Full motion video based game

Full motion video based game

Full motion video based games, usually abbreviated as FMV-based games, are video games that rely upon pre-recorded TV-quality movie or animation rather than sprites, vectors or 3D models to display action in the game. A diverse set of games utilized this format. Most games' mechanics resemble those of modern music/dance games, where the player timely presses buttons according to a screen instruction. Other games were early rail shooters such as "Tomcat Alley", "Surgical Strike" and "Sewer Shark". Full motion video also allowed the creation of several interactive movie adventure games, such as "Gabriel Knight II - The Beast Within", and "Phantasmagoria".


FMV-based games were popular during the early nineties as CD-ROMs and Laserdiscs made their way into the living rooms, providing an alternative to the low-capacity cartridges of most consoles. Although most games did manage to look better than most sprite-based games, they were a niche market - a vast majority of FMV games were panned at the time of their release, and most gamers dislike the lack of interaction inherent of these games. This format became a well-known failure in video gaming. The popularity of FMV games declined after around 1995, as more advanced consoles were released.

Cost was also an issue, as these games were often very expensive to produce: "Ground Zero Texas" cost Sega around US$ 3 Million, about the same a low-budget movie would cost in 1994. Others attracted Hollywood stars such as Isaac Hayes, noted R&B singer/songwriter and performer (Shaft), who appeared in , Dana Plato ("Diff'rent Strokes", cast for "Night Trap"), Debbie Harry (lead singer of Blondie hired for Double Switch), and Ron Stein (fight coordinator of "Rocky" and "Raging Bull", who was hired as director for Sega's boxing game "Prize Fighter").

Another issue that drew criticism was the quality of the video itself. While the video was often relatively smooth, the hardware it was displayed on, particularly in the case of the Sega CD, had limited color palettes, which resulted in notably inferior image quality. The content was also a point of some criticism, as many FMV games featured real actors and dialogue, which was problematic if the acting itself was poor.

As the first CD-based consoles capable of displaying smooth and textured 3D graphics appeared, the full-FMV game fad vanished from the mainstream circles around 1995, although it remained an option for PC adventure games for a couple more years. One of the last titles released was the 1998 PC and PlayStation adventure " ", packed in 7 CDs.


The first use of FMV was in 1983 with "Dragon's Lair", a laserdisc video game by Cinematronics. Another early instance of FMV was Hasbro's unreleased video game system named NEMO. The NEMO home system created games with VHS tapes rather than ROM cartridges or floppy disks.

In the early 1990s when PCs and consoles moved to creating games on a CD, they became technically capable of utilizing more than a few minutes' worth of movies in a game. This gave rise to a slew of FMV-based computer games such as "Night Trap" (1992), "The 7th Guest" (1992), "Voyeur" (1993), "Phantasmagoria" (1995), and "" (1995). These FMV games frequently used D-list (or worse) movie and TV actors and promised to create the experience of playing an interactive movie. However, production values were quite low with amateurish sets, lighting, costumes, and special effects. In addition, the video quality in these early games was low, and the gameplay frequently did not live up to the hype becoming well-known failures in video gaming. At this time, consoles like 3DO, CD-i, and Sega CD borrowed this concept for several low-quality interactive games.

Also, the "multimedia" phenomenon that was exploding in popularity at the time increased the popularity of FMV because consumers were excited by this new emerging interactive technology. The personal computer was rapidly evolving during the early-mid 1990s from a simple text-based productivity device into a home entertainment machine. Gaming itself was also emerging from its niche market into the mainstream with the release of easier-to-use and more powerful operating systems, such as Microsoft's Windows 95, that leveraged continually evolving processing capabilities.

Video game consoles too saw incredible gains in presentation quality and contributed to the mass market's growth in awareness of gaming. It was during the 1990s that the video/computer game industry first beat Hollywood in earnings.Fact|date=December 2007 Sony made its debut in the console market with the release of the 32-bit PlayStation. The PlayStation was probably the first console to popularize FMVs (as opposed to earlier usage of FMV which was seen as a passing fad). A part of the machine's hardware was a dedicated M-JPEG processing unit which enabled far superior quality relative to other platforms of the time. The FMVs in "Final Fantasy VIII", for example, were marketed as movie-quality at the time.

FMV in games today consists of high quality pre-rendered video sequences (CGI). These sequences are created in similar ways as computer generated effects in movies. Use of FMV as a selling point or focus has diminished in modern times. This is primarily due to graphical advancements in modern video game systems making it possible for in-game cinematics to have just as impressive visual quality. Digitized video footage of real actors in games generally ended for mainstream games in the early '00s with a few exceptions such as "Command and Conquer 3", released in 2007.


With the popularization of FMV games in the early 1990s following the advent of CD-ROM, higher-end developers usually created their own custom FMV formats to suit their needs. Early FMV titles used game-specific proprietary video renderers optimized for the content of the video (e.g. live-action vs. animated), because CPUs of the day were incapable of playing back real-time MPEG-1 until the fastest 486 and Pentium CPUs arrived. Consoles, on the other hand, either used a third-party codec (e.g. Cinepak for Sega CD games) or used their own proprietary format (e.g. the Philips CD-i). Video quality steadily increased as CPUs became more powerful to support higher quality video compression and decompression. "The 7th Guest", one of the first megahit multiple-CD-ROM games, was one of the first games to feature near-lossless quality 640x320 FMV at 15 frames per second in a custom format designed by programmer Graeme Devine.

Other examples of this would be Sierra's VMD (Video and Music Data) format, used in games like "Gabriel Knight 2" and "Phantasmagoria", or Westwood Studios' VQA format, used in most Westwood games made from the mid-1990s up until 2000's "". These video formats initially offered very limited video quality, due to the limitations of the machines the games needed to run on. Ghosting and distortion of high-motion scenes, heavy pixelization, and limited color palettes were prominent visual problems. However, each game pushed the technological envelope and was typically seen as impressive even with quality issues.

"", was the first FMV title made by a Hollywood Studio. Sony Imagesoft spent over US$ 3 Million on the title. Instead of piecing together the title with filmed assets from their movie (directed by Robert Longo) of the same name, Sony hired Propaganda Code director Douglas Gayeton to write and film an entirely new storyline for the property. The CD-ROM's interactivity was made possible with the Cine-Active engine, based on the Quicktime 2.0 codec.

', for example, was one of the most significant FMV titles made in 1994, featuring big-name Hollywood actors. However, the video quality in the game suffered significantly from the aforementioned problems and at times was almost visually indecipherable. Yet this did not stop the title from earning significant praise for its innovative gameplay/FMV combination. Its sequel, ', used a similar custom movie codec in its CD-ROM release, but a later limited-volume DVD-ROM release saw MPEG-2 DVD-quality movies that entirely eclipsed the original CD release in quality. A hardware decoder card was required at the time to play back the DVD-quality video on a PC.

An exception to the rule was "The 11th Hour", the sequel to "The 7th Guest". "11th Hour" featured 640x480 FMV at 30 frames-per-second on 4 CDs. The development team had worked for three years on developing a format that could handle the video, as the director of the live-action sequences had not shot the FMV sequences in a way that could be easily compressed. However, this proved to be the game's downfall, as most computers of the day could not play the full-resolution video. Users were usually forced to select an option which played the videos at a quarter-size resolution in black-and-white.

As FMV established itself in the market as a growing game technology, a small company called RAD Game Tools appeared on the market with their 256-colour FMV format Smacker. Developers took to the format, and the format ended up being used in over 3,000 games.

As the popularity of games loaded with live-action and FMV faded out in the late 1990s, and with Smacker becoming outdated in the world of 16-bit colour games, RAD introduced a new true-colour format, Bink video. Developers quickly took to the format because of its high compression ratios and videogame-tailored features. The format is still one of the most popular FMV formats used in games today. 4,000 games have used Bink, and the number is still growing.

Windows Media Video, DivX, and Theora are also becoming major players in the market.Fact|date=April 2008 DivX is used in several Nintendo GameCube titles, including "".

See also

*List of FMV-based games
*Interactive movie
*Interactive video

External links

* [http://www.fmvworld.com/games.html "FMV WORLD - The Home of Full-Motion Video Games"]
* [http://www.interactivemovies.org/ The Interactive Movies Archive]
* [http://www.greeneyedzeke.org/articles/DPPTOC.html The Digital Pictures Project]
* [http://www.sega-16.com/feature_page.php?id=149&title=The%20Rise%20&%20Fall%20of%20Full%20Motion%20Video The Rise & Fall of Full-Motion Video] - Retrospective on the genre and why it failed

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