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Courtship Under a Killing Moon

Why I Love: D'Avekki Studios' Tim Cowles knew he'd found a keeper thanks to those three little words: Full Motion Video

Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on GamesIndustry.biz intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other's work. This column was contributed by Tim Cowles, one half of D'Avekki Studios, creator of full-motion video (FMV) games like The Shapeshifting Detective and The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker.

It was 1994, and I was your typical starving student in my second year of Law school. I owned a "borrowed from my Dad" PC and had one of those "never gonna last" long distance relationships with Lynda, my girlfriend at the time. But then it happened.

On a birthday trip home, I was given a giant box with 4 CDs in it. The game was Under a Killing Moon by Access Software. Lynda had spent £80 on a videogame that would change our lives forever, and I'd found someone who was actually buying me videogames!

Under A Killing Moon combined a grim future setting with a vintage noir vibe

Playing Under a Killing Moon felt like magic, and probably should've done considering the price. Much of it was standard adventure fare including point-and-click puzzles, maps and inventory items, but it also had something I hadn't seen before: a large texture-mapped world with full freedom of movement and hours of FMV. It was like Doom and The 7th Guest had been mashed together into a single game, and the results were absolutely amazing.

"It was like Doom and The 7th Guest had been mashed together into a single game, and the results were absolutely amazing"

Under a Killing Moon puts you in the shoes of Tex Murphy, a down-on-his-luck private investigator who gives dancing lessons to make ends meet. Sometimes he's accidentally throwing his gun out of the window, other times he's reminiscing about his recent divorce (all in glorious FMV, of course) but most of the time he's just solving cases by clicking things, bashing things together and talking at people. Essentially, he's an inquisitive and talkative toddler that stumbles into dangerous situations he probably shouldn't.

The plot starts with a simple burglary at the local pawn shop, but Tex's world is turned upside down when a mysterious countess wants him to find a missing statuette. Then, as in all good mysteries, Tex discovers a despicable cult is behind everything, and whilst trying to save the day he ends up in space. Yes, space!

Gameplay consisted of more than just watching film clips

Due to the ambivalent use of green screen technology that later became synonymous with 'bad' FMV games, Tex and friends could literally hang out anywhere. Sometimes they popped out at you when you were free-roaming the 3D environments, other times they lurked in dumpsters or cryogenic freezing chambers. Graphically it all looked amazing and that's not surprising; it had a $2 million budget and that budget wasn't all spent on programming.

Whilst Chris Jones' deadpan performance as Tex Murphy brought much of the charm, there were several big-name actors packed onto those CDs too including Margot Kidder, Russell Means, Brian Keith and the voice of James Earl Jones. It was like having Hollywood on your hard drive, and thanks to all those FMV cutscenes, the characters were brought to life in a very vivid way.

'It was like having Hollywood on your hard drive'

Interrogating them was a joy... Every time you'd ask a question you'd be rewarded with a juicy FMV response. You never saw the actual wording of what you were going to ask though, just a topic or a description like 'compliment.' But whatever you picked, Tex would always put his foot in his mouth so it was always fun to watch.

"Being able to interact with real life actors in general just gave me a rush like nothing else"

Those conversations were like an early FMV clicker game for me. Click, reward. Click, reward. So much so that when we released The Infectious Madness of Doctor Dekker in 2017, its main mechanic was 'Ask question, get reward.'

For whatever reason, I could connect with screen actors much more than I could with characters in games like Day of the Tentacle that came out at the same time. Being able to interact with real life actors in general just gave me a rush like nothing else. There were definitely a lot of subsequent FMV games that didn't give me that same rush, but when an FMV game pairs a great story with great production values, it's a thing of beauty.

Under a Killing Moon's film noir setting, self-deprecating humor and good ol' FMV pushed all my happy buttons. It might not have stood the test of time, but it's still full of nostalgia for me, and for Lynda. She wasn't a massive gamer before we met, and Under a Killing Moon was the first game we played together for hours. Couch co-op for couples. When one of us got bored or tired, the other took over (or we'd both fight for the mouse). The story and characters drew us in. The relationship between Tex and Chelsee Bando kept us coming back for more. Just. One. More. FMV. We were both completely mesmerised, and it's the first game we really fell in love with. But how much?

Last year it was our 21st wedding anniversary, and can you guess what we spent the whole evening doing? No, not that. I'd previously reached out to Mat Van Rhoon at Big Finish Games asking if Chris Jones would ever consider a cameo in our game. I definitely sounded like a gushing fanboy so I never expected Chris to agree, but I'm eternally grateful that he did. We felt like we'd come full circle. Under a Killing Moon had kicked off our lifelong love of FMV and now Tex Murphy was agreeing to be in our game! But we had to be quick, so Lynda and I spent our anniversary writing a story for Tex Murphy to narrate, and honestly if that's not love, I don't know what is...

Developers interested in contributing their own Why I Love column are encouraged to reach out to us at news@gamesindustry.biz.

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