Hidden Agenda and the Repeating History of Interactivity

Not long ago, PlayStation revealed PlayLink, a way to play games with friends that takes advantage of your smartphone or tablet.  Most of the titles are your standard party game fare, ranging from quizzes and mini games to even SingStar. The most interesting title though is an anomaly in their midst – Supermassive Games’ Hidden Agenda.

After releasing Until Dawn exactly two years ago, Supermassive Games noticed an interesting trend in the players of their game – most of them were playing with their friends or involving their watchers in the choices they were making throughout. This prompted the company to think about how they could incorporate this kind of social play into what they create next. The answer was Hidden Agenda.

In Hidden Agenda, the player controls a homicide detective and a district attorney who are involved in the case of a serial killer called Trapper. Just like in Until Dawn previously, you are tasked with making choices that might determine the fate of particular characters.

This is where the PlayLink app comes in. With it, others can join in and vote on their smartphones what decision should be made. They might even receive individual objectives, or “hidden agendas”, that the other participants don’t know about that might hinder the case.

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This is of particular interest to me personally, as the whole thing is very similar to the first interactive movie ever made, Činčera’s Kinoautomat in 1967. It was a massive undertaking in its time, as a special cinema containing all the necessary special equipment was built entirely for this experience alone. The way it worked was that during the showing, the film was paused by a moderator at 9 action points throughout the movie to allow the audience to vote on what should happen next using the buttons installed onto their seats. Once the choice was made, a projectionist would switch one lens cap between two synchronized projectors to show the right footage.

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Kinoautomat at Expo 67 via Media Kunst Netz

To make up for the limitations of the time, the interactions in Kinoautomat were cleverly crafted in a way that only two outcomes were ever needed for each action point, while giving the illusion of a story that kept doubling the branching at every choice. It was very well received at its time with even Hollywood showing interest in the technology, but for various reasons -such as the concept being a property of the Czechoslovakian government and setting it up requiring a lot of money – it never really caught enough fire to go mainstream.

Flash forward to 2017 and we are getting Hidden Agenda this October right in time for Halloween. It is curious that an experience like this, that was massive in scale and economically unfeasible back in the time of Kinoautomat, can now be experienced at the comfort of one’s home without it being a big deal. Not only that, it is also interesting to note that the term “interactive movie” itself has had plenty of history of being more commonly associated with “video games with strong cinematic content” rather than “cinematic content with some video game -like interactions” and the emergence of Hidden Agenda and possibly other titles taking advantage of a similar setup will surely cement it more firmly as a facet of video games, rather than cinema.

It still remains to be seen how this modern alteration of the classic interactive cinema concept will hold up. So far Hidden Agenda seems to be faring fairly well – it has already received one of GamesRadar’s Best of E3 awards and Game Critics Awards’ Best Family/Social Game award before it is even released.

Needless to say, I am eagerly waiting to get my hands on Hidden Agenda in a couple of months.

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