Between movies and video games lies a new category of storytelling, FMV games. The Full-Motion Video technique allows gamers to interact directly in the story with choices or actions, similarly to graphic adventure games like Life Is Strange or The Walking Dead. Flavourworks is one of the first studios to invest in the new technology and gave birth to one of the most famous FMV games: Erica.
A past of dreams and drawings
Erica is an interactive thriller published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It is a live-action with real actors, close to other interactive experiments in movies like the series of Netflix Interactive Specials.
The chilling story of Erica follows Erica Mason, a young woman haunted by nightmares; through them she keeps reliving her dire childhood, starting with her father’s murder. In every dream or vision of the tragic event, Erica tries to identify the killer from her blurry memory.
After waking up from her nightmares she draws weird faces and a recurring sign: a symbol that looks like a butterfly, just like the birthmark Erica has on her arm. The butterfly sign was also found on her father’s body after he was murdered and seems to follow her wherever she goes.
The plot finally starts after Erica receives a severed hand in the mail and a police inquiry begins. Erica returns to Delphi House, the father-founded institution where both her parents worked and met. This place looks comfortable and familiar at first, but it gradually shows that is hiding something extremely dark and strange.
Walking through nightmares in physical life
What Erica brings to the Video Games world is a new perspective on how to tell a story. This live-action makes every motion-captured game (The Last of Us or the Uncharted series to name a few) look outdated. In fact, watching a walkthrough of the game is almost like watching a movie with real actors in real-life situations.
The only thing that makes this movie an actual game is that the player can make choices during a few critical points in the story, unlocking different developments and endings. Up until this part of gameplay, there are no critical differences between Erica and any other interactive movie.
New features for this FMV-based game include opening doors, lighting up a lighter, dialing a number on a phone, and more actions to guide actors. Interaction with the surroundings is possible using the touchpad on the PlayStation 4 controller or PlayLink on a smartphone. These are new ways to break barriers between the fictional and real world. Barriers that are already easy to break down, ever since the 3D online world became a reality players can live in; because metaverse and VR are now a reality.
Horror is a game
Any type of art has different genres, and video games are no exception. Their immersive nature makes them the best way to entertain while also directly affecting players’ emotions and moods. This is the reason why many Video Games have horror and thrilling twists.
One of the best-known horror video games is 2015’s Until Dawn, developed by Supermassive Games. With a third-person perspective, players in Until Dawn can play as a group of friends who need to survive while solving a mystery. But this graphic adventure needs to use quick-time events like jumpscares to help players dive into the story; this immersive experience is always built up by developers.
However, in the video game Erica, the storytelling itself drives the player to feel like a part of the story and not just a viewer. Seeing real-life actors and not computer-programmed characters is more effective in terms of immersion. For this reason, and thanks to the new gaming experience, Erica was a successful experiment with mostly positive reviews from both the critic and players.
Even Until Dawn developers eventually understood the need to make every player feel like the main character. For this reason, in 2016 a spin-off was released; Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is a rail shooter with a VR technology that made it even scarier than the original story, showing once again how important is for games to take players on a journey where they can feel, see and hear for themselves.
Erica and other mysteries
By the end of the game, Erica Mason will finally find a way to escape her past and solve the intriguing mystery. But as the development studio says on their official website, no single path holds all the answers. So the only way to answer all the questions is by replaying the game while waiting for Flavourworks’ new projects.
As a next-generation studio, the developers’ goal is to make videos into accessible games with all new technologies. After Erica, more titles will follow. HUSH-Crane is next in line with another interactive survival adventure and a crime twist.