In the meantime, I'm just a guy who writes about videogame theory and how the medium can achieve better cinematic emulation (while keeping its own indentity). Though, if that's too boring, you can always find something delightfully fluffy in the following:
It had been a long search through the cracks and crevices through the Old McGinty House. My torch’s ever faithful beam chased away the shadows as I caught them prowling behind table legs and crooked chairs. The creaks and moans suggested I wasn’t alone in this god forsaken hellhole, but as I called out I realised I was the only one here. The locals had told me that if I really wanted to find my next gaming relic for The Gamer Obscura Files, I’d have to spend the night here with the PSone hooked up to a lonely TV sulking in the corner of a dead man’s room. From outside, the front of the dilapidated house looked like Jonas McGinty’s last anguished scream before the game took his life. The local kids were less kind...
They said it looked like McGinty’s sex face.
By the time the evening rolled around, I entered the house through the unlocked front door. It almost felt like it wanted me to enter and face the horror inside. I obliged without fear, since I had already been witness to the most terrifying event recorded by the FBI - the recording of Phil Collins’ ‘Face Value’ album.
The torch beam traced around the diluted details of house and my mind recounted the horrific events that had brought me here. Jonas McGinty was a self proclaimed awful game collector; some say the best. He was broken man determined to collect the worst games ever made. They say his obsession came about after he lost his girlfriend in a Singstar accident. They spent four hours removing the microphone from her head. It drove him insane; the games journalists said he played the awful games to get closer to the pain his beloved felt before she choked. I sympathised with the madness on display, being an elitist snob of a gamer myself.
McGinty’s last game was a tie-in based on the cult TV show, ‘The X Files’. Most critics deemed it an abomination, but none of this fazed him in the slightest. He had already played the horrific ‘The Blair Witch Project Vol. 1-3’, so one measly, half arsed, TV merchandise spin-off wasn’t going to do him too much harm. All he wanted was the emotional distress that his partner felt.
But he was wrong.
Nobody really knows what happened, but on the night he died, the neighbours heard him scream for mercy. The police found him crumpled on the landing and the PSone lid was wide open; there was no trace of the game that killed him. The local detective mentioned that it was like the machine was screaming, mouth agape. I told him that was laziest comparison I ever heard since someone had already used that metaphor for the front of the house. I was promptly asked to leave for being smarmily pedantic.
Using the information I gathered from the locals and crime scene photos, awful game collector Jonas McGinty (bleeding from the eyes, no less) had ejected the game and in his last dying breath, stored it in a wall unit nearby. It took me six hours to find it. Mainly because I just wanted to look cool with a torch instead of turning the lights on...and I also spent several hours arguing online how Sylvester McCoy was actually the best Doctor Who since Tom Baker. As I shone the torch beam on to the reflective jewel case, it hit me that by the end of the night I would either walk out of McGinty’s sane or become crazier than a Valve fanboy discovering that ‘the cake is a lie’ wasn’t really that funny in the first place.
Under the sofa, I found crudely written review notes about the game. I glanced through the information haphazardly, like a gamer barely touching the manual of a complex game only to completely break down when he doesn’t understand why the game isn’t working later on. I decided to compile them as intermissions in this blog, purely just for stylish cosmetic reasons. Despite there being a lack of power in the abandoned house, the old PSone and television still had power. I placed the first of four discs in the machine and hoped for the best...
The X Files was massive in the mid-90’s and it still shocks me how it’s been largely forgotten about nowadays. When the recent movie sequel, I Want To Believe, was released, it was disconcerting though somewhat predictable how fragile a fan base can be. Give it a few years and people just tend to forget about cultural movements that the media did its best to cash in on at every opportunity. Even more shocking was how something like Fringe, a glossy carbon copy, was deemed completely original in the movie’s presence. Admittedly, the film was awful and it was a product that relied on nostalgia to see it through the opening week. But when I think back on the nostalgia, I think of the copious amounts of merchandise released in its name. Out of all the curious relics of the show’s past, it’s the game that stands out for me the most. I suppose my interest in TV show tie-in games started here with the PC-to-PSone port of The X Files.
Made during a time when games developers were coming to the end of a disastrous affair with FMV, The X Files took full advantage digital technology to produce a game that’s very different to your normal TV series tie-in. Usually, TV tie-in games are just graphical recreations of a show that shoehorn genres together while stripping the ideological meat from the original premise. For example, the Buffy The Vampire Slayer games were primarily third person brawlers with characters from the show and voice actors. The same goes for 24: The Game, where a tense thriller with political leanings is transmuted, by gaming conventions, into a third person action shooter/driving simulator. It’s probably just cheaper and quicker to make this way and it doesn’t conflict with actor’s schedules too much, but The X Files went out of its way to present itself as an actual episode where you watched the mystery unfold with real locations and real actors, only you were in control of the main character.
Time had stopped here. The brilliance of the moon had become fixated to one spot and I swear I saw David Bowie onscreen screaming ‘Double Down Browntown!’ in an awful American accent. I briefly wondered how many people would get the ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me’ parody. Soon enough I was watching Mulder and Scully wander into that same damn warehouse they used for Seasons 1-4. Yet somehow the still seemed astonished to discover its secrets. Scully took a bullet in the shoulder by some ‘invading suits’ while Mulder ducked for cover like a big coward. There was a bright light and when he looked up his facial expression said...
I don’t know how else to describe it. My eyes already ached and I took a break. Checking the doors and windows out of curiosity, I found all were clamped down and suffocated with dust. Curse my obsession with being a gaming snob and collecting obscure games just to rub into the virtual faces of the faceless internet users, I thought to myself. The game truly didn’t want me to leave.
You take control of Agent Craig Willmore. He’s an average FBI agent in what seems to be America’s smallest federal office in Seattle. Were there budget cuts for the FBI during 1996? I only ask since the entire building seems to be lit with one lamp and they only have three agents on the job. Anyway, Willmore is told by Agent Cook (a kind of poor man’s Will Arnett) that their boss has a job for him; whom our protagonist must be thankful for since all he seems to do all day is put tape on his nose. His boss, Armistead Shanks, asks if he knows what ‘The X Files’ is. Not once does the question about his boss’ name sounding like a toilet manufacturer ever comes up. Between Willmore, Cook and Shanks, it’s like un-aired US pilot for Father Ted. Eventually, Willmore is asked to track down two missing agents who were last seen in Seattle. It’s Mulder and Scully of course and to help you track them down is Assistant Director Walter Skinner. I never really understood Skinner’s role in the show. Here he’s helping out a field agent track down two agents who went missing on a regular basis. If I was him, I’d be more concerned about Jane from Accounts missing the deadline for the monthly travel budget sheets. Skinner and Willmore track down our heroes’ last whereabouts from a hotel to that warehouse, where they find evidence of a shootout and an uncooperative witness. Skinner is called away for reasons they couldn’t be bothered to film, while a clueless Willmore is hounded by Cook, who is quite obviously dodgy. After staking out the warehouse, the Seattle office has been robbed of evidence and Willmore finds that his only witness has been murdered. A rent-a-Scully cop named Detective Astadourian tags along when their only clue leads them to a ship called the Tarakan. It turns out the crew were all vaporised and left their shadows on the ship (aliens, obviously). For Agent Willmore, things are about to get ‘spooky’ as he becomes embroiled in an X-File of his own.
Just from the plot synopsis alone, you can see that Fox Interactive and Hyperbole Studios were being brave with such a mainstream project. The game’s premise was based around you searching for the show’s main characters, rather than controlling them yourself. In fact, Mulder and Scully barely make an appearance in this game at all. Their scenes amount to about 15-20 minutes screen time (at best) in a game that clocks out near the four hour mark. It’s a testament to the strength and endurance of the show’s trademark duo, but at the same time their fully developed characteristics are too great to project any of your own personality on to them. So you’re left with a minor character in a major universe, whereby you can perform such puppet master actions or at least to a certain extent.
Agent Willmore is a fully developed character and yet you, as his controller, are asked to pick certain responses. He’s not really a blank slate avatar who does what you wish. In the game, you can give certain, quick-fire, emotional responses and ask a set amount of questions. These can be paranoid and angry to serene and humorous. Willmore has to ask certain questions in his investigations to progress, but eventually you find that the free reign you hold over him is curtailed since the game constantly presents itself as a realistic television episode. It’s a paradox to say the least; you’re in control of Willmore’s mandatory actions but his established personality in the cut-scenes overthrows any notion of you actually ‘being him’.
As for interaction, you have to act like a federal agent at all times. So when you have to ask questions you have to take your ID badge out from your inventory or show a photo to someone when you need a confirmation. When you need to collect evidence, you have to use certain items from your evidence kit and send it to Amis at the lab. There are minor iconic items to use like the mobile phone and torch; their presence is superfluous but still fun to use. It’s weirdly immersive, despite the fact it’s just you just dragging and clicking an icon from the bottom of the screen or picking questions from a list.
Jarringly however is the fact that the whole game takes place in a first person view and when actions are activated, the game switches to a third person scene. Again, it’s another conflict of interest throughout the game. As soon as you’re immersed in the almost static world from the POV perspective, you’re pulled out to watch a scene from the ‘TV show’ presentation. I think it would have been too time consuming to have the protagonist’s actor standing around in each shot (of which there are hundreds) and then loop the footage. It’s disconcerting (and hilarious) enough to catch Scully in middle of closing of her eyes before looping in certain shots.
The X Files game is a point and click game at heart, even though the mechanics are half hearted. The player jumps around locations and clicks on things of visual interest. There’s nothing too complex here other than the odd puzzle. Everything is stripped down to a bare minimum of clicking on responses and items to activate a scene. It all sounds terribly boring in writing, but when you’re wandering around an abandoned train yard or a suspect’s home, it really does feel like you inhabit the show’s world (though suspiciously on a smaller budget). Very rarely is it ever challenging and I can think of only two moments where I was really stuck. Fox Interactive clearly wanted a casual audience with this game. Maybe they thought the show’s fans weren’t really gamers since the game is inbuilt with a Universal Hint System. Whenever you’re stuck, you can just put your cursor over the swirly blue thing in the top corner and in a tiny box it tells you what to do next with a clip of the future scene. Clicking the icon again will just initiate the action for you.
Yeah, eat your heart out Miyamoto.
You can turn this function off, but I swear, if you’ve ever played this you’ve probably used it on in the warehouse in the first act to find the bullet lodged in the pillar...one of about twenty holding the place up. One you can’t access without standing in the right place. That sure was a barrel of laughs.
I eventually found myself stuck on the game. I had grown tired of Willmore’s humorous subterfuge with his potential love interest, Astadourian. It was a sly attempt to conceal the fact that he just sent his best friend into a radioactive hotspot for evidence, effectively killing him and not giving a shit. I didn’t know what to do and every time I looked in the mirror nearby, the reflection of Jonas McGinity, laughed at me from the world beyond.
I briefly attempted to open the front door again. It was inevitably locked. As I walked away, the letterbox opened with a metallic screech. A letter flimsily dropped down onto the hardwood floor. I opened it quickly with my clumsy hands; the frustration and annoyance with the game had reached the point where it drowned my fear into the dark recesses of the soul.
IT WON’T LET YOU LEAVE UNTIL YOU UNCOVER THE SECRETS AND TELL THE WORLD! IT IS THE NECRONOMICON OF GAMING! IT IS NOT THE GAME YOU ONCE THOUGHT OF!
]I had been suckered in by my open minded willingness of the situation. My curiosity was dipped in the honey trap and the cogs in my brain no longer thought outside the box. I called my fellow agent back at The Gamer Obscura Files basement office inside the Welsh Assembly.
‘Listen, Scally. I need your help here. I’m trapped in a psycho house where time stands still and it wants me to finish The X Files FMV game before I can take it back to the office and store it with the others alphabetically. I’m stuck and I need your help. Look up GameFAQs for me! NOW!’ I shouted down the phone, amazed that I could get a reception and the fact that I was willing to overlook several plot holes where I could escape because of it.
‘A house that’s alive? You can’t be serious Stevil!’ Her voice was tired and distant. The crackling hiss of telecommunications threatened to disconnect my only hope. Well that’s the O2 Network for you.
‘I’m deadly serious. The worst thing is that I’m starting to enjoy this stupid game. Have you seen how many plot holes are in this thing?! Have you ever endured David Duchovny’s acting at its nadir?!’ I held the phone up to the old TV speakers. Mulder droned on and on about black oil in a manner in that suggested to me that he was just reading from cue cards from an undervalued intern.
‘That’s not David Duchovny. It’s clearly nasal whine of a deer startled by the Northern Li—‘
I had no time for Scally’s scepticism and persistently asked again about the guide.
‘It says you just got to turn the hint system on and it’ll let it finish the game for you.’
‘Really? Are you actually on the website?’ I enquired with estranged confusion.
‘Yes.’ Scally replied with faint uncertainty.
‘Because it just sounds like you’re reading from a book. I can hear you turn the pages.’
‘No, I got it from the game thingy website. Hey, could you pick me up some milk on the way back? Clive from Flood and Coastal Risk Management just nicked ours even though I wrote ‘Stevil and Scally’ on the carton. Thanks!’ On that cheerful note, my co-worker hung up. With the new found knowledge bestowed upon me I went back to the game’s final hours, refreshed and determined.
The game really isn’t concerned with gameplay and with a hint system in place, you’re not really required to lift a finger other than to move and activate the odd investigative task. It’s a game that primarily wants to tell a story in an existing universe and, in that respect, it’s one that succeeds in doing so. Unlike Lost: Via Domus where it stretches an established timeline to breaking point before disregarding it, The X Files stays faithful to the source material and does its best not to tread on the series basics. In the end, it feels like an actual episode despite game being primarily acted out by decent no-name actors. This was probably its primary aim and one that I believe was overlooked by game critics, who based their analysis on the solely on the gameplay. It’s not to say they were wrong (they were definitely right to criticise the game negatively), but I think the game should have been highlighted for its few merits.
The X Files game had a unique approach to how a videogame tie-in should, in theory, work. Rather than go down the cheap route and dress up some character models, Hyperbole Studios went out and filmed the real thing. Nobody is in front of some green screen either. They even did their best to imitate Mark Snow’s eerie synthesiser music. The game is lovingly filled with references to the first few seasons and a lot of detail is given to the sets. The whole investigate style mirrors the show and doesn’t deviate or strip down the ideology in its transition from screen to game.
By rights I should absolutely hate and condemn The X Files because of the faults on display. But I can’t because the presentation is so note perfect at times, that you can forgive it for being an interactive game that is barely knows the meaning of the words. The X Files is a TV tie-in paradox that shouldn’t really be forgotten because it was bad because it offered what many games based on TV shows failed to deliver. For The X Files: Resist or Serve, it went down the usual shoe-horn route and it played like a horrible survival horror clone where Mulder and Scully just so happened to be fighting zombies. It had completely missed the point unlike the FMV game that stuck to the show’s roots.
So here’s to The X Files, an odd and unique bit of gaming history that's been quitely forgotten like the show it was based on. Cue the rubbish ‘The Truth Is Out There’ joke.
I had reached the end of the game. Willmore was stuck on secret Air Base which had become a makeshift home for alien experiments. Suddenly Cook attacked Willmore out of the blue in one of the autopsy rooms.
‘I guess you’re wondering what I’m doing here.’ Cook spoke with all the charm of an oiled platypus.
‘No. Not really, you dickwad!’ I shouted at the screen. It had been quite obvious that he was the bad guy from the moment he was introduced. Instead of listen to him explain his appearance, I clicked on the cattle prod and sent several thousand volts into his scrotum. He was out cold, no longer able to inflict his bad acting on anybody ever again.
Eventually, Mulder was possessed by the black oil, but it could have been Ronseal Wood Varnish judging by his expressionless face. Scully had sarcastically told me to trap him in the decontamination unit and hopefully that would do something vaguely useful. I had a better idea though; I clicked rapidly on the Hint System and automatically rushed through the ensuing horror. Mulder was magically trapped through scientific means that were skipped through. Realising his situation, the ‘spooky’ agent eventually let out a blood curdling scream.
David Duchovny realised that he wasn’t being paid nearly enough for this crap.
The game wrapped up and hinted at a sequel, but I was done and dusted. Exhausted, I removed the disc out of the machine and put the jewel case in my suit pocket. The ordeal was seemingly over and time moved naturally again, much like the previous Phil Collins Incident. The night grew lighter and off in the distance I could hear the joyous chirping of young birds. The case was apparently closed.
Jonas McGinty reappeared in the crooked mirror nearby. The terrible game had claimed his soul long ago and he was now its harbinger of doom. I checked the nearest window as he started laughing hysterically. They were still locked down.
I came to the horrific realisation that The X Files FMV game was not the terrifyingly bad relic he kept hidden away in the house for everyone’s safety. No the critics had gotten it all wrong. His soul was rotted that night from something worse. I had mistakenly assumed his lifeless pose, arms presumably outstretched to the wall unit, pointed to the position of the game that claimed his life.
My legs reluctantly carried me back to the wall unit. The X Files game was just a warning to those who wanted to delve deeper. My shaking hand reached further in as McGinty’s decaying laugh grew louder. I felt the cold plastic cover of another game. As soon as I saw the box, I dropped it in sheer horror and cried out the same anguished scream as my tormentor.