Casual Friday: Putting the 'Video' in Video Games

In our ongoing efforts to celebrate slack, I've found a few great new ways to kill what little free time you think you have this weekend and beyond. Well, what are you waiting for?

You Oughta Be in Pictures

It's easy to draw comparisons between movies and games, but video game makers really aspired to be like big-time movie studios not too long ago. A little over 10 years back, entire soundstages loaded with actors, sets, and camera crews filmed full-motion video (FMV) for games. Why even bring that up? Well, this week marks the release of Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath on the PC. I'll get to that game soon enough. During its run of 13-plus years, the C&C series has become known for cheesy full-motion video acting--and the real-time strategy part, of course. Now, the newest game is out, and FMV is back, recorded in HD. That means you can see semifamous actors squirm in the high-def spotlight wondering why they agreed to read from the script.

(Yeah, we all know the an$wer to that.)

This got me thinking that someone should put together a proper tribute to some of the "greatest" FMV performances to ever grace a CD-ROM. So, without further ado...

My Top Five FMV Game Appearances (click the links for more videos from the games):

5. Mark Hamill (and a whole cast full of people such as Malcolm McDowell, John Rhys-Davies, and...hmmm...Ginger Lynn Allen) in Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger. Honorable mention for the huge Muppet-like costumes.

<div><object width="348" height="288"><param name="movie" value="http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/xrblt" /><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true" /><param name="allowScriptAccess" value="always" /><embed src="http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/xrblt" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="348" height="288" allowFullScreen="true" allowScriptAccess="always"></embed></object><br /><b><a href="http://www.dailymotion.com/swf/xrblt">Wing Commander III extended trailer</a></b><br /><i>by <a href="http://www.dailymotion.com/fmvgamer">fmvgamer</a></i></div></embed>

4. The sci-fi detective series Tex Murphy, featuring...a cast of people you probably didn't know. The acting was good enough in trying to ape the whole noir vibe. And to a degree, it worked.

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3. Command & Conquer: Red Alert (this clip starring Albert Einstein's stand-in). To me, Red Alert provided both great gameplay and many memorable moments off the battlefield, thanks to the video clips. Some were intentionally cheesy, some not, but the big surprise is that they were actually decent. Crazy, I know.

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2. Christopher Walken (!!!) in Ripper. Christoper Walken can be himself, reading the phone book, and I'd watch it. Put him in a video game, and that's magic on a disc.

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1. The infamous Night Trap "starring" Dana Plato and the refugees from some horrible 1980s slasher movie. A treat: You can see the whole game as a couple of painfully long movie clips if you really hate yourself. Or, if you consider yourself only a minor glutton for punishment, try the first 9 minutes on for size.

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Free Full-Motion Video

You know, all this talk about full-motion video adventures reminds me of a tribute to those good old days that I played recently. This game is not only good, it's also available online free of charge. If you're hankering to see a modern take on a noir-styled FMV adventure, check out Fate By Numbers. A word of warning, though: It's a large (1.2GB) download, so hang in there.

TV Tuners

Okay, I know that we covered Hulu.com a few weeks back, but I feel obligated to bring it up again for a simple reason: Just the other night, after the second "series finale" of Jericho, an online petition started circulating to save the smart post-fallout show again. Not sure what the big deal was about? Check out this direct link to every single Jericho episode.

While we're on the subject of new show-watching developments this week, I should note that the foul-mouthed South Park kids are all online, all free. Every episode, countless clips, character generators, and lots of hidden features lurk around the South Park Studios Web site. Oh, and when I say "free," I'm talking free of censorship as well. All the cussing you can handle is online, waiting for you in streamed episodes. How can they afford such madness? As on Hulu, all of the episodes are ad-supported.

BD-Live Goes Live (on the PS3 First)

Ready to buy a game console as your HD video player? Just in case you somehow missed the news, a big new update for the PlayStation 3 is now officially live. While the Version 2.20 firmware update contains a number of enhancements, the BD-Live support is by far the biggest improvement. The PlayStation 3 is now the first Blu-ray Disc player capable of multiplayer gaming, e-commerce, new-content downloads, and social networking--to name just a few features. (And the first two movies to support BD-Live ship in two weeks.) Sony's dedicated Blu-ray players that support BD-Live aren't shipping until late this summer at the earliest.

48 Free Games! (For Those Counting)

You might remember the video game name competition I mentioned recently. If not, here's a quick refresher: Folks used a name generator to come up with the goofiest game name possible, and then the independent gaming community had to make games based on those names. Well, here we are a couple of weeks later, and I'm playing Heavy Metal Ninja Shootout, Attack of the Banjo on the High Seas, and Mega Spatula Fury (and 45 other truly awe-inspiring titles). Check 'em all out, and don't forget to vote for your favorite!

Game Pick

Though several interesting titles have come out this week (Dark Sector and Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core to name a couple; I'll get to them soon), I was able to focus on only one game--because Kane's Wrath consumed all my free time. As it will do to you.

Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath (PC)

Tanks for the memories of tank rushes!
Back in 1995, Command & Conquer invaded Intel Pentium P55s across the land. (In fact, you can grab the full first game for free.) One of the first real-time strategy games to hit the market, it made old turn-based board-game-style gameplay seem stale by comparison. As a result, Command & Conquer quickly gained a devoted following--more than enough fans to keep it going today with Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath, which launched this week. This brand-new take on the series delivers a lot of what people have liked about the series--a great collection of cheesoid videos to tell the story and a whole lot of real-time "strategery"--while adding a second layer on top of the game.

You plot your next moves in turns by looking at a world map--a giant war room--where you make big decisions such as which country to attack next and with how many initial troops. From there, you dive into combat. Really, it's as if someone sandwiched a game of Risk on top of the popular RTS series.

It's two games in one--and though others have done it before, Kane's Wrath does it in high style and tries to tell a cohesive story at the same time. If you haven't already played (or finished) C&C 3: Tiberium Wars (the original game), add that to your weekend to-play list as well. Thank me later.

What would you recommend? Have you found some great gadget, Web site, or game that you'd like to let the rest of the world know about? E-mail me.

Until next week...

Senior Writer Darren Gladstone geeks out over gadgets, games, and odd uses for humdrum tech. In other words, he's a nerd--and he's okay with that.

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