Not For Broadcast from NotGames
In Not For Broadcast from NotGames and published by tinyBuild, you are an unwitting video jockey surrogate who has been handed the reigns of a local TV news station’s control room and tasked with not only keeping the broadcast alive and well, but keeping advertisers and audiences alike happy.
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Wow. Talk about hitting a bullseye. For 40 years, I have recalled my early days, where as a toddler I sat in the control of a live broadcast news show while my mom, the anchorwoman, gave the nightly news. This is a true story.
In my anecdotal re-tellings, I recall how I would see all manner of horrific footage in the feed screens while my mom’s talking head was on the broadcast screen, and when she threw to the newsreel footage, they would show only the most sanitized part. This formative experience, of course, led me to live a life obsessed with reading books about disinformation, skepticism, culture jamming, and trying to circumvent the allure of outright conspiracy theory.
While some have compared Not for Broadcast to rubber-stamping simulators like Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please, full-motion video puzzles Sam Barlow’s Her Story or resource managers like the insanely successful Cook, Serve, Delicious 2, Not for Broadcast is almost a whole new thing – a sort of job simulator that works more like a training video for how to actually manage a news control room circa 1970-1980, make on the fly editorial decisions, manage hardware and consider the value of truth versus its manipulation.
It also recalls the dystopian, cynical, shiny-as-Shinola world of We Happy Few. The meta-story summons up memories of one of my personal favorite counter-cultural titles, Little Inferno, and the creepy screen-selection adventure Stories Untold.
Yeah, now that I say it out loud, I guess it really is a mash-up of all of the above.
But despite seeing the nature of the ingredients that went into making this cake, the cake as a whole is a walloping face-punch of sordid glee, powerful social commentary, and sweat-inducing systems management…with a little branching narrative text adventure thrown in, for better or worse.
Please Follow Instructions
The Early Access version I am reviewing starts with a splash screen that promises many many more dozens of hours of programming content, and maybe even emergent narrative moral conundrums. What there is involves managing four source screens, monitoring the master screen before it goes to broadcast – including managing the very tricky Censor button – mitigating station reception interference, throwing to commercial (and selecting which adverts to play), selecting static images to push to screen (as representations of the subject which can alter public perception about their character), all while keeping audience viewership at peak engagement.
Trust me when I say there will never be a dull or even idle moment. See my caveat for this in the closing comments.
The stars of the show (besides you, the control room manager) are the many zany and hilarious real videos that you are in fact managing and cutting together.
Be Kind, Rewind
After a broadcast day, you can go to the archives and review your broadcast, preview rushes, and audit the adverts that you ran for the day. I remember we had a whole room dedicated to storing VHS copies of my mom’s daily news broadcasts. We never watched them, but now I wish we had or could. Sadly, most of the VHS tapes have turned to mushy white noise.
Reviewing your day’s work is not only useful but also hilarious and creates another great opportunity for enjoyment as you and your friends can go back and watch the mayhem you produced.
The rushes offer you an opportunity to view all the stuff you avoided pushing to broadcast. This can be a useful, hilarious, insightful and sometimes chilling look at the behind-the-scenes stuff to which the public should never be exposed, lest you and the station suffer an irreversible Ron Burgundy teleprompter moment. There is a LOT of content here to enjoy and work through.
The only thing I wish I could have here is the ability to fast forward, review or scrub. Also, some of the mute buttons for the screens seemed a bit hard to reach, as they extended off-screen. Hopefully, this will be fixed in an update.
Over the Top
I am not a supporter of the abused and misused phrase “fake news,” but I do think it is important to be skeptical of what we are fed (and by whom) and what motives what we are shown (and why). If I had any real critique is that this, like other resource management or job simulator, can feel too much like actual work. I know some writers at IGR won’t touch the stuff because it reminds them too much of their day jobs. In some ways, that is the best compliment I can give to Not For Broadcast.
Also, the meta-narrative can at times slow the pace of the game down, like a speed bump, kind of there to keep things cool and flowing, but also kind of a pain. Maybe if the segments were a little shorter. It doesn’t seem to really have any effect on the core gameplay, so it is like a side game that keeps filtering in for attention.
In the end, though, what can I say, Not For Broadcast’s design and implementation is a kind of genius toy for the modern age; just distant enough from this phase of technology made of Betacam, cathode ray tubes, color bars and oscilloscopes, in the age of OTT cable-cutting streaming that also reminds us of the nature of the content we ingest and how it is formed, and perhaps, more importantly, why…and that is…to keep you watching, at whatever cost.
A Free Society Needs the Free Press
You know in the end, it’s games like this that make me fight to keep IGR alive. I think back on all the transgressive works – The Cat and the Coup, Ladykiller in a Bind, Fate of the World, the aforementioned Papers, Please, That Dragon, Cancer, This War of Mine, Neocab, and Not for Broadcast can totally fit in that mosaic.
It’s goofy, it’s flawed, it’s a little misshapen, and this may or may not be your bag, but for me, Not For Broadcast is one of the best new ideas and amalgamations I have encountered in a long time.
Check out the Controlling the Broadcast trailer below: