Trailer Park #012: Full Motion Video Killed the Radio Star
2021 already have you waxing nostalgic for the joyous optimism of 2020? Fear not, because here at the Trailer Park we like to go back a little further in time for our nostalgia. The 1990’s to be specific. The very decade, in fact, that was responsible for the brief rise of a game genre known as Full Motion Video.
The butt of many a gamer joke, 90’s FMV games can be easily spotted by their grainy film quality, odd collection of era-specific B and C-list talent and of course absolutely terrible game mechanics. It’s all good for a laugh of course, but with new games like Her Story, Telling Lies and Solitaire Conspiracy that incorporate a more high-def apprach to the technology, we thought it was a good time to look back at the generation of CD-ROM action that started it all.
1. Night Trap (1992 | SEGA CD)
Obviously, Night Trap, the game where you set traps to save sorority girls from home invaders and gropey college boys, has become the poster child for the FMV era of the 90’s. It’s the gold standard of terrible, unsatisying game design, mixed with somehow-even-worse acting, and just to round out the shame troika, content so inane and inappropriate it actually inspired a series of congressional hearings. It also featured the late-Dana Plato, star of the sitcom Different Strokes and a cautionary tale for parents thinking of getting their kids into show biz.
Come to think of it, Night Trap is a cautionary tale for parents who get kids into video games.
But we must never forget Nacht Falle, as the Germans would call it if they cared or had access to a Sega CD console. After all, the excellent Wing Commander — an FMV game from the same era that is of the highest quality and stars Mark Hamill — isn’t why this oddball era lives on in our hearts, it’s Night Trap. And for that we think it deserves one more quick look:
2. Sewer Shark (1992 | SEGA CD)
Sewer Shark, as you may notice from these clips, is one of the many FMV games of the era to utilize the “running behind a stranger while they shout exposition and job instructions at you” storytelling motif (see also Night Trap and Ground Zero Texas below). We get it. It’s your first day on the job in a lot of these games, and nobody wants grainy cut scenes featuring filling out W-9s or being shown where Jan from accounting keeps the bathroom key.
Interestingly enough, Sewer Shark was originally designed as a game to be played on…VHS. Yes, that’s right, a videotape was created with multiple layers of recorded data contained inside that triggered different game paths when you hit certain buttons on your VCR remote control. Come to think of it, unlike the Sega CD game shown here, that sounds like a legit technical accomplishment.
3. Double Switch (1993 | SEGA CD)
Filmed through a screen door and shot in your father’s tool shed, Double Switch starred Corey Haim, also known as “the Corey who didn’t go crazy and devote his life to Michael Jackson-themed performance art and maintaining a stunning lack of self-awareness.”
In the game, you control a series of traps as seen through the close circuit cameras provided by Haim, who plays a building manager slash hacker who needs your help to escape the property. Control the traps, solve the mysteries, escape alive and you’re done. You know, it’s one thing to be a half-assed FMV game, it’s quite another thing to be a half-assed FMV game that’s also a NIGHT TRAP CLONE.
On the upside, the game features probably the best cast ever assembled for an FMV game with Haim, R Lee Ermey, Taylor Negron and Deborah Freaking Harry of Blondie fame. Sadlly, they were all trapped in a game with stiff and unresponsive gameplay reading a script that Pauline Kael once described as “definitely in English.”
Also, not to be a grammar cop, but isn’t a Double Switch pretty much just switching back to what you were before? Seems a bit anticlimatic.
Isn’t that right, Other Corey?
4. Corpse Killer (1994 | SEGA CD)
From the people who named Double Switch, comes the redundantly titled Corpse Killer; a game about shooting Zombies in the face and hopefully surviving long enough to return the CD to the Babbage’s or Software Etc store from whence it came.
The game itself is an average onrails shooter. Good for a few confirmed kills if you’re into that kind of thing. But for us, the best thing about Corpse Killer, is the presence of the late Peter Sciavelli, one of the greatest character actors of all time. His 100+ movie career included everything from Return to Gilligans Island to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That’s range, people. But of course, we’ll always remember him as the beloved Mr. Vargas:
5. Ground Zero Texas (1993 | SEGA CD)
What can you say about Ground Zero Texas? It’s more of an interactive movie than an actual game, with a plot about an alien landing in a small Texas town and the government agents brought in to bring the situation under control. Doesn’t sound like a compelling story to you? That’s too bad, because it boasts over 110 minutes of full motion video and multiple endings which would all sound pretty impressive if the marketing team didn’t ruin it by claiming on the box that “Ground Zero Texas offers almost two hours of interactive movie action at four camera locations, so you never play the same game twice.” We’re not math experts, but it seems like whatever number of playthroughs are available, it’s a number that’s less than “endless.”