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Night Trap’s 25th Anniversary and the return of FMV games

What are you doing? Don’t try and outstare me. It’s not like you’ll win or anything.

Back in August 2014, former Digital Pictures head honcho Tom Zito and a group of people who had previously worked on the somewhat infamous 1992 FMV game Night Trap asked for $330,000 on Kickstarter to fund a high–definition “revamping” of the game. The prospect of an HD Night Trap turned a few heads, but hardly enough: Ultimately the campaign proved unsuccessful, earning $39,843 — just 12% of its stated goal. As much as Kickstarter has often been used to bring back genres such as space trading sims and CRPG’s that were no longer seen as commercially viable, a revival of the interactive video genre that had been made famous by Digital Pictures and consoles like the Mega CD, 3DO and the CD-i? That was clearly seen as a bridge too far.

3 years on from that failed kickstarter however, everything’s changed. You better be good and you better beware, because Night Trap’s celebrating its 25th anniversary with an HD revamp for PS4 and Xbox One, due for release this spring. And it’s hardly alone — it seems that for the past couple of years, more and more people have been flirting with interactive video and its forms; from indie darlings to big-budget console releases. The revival of Night Trap isn’t a horn announcing the return of interactive video, with all the cheesy lines, slight gameplay and occasionally questionable acting that entails — it’s a sign that the Augers are already swarming all over the house.

But what’s making folks see the camera and green screen as useful game-making tools again? Trends in the indie scene have a fair amount to do with it — the games that are often (usually derisively) dubbed as “walking simulators” such as Dear Esther, Gone Home, or the recently released What Remains of Edith Finch may be seen as shallow in the gameplay department, but they’re deep in story and atmosphere, and its not a big step from there to interactive video. In 2015, the highly successful Her Story gave us the real deal — tasking you, a detective, with trying to find the story of a case through searching the video archives of several interviews conducted with a missing man’s wife — a staple of interactive video gameplay that goes all the way back to Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. An FMV dating simulator based in Chuck Tingle’s universe of literotica by Zoë Quinn is also currently in the works.

Her Story gave a credibility to the FMV genre that it sort of lacked back in the days of Corpse Killer, Voyeur and Sewer Shark.

2015 is also the year that saw Supermassive Games release Until Dawn on PS4. While this game doesn’t feature real-life actors — not that most FMV games did anyway — it uses the QTE-based gameplay you often expect from interactive video games these days to construct a gripping and legitimately scary survival horror adventure. In fact, it could be argued that “Interactive Video” hasn’t ever truly gone away — that you can find it in Dragon’s Lair-style QTE-packed cutscenes, or in the oft-divisive works of someone like David Cage, the man behind Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. Bring all of these things together and perhaps you can see why, failed Kickstarters or not, somebody with money clearly thought that reviving Night Trap would be worth it.

However, is it worth bringing back? Personally I’m pretty excited to see it — if only because the game’s been revived and killed so often that it’s always welcome to see it return again. The original game almost never came out at all after being tied with Hasbro’s never-released VHS tape-based console, the NEMO — only to be revived years after it was filmed for the Mega CD. The low resolution video adventure that most of us remember wasn’t something that the game’s director, Tom Zito, was ever happy with — once a film student who studied with the likes of Brian De Palma, he wanted more for the game than just the grainy 64-colour FMV that Sega’s add-on provided; it’s good to know that this remastering may well fulfill his original vision.

Objectively the greatest moment in video game history.

As for whether it will sell or not, I’d wager that it’ll turn a fair few heads — a lot of people remember Night Trap, and there’s probably even more people who are curious about it and want to see just what was in the game that threw Joe Lieberman into such a tizz back in 1992, although it’s pretty tame now (the HD remake of Night Trap has been given a Teen rating, as opposed to the Mature rating it commanded back in the day). Even if it might leave folks somewhat befuddled, and it’s a certainty that high definition graphics aren’t going to do those cheap 80’s visual effects any favours, it’s probably something that’s worth doing. And let’s face it — most people are probably going to buy the game simply so they can get their tennis racket out and dance around to that classic, gloriously cheesy theme song just one more time.

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Filed under Game Analysis, Retrogaming News, Retronauts

Episode 95: Face it, you’ve got Batmania bad!

For this week’s Retronauts — Retronauts East — I invited the internet’s greatest Batman expert onto this show to discuss, well, Batman. Or rather, Batman games. Chris Sims of War Rocket Ajax and The ISB (and the upcoming SwordQuest comic) stopped by for this episode to help shed some light on a corner of video games that Retronauts has touched on in passing, but never with quite this much depth.

The original plan for this episode was to cover the entire span of Batman-based classic games from 1986-2005, but we ended up going into so much detail on the context surrounding the games — especially the character’s pop culture resurgence and rehabilitation throughout the ’80s — that we barely made it past Batman Returns. And that is OK! I do wish I had known we’d only be covering half the games I assembled notes for; I’d have gone for depth rather than breadth and really drilled down into the titles we did end up discussing. But there’s a lot of great and informative conversation about the Batman franchise (thanks to Chris) that helps to better define the games. It’s a good mix.

The games we tackle in particular this time around are: Batman (ZX Spectrum), The Caped Crusader, Batman (the movie games), Return of the Joker, Batman Returns (move games, again), and Batman: The Animated Series.

Episode description: Renowned Batmanologist and comics scribe Chris Sims joins Jeremy and Benj to explore the lore of early Batman games and how they fit into the evolution of the character’s franchise.

MP3, 48.8 MB | 1:45:28
Direct download
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Retronauts at PodcastOne

This episode’s music comes from a variety of Batman games: SunSoft’s NES and Game Boy movie adaptations, Return of the Joker for NES, and the SEGA CD game — whose soundtrack, I fear, I unfairly maligned. After giving the SEGA CD soundtrack a closer listen, I owe Spencer Nilsen an apology. There’s some corny butt-rock at work there for sure, yeah, but also some pretty great composition (if decidedly of a ’90s vintage, soundwise).

Finally, a big thanks to this episode’s sponsors: BarkBox, Audible, Dell, and Casper Mattresses.

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Filed under Retronauts