We recently got the opportunity to preview the full-motion television management simulator, Not For Broadcast, at least that was what we thought we were diving into. The game proved to be much more than just that, as it takes players on a moral journey on using the power you have to control the public's opinion. Players get to choose what and what not to show the masses in terms of advertisements, politicians acting out, and painting a prettier picture of one side of the fence over the other for the public.
We managed to sit down with developer NotGames' creative director Alex Paterson and discuss their inspirations, choosing to tell their story through full-motion video, and the different endings players can reach.
NotGames' Theatrical Background and Casting
NotGames' development team all come from a background of TV, film, theater, and comedy. Video games are one of their passions, and they saw it as an artistic medium to deliver their message. As for choosing to tell their story with real-life actors, they wanted to give players "a realistic feeling of running a TV broadcast." The game manages to do just that once you start learning the ins and outs of the equipment at hand.
Not for Broadcast manages to pleasantly surprise you with actually how well every scene is executed. The actors manage to grip you with their emotions and intriguing off-screen personas. However, the amount of effort and resources put into filming each segment was definitely immense, and Paterson took us through just how much effort is put into acting and editing each scene.
"So. Much. Effort. Each scene, some upwards of 15 minutes long must be shot in single continuous takes with four cameras all moving and working together. A single mistake at minute 13 and we all go back to the start and take it again," Paterson said. "This means often 25 people need to get their jobs and hit their marks spot on before we can use the take. And before we even turn up on set the scenes are written, re-written, cast, rehearsed, locations found, costumes and props sourced... It's been a mammoth undertaking. Arguably TOO ambitious... "
The studio had to go through the process of choosing the right personnel to deliver a politically sensitive story while having their own characters leave a mark. This is where the staff's theater and acting background helped them to spot the talent ready to shine in Not for Broadcast.
"The actors had to be able to take difficult lines quickly and honestly, be professionally trained, and capable from moving from comedy into drama in a heartbeat," Paterson said. "Coming, as we do, from an arts background, we luckily had access to pool of talent that we had worked with in various different projects over the years. For the other parts we had a casting director who went looking for the characters we needed."
The Inspiration behind Not For Broadcast
Behind every game, there is an inspiration that sparked the concept in the minds of its creators. The NotGames' team wanted to deliver an authentic TV newsroom, "open to sudden events, and goes out with enough regularity to sell a story." Paterson continued to clarify the latter that the studio pinned down the major elements in the storyline, while changing up what is around it without notifying the player of it. Instead, they want them to feel the authentic news experience where you sit down to know what happened in the country during the day. That's when they settled for the National Nightly News show, and what else to talk about on there but politics. The studio's approach reflected some of their own political views, all while giving them an inside look at how "a state can move from a democracy to a dystopia."
"We've always been fans of dystopian fiction and, whilst there are plenty of dystopian tales out there, we felt we could perhaps try something a bit different from the plethora of excellent fiction set in fascist/religious states," Paterson explains. "A controlling state that evolves from the left, but isn't communism, seemed like an interesting thing to explore, especially as we're mainly lefties ourselves in the office. Something more [Aldous] Huxley than [George] Orwell. We also found that many of the great dystopian tales start with the dystopia established, so we thought it might be interesting to tell the story of how a state can move from a democracy to a dystopia, and the steps that we might take along the way."
You can't help but reflect real-life figures, whether political or pop culture. Paterson didn't deny real-world events influenced their writing, while basing some of their characters' personalities off political figures and established TV anchors. However, the studio was wary of directly relating Not for Broadcast to timely events, as to avoid the content becoming void and outdated with time.
"There's no way that the events of [Donald] Trump, Brexit, et al, didn't have an effect on us as writers. We live in the U.K. and tomorrow is Brexit Day for us—our news and politics have been consumed with it and it's impossible to write in a vacuum, especially if you're a news junkie," Paterson said. "But we wanted, as far as possible, to avoid making real-world characters, so while there might be elements of John Prescott in Peter Clement, Emily Thornberry in Julia Salisbury, or Megyn Kelly in Megan Wolfe, they are certainly very different characters. Our previous games set their sights on real-world targets and they dated very quickly because of it."
The Many Endings of Not For Broadcast
Not for Broadcast can catch you off guard when the National Nightly News team reacts to one of your previous decisions, whatever it is. Players can choose to portray political figures as friendly and supportive or expose them for what they truly are. Whichever path you choose, "the game is watching you... all the time," as Paterson puts it. Not for Broadcast goes as far as changing up the entire experience depending on "how you handle decisions both in the news studio and in your personal life and the adverts and headlines you choose to show, then it's adjusting the country, the support of the relevant factions, and the amount of notice those factions may be paying to you."
This proposes that Not for Broadcast offers its players different and unique endings, and it does. The title goes as far as giving you a different endings for "both for the player and their family, but also for the world." NotGames' staff put the effort to give each player a unique experience where the news world responds and adjusts to their choices accordingly.
"As the game progresses, this requires shooting more and more alternates of news stories," Paterson said. "We've tried to keep this under control so it doesn't cost more than HS2 to make this little indie game, and the story allows us to make some interesting decisions that way, but people will hopefully be able to talk to their friends about their news, or share their broadcasts, and discover they have very different stories to tell. If I go into any more detail though, we'll be in spoiler territory, but I will say this: Your decisions will determine whether certain central characters make it through the story alive and, as you can imagine, this will have a very large effect on the ending you receive."
Not for Broadcast is an intriguing journey you should embark on whenever you have the time. As of the time of writing, there is no official release date for the title's full version. Let us know your thoughts and make sure to read our preview of the game's prologue, available on Steam.