The ’90s have a great deal to answer for, not least the imposition of terrible live-action cutscenes on videogames. Despite the technical advances since, FMV has never shaken off the negative connotations it earned during the time of 3DO, CD-i and Mega-CD. But Finnish studio Remedy Entertainment has been quietly working away on its own FMV rebranding exercise for more than a decade, slipping live-action sequences into its film- and television-inspired games alongside rendered cutscenes. Quantum Break is the culmination of its experiments in storytelling.
“Life’s too short to do small increments,” Remedy CEO Matias Myllyrinne tells us. “We want to do what we can to improve the artform.” To that end, the studio isn’t simply switching rendered cutscenes for live-action ones, but delivering a TV series alongside its game. Forget the loosely overlapping strands of Trion Worlds’ Defiance: Quantum Break’s episodes come on the disc with the game and are directly affected by your actions. It’s not yet clear to what extent you will alter these prerecorded episodes, but at least they’ll be directly associated with what you play. Perhaps the real question is whether players will want to watch non-interactive portions of story at all, but that’s left up to you.
“You’ll unlock the live-action episode at the end of the [gameplay] episode, but you can choose when you jump into that,” says head of franchise development Oskari Hakkinen. “The best experience would be to play the game, watch the live action, then play the game some more, but if you’ve chosen to dedicate your two-hour slot to gaming and you don’t want to watch live action straight away, you can continue on with the game and pick up on the live action from your iPad or phone at a later date.”
“My gut tells me they’ll play a section of the game, they’ll watch the live action with a beer or a coffee, and then jump back into the game,” Myllyrinne says. “Or they’ll stop and do the double-barrel thing the next night – play the episode and watch the live action.”
But while it’s happy to clarify the live-action aspects, Remedy is still coy about how its game plays. It’s understandable that Microsoft would want to prioritise launch titles now, but the lack of information around Quantum Break to date has been frustrating, the focus on its TV side leaving us in a state of uncertainty as to whether this fusion is being built for seasoned players or a brand- new audience. The truth, of course, is that Remedy is aiming for both, but Myllyrinne is contrite when we raise the issue.
“I think you’re right; maybe we assume too much sometimes,” he says. “But we want to put out an awesome action game with a very strong story told in a new way. At its heart, the gameplay needs to be good – how the game feels; how it plays; do you get a rush of adrenaline when you press the trigger and dodge for cover? If you don’t have those things nailed down then nobody is going to be drawn in to the fiction either. Those fundamentals need to be polished to what I call a ‘Remedy pedigree’ – the standard that we need to hit. That will happen.”
“This is a Remedy game,” Hakkinen assures us, “and not only a Remedy game, but the ultimate Remedy game.”
So what does the ultimate Remedy game entail? It turns out that for all its aspirations, Quantum Break’s frame is a traditional one: a cover-based thirdperson shooter, albeit with time manipulation mechanics and set-pieces. But this isn’t just Bullet Time 2.0 – you’ll be able to move through time, the game’s tech simulating spectacular environmental destruction, but you’ll also be at the mercy of anomalies, which could leave you on the back foot. One example was shown at E3 earlier this year, when a cargo ship leaps forward through time, causing it to hit a bridge. And to suit the TV-like format of the story, players will take control of several different characters, including the antagonist.
“At the end of the episode, you get to play the bad guy, who has the most powerful time-manipulation powers of all,” Myllyrinne says. “So he gets to choose which future comes to pass. You play that bad guy; you choose the moment. Then, once you’ve made your choice, you can enjoy a high-quality TV episode where you’ll see how your choices impacted certain things.
“Unlike many other games, you actually get to know what the consequences of your choice are. [In other games], when I make a choice, I don’t necessarily know what the impact of that decision has been, or why things turned out a certain way. Obviously you can have twists and turns, but it’s good to understand the consequences of your actions. We should be making [choice] more meaningful for gamers and more engaging.”
The setup allows writer and creative director Sam Lake to build on the structure he experimented with in Alan Wake, setting up cliffhangers and moving through story arcs within a larger narrative. This time, however, you’ll have to wait to find out the fate of certain characters while you pick up the story from a different perspective.
Myllyrinne believes that Quantum Break’s multimedia delivery makes sense on Xbox One, given the console’s confluence of media types and its ability to render in-game characters which, if not quite photorealistic, are a close match to their counterpart actors. Max Payne might have had a cool leather jacket in his 2001 debut, but if you looked closely, you’d notice that he didn’t have any ears. There are no such technical constraints for Quantum Break’s cast, so the switch between game and live-action episode should be less jarring. Whether Remedy can improve upon its previous games’ dialogue, the quality of which varies wildly, is another matter.
Regardless of the content, why not render the episodes in-engine like cutscenes? Myllyrinne explains: “A game should be interactive and TV should be passive, or at least linear. For me, it feels more natural to watch a show than to watch a long cutscene. If I get a long cutscene… not naming names, but I start to wish it was interactive.”
Metal Gear Solid’s epic cutscenes aside, there’s no precedent for what Remedy is attempting. Episodic adventures have enjoyed success lately, but none have asked players to switch between guns-blazing action and passive story consumption to such an extreme extent. And Remedy’s promise that live-action episodes can be set aside to be watched later seems to undermine their importance in the overall experience.
However it ends, it’s a bold experiment, but perhaps not a surprising one given the studio’s history. For all the question marks still hanging over this project, Remedy is the one studio that’s most likely to bridge the gap between TV and game effectively.