When it comes to the news nowadays, there are two types of folks. You’re either taking in headlines as you see them and ignoring the rest or you’re a junkie who needs to mainline pain and suffering. Even though it’s a long-running stereotype, it really is a harrowing experience to watch the evening news in 2019. With the internet, we know more than ever how slanted some broadcasts can become as bad actors flock to YouTube to spread harmful disinformation. You have to keep your wits about you or fall to the ills of propaganda. What are the mechanics of this pulpit to the masses? NotGames and tinyBuild’s Not For Broadcast lays the deceitful system bare, puts it in your hands, and seems to make this twisted process quite fun.
Not For Broadcast Preview | Late late show
You start off the game as a janitor working late and cleaning up the production room. You get a call from a station worker saying that he can’t come in, forcing you to run the boards for that night’s news broadcast. What follows is a basic tutorial for what you’ll be doing throughout the game. You have dual feeds of the broadcast, four alternate shots to switch between, and a censor button to remove any “accidental” swearing. A dial keeps the signal from intercepting interference, and volume sliders let you hear from both the studio and live feeds. Gameplay hinges on performing all these actions properly and within strict time deadlines.
It’s basically the “work as gameplay” model of Papers, Please mixed in with the stationary camera mechanics of Night Trap. While the FMV news scenes can’t match the striking visuals of Papers Please, the combination does prove more fruitful than it appears at first glance. Even in just this first level, it’s not a struggle to see how the developers could hide conversations and Easter eggs in alternate feeds that you shouldn’t be watching. Considering the subject matter, this is the perfect way to comment on the real struggles of providing not-so-real reporting.
Yes, Not For Broadcast advertises itself as a “propaganda simulator.” Just a few minutes with the game plainly shows how easy it will be to deliver a message about that. The PAX West demo I played ends after just a single night, but the setup is clear. A new political regime rises to power, and one of the two figureheads is a drunken lout who puts your censor button to the test. There’s talk of making the rich pay for their actions among all sorts of populist spin. As this radical new power settles in, it’s clear that your new job will get a whole lot harder.
Not For Broadcast Preview | Handing down rewrites
If it’s anything like Papers, Please, government edicts will probably come down and complicate the gameplay as you go on. Perhaps you need to censor the name of an opposing political force. Maybe the government will give you particularly nasty advertisements you can choose to show. There’s plenty of room for weird rules and forced actions to creep you out, and the prospect of that is intriguing.
As for what’s here now, most of the mechanics work as intended. The atmosphere really captures the feeling of working at a place like this, and the FMV does a great job of showing things that the viewers at home don’t get to see. The one aspect that isn’t particularly appealing is the interference minigame, which sees you fiddling with a dial to move a cursor around walls of static. It’s an interesting representation of this aspect of the job, but the controls are wonky and it doesn’t gel with the rest of the production. In a word, it feels a bit too “gamey” for an experience that is otherwise anything but.
The FMV actors should have also reacted a bit more when you choose to go off the script. During a broadcast of an interview out of the studio, one of the monitors was just the main anchor and several assistants watching the feed. I switched that to broadcast to see what happened, and the answer turned out to be a whole lot of nothing. It’d probably be a lot more recording, but seeing the flustered anchor suddenly sit up straight when he realizes he’s being filmed out of sequence would be incredible. The game also needs a technical difficulties screen that you can pop up at will. It doesn’t need to have gameplay relevance, but it just seems like such a key tool for the job.
Not For Broadcast Preview | Joining the test audience
Outside of those hiccups, the fundamentals here are solid. Not only do the mechanics shine in their current implementation, but they’re already playing a bit with the format. The commercials in this early build hit just the right tone of FMV cheesiness, and hopefully there is much more of that in store. Even in this very limited state, Not For Broadcast is bursting with potential. It takes the storytelling methods of something like Her Story and maps them onto much more solid mechanics. The only limit is how much footage they can capture and what story they want to tell in the long run.
Thankfully, Not For Broadcast isn’t preparing for prime time just yet. The game launches in a couple of months onto Steam Early Access and the plan is to remain there for quite some time. The developers admit on their store page that they’ve only shot three of the “episodes” so far and that Early Access will steer the game in new and exciting directions. The willingness to reshoot and add or drop mechanics show that they appear to be dedicated to the concept, and I’ll be fascinated to keep tuning in as time goes on.
GameRevolution previewed Not For Broadcast on PC via Steam with a demo sent by the publisher. The game releases onto Steam Early Access this coming November.