FMV games, aka Full Motion Video, started getting somewhat popular back in the late eighties, early nineties. With people wanting to explore the space of video games a bit more, we saw a unique upcropping before disappearing for quite awhile. A resurgence started taking place and Netflix, of all places, brought that into their Black Mirror series.
I’ve been a huge fan of FMV games since the earliest ones took to computers. FMV Games, essentially, incorporate small movie files together into a video game in order to make the person playing feel like they’re watching a cinematic experience come from their choices. They’re not always done well and some are downright painfully cringy, but we loved them. As I got older and games like Phantasmagoria existed, I found myself thinking it was the future of gaming as an art form, as it draws coding into the world of film. Perhaps that’s what excited me about the possibilities in Telltale Games series that weren’t filmed true to life, but they had the same kind of adaptability. David Cage, to a more granular extent, was bringing choices into his games that changed narratives.
As a child that loved to read Choose Your Own Adventure books, the idea of playing in narrative and adjusting a story as you went along fascinated me. If you didn’t like an ending, you just went back and tried again and who doesn’t love that concept?
This is what Black Mirror: Bandersnatch essentially hit you hard in the head with at the jump. Trust me, on my fourth viewing, I was so intrinsically aware of this concept that I was beginning to groan at the actors who thought I, a seasoned pro, needed to be reminded of the concept. Then again, there’s not just me watching this one-off interactive episode. No, there’s many and perhaps not all of them were complete goobers like I was/am.
At the start of Bandersnatch, you meet Stefan and he’s a young budding game developer in the early eighties. Gaming was hitting an interesting point in the early 80’s and everyone wanted to get themselves a small developer to work on the earliest of gaming systems. You find that Stefan is a big fan of games as well and even notes Colin Ritmar as being there in the same building of the publisher he’s showing his newest work to. This is where the movie/game starts to really take off. Upon the first viewing, you’re there for purely Stefan. As your viewings shift and change, you start to wonder if it’s for you that you’re making these choices. Upon the fifth or sixth, you’re so wildly erratic on who you think you’re helping that you start to feel about as crazy as a lone game developer in the eighties must have felt.
I won’t spoil Bandersnatch, as I want everyone to experience this. The fact that Netflix now has a small little grouping of interactive media that, up until Bandersnatch, were going quite unspoken of, is promising. As of now, of the five offerings that are interactive on Netflix, four of them are for children. I started peeking into this when I saw Minecraft: Story Mode was available there. A title that came from Telltale Games, a studio I mentioned up at the top, Minecraft: Story Mode seemed like an fascinating way of toying with the concept. Now, other studios are playing with FMV’s resurgence in their own ways and, while most of them remain indie, they show that there’s a future for the medium.
#Bandersnatch Fun Facts:
▪️Took more than a year to plan
▪️The script was a whopping 157 pages (#BlackMirror scripts are usually around 65 pgs)
▪️Filmed over 35 days
▪️You can explore over a trillion permutations, but there are only 5 main endings
How many have you found?
— See What’s Next (@seewhatsnext) January 8, 2019
(This means we’re officially here forever, guys.)
If you find yourself enjoying Bandersnatch, and there’s a lot to enjoy there, don’t sleep on playing other FMV titles. Bandersnatch will find love from old school gamers and children of the eighties for sure, but people too young may struggle with its themes and concepts. Other titles do exist out there that are seeing the same cinematic treatment in almost seemingly uncut movie fashion. Check out Late Shift on every possible platform imaginable for an almost exact cinematic quality FMV game that came out before Bandersnatch but not by much. It’s exciting and the choices almost feel endless at times.