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.
This Prim review was based on the demo available from Common Colors’ website, Steam and Itch.io. Check out the links below for more information.
I’m a reaper. No I’m not a man from the village come about the hedge. You might have an image of the Grim Reaper, some hellish agent of Death and destruction in your head and that I’m pretty handy with a scythe, but to Jonas Fisch the German designer behind this game, it means I’m supporting him to make his vision of a point-and-click adventure game become reality.
Reapers are what Jonas calls his supporters in his updates on the development of his Kickstarter. Jonas Fisch is developing a game called Prim about the daughter of death and you can download the demo at these links for free now on Steam and Itch.io
Watch The Prim Game Review Here
Prim is the name of the main protagonist, a young girl who needs your help to escape the Underworld. You play with her, directing her actions and investigations. In turn, she will give up clues about objects she observes and describes. It’s standard point-and-click adventure game stuff. It’s done really well though, top drawer stuff; think Monkey Island set in the Nightmare before Christmas. And about a minute after I thought this Jonas himself described it as just that in one of his Kickstarter videos I was watching.
Jonas has clearly achieved what he intended. What do these comparisons actually mean though? Well the end result is something spooky, cute and comedic, backed by an ace story. Prim ticks all these boxes.
The story opens with an explanation that Prim is death’s daughter; well he’s called Thanatos, which is the name of the Ancient Greek Angel of Death, but he looks pretty much like the Grim Reaper styled skelly bones figure of death we are all familiar with. Prim dreams of a young boy in the real world, the land of the living and has an overwhelming urge to go and see him.
Thanatos, her father, naturally (should that be unnaturally?) won’t let her, warning of serious dangers if she does. This disagreement must be entrenched, because the game opens, after a little narrative explanation, with Prim locked in her bedroom by deathly daddy and she wants to get out. You are going to help her. It is this portion of the game you play in the free demo and I urge you to play it. Everything about it screams good.
Mechanics & Fluidity
The mechanics are fluid, there is none of the common frustrations with point-and-click adventures here. You have no trouble directing Prim to climb ladders, stand on chairs, combine tools, look at small things in the far corner of a wall; the hit detection is clearly very well made. There are also some nice developments that show Jonas knows what bothers people. He has made the game a single button interface…with everything. You want to combine items – Left mouse, want to use an item – left mouse, want to open things – left mouse; the only thing that isn’t is opening the inventory, for that you just flick the scroll when and then everything in it is….yep – left mouse. It is so simple and intuitive that you almost don’t notice it and it makes the whole experience so clean and fluid, an absolute necessity for a successful point-and-click adventure.
On top of that you have beautiful black and white hand painted images for the scenes that add to the setting of this cutesy house in hell. It’s very Adams family in vibe and Prim is a little like Wednesday…only less violently serious. Prim is a very likable character and is superbly voiced by Maria Pendolino. In fact everything about this game is slick, clean and works perfectly. There are no glitches in this demo, nothing is missing. There’s even a whopping spooky score laid over it all. On top of this clarity of form it is laced with nice touches and a tonne of humor, at one point a disco ball drops from the ceiling and death takes a cheesy dance, it’s delightful and unexpected.
Jonas Fisch clearly knows his stuff, he has made smaller adventure games in the past and obviously honed his craft. His pitch videos on Kickstarter are full of vim and charisma demonstrating a turn of phrase and explanation. This should not come as a surprise given his day job is as a secondary school English teacher in Germany. You can see his bright, playful intellect in the use of the word ‘reapers’ for his fans. It is playful and wields a duel meaning. Not only does it reflect the game subject, but it is also addressing those who have funded him and will in the near future, reap the rewards of backing him.
Hitting The Goal
The Kickstarter reached its base goal in just 22 hours and is well on the way to breaking all of its stretch goals. This is a good thing, because it means we can expect an eight hour game of many more levels and puzzles to follow this demo. Great, because I really want to know what is through those doors at the top of the stairs. To see what I mean you will have to go and play the demo.
Is Prim Worth Playing?
I’d like to round this Prim game review off with a very strong word of advice. If you do one thing today, it should be to head on over and download this.
The demo gives you about 40 minutes of play and shows you exactly how the game is going to be. After that I predict you will immediately slap it on your wishlist and sign up for his newsletter to guarantee you Early Access two weeks ahead of anyone else.
How do I know you’ll do this? It’s because I’m not normally a fan of games like this and it was the first thing I did upon completing the demo. The game is scheduled for release in 2022; that is a highly ambitious timeline, but when you play the demo you can see all the mechanics are in place and Jonas seems so calm and organised that I believe him…maybe also his wry grin to you on his videos reveal he has done a deal with the devil to ensure he reaps the rewards that are surely heading the way of Prim.
To start this Black Iris review, I must preface by saying at first it feels like I’ve clicked the wrong link… that I’m not paying attention somehow, because I think I am viewing one of the shortlist finalists for a major Art award at the National Gallery.
The game has a stuttering whirr of noise behind it at times, rather like the time you stuck a peg in the spokes of your bike wheel as a kid to make it sound like a Ducati and it includes some short silent black and white videos of time speeded bacteria growing across a petri dish.
You know the sort of art I’m talking about.
The opening titles are disconcerting Blair Witch Project style shaky close ups of trees and foxgloves in the woods and all of this builds a sense of tension at the start.
But no, all is well, I have indeed downloaded The Black Iris, developed by Arboreta Games. I say all is well, but in fact the premise of the game is quite the opposite.
You play an engineer tasked with shutting down some research stations in the woods (it’s always the remote woods isn’t it) in North Eastern Scotland, with all of the workers disappeared or dead.
You can tackle things in any order and the pixilated graphics are made to lend themselves to the theme, at times making me feel like I am reliving the last 15 minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with it’s disorienting, psychedelic presentation. This works well in creating a world blistering between the normal and some chaotic otherverse.
The Black Iris is a third person, over the shoulder supernatural horror adventure game drawing heavy influence from movies like Beyond the Black Rainbow; where black irises play a significant part in the movie and the setting for all the terribleness of the film is a research facility called Arborea, clearly where the developers here get their name from.
Another inspiration appears to be a similar horror movie, The Void where they take the triangular shape prevalent in that movie and make it look like the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury, but in fact it turns out to be a Church to a new lunatic cult for sacrifice of the individual…wait it is Glastonbury.
In any case horror references abound in the game design, the chaotic mind-altering focus around the sphere in Event horizon is another and the developers do achieve their aim of making a credible interesting take on it.
Most of the Black Iris reviews I skimmed through have missed the way this game is balanced. Sure there are flaws; the graphics are blocky and there are moments when you inexplicably pass through walls of buildings and the entry to buildings instantly rotates the camera view but not the movement controls making for some stuttering to the play, but they get so much right.
Diversions, delay and misdirection to your mission, an ability to interact with your environment and you need to in order to progress. There are empty bottles lying on the floor of some buildings for no other reason that you can knock them when you walk and the noise makes you stop to look at what happened; mist emerges from a door when you open it, for no other reason than to try and add atmosphere.
These little things are painstaking to construct, but elevate the game beyond what might have been a simple linear adventure. Why make your life more difficult than all of the above by deciding it should also be set in the rain? Because it matters and recognizing all these things matter to convincing world building and drawing the player in, is a mark of good development.
One of the best things about The Black Iris is the score; it matches the feel of the game perfectly, with the sinister, suspenseful and uncomfortable rattling and the sound of wind and rain, it all adds to the experience.
The game has been regularly patched and improved since its release; there are plans for controller use to be added and the developers are keen responders to feedback. So go join the nearly 4000 other people who have downloaded this in the first two weeks since it dropped on Itch.io.
Black Iris is the first ever game developed by Arboreta and considering that it is a marvelous achievement and I can’t wait to see what they do next. You will get about 30-40 minutes play out of this and the best bit? The developers will let you have the game for free; but they ask you to consider paying what you like for it. Here it is worth pointing out to you that all of the profit after Itch.io gets its 10% will go to their local food bank in West Dunbartonshire.
I hope you have enjoyed this Black Iris review as much as I have enjoyed both playing and writing about it. Black Iris is available on Itch.io:
Take my word for it, you won’t be disappointed if you pay the suggested amount to be taken on this short trippy adventure. And it’s better modern Art than you’d see for more money in any Gallery, so really you’re winning.
This GRIS review looks at the first game developed by Spanish team Nomada Studio; the result of a meeting at a party between some triple-A designers, and an artist who expressed a desire to make games. Devolver Digital are the publishers of GRIS, and looking at their back catalog, Nomada Studio are in good company.
Looking at the numbers, GRIS has sold well over a million units since being released in December 2018. In that time, it has consistently remained in the top 10 most popular indie games on Steam. These numbers would suggest the game is a bona fide hit. Or is it?
Years ago, I took the lady to a posh cinema for Valentine’s day. There, flunkies would whisper in your ear when delivering a glass of chilled wine and some Vol-au-vents as you reclined in an enormous chair. The only trouble with this was the completely inappropriate choice of Valentine movie on offer for this romantic date; it was either 12 Years a Slave or The Wolf of Wall Street; both of which being potential deal spoilers. Playing GRIS is a little like that date…
GRIS means grey in Spanish and whilst the game starts off all binary colors of black and white, the choices GRIS makes in being a game are anything but grey and ordinary. There is no death, no dialogue, no killing, no enemies to fight and color bleeds into the game gradually. At its heart GRIS is a platformer and a fairly simple one at that.
Playing the game feels like designers want you to experience something here – not be perplexed by it. To that end, puzzles are simple, levels are short, and the game can be completed in one sitting.
The art in the game is genuinely wondrous; color oozes into the game gradually as you progress. It is a beautiful game to see in this respect. The movement of your character is fluid, graceful and interacts with the environment seamlessly.
The camera zooms in and out at various points to show you goals, destinations and moments when you have to tackle larger sections. The viewport zooms back in for tunneled sections and works so well that there is no disappointment in being delivered to either camera point.
GRIS is played with a controller, or keyboard if you are on PC, but you will find there are no instructions. On the PC facing no help at the start I gave the WASD keys a shot and discovered I could move left and right. To begin with all you can do is walk in this 2D platformer, you cannot even jump.
Objective Of The Game
The object is to work your way out of the game by collecting orbs of light scattered around the world to build bridges in the sky and so gradually climb out of the game world and back to where you began. It does a good job of presenting a sufficient puzzle for you. It is a little too simple at times, but this helps GRIS to avoid the plague of many platformers – that of tiresome repetition attempting to complete that one jump sequence again…and again.
You are gradually introduced to new movement skills: jumping, becoming a stone block, floating and singing.
As you move through the levels the ways these skills can be used varies and develops in different environments.
The designers never want you to have to look far or get stuck or bored and the way platforming gradually changes through the game keeps you well involved.
You will get about four hours of gameplay out of GRIS, but there is no real replay value in it. Once complete, the main menu opens levels to replay but you cannot do so with all of your acquired skills… you are reset for each level. A bit pointless there then.
Elsewhere you can access some artwork and it is so nice that you might well take a screenshot for your wallpaper (which I have done for the purpose of this GRIS review, incidentally). You also get access to the game music. Whilst it sounds like a bridge ripped from a terribly clichéd and achingly worthy Coldplay song and something I winced at to begin with, it does suit the subject matter of the game well.
GRIS Review – Is It Worth Buying?
The problem with GRIS is the subject matter.
The game is about grief, depression or mental collapse, and your character metaphorically shatters, falls down into a dark pit and has to work through problems to rebuild herself. Although done well and evocatively, it may not be an especially happy prospect to indulge in.
I can admire the beauty and it was nice to have a gentle game so very different to what I might normally play, but we all come to games for a variety of reasons, to frighten ourselves, for the excitement of combat, for the speed of play, or the high of successful collaboration in today’s plethora of co-op games. What I doubt most of us pick up a game for, is to experience grief or mental breakdown…it just isn’t enjoyable in that sense.
For some it will probably hit like swinging brick and be their GOTY. For others, like me, it will be a good game albeit with some faults. Certainly though, there is enough great stuff going on here in a coherent, smooth and well-constructed gaming experience that will have gamers very much looking forward to what Nomada Studio do next.
Should you play it? Well the movies on offer didn’t spoil my Valentine’s date and the flaws of GRIS will not spoil the overall pleasure of the gameplay on offer here, you just probably won’t return to it. So yes, go ahead, it will be different to most things you play and that’s probably a good thing.
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