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The Origins of Night Trap: An Excerpt from Generation Xbox


April 24, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3
 

The actors weren't the only ones being asked to step outside their comfort zones. The programmers were equally challenged as they tried to ensure that they shot enough coverage to cover all the different paths this interactive, branching storyline might take. Continuity and camera lenses were suddenly more important than sprites, control interfaces or processor speeds. Keeping track of the 250-page script -- and the eventual editing of the footage to use within the game itself -- was a tremendous headache.

"I personally didn't think I was making a game anymore," says Fulop, Night Trap's co-creator. "When you make a game you can adjust it as you make it. You're tweaking stuff, moving graphics around. With a movie you can't do that. Once you've shot it, you've got what you've got. As a game designer you had no control once the footage was shot."

After putting the game together, it was obvious that there was one fatal flaw in using "full motion video". The price of using of "real" images was a loss of interactivity.

Players may have been looking at real actors but they couldn't control any of them in a traditional sense. You didn't have an avatar to move around the screen. Instead you were just a spectator with limited control. Tap the right button at the right moment and you'd get to watch a different video clip.

This was the curse of Dragon's Lair all over again: a game that looked amazing but played badly. Yet despite the downside in terms of interactivity, there was something incredibly seductive about the merger of movies and games. There was an immediacy that came from using live action footage, an immediacy of emotional response that resulted from using real people instead of blocky sprites.

For Zito that was the whole point. "There are certain human, gut-reactions that can only be triggered by seeing another human," he'd tell Next Generation magazine several years later. "Real people produce real reactions. And that's what we're after. For example, I could never really care enough about Princess Zelda to spend the 40 hours I needed to spend battling through the forest in order to rescue her."

He was right. When Dana Plato turns straight to camera and talks to you in Night Trap there is a frisson of excitement and intimacy that goes far beyond anything that the 'toons in Dragon's Lair achieved. Breaking the fourth wall to set up a dialogue between actor and player, FMV draws you into the story much in the same way as Tamara's actors encouraged the audience to become active participants. The use of real actors heightens the tension and works par­ticularly well in the context of Night Trap's horror story. Would we care about Lisa's murder in the bathroom if the screaming blonde was an 8-bit sprite instead of a real actor? Absolutely not.

Seeing real actors on-screen was also something many non-gamers felt comfortable with. According to Riley, it was often the adults who brought children to Hasbro play tests who were most impressed by NEMO.

"The parents would bring in their kids to play the games and then go snack on refreshments," he recalls. "But the minute the adults saw real images on the monitors, they'd walk over. We watched fathers dragging the controllers out of the hands of their sons! They were amazed because this wasn't a cartoon, it was TV. They'd say: 'OK, I get it, I can do this -- TV is my world. Wow! I can interact with it!'"

This was the revolution that Zito had envisioned early on, a redefinition of television itself for a mass audience of casual gamers. "We were trying to change the definition of a video game," he says. "[We thought that] if you give people what they're most used to, namely television, and make it interactive you've opened up a much bigger opportunity. [But] that may have been unfounded. In other words it may be that when people watch TV they don't want to interact with it. They just want to sit on the couch and become mindless."

From Hasbro's perspective, the concept was certainly worth further development although there were already concerns. "We knew it was flawed and we were disappointed by the play experience that was generated by the project," says Barry Alperin, who headed up the project for the toymaker. But since Hasbro had already sunk millions into NEMO's development -- setting up an R&D lab in California and flying out to Taiwan to fabricate the chip-sets needed to power the console -- the decision was taken to keep on going. The hope was that the problems could be ironed out.

Renting sound stages, setting up film crews and hiring actors clearly didn't come cheap. Night Trap's production costs came to $1 million. Although Hasbro was rolling in profits -- thanks largely to the dynamic leadership of then chief executive Stephen Hassenfeld -- the toy company had its limits. If NEMO was going to continue, they decided, they needed to find a production partner in Hollywood who would be willing to finance future shoots, or a licensor who would let the programmers use footage from an existing movie or TV property.

Zito, who was convinced that NEMO was the beginning of a much bigger revolution in interactive television, was adamant about the next step: they needed to get the major motion picture studios onboard. Hasbro, hemorrhaging cash, was only too happy to agree. NEMO -- by now dubbed the Hasbro Control-Vision -- was going to Hollywood. But like a naïve, young starlet hoping to be in pictures, NEMO's wide-eyed dreams of fame and fortune would be shattered on the casting couch.


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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