Hello. Today we’re reviving our once semi-regular discussion format to take a look at a relatively modern title. For this purpose we welcome back to FFG, after a number of years away, our sometime contributor and unofficial third member, Jo.

The game we’re discussing is Her Story, released in 2015. Unusually for a modern game, it was based almost entirely around a large number of filmed sequences, and for the first time in many years, the much-dreaded (and completely nonsensical) term from the 90s, Full Motion Video (FMV), started to re-enter the gaming lexicon.

It’s really one of those games that you could go into knowing absolutely nothing, but, essentially, you spend your time watching footage from a series of police interviews with the same woman, regarding the disappearance of her husband. As you uncover more details, you’ll be able to search the database for more clips and eventually work out (more or less) what happened.

That’s probably about as much as we can say up to this point: this discussion will be extremely spoiler-tastic, so unless you’ve already played it, have absolutely no intention of doing so, or don’t mind having the entire story of something discussed before experiencing it for yourself, you’re probably better off stopping here.

Her Story was pretty well-received at the time, and we both liked it, so I’d suggest first enjoying this minimal teaser-trailer and then checking out the game itself, if it seems like it might be of interest.

Okay? Now here’s your final ***SPOILER WARNING*** before we proceed…


Pictures on the internet

Rik: So before we get into the meat of it – would you say you enjoyed the game, broadly?

Jo: Yes, but I have a couple of reservations. But I’d recommend it, and I’d be interested to play the…spiritual sequel?

Rik: Out quite recently? Telling Lies?

Jo: Yes, that’s the one.

Rik: Ok, me too I think, on all counts. So, given that the two of us don’t really talk about games that much these days, what made you check this one out? I think we came to it separately.

Jo: So…a couple of years ago I had been itching at the chance to play Gone Home. I absolutely loved it, even though it sort of broke my brain (90s nostalgia overload I think). In true modern-day fashion, I took to Instagram to harp on about how great it was and someone left a comment recommending Her Story, and Firewatch.

Rik: Instagram…that’s like pictures on the internet, right? With text sometimes?

Jo: Picture-net, yes.

Rik: So, you got a recommendation after playing Gone Home a couple of years or so…

Jo: Yes, and it took me two years to get around to following it up, but I don’t know why. I played Firewatch almost immediately. For some reason it just appealed to me more.

Rik: I possibly took a similar path. A few years ago I was still sort of paying attention to modern games coverage without being totally bewildered and out of touch. So I was definitely aware of Gone Home first, and then took note of this one when it came out. And possibly picked it up in a sale some time later.

Jo: I don’t actually see any similarities between Gone Home and Her Story

Rik: I know, but for some reason I also sort of link them together in my head. I guess they come from the same group of reasonably high-profile indie games of a certain period. But apart from that, Her Story doesn’t really have that much in common with Gone Home or Firewatch, which probably have much more in common with each other.

Jo: Yeah, exactly.

Rik: I mean, this is a game with VIDEO CLIPS (or FMV – ‘full-motion video’ – as it would have been known to gamers from the 90s). To what extent did the video aspect appeal/not appeal?

Jo: For me, it didn’t really appeal. I think that’s possibly why I ended up playing Firewatch first. Because I didn’t know that much about Her Story, beyond the recommendation, I guess I didn’t really know what to make of it. The trailer didn’t seem to give too much away in that respect, so I wasn’t sure what the gameplay involved, outside of watching the video clips.

Rik: To me it was pretty interesting, because I sort of felt that video in general was unfairly maligned, because it was used often and badly in the 90s, particularly when footage was made the focus of racing or action games – like in MegaRace, or Rebel Assault, for example. But I was a big fan of the later Wing Commander games, where the action was supplemented by expensive video clips – which some people loved, but many others also treated as a bit of a joke.

Jo: With Mark Hamill and Biff from Back to the Future – yes, I remember!

Rik: Anyway, I read an interview with Sam Barlow, the writer and director of Her Story, and he was sort of saying, modern games spend so much money on graphics and motion capture to get something that still doesn’t look as good as pointing a camera at a real person, which is also much cheaper.

Jo: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a valid argument…

Rik: I guess Wing Commander wasn’t cheap, with all the sets and everything, but for this it makes total sense to use video. The tech these days is such that it’s not grainy, and you don’t need to change CDs or anything anymore.

Jo: I remember that Douglas Adams game Starship Titanic came on about 6 CDs or something. I think that had a large video element to it.

Rik: Yep, Wing Commander IV was another 6 CD effort.


Red Herrings

Jo: So, I quite liked the simplicity of it: you just watch the video clips and try to piece the story together…

Rik: Yes, so how do we sum it up, before we start? A detective game, in which you search for video clips, using a restricted search engine, in an attempt to piece together what happened?

Jo: Yeah, you’re working backwards to unravel the mystery.

Rik: You start with a handful of clips, watch what happened, and use them to think of new search terms, and discover more clips. And the first search term that’s already been entered is MURDER.

Jo: The limited search functionality hinders you because it will only reveal a maximum of five clips per search term.

Rik: So you can combine words and get more specific, to narrow things down.

Jo: And, I dunno, reveal more of the story… HER STORY! (See what I did there?)

Rik: I have to say the way things are revealed is very well done.

Jo: I agree.

Rik: When you start off you think it’s going to be a more conventional whodunnit – I mean, not really, because there’s only really one character, but like: has she done it (dunnit?) or not?

Jo: And there’s also you, the player, as in: who are you and why are you there, and what is it you’re trying to find out?

Rik: Yes, that’s another thing worth saying: you’re supposedly in a room looking at an old police computer from the 90s.

The opening screen – with realistic ‘glare’ turned on.

Jo: I quite like how little you have to go on in the beginning – there’s no real intro to speak of, you just have a desktop that looks very Win 95.

Rik: Or even Win 3.1…

Jo: And there are a couple of readme files, but no explanation as to what it is you’re looking for. It’s just kind of: here are the clips, here’s how you find stuff, knock yourself out.

Rik: It is clearly a series of police interviews. And the woman being interviewed is being asked questions about a murder. But yes, the way it’s set up as a detective game is really good. You get excited about things you think might be important, but then they aren’t really. So, the Glasgow alibi and speeding ticket – you think, AHA! that’s worth investigating. Or the different characters: the boss, the people at the pub, etc. Again, you’re like, this could be important.

Jo: I liked those red herrings.

Rik: In terms of detective work, it’s a much better way of throwing you off, than, say L.A. Noire. The irrelevant stuff is interesting: you don’t know it’s irrelevant at the time, unlike in L.A. Noire, where you’re constantly picking up beer bottles and cigarette ends as part of your investigation (and I like L.A. Noire!)

Jo: I did draw a comparison with L.A. Noire a bit, with the whole ‘how do I tell if she’s lying’ thing.

Rik: But again, that’s a bit of red herring: it’s not really about catching her out, which I thought it obviously would be…

Jo: No, exactly, but you think so at the beginning: even the revelation about them being twins, that came quite early on, I think, but you still aren’t quite there: you work out that they’re twins, but you still want to know what happened…to the extent where, when I first made that connection, I started trying to clock their mannerisms etc, to see if I could tell who was who.

Rik: Ah…but some people say, are they twins?

Jo: Oh, like a Tyler Durden thing?

Rik: Yes, although I’m not sure I’d agree.

Jo: I think that theory falls down because (and this probably reveals how bonkers I went while playing it) but I took some notes on the dates and times of the interviews and I’m sure there was at least one instance where they were being interviewed at the same time, but I could be wrong.

Rik: We can get onto this a bit more later.

Jo: Oh sorry, I’m jumping ahead. At one point I wondered if there was any correlation between the music and your progress – like, at several points the music kind of trailed off and then I’d watch a clip and it fired up again and I’d think ‘Yeah! I’m really onto something here!’

Rik: I think the music is linked to progress. Also: did you keep the monitor glare on?

Jo: No, I turned it off immediately.

Rik: Yes, well I did. Because it gave me a headache.

Jo: Yeah, same.

Rik: Because that gives a clue or two. Not in terms of solving the game, but in terms of who your character is.

Jo: Ah, ok, I can see how that might work. But it just distorted the screen so much, and I have such a short temper with things that vaguely irritate me.


Oh, the wind and the rain (JOHN SIMM!)

Rik: Obviously this game rests pretty heavily on the performance of the main actress [Viva Seifert]. What did you make of that?

Jo: WELL! I don’t want to seem overly critical but for me, there were times when it was a bit ham, and I don’t know necessarily if that was down to the acting per se, or rather script and direction. Or maybe a combination of all three.

Rik: I wrote “ACTING!” in my notes.

Jo: Yeah, me too.

Rik: I don’t know if you remember the episode of The Mighty Boosh where Howard Moon needs to learn how to act [‘The Shakes’ from Series 3], but that’s what I think of whenever I see someone ‘doing acting’. He ends up getting lessons from an old luvvie he meets in a pub, who happens to be bitter about [Life on Mars star] John Simm being successful. [Long-suffering wife] Laura and I often shout JOHN SIMM! at the telly whenever there’s anything too actorly going on.

I make no apologies for creating and sharing this GIF.

Jo: I mean, there were definitely some scenes where it completely fell down for me, but then, if you’re following the Tyler Durden theory of a fractured personality, then maybe it’s intentional.

Rik: I kind of thought, well maybe it’s hyper-real. Not a polished performance, but how someone who’s a bit difficult might actually act under the circumstances. But at other times, I was a bit like, this is quite drama school. And she’s a bit posh for her circumstances as described in the game.

Jo: The scenes that spring to mind for me are when she, I think it’s [one of the twins/personalities] Hannah, talks about the mirror that Simon [the decedent] made for her, and then at the end of the scene she picks it up and looks at herself in it – it was just a bit much. Like, it didn’t really add anything, it just seemed a bit clumsy and weird.

Rik: I have to say the only bit that bothered me was the bit with the guitar.

Jo: Oh god, that was the worst. And they were some of the longest clips.

Rik: Why does she have a guitar, in a police interview? And why does the off-screen detective apparently ask her to play? “Let’s forget about all this murder stuff, give us a tune!”

Jo: Haha, yes, exactly. “Your guitar playing skills are crucial to this investigation.”

Rik: “Stay here, I used to play drums. And PC Jones has his keyboard.”

Jo: And the song she sings is like, about two jealous sisters drowning each other.

Rik: I sort of needed the clues in the song though, in a way.

Jo: Firstly, there’s the implausibility of the detectives asking a suspect to play the guitar for them, and then the suspect agreeing and singing a song about two people who happen to resemble the people/person in the investigation, trying to drown one another. Oh, and this is all taking place in Portsmouth [where the game is set], by the sea. Nah, it didn’t work for me.

We weren’t big fans of this bit.

Rik: I sort of didn’t mind the song itself, once I got over the fact that it was happening. But isn’t it all part of the [speech from the final clip] “And all these stories we’ve been telling each other? Just that…stories” element – that she’s toying with the detective?

Jo: Yeah, but I think they could have achieved a similar thing in a much less obvious way. It was a bit of a huge (brace yourself for GCSE drama speak) stage whisper.

Rik: It could have been more obvious: “This song’s called ‘How I, or maybe my identical twin sister, killed a man called Simon, to whom one of us was married'”


Collecting 100 bottles

Rik: So I found progress fairly ok. Not smooth sailing, but not getting badly stuck at any point.

Jo: Yeah, about that…I convinced myself that I was stuck, at one point which I mentioned to you.

Rik: Which acted as a warning to me, not to delete my search history. [The option is marked ‘Delete Session Data’, which sounds relatively benign, but it basically means ‘Start Again’]

Jo: And it resulted in me clocking up another 6 hours of gameplay.

Rik: Oh dear.

Jo: I mean, no other game has a ‘delete your progress so far’ option.

Rik: I did once delete about 10 hours’ worth on a driving game, because the menu was rubbish and confusing.

Jo: Oh.

Rik: But yes, I take your point.

Jo: I honestly thought it meant you could clear out the clips you had saved in the bottom of the dashboard and start again.

Rik: I didn’t bother to save any clips, which is a bit boneheaded maybe. I mainly used a pen and paper and underlined words that were worth coming back to.

Jo: Me too. I thought that bit was pointless really. I did save videos, but after a while stopped seeing the purpose of doing so. Because you already have a log of all your search terms anyway.

Rik: I think the same lack of game-iness that makes it so interesting in the first instance sort of confuses you later on. Especially the ‘have I finished it’? dilemma. I mean, there is something that happens when you finish it. But there’s potentially still more to discover.

Jo: That was the bit where I thought I was stuck. I think essentially that prompt means you’ve found everything you need to ‘solve’ the puzzle. But I didn’t realise that at the time. Because the database told me there were so many clips I hadn’t found yet.

Rik: There’s an interview with Sam Barlow in Edge magazine (sorry) this month, where he says that he really under estimated how ‘gamers’ would look at that progress bar and be obsessed with turning it all green.

[From Edge #337, November 2019, page 106: “I didn’t want [Telling Lies] to feel like in Her Story, where there was the grid with the bunch of little lights that you could turn green…I had no idea people would be so interested in 100 per centing Her Story”]

I think I did stumble across the conclusion a bit earlier than I would have liked to, and some more time was needed to fill in the blanks a little. But then you’re trying to get every single clip, and many of them don’t add anything, like the lie detector ones.

Jo: Yeah, I think I felt that I hadn’t resolved it properly, and then realised that, even when I’d found all the clips, I still had unanswered questions.

Rik: I sort of got the big reveal before I’d really worked out the sisters thing, or, I hadn’t picked up on the subtle clues along the way, and hadn’t probed those thoughts enough. Instead, I got the murder reveal and then thought, were there clues about this that I should have picked up on?

Jo: It was the other way around for me. I got the sisters thing. But then I was like ‘so which one murdered him?’

Rik: Did you pick up on the tapping, and the different drinks preferences?

Jo: Yes, and yes.

Rik: Ah, you did better than me then.

Jo: I was a bit fixated with the tapping thing, but it sort of didn’t go anywhere. I just got a bit obsessed with it really because I was so convinced that it was going to reveal something but it didn’t.

Rik: I started to work it out by focusing on the dress sense and how her hair was styled, and wondering if that was significant.

Jo: Yeah, the tone of voice as well is a clue.

Does he? Do you?

Rik: And then I think I had a fairly big ‘aha!’ moment when I found two clips with each one describing what they did when they discovered the body. And it was clearly rehearsed but slightly different. I got that before the tea/coffee/sugar thing, which I missed completely.

Jo: The different drinks preferences were a bit like the L.A. Noire lying ‘tells’ for me.

Rik: Clearly I need the obvious shifty eyes and body language. I’d make a bad detective.

Jo: I mean, I think this is where the slightly hammy acting came in. OH TEA FOR ME; COFFEE PLEASE MILK ONE SUGAR; COFFEE BLACK NO SUGAR; NO COFFEE

Rik: I have to say I didn’t get that at all.

Jo: See, I found it a real nudge nudge nudge moment.

Rik: I guess that could be something in the game’s favour – in that not everyone works it out in the same way.

Jo: Yeah, definitely. I suppose what we’re saying is that there are a lot of different things to pick up on, but it depends what you’re looking for, and in that way I think it’s very clever, because what is obvious to some, is perhaps less obvious to others.

Rik: Agreed. The way it’s designed really is something.

Jo: What did you make of the backstory? That one twin, Eve, is kept by the midwife and then goes to live in Hannah’s attic.

Rik: It went to some weird places. I have to admit, I was getting into the more conventional stuff: the people at the pub, who he works with, their marriage and home life (I particularly enjoyed the 90s references to Loyd Grossman and Ceefax). And then after a while, I realised it was going in a different direction.

Jo: What about the death of the parents?

Rik: Killed with mushrooms…

Jo: Yeah, it definitely took a sudden turn.

Rik: I think again I was catching up with this stuff a bit too late after the murder reveal. Maybe not entirely, but certainly in terms of piecing all the backstory together.

Jo: I think the various plot points were great, but it left me with a lot of questions, as you can probably tell, because now I’m asking you. But I guess what I’m saying is that I just wanted more.

Rik: I got the impression that you’re meant to be left with some questions. And some things are supposed to be ambiguous. Rather than there being some big ‘tada’, now it all makes sense, moment.

Jo: Yeah.

Rik: I think that’s what Sam Barlow was on about when he was talking about people trying to 100% the game. As if that would help them understand everything and set it all out on a plate, which is probably what we’re used to in games: “100% achievement! Now the creator will explain the plot in full and answer any questions.”

Jo: Yeah, I agree, I mean, I still don’t really get the achievement things nowadays, without sounding too much like an old fuddy-duddy. I really CBA with the ‘YOU COLLECTED 100 BOTTLES’ medal.

Rik: Me neither. I think we’re the last pre-achievement generation.


Coming soon: a spin-off game featuring the people from the pub

Rik: So we both sort of enjoyed the twist with the twins, and it kind of made sense. What about the other twist at the very end?

Jo: Did not see that coming.


Jo: I even let out a bit of an “ooooooooh” – to my empty house. But I think that’s how it gets you. Because in the beginning I was very much ‘who am I? What am I doing here? What’s my story?’ and then that just completely subsided once I started hammering away trying to get more and more clues. Which was good, because by the end I’d almost forgotten about it, so it was really effective.

Rik: Yes. It’s about….HER STORY! Not your story. But actually it’s both.

Jo: Did you try and play the mirror game? That was in the trash can on the desktop.

Rik: Nope…but I guess that’s another clue, of sorts.

Jo: Well, that’s what I wondered, when I was really stuck, but I didn’t really get it.

Rik: I just didn’t want to engage with that mini-game. Which was a bit too much like something from 90s Windows that you might play instead of trying to do some work.

Jo: Did you feel like the (I don’t really know how to put this) limitations of the setting worked? As in, you’re a mystery character, at a desk, someone is IMing you, but we don’t know who that is. Do you think the game would have benefited from introducing any other characters?

Rik: No, I think it worked. As I said, I thought, through her testimony, we might hear more about Simon, his boss, the people at the pub etc. But once I realised that wasn’t how it was going to go, I was fine with it.

Jo: I quite like the absence of any context. It got me a bit panicky at first. But there is the occasional nod to other characters – at one point, Eve (I think) asks the detective if he has any children.

Rik: Another red herring(ish).

Jo: And there was always that bit of me that half expected to hear a reply, but it never came. So you had to just take the story as it was told by Eve and Hannah, neither of whom is reliable.

As long as it doesn’t come with a song, yes.

Rik: Anything else you want to mention?

Jo: Before we get to summing up, can we talk again about the search function? I got to a point where I was really, really clutching at straws and I felt like I typed in every word I knew. I would watch clips, and then jot down anything that I thought might be relevant and search for them next, but I think that comes back to the 100% achievement thing, because I already had all the information I needed. But I was determined to get all the lights green on the database.

Rik: Yes. I couldn’t quite work out how to get all the clips, but the ones I couldn’t get, weren’t all that important, it turns out (once I satisfied my curiosity by CHEATING).

Jo: At the time, I was growing really frustrated. But thinking about it now, the things I needed to find out were… I don’t want to say easy to find, but not that complicated.

Rik: Once you finish you get an enhanced search, which allows you up to 15 clips. So that helps mop them up.

Jo: I cheated to get my last few clips, which seems so petty now, because I already had all the bits of the narrative, it was just so I was sure in my own mind that I had watched all the clips and not missed anything.

Rik: I think, again, that’s what Sam Barlow was talking about.

Jo: I mean, in fairness, I don’t think it’s just the sense of feeling the 100% achievement thing. I needed to know in my own mind that I’d been thorough.

Rik: And you haven’t missed anything…I mean, it’s sort of like in L.A. Noire where you go completely wrong. You can still finish the mission but it doesn’t feel very satisfying (although sometimes in that game you replay the mission and do better and still not feel very good).

Jo: I need to know that I’ve been everywhere, looked at everything, had every conversation with every character, used every object with every other object… If I still have questions, I’m not happy.

Rik: I feel like I might play it again someday, and see what I think a second time around. But you can’t really do that straight away, because of how it’s structured.


Just one more thing, sir

Rik: Ok, so we both enjoyed it, and would recommend.

Jo: Yes, and yes. Anything else you want to discuss?

Rik: No I think I’ve ticked off my list…oh, hang on, there was one other thing…

Jo: Ok, Columbo…

Rik: The creator mentioned a game called Vera Cruz as an inspiration, which was on the Amstrad. Any memories of that? Possibly you were a bit young.

Jo: It doesn’t ring any bells. But didn’t we have 400 games for the Amstrad?

Rik: Something like that. But I’d not thought about it, or heard it mentioned, in a long time.

Jo: All I remember on the Amstrad is Jewels of Darkness, Trivial Pursuit and FUN SCHOOL. Oh, and Daley Thompson’s Decathalon.

Rik: Vera Cruz was kind of like an early detective game, but again without much in the way of setup. I didn’t get far, but it was similar in terms of giving you a situation and letting you get on with it. But we digress slightly.

Jo: My biggest bugbear with Her Story was that it was short. I think I actually ‘finished’ as in got all the clues I needed to piece the narrative together, in about two hours (not including the accidental deletion). Probably spent another six hours convinced there was more to discover.

Rik: I don’t mind a short game. To take some recent examples, it seemed to me when playing Broken Sword 5, after playing Blackwell and other Wadjet Eye adventure games, how much in the former seemed like padding. I think 3 hours for a story-based game is ok.

Jo: I think for me, I was just getting into it. It takes me a while sometimes to get warmed up, and I guess all the various plot points were really intriguing and I just wanted to explore them all to the very end. And then it finished. I think that’s more personal preference than anything else though.

Rik: I wish I’d been a bit sharper, and could have uncovered things in a better order. But was quite impressed that it still worked – you still uncover things, rather than hitting a brick wall.

Jo: I think that’s what’s good about it, it’s quite limited in terms of what you can search for, but quite open in how you get there.

Rik: Yes, the simplicity in the interface hides the complexity beneath.

Jo: Oooh.

Rik: (A pretentious bit for me to edit out later) [Good job there – FFG reader]

Jo: Do you think you’ll play Telling Lies?

Rik: Yes, maybe. Edge (sorry) gave it a 9! It has some famous-ish actors in. Like Ryan’s brother Trey from The O.C.! (Also known as Logan Marshall-Green, who’s been in films as well, like Prometheus, but I prefer to describe everyone in terms of whether they have been in The O.C.).

Jo: I can’t think of who that is.

Rik: He sort of looks like a budget Tom Hardy, but older.

Jo: I can barely remember Prometheus. Apart from thinking Guy Pearce looks like Ted Danson in Three Men and a Little Lady. That was my main take away from that film.

Spot the difference…

Rik: “LOUSY ACTOR, EH? CONSTIPATED?” Right, I guess we’d better wrap up. I’ll give you a link to that interview.

Jo: Ooh thanks! This was fun.

Rik: Yes, let’s try and do it again sometime.

Her Story is available on Steam, GOG and Humble for around £7.