Rare Breeds: Video Game Genres on the Verge of Extinction «

Rare Breeds: Video Game Genres on the Verge of Extinction

The game industry has little room for failures. Like a vast and cruel wilderness, it’s rarely merciful to the games that can’t adapt to a changing environment. Yet it’s rare that an entire breed of game goes completely extinct; as long as there’s one small developer or semi-profitable fan following, a genre can survive. It’ll just be on the endangered list — that’s where you’ll find all of the following species, which were once healthy or prosperous in some way. But time and technology dulled their appeal, and faster, leaner, more appealing games took over.

Some genres have made comebacks in recent years. Between Telltale Games’ catalog and Double Fine’s newly funded project, the classic point-and-click adventure game isn’t doing so badly. But other kinds of games aren’t so lucky, as the current market finds these formerly proud creatures subsisting only through independent studios or cheap downloadable software. So let’s take a look at them, their history, and the many small ways they endure today.

Night Trap Spot Art


First Classified: 1983
Primary Habitats: Arcade, Sega CD, TurboGrafx CD, anything with a CD or laserdisc drive
Distinguishing Features: Grainy footage, c-list actors, overwhelming awkwardness, possibly intentional comedy 

Some will argue that interactive movies technically aren’t games at all. From their genesis, the genre was billed as a playable film, deliberately blurring the line between a traditional video game and cinema. They’re perhaps the ideal case of a game genre born simply from a rise in new technology.

That new technology was at first the laserdisc. Unwieldy and now obsolete, the new form of media was nonetheless a marvel in the early 1980s, when it allowed ample storage space and streaming video. Arcade developers took advantage of this and put all sorts of sharp-looking video footage in their laserdisc games, from the borrowed sci-fi pastiche of Sega’s Altron Belt to the original animation of Don Bluth’s Dragon’s Lair. While live-action footage was popular, it’s the animated offerings that are remembered most fondly today. In the eyes of history, Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace led the movement, supported by Japanese creations like Time Gal, Cliff Hanger, and the glorious cheese of Road Avenger.

Dragon's Lair Spot Art

All of these games followed the same idea: players watched video footage, looked for some quick visual cue, and then moved the joystick or buttons accordingly. It made for stiff trial-and-error gameplay, and the average arcade-goer had to sacrifice many quarters and watch Dirk the Daring or Reiko “Time Gal” Kirishima meet many comical deaths. Players essentially paid to watch a movie in fifteen-second bursts, and the appeal wore thin over time. The arcade boom ended and laserdisc games grew too expensive for many companies to justify, but interactive movies got a second chance — and became the most mocked games of an entire generation.

As CDs came into vogue in the late 1980s, consoles gradually adopted them. The TurboGrafx-16’s expensive CD-playing attachment launched shortly after the vanilla cartridge-based system, Sega pushed out its own CD add-on for the Genesis in 1993, and even Nintendo looked into a Super NES CD addition before discarding the idea. And with these CD peripherals there were interactive movies, also termed “full-motion video” games. The TurboGrafx-16 ventured into this new territory with It Came From the Desert and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, but these were mere flirtations compared to Sega, who made FMV the hallmark of the Sega CD. Fueled by their new development studio Digital Pictures, Sega’s creations ranged from music-video simulators to flight sims, all stitched together from grainy footage.