An interactive film, also known as movie game, is a video game that presents its gameplay in a cinematic, scripted manner, often through the use of a full-motion video of either animated or live-action footage.
This genre came about with the invention of laserdiscs and laserdisc players, the first nonlinear or random access video play devices. The fact that a laserdisc player could jump to and play any chapter instantaneously (rather than proceed in a linear path from start to finish like videotape) meant that games with branching plotlines could be constructed from out-of-order video chapters, in much the same way as Choose Your Own Adventure books are constructed from out-of-order pages.
Thus, interactive movies were animated or filmed with real actors like movies (or in some later cases, rendered with 3D models) and followed the main storyline. Alternative scenes were filmed to be triggered after the wrong (or alternate allowable) actions of the player (such as 'Game Over' scenes).
A popular example of a commercial interactive movie was the 1983 arcade game Dragon's Lair, featuring a full-motion video (FMV) cartoon by ex-Disney animator Don Bluth, where the player controlled some of the moves of the main character. When in danger, the player was to decide which move, action, or combination to choose. If they chose the wrong move, they would see a 'lose a life' scene, until they found the correct one which would allow them to see the rest of the story. There was only one possible successful storyline in Dragon's Lair; the only activity the user had was to choose or guess the move the designers intended them to make. Despite the lack of choice, Dragon's Lair was very popular.
The hardware for these games consisted of a laserdisc player linked to a processor configured with interface software that assigned a jump-to-chapter function to each of the controller buttons at each decision point. Much as a Choose Your Own Adventure book might say "If you turn left, go to page 7. If you turn right, go to page 8", the controller for Dragon's Lair or Cliff Hanger was programmed to go to the next chapter in the successful story if a player activated the correct control, or to go to the death chapter if they activated the wrong one. Because laserdisc players of the day were not robust enough to handle the wear and tear of constant arcade use, they required frequent replacement. The laserdiscs that contained the footage were ordinary laserdiscs with nothing special about them save for the order of their chapters and, if removed from the arcade console, would play their video on standard, non-interactive laserdisc players.
Later advances in technology allowed interactive movies to overlay multiple fields of FMV, called "vites", in much the same way as polygonal models and sprites are overlaid on top of backgrounds in traditional video game graphics.
The first example of interactive cinema was Kinoautomat (1967), which was written and directed by Radúz Činčera. This movie was first screened at Expo '67 in Montreal. This film was produced before the invention of the laserdisc or similar technology, so a live moderator appeared on stage at certain points to ask the audience to choose between two scenes. The chosen scene would play following an audience vote.
The first interactive movie game was Nintendo's Wild Gunman, a 1974 electro-mechanical arcade game that used film reel projection to display live-action full-motion video (FMV) footage of Wild West gunslingers. In the 1970s, Kasco (Kansei Seiki Seisakusho) released The Driver, a hit electro-mechanical arcade game with live-action FMV, projecting car footage filmed by Toei.
An early attempt to combine random access video with computer games was Rollercoaster, written in BASIC for the apple II by David Lubar for David H. Ahl, editor of Creative Computing. This was a text adventure that could trigger a laserdisc player to play portions of the feature film Rollercoaster (1977). The program was conceived and written in 1981, and it was published in the January 1982 issue of Creative Computing along with an article by Lubar detailing its creation, an article by Ahl claiming that Rollercoaster was the first video/computer game hybrid and proposing a theory of video/computer interactivity, and other articles reviewing hardware necessary to run the game and do further experiments.
The first arcade laserdisc video game was Sega's Astron Belt, an early third-person space combat rail shooter featuring live-action full-motion video footage (largely borrowed from a Japanese science fiction film) over which the player/enemy ships and laser fire are superimposed. Developed in 1982, it was unveiled at the 1982 AMOA show in Chicago and released the following year. However, the game that popularized the genre in the United States was Dragon's Lair, animated by Don Bluth and released by Cinematronics shortly after. Around the same time, the laserdisc games Bega's Battle and Cliff Hanger were also released.
Several laserdisc games added their own innovations to the genre. Bega's Battle, released by Data East in 1983, introduced "branching paths", in which there were multiple "correct moves" at certain points in the animation, and the move the player chose would affect the order of later scenes. Space Ace, another Don Bluth animated game released by Cinematronics the following year, also featured a similar branching formula. In 1984, Super Don Quixote, Esh's Aurunmilla, and Ninja Hayate overlaid crude computer graphics on top of the animation to indicate the correct input to the player, which the 1985 games Time Gal and Road Blaster also featured.
Because Dragon's Lair and Space Ace were immensely popular, they spawned a deluge of sequels and similar laserdisc games, despite the astronomical cost of the animation. To cut costs, several companies simply hacked together scenes from anime that were obscure to American audiences of the day. One such early example was Stern's Cliff Hanger, a 1983 game released around the same time which used footage from the Lupin III movies Castle of Cagliostro (directed by Hayao Miyazaki) and Mystery of Mamo. Another example released around that time was Bega's Battle, which used footage from Harmagedon, though it used a different approach, introducing a new form of video game storytelling: using brief full-motion video cutscenes to develop a story between the game's shooting stages. Years later, this would become the standard approach to video game storytelling. Bega's Battle also featured a branching storyline. Time Gal (1985) added a time-stopping feature, where specific moments in the game involve Reika stopping time; during these moments, players are presented with a list of three options and have seven seconds to choose the one which will save the character.
In 1987, the game Night Trap, featuring full-motion video, was created for Hasbro's Control-Vision video game system (originally codenamed "NEMO"), which used VHS tapes. When Hasbro discontinued the production of Control-Vision, the footage was placed into archive until it was purchased in 1991 by the founders of Digital Pictures. Digital Pictures ported Night Trap to the Sega CD platform, releasing it in 1992.
In 1988, Epyx announced three VCR games including one based on its video game California Games. They combined videotape footage with a board game. In the late 1980s, American Laser Games started to produce a wide variety of live-action light gun laserdisc video games, which played much like the early cartoon games but used a light gun instead of a joystick to affect the action. Meanwhile, Digital Pictures started to produce a variety of interactive movies for home consoles. When CD-ROMs were embedded in home computers, games with live-action and full-motion video featuring actors were considered cutting-edge, and some interactive movies were made. Some notable adventure games from this era are Under a Killing Moon, The Pandora Directive, Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within, Voyeur, Star Trek: Klingon, Star Trek: Borg, Ripper, Snatcher, Black Dahlia, The X-Files Game, Phantasmagoria, Bad Day on the Midway and The Dark Eye. Others in the action genre are Brain Dead 13 and Star Wars: Rebel Assault.
Due to the limitation of memory and disk space, as well as the lengthy timeframes and high costs required for the production, not many variations and alternative scenes for possible player moves were filmed, so the games tended not to allow much freedom and variety of gameplay. Thus, interactive movie games were not usually very replayable after being completed once.
From the time of its original introduction, the DVD format specification has included the ability to use an ordinary DVD player to play interactive games, such as Dragon's Lair (which was reissued on DVD), the Scene It? and other series of DVD games, or games that are included as bonus material on movie DVDs. Aftermath Media (founded by Rob Landeros of Trilobyte) released the interactive movies Tender Loving Care and Point of View (P.O.V) for the DVD platform. Such games have appeared on DVDs aimed at younger target audiences, such as the special features discs of the Harry Potter film series.
Later video games used this approach using fully animated computer-generated scenes, including various adventure games such as the Sound Novel series by Chunsoft, Shenmue series by Sega, Shadow of Memories by Konami, Time Travelers by Level 5, and Fahrenheit by Quantic Dream. During many scenes, the player has limited control of the character and chooses certain actions to progress the story. Other scenes are quick time event action sequences, requiring the player to hit appropriate buttons at the right time to succeed. Some of these games, such as the Sound Novel series, Shadow of Memories, Time Travelers, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and Detroit: Become Human, have numerous branching storylines that result from what actions the player takes or fails to complete properly, which can include the death of major characters or failure to solve the mystery. This idea was even further realized in Telltale's The Walking Dead series, where player actions can drastically change future games, for example, different characters may be alive in the end depending on choices made by the player in The Walking Dead season 1, but those same characters affect The Walking Dead: Season Two.
Cast members' work during the 1990s on interactive movies' chroma key sets was different from traditional filmmaking: They performed multiple possible actions players choose in a game, usually looked into the camera to react to the player, and usually did not react to others on the set. Such products were popular during the early 1990s as CD-ROMs and Laserdiscs made their way into the living rooms, providing an alternative to the low-capacity cartridges of most consoles. As the first CD-based consoles capable of displaying smooth and textured 3D graphics appeared, the full-FMV game had vanished from the mainstream circles around 1995, although it remained an option for PC adventure games for a couple more years. One of the last titles released was the 1998 PC and PlayStation adventure The X-Files: The Game, packed in 7 CDs. That same year, Tex Murphy: Overseer became the first game developed specifically for DVD-ROM and one of the last "interactive movies" to make heavy use of live-action FMV. In 2014, the Tex Murphy series continued with a new FMV game, Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure.
With advances in computer technology, interactive films waned as more developers used fully digitized characters and scenes. This format was popularized by Telltale Games, achieving success in The Walking Dead series of adventure games. These have sometimes been called interactive movies, as while the player can make choices that affect the game's overall narrative, they do not have direct control over characters, making the experience comparable to watching a sequence of cut scenes.
With the advent of YouTube annotations in 2008, a series of five Interactive Adventures was created by Chad, Matt & Rob that utilized the annotations to tell interactive stories that allowed the user to guide the narrative. The series included The Time Machine, The Murder, The Birthday Party, The Teleporter, and The Treasure Hunt.
In the 2010s, streaming services like Netflix started to grow in popularity and sophistication. By 2016, Netflix had started experimenting with interactive works aimed at children, including an animated version of Puss in Boots and an adaption of Telltale's Minecraft: Story Mode. Netflix's first major interactive film with live-action scenes was Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a film in the Black Mirror anthology series and released in December 2018. Netflix worked with Black Mirror's creator Charlie Brooker to develop a narrative that took advantage of the interactive format while developing their own tools to improve caching of scenes and management of the film's progression to use on future projects.