Full motion video

A full motion video (FMV) is a video game narration technique that relies upon pre-recorded video files (rather than sprites, vectors, or 3D models) to display action in the game. While many games feature FMVs as a way to present information during cutscenes, games that are primarily presented through FMVs are referred to as full-motion video games or interactive movies.


The first wave of FMV games originated in arcades in 1983 with the release of Astron Belt from Sega and Dragon's Lair from Cinematronics. Both games used Laserdiscs to store the video used in the game, which allowed for very high quality visuals compared to contemporary arcade games of the era. A number of arcade games using FMV with Laserdiscs were released over the next three years and the technology was touted as the future of video games. Some games released in this era reused video footage from other sources while others had it purpose made. Cliff Hanger, Bega's Battle, and Firefox reused footage while titles like Space Ace, Time Gal, Thayer's Quest, Super Don Quixote and Cobra Command were entirely original.

The limited nature of FMV, high price to play (50 cents in an era where 25 cents was standard), high cost of the hardware and problems with reliability quickly took its toll on the buzz surrounding these games and their popularity diminished. By 1985, the allure of FMV and the Laserdisc had worn off, and the technology had disappeared from arcades by the end of 1987. RDI Video Systems (Thayer's Quest) had branched out into making a home console called the Halcyon, but it failed and they went bankrupt. Cinematronics's fortunes fared little better and they were bought out by Tradewest in 1987. Companies such as Atari canceled more prototype Laserdisc games than they released. Others, like Universal, stopped development on games after only one release despite announcing several titles.

After only a few years, the technology had improved and Laserdisc players were more reliable. In addition, costs had come down and the average price to play a game had gone up. These factors caused a resurgence of the popularity of Laserdiscs games in the arcade. American Laser Games released a light gun shooting game called Mad Dog McCree in 1990 and it was an instant hit and then in 1991 with Who Shot Johnny Rock? , a game that might be the first ever live action interactive movie. American Laser alone would go on to lease almost a dozen Laserdisc games over the next few years and many other companies again rushed to release titles using the technology. Dragon's Lair II, a title which had been shelved years earlier, was released by Leland to strong sales. Time Traveler further pushed the technology by using special projection technology to give the appearance of 3D visuals.

Again, the fad passed quickly. The limited nature of the Laserdisc hampered interactivity and limited replayability, a key weakness in arcade games. American Laser, the chief producer of Laserdisc games during this era, had stopped making arcade games in 1994 and most other companies switched over to newer technologies around the same time. With the rise of 3D graphics and the introduction of hard drives and CD-ROMs to arcades, the large, expensive and small-capacity Laserdisc could not compete and disappeared. While CDs would see some use in the mid and late 1990s, it was hard drives, GD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs that caused the largest jump in FMV use in the arcade. Their very large capacities and mature, reliable technology allowed for much cheaper hardware than traditional hardware systems, and FMV cut-scenes became commonplace. FMV as a major gameplay component had disappeared by this time because of the limited gameplay options it allowed.

Home systems

In 1984, a home console system called the Halcyon was released by RDI Video Systems that used Laserdiscs for its games and was to feature ports of several popular Laserdisc arcade games of the day. It used FMV exclusively, but the company folded after releasing only two titles for the system. The LaserActive from Pioneer would try the technology again in 1994, but it too failed.

By the early 1990s when PCs and consoles moved to creating games on a CD, they became technically capable of utilizing more than a few minutes' worth of movies in a game. This gave rise to a slew of original FMV-based computer games such as Night Trap (1992), The 7th Guest (1993), Voyeur (1993), Phantasmagoria (1995), and Daryl F. Gates' Police Quest: SWAT (1995). Other titles were simply scaled down ports of Laserdisc arcade games, some of them a decade old by this time. Regardless of their sources, these FMV games frequently used B-movie and TV actors and promised to create the experience of playing an interactive movie or animation. However, production values were quite low with amateurish sets, lighting, costumes, and special effects. Animated titles either cobbled together footage from old anime or used cheaper overseas animation producers to create their footage. In addition, the video quality in these early games was low, and the gameplay frequently did not live up to the hype becoming well-known failures in video gaming. At this time, consoles like 3DO, CD-i, and Sega CD borrowed this concept for several low-quality interactive games. Companies such as Digital Pictures and American Laser Games were formed to produce full-motion video games.

Also, the "multimedia" phenomenon that was exploding in popularity at the time increased the popularity of FMV because consumers were excited by this new emerging interactive technology. The personal computer was rapidly evolving during the early-to-mid 1990s from a simple text-based productivity device into a home entertainment machine. Gaming itself was also emerging from its niche market into the mainstream with the release of easier-to-use and more powerful operating systems, such as Microsoft's Windows 95, that leveraged continually evolving processing capabilities.

Video game consoles too saw incredible gains in presentation quality and contributed to the mass market's growth in awareness of gaming. It was during the 1990s that the video/computer game industry first beat Hollywood in earnings. Sony made its debut in the console market with the release of the 32-bit PlayStation. The PlayStation was probably the first console to popularize FMVs (as opposed to earlier usage of FMV which was seen as a passing fad). A part of the machine's hardware was a dedicated M-JPEG processing unit which enabled far superior quality relative to other platforms of the time. The FMVs in Final Fantasy VIII, for example, were marketed as movie-quality at the time.

FMVs in games today typically consist of high-quality pre-rendered video sequences (CGI). These sequences are created in similar ways as computer generated effects in movies. Use of FMV as a selling point or focus has diminished in modern times. This is primarily due to graphical advancements in modern video game systems making it possible for in-game cinematics to have just as impressive visual quality. Digitized video footage of real actors in games generally ended for mainstream games in the early 2000s with a few exceptions such as Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War released in 2006, Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight released in 2010, Tesla Effect released in 2014, Her Story released in 2015, the 2015 reboot of Need for Speed, and Obduction released in 2016.


The early 1980s saw the almost exclusive use of the Laserdisc for FMV games. Many arcade games used the technology but it was ultimately considered a fad and fell out of use. At least one arcade game, NFL Football from Bally/Midway, used CEDs to play its video. Some 1970s era Nintendo games used film and projectors. formats had the advantage of offering full frame video and sound without the quality problems of compressed video that would plague later formats like CDs.

With the re-popularization of FMV games in the early 1990s following the advent of CD-ROM, higher-end developers usually created their own custom FMV formats to suit their needs. Early FMV titles used game-specific proprietary video renderers optimized for the content of the video (e.g., live-action vs. animated), because CPUs of the day were incapable of playing back real-time MPEG-1 until the fastest 486 and Pentium CPUs arrived. Consoles, on the other hand, either used a third-party codec (e.g., Cinepak for Sega Mega-CD games) or used their own proprietary format (e.g. the Philips CD-i). Video quality steadily increased as CPUs became more powerful to support higher quality video compression and decompression. The 7th Guest, one of the first megahit multiple-CD-ROM games, was one of the first games to feature transparent quality 640x320 FMV at 15 frames per second in a custom format designed by programmer Graeme Devine.

Other examples of this would be Sierra's VMD (Video and Music Data) format, used in games like Gabriel Knight 2 and Phantasmagoria, or Westwood Studios' VQA format, used in most Westwood games made from the mid-1990s up until 2000s Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun Firestorm. These video formats initially offered very limited video quality, due to the limitations of the machines the games needed to run on. Ghosting and distortion of high-motion scenes, heavy pixelization, and limited color palettes were prominent visual problems. However, each game pushed the technological envelope and was typically seen as impressive even with quality issues.

Johnny Mnemonic: The Interactive Action Movie, was the first FMV title made by a Hollywood Studio. Sony Imagesoft spent over US$ 3 Million on the title. Instead of piecing together the title with filmed assets from their movie (directed by Robert Longo) of the same name, Sony hired Propaganda Code director Douglas Gayeton to write and film an entirely new storyline for the property. The CD-ROM's interactivity was made possible with the Cine-Active engine, based on the QuickTime 2.0 codec.

Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger was one of the most significant FMV titles made in 1994, featuring big-name Hollywood actors. The video quality in the game suffered significantly from the aforementioned problems and was almost visually indecipherable in parts; however, this did not stop the title from earning significant praise for its innovative gameplay/FMV combination. Its sequel, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, used a similar custom movie codec in its CD-ROM release, but a later limited-volume DVD-ROM release saw MPEG-2 DVD-quality movies that far exceeded the original CD release in quality. A hardware decoder card was required at the time to play back the DVD-quality video on a PC. Wing Commander IV was also the first game to have used actual film (rather than video tape) to record the FMV scenes which attributed to the ability to create a DVD-quality transfer.

An exception to the rule was The 11th Hour, the sequel to The 7th Guest. 11th Hour featured 640×480 FMV at 30 frames-per-second on 4 CDs. The development team had worked for three years on developing a format that could handle the video, as the director of the live-action sequences had not shot the FMV sequences in a way that could be easily compressed. However, this proved to be the game's downfall, as most computers of the day could not play the full-resolution video. Users were usually forced to select an option which played the videos at a quarter-size resolution in black-and-white.

As FMV established itself in the market as a growing game technology, a small company called RAD Game Tools appeared on the market with their 256-color FMV format Smacker. Developers took to the format, and the format ended up being used in over 3,000, largely PC based games.

With the launch of consoles with built-in optical storage (the Sega Saturn and Sony's PlayStation (console)) console manufacturers began more actively taking it upon themselves to provide higher quality FMV capabilities to developers. Sony included optimizations in their hardware for their MDEC (motion decompression) technology, and Sega chose the software route. Sega worked both internally on optimizing technology such as Cinepak, and externally by licensing video decompression technology from the NY based Duck Corporation. While Duck's offering won praise for its quality (showcased in games like Enemy Zero, major Launch titles in the US and the Saturn adaptations of console hits from the Sega AM2 arcade group) the opaque licensing and royalty structure impeded widespread adoption outside of Japanese and larger US developers.

Duck's TrueMotion technology was extended to the PC and Macintosh as well, showcased in the high profile Star Trek: Borg and Star Trek: Klingon, The X-Files Game, Final Fantasy VII, and the highly anticipated sequel to Phantasmagoria, Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh and other titles. It was reported that versions for PlayStation and GameCube were developed, but the last console version released was for Sega's short-lived Dreamcast.

As the popularity of games loaded with live-action and FMV faded out in the late 1990s, and with Smacker becoming outdated in the world of 16-bit color games, RAD introduced a new true-color format, Bink video. Developers quickly took to the format because of its high compression ratios and videogame-tailored features. The format is still one of the most popular FMV formats used in games today. 4,000 games have used Bink, and the number is still growing.

In the late '90s, Duck largely shelved its support for the console market (likely fueled by the direct support for DVD support in newer generation consoles) and focused its formats instead on internet delivered video. Duck went public as On2 Technologies and later generations of its technology was licensed by Adobe, Skype and was eventually bought (along with the company) by Google as the foundation for WebM. An early open source version of that work also appears as the renamed Theora codec of the Xiph Project.

Windows Media Video, DivX, Flash Video, Theora and WebM are also now major players in the market. DivX is used in several Nintendo GameCube titles, including Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike.

See also

External links

Bad Day on the Midway

Bad Day on the Midway is a CD-ROM game designed and scored by The Residents and a number of other graphic artists, including Jim Ludtke.

The game was optioned by Ron Howard at Imagine Television for a proposed series to be directed by David Lynch. After two years of meetings with Lynch, the project was dropped because a script was never agreed upon. Had the project moved forward, The Residents would have not been creatively involved as their contract only gave them consulting roles in the pilot.

The character Timmy was later brought back in a series of short videos by the Residents. Additionally, in 2012 a novel was published based on the game's story.

Bink Video

Bink Video is a proprietary file format (extensions .bik and .bk2) for video developed by RAD Game Tools.

The format includes its own proprietary video and audio compression algorithms (video and audio codecs) supporting resolutions from 320×240 all the way up to high definition video.

It is bundled as part of the RAD Video Tools along with RAD Game Tools' previous video codec, Smacker video. It is a hybrid block-transform and wavelet codec capable of using 16 different encoding techniques allowing it to compress any type of video. The codec places emphasis on lower decoding requirements over other video codecs with specific optimizations for the different computer game consoles it supports.

It has been primarily used for full-motion video sequences in video games

It has been used in games for Windows, Mac OS, Xbox 360, Xbox, GameCube, Wii, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Dreamcast, Nintendo DS, and PSP.The format was reverse-engineered by the FFmpeg project and Bink decoding is supported by the open-source libavcodec library.Bink2, a new version of the format, was released in 2013. This new format is available for Windows (standard, Windows 8 Store and Windows 8 Phone), Mac OS, Linux, Sony PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PS Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii and Wii U, Nintendo Switch, Android and iOS.


Cinepak is a lossy video codec developed by Peter Barrett at SuperMac Technologies, and released in 1991 with the Video Spigot, and then in 1992 as part of Apple Computer's QuickTime video suite. One of the first video compression tools to achieve full motion video on CD-ROM, it was designed to encode 320×240 resolution video at 1× (150 kbyte/s) CD-ROM transfer rates. The original name of this codec was CompactVideo, which is why its FourCC identifier is CVID. The codec was ported to the Microsoft Windows platform in 1993. It was also used on first-generation and some second-generation CD-ROM game consoles, such as the Atari Jaguar CD, Sega CD, Sega Saturn, and 3DO. libavcodec includes a Cinepak decoder and an encoder, both licensed under the terms of the LGPL.

Corpse Killer

Corpse Killer is a game released for the Sega CD, Sega CD 32X, 3DO, Sega Saturn, Windows 95 and Macintosh computers that features live action full motion video in a format similar to other games developed by Digital Pictures. The quality of the full motion video on the Sega CD version is less than that of the others. Also, after the release of the Sega CD version, Digital Pictures created an option to have English subtitles during the full motion video as critics had complained that it was difficult to understand what the driver was saying in the Sega CD and Sega 32X versions. Corpse Killer was the first CD game released for the Sega 32X.Footage from the game was later recycled for the 2003 film Game Over.

Digital Pictures

Digital Pictures was an American video game developer founded in 1991 by Lode Coen, Mark Klein, Ken Melville, Anne Flaut-Reed, Kevin Welsh and Tom Zito.The company originated from an attempt to produce a game for the failed VHS-based NEMO game system. One of its first titles, Night Trap was originally produced as a title for the NEMO, before being converted for use with Sega's new Sega CD. The mature-themed content of Night Trap made it the source of some controversy. Nevertheless, the title was a bestseller. Digital Pictures went on to create other full motion video-based titles primarily for Sega hardware, and are regarded as a pioneer of the interactive movie genre. However, the company declined in the mid-1990s due to waning interest in full motion video games. Its final title, Maximum Surge went unreleased and was later repurposed into a film called Game Over.

Dracula Unleashed

Dracula Unleashed is a 1993 video game created by ICOM Simulations and published by Viacom New Media for the Sega CD, Apple Macintosh and DOS platforms.

It was one of the earliest titles to make heavy use of full-motion video as an integral part of the gameplay. Other contemporary titles utilizing full-motion video include Night Trap, Sewer Shark and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective.

Interactive film

An interactive movie, also known as a movie game, is a video game that presents its gameplay in a cinematic, scripted manner, often through the use of full-motion video of either animated or live-action footage. In modern times, the term also refers to games that have a larger emphasis on story/presentation than on gameplay.

Lost in Time (video game)

Lost in Time is a computer adventure game developed and published by Coktel Vision in 1993. It was promoted as being "The first Interactive Adventure Film using Full Motion Video Technology" and contained four graphical elements: full motion video, hand painted and digitized backgrounds and 3D decor.

Make My Video

Make My Video is a series of three video games by Digital Pictures in 1992 for the Sega Mega-CD. The games featured three songs from the respective musical groups, and the player edited pre-made clips to make a new music video. The games were universally panned and were financial disasters.

In each game, players are given instructions of what they should include in the video, and then the song is played while the video is edited live. Players can change between video clips available by pressing the buttons on the controller, and choose from clips of videos of the group, stock footage, movie clips, and special effects.

Super Adventure Rockman

Super Adventure Rockman (スーパーアドベンチャーロックマン) is an interactive movie video game for the Sega Saturn and PlayStation in the original Mega Man series from Capcom. It was only released in Japan.

Supreme Warrior

Supreme Warrior is a full-motion video action game developed by Digital Pictures. It was released in 1995 for North America and Europe.

The Guy Game

The Guy Game is an adult video game developed by Topheavy Studios and published by Gathering of Developers, released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, and Xbox in 2004. Presented in a trivia gameshow style supporting up to four players, it consists of about 1,000 questions spread out over 20 episodes. Much of the game involves watching live-action video footage of young women in bikinis, and as the player succeeds in the game the women eventually expose their breasts. The game garnered much controversy and was the subject of a lawsuit.

Urban Runner

Urban Runner (originally subtitled Lost In Town) is a French produced computer game developed by Coktel Vision and published by Sierra On-line.

The game is an interactive movie spanning four CD-ROMs. The plot follows an American journalist in Paris who has been framed for murder during the course of an investigation.

Urban Runner was not very popular at the time of its release, due to high graphics and monitor resolution requirements. The minimum requirement was 640×480, with 256 colors. For the best quality, 640×480, 32-bit color was needed. Few reviews have been published concerning the game.

The lead is played by Brandon Massey, who also played the lead in the Sierra title Police Quest IV: Open Season (1993), making this his second and final appearance in a Sierra game.

Video game graphics

A variety of computer graphic techniques have been used to display video game content throughout the history of video games. The predominance of individual techniques have evolved over time, primarily due to hardware advances and restrictions such as the processing power of central or graphics processing units.

Voyeur (video game)

Voyeur is an interactive movie video game released in 1993 for the Philips CD-i. MS-DOS and Macintosh computer ports were later released. A major selling point for the game was the "mature" content of the full motion video sequences, with a number of simulated sex scenes.

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