Looking at the posts published here at Later Levels, it will come as no surprise that I’m a huge fan of adventures and detective stories. But one thing you may not know about me however is how much I enjoy full-motion video (FMV) games.
I know what many people are going to say after reading that introduction: FMV releases are terrible, right? They’ve certainly earned themselves a bad reputation over the years through a combination of bad scripts, pathetic effects, poor acting and both technological and financial limitations. Some titles may have been ground-breaking at the time they were published back in the day – take The 7th Guest as an example – but they’ve aged badly, and playing them now feels clunky and outdated.
It’s not all fuzzy videos, cheesy lines and hammed-up acting nowadays however (although you can still find that kind of stuff if that’s what you’re looking for). Things have come a long way since Night Trap and Tender Loving Care in the 1990s and there are now so many great modern FMV releases. Consider Her Story, a title which combined excellent acting along with a thriller storyline, or The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker, where the gameplay takes place through a text-parser.
One of my favourite games in recent years has been Contradiction: Spot the Liar! by Baggy Cat. Not only did this combine an FMV title with a detective narrative, it also featured two well-known names from the genre. Rupert Booth did an amazing job at making protagonist Detective Jenks an endearing character who we’d love to see in a sequel one day; and Anarosa Butler looked totally different from normal in her role as Emma Bowman, a character who kept us guessing as to whether she was innocent.
The Dark Side of the Moon was added to my wishlist immediately after coming across the Steam page one day and realising these two actors were part of the cast. Created by Tayanna Studios, I made a purchase on the day of release and then streamed it the evening afterwards. The story centres on single-dad Dean Hamilton and his frantic search for his two children after they randomly vanish throughout the night, and his willingness to go to the other side of the universe for them if necessary.
Gameplay primarily comes in the form of choices, some where you have as much time as you need and others that will have to be decided much quicker. These determine how the narrative progresses and could have positive or negative outcomes. For example, when Dean realises his children are no longer at home, you can decide which room to search first: do you go upstairs to check their bedrooms, look in the back garden or take your search outside the house?
Unlike some other modern FMV releases which focus solely on a choice-based mechanic like this, The Dark Side of the Moon also features a couple of puzzles. The clues to their solutions are in the story and your surroundings, so players with any level of adventure experience shouldn’t have too much trouble solving them if they’ve been paying attention. It made for a nice, occasional break from the story and further blurred the lines between video game and interactive movie. I’d like to see more sections like this in future releases.
One of the in-game locations was a pub and this became a running-joke throughout our stream. Instead of immediately looking for the children in the most obvious places, our friends in Twitch chat demanded we always went ‘To The Crown!’ first. What you have here is a serious storyline with science-fiction elements, but there’s always something about FMV which makes it easy to see the humorous side of any situation you’re presented with – and that’s one of the reasons why it’s just so much fun.
What made our stream even better was that the lovely team from Tayanna Studios surprised us by showing up in chat and staying until the end of the game. It turns out that creator Darren Hall actually plays the character of Dean – and children Andy and Ruby, along with wife Sarah, are played by his family. This is a lovely touch which adds something special to certain scenes; the way that Ruby and her dad wish each other goodnight, or the holiday photograph which can be seen when you open the kids’ laptop.
Bad decisions caused a few deaths throughout our playthrough but these felt forgiving, as we were immediately placed back at the start of the current section and didn’t lose too much progress. However, Darren told us that there are some places during which the protagonist can die and you’ll have to start over again from the beginning of the game. We managed to make it through to the end of the title in around four hours, and were left wondering about which of the five endings we hadn’t seen.
The guys from Tayanna Studios very kindly let us in on a little secret before the end of the stream. After several friends in chat remarked that Alyx had been their favourite character, a quirkily-intelligent hacker played by Butler who helps Dean search for his children, I mentioned how I could see a spin-off with her as the protagonist. Something like Dark Nights with Poe and Munro perhaps but less noir, where she investigates a series of mysterious supernatural and cases in her own unique way.
As it turns out, I wasn’t far off the mark. Darren confirmed that Alyx will be featuring in her own FMV game and I can’t wait to see what the team come up with. I’m hoping that Booth will appear as the antagonist at some point because he’s just so damn evil in The Dark Side of the Moon, and it would be perfect if the whole family made a cameo too. News reporter Huw Chadwick played by Richard Sinclair needs to be brought back also because it’s hard not to laugh at his sarcastic remarks.
Thanks so much to everyone from Tayanna Studios – not only for joining us in Twitch chat for the evening, but also for making such a good release. It’s titles like this which show newcomers to FMV what the genre is capable of and prove to experienced gamers that it doesn’t deserve the negative reputation it has attracted. I’ve always loved FMV and will continue to do so; but it’s titles like The Dark Side of the Moon which make me even more excited for its future.