A woman sits alone at a table. “You have no murder weapon,” she says, before insisting, forcefully: “You have nothing.” She tilts her head and smiles.
It could be a scene from a BBC drama or silver screen thriller, but instead it’s a video game – Sam Barlow’s multi-BAFTA-winning Her Story. What might throw you off is that the woman isn’t a computer-generated character, she’s real-life actress Viva Seifert.
Such a scene is becoming more ubiquitous, as developers increasingly explore the use of full-motion video (FMV) in games.
This isn’t limited to lo-fi indie efforts, either. Remedy’s Quantum Break breaks up traditional third-shooter gameplay sections with full-length live-action TV episodes, with X-Men’s Shawn Ashmore, Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen and The Lord of the Rings’ Dominic Monaghan making appearances both in person and as their virtual dopplegangers.
“Games have become more and more like movies over the years – titles like Heavy Rain and Telltale's The Walking Dead series are all about strong, compelling narratives with interesting characters and they’ve found huge audiences,” observes Allan Plenderleith, writer and director of Splendy Games’ upcoming FMV title The Bunker. “There’s something powerful about real performances from actual actors that you get in movies which resonate with audiences.”
Game designer Nina Freeman chose to incorporate short live-action films into Star Maid Games’ independent release Cibele, which explores a semi-autobiographical sexual relationship established through a fictional MMO.
“The FMV is there to ground the player and give them context as to who they are, in addition to the layer of the game being about bodies and sex and the humans involved in that scenario,” she explains. “I didn't think animated bodies would have the same impact, because I was already using real pictures and stuff on the in-game computer desktops. There was already a lot of real ephemera in it, so using real people lined up with that as well.”