variant. And for those of you who want greater challenges you can try to collect the power cubes in each chapter. Do all this and there are a reputed 700 levels in the game.
All in all you can play Sunblaze from start to finish in a couple of hours using all of the easiest settings and cheat modes or you can take on the full challenge and it will take you days and well over 1000 deaths. That the game can be immensely accessible and extremely challenging at the flick of a setting and lose you nothing in gameplay gives Sunblaze broad appeal.
The plethora of Roguelites around in recent years has given the platformer a lesson in how to present death as irrelevant to gameplay or at least not a setback to progress.
Is It Worth Buying Sunblaze?
During the lockdown of the last year there has been a widely reported jump in playing video games, Platformers are in the top five genres for growth in that period with platform play growing by 25% in that time.
These days Ace Frehley is back playing with KISS, they still tour and they are back in their daft glam costumes, but what we realised is that we liked it that way after all. Sunblaze is one of a developing new breed of platformers in the line of Super Meat Boy and Celeste that realise the platformer never really left us and know how to give us what we really liked all along.
You know that feeling you sometimes catch yourself doing in a game whereby you lean hard to the left in your chair, subconsciously willing your character to make that jump, you’ll be doing that a lot here. Like any game, when you put together a series of combinations to travel with speed and fluidity across and around all the obstacles to complete the level, it is glorious when you succeed.
I literally punched the air and let out a holler when I completed things. So, if you ever liked a platformer then you should check out Sunblaze and you too can sing ‘I’m Back’.