Movie-like video games and interactive movies have gained a lot of traction since their big break in the 90s, but they seem to have died down recently. With the death of Telltale, a company famous for creating some of the most well-recognized interactive movies, not much has seemed to happen with them. Their future may be unclear, but they’re still interesting to look back to.
The first interactive movie ever created was Kinoautomat, having been released in 1967. At nine times in the film, the audience is asked to make a choice by a moderator in the theater. All actions lead up to the same downer ending, since a big part of it is satirizing democracy. This one is actually extremely interesting to me, so please tell me if you know of a way to experience it since I can’t seem to find any. Another early interactive movie is Nintendo’s arcade experience Wild Gunman, which utilizes a light gun and full-motion video to have the player feel as if they’re taking part in a western film.
Dragon’s Lair was the first hit interactive film, created by Don Bluth. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, he directed animated classics such as The Secret of NIMH, An American Tale, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go to Heaven. Dragon’s Lair looked and sounded exactly like a western cartoon, except it asked for extreme knee-jerk reactions from the player if they wanted to avoid getting another death sequence. It’s considered to be absolutely brutal by modern standards and requires several plays to memorize every little command.
In the 1990s, interactive films started to gain traction again with FMV-capable home consoles such as the Sega CD, the Philips CD-i, and the Panasonic 3DO. Most of these consoles did not take off nearly as well as expected and the focus would soon shift to the 3D era of video games, but they still had their time in the limelight. Night Trap is pretty much an interactive B-movie and it garnered an extremely strong cult following over time, having a recent re-release that ended up being very successful. There were tons of other attempts to create successful FMV games, but the market quickly got oversaturated and nothing took off nearly as well as Night Trap.
After the 90s, there were a few attempts at interactive film such as an interactive Doctor Who mini-episode and the infamous eroge School Days, but nothing stood out all too well. A straight-to-video series based on R. A. Montgomery’s Choose Your Own Adventure novel series had several successful releases, but are now little more than obscure novelties from the past. In 2010, Quantic Dream and Sony Computer Entertainment created the interactive drama Heavy Rain for the PlayStation 3, which had a massive budget and released to massive success. It was later released for the PS4 and PC, also to strong sales.
During the 2000s, developer Telltale was slowly building a reputation for their episodic movie-like adventures. They were able to garner brands such as CSI, Sam & Max, and Monkey Island. In 2010, they created a full-on sequel to the classic Back to the Future trilogy and followed it up with a Jurassic Park experience. It wasn’t until 2012 that they produced a true hit, that being The Walking Dead. It’s commonly said to be better than the television series and even more impactful than the beloved comics, earning praise for its heavily emotional story. Since then, Telltale has become a household name, although they did eventually dig themselves into a financial hole as demand for their brand of storytelling declined over the years.
Walking simulators are also often considered closer to movies than video games, having the player do nothing but traverse an environment and maybe encounter scripted items or setpieces along the way. These didn’t have much in terms of choice or failstates, but they did provide a unique experience. There are some walking simulators that contain more game-like elements such as the absolutely brilliant The Stanley Parable, but for the most part they were linear and narrative-based.
There have been recent attempts at interactive films such as Her Story and Late Shift, but once again these are only a needle in a haystack. Netflix has had their fair share of tries with Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, but no one truly knows what the future holds for the interactive movie. Perhaps they’ll receive a comeback in the future, but now isn’t their time.