To many game producers, the interactive movie with full-motion, full-screen video is today’s holy grail of interactive computer entertainment, replacing 3D graphics, digitized speech, MIDI and other faded glories in popular perception as the state-of-the-art in computer game design.
To game designer LucasArts, this vision is tempered by current hardware limitations, fundamental differences in creative philosophy and the Lucas legacy.
Their CD-ROM release, “Rebel Assault,” with more than 300,000 individual units sold, gives credence to their view that while video offers opportunity, it isn’t an end in itself. It still has to be a great game.
Randy Komisar, VP of marketing at LucasArts, describes the current state of interactive movies as “pioneering,” noting that “today’s technology does not allow you to put together a truly satisfying experience using video as your primary medium.
The basic problem, says Komisar, is that “so-called interactive movies, involve hitting a button to create an insignificant action on the screen that basically tries to branch the story. You end up with branching video and what the user ends up doing is deciding which way it’s going to go, right or left. You interact for a moment then you go back through more video and maybe you’re given another opportunity to interact, but it’s not truly compelling to the sorts of people who play games today.”
To understand Komisar’s reservations, it’s important to understand the technical limitations in using video clips. The primary problems are bandwidth and access times. D1, today’s pinnacle video resolution, requires around 45MB per second throughout to pass uncompressed video in real time. The speed of your 2X CD-ROM? 300KB per second. Today’s fast hard drives can find a start point in less than 15 milliseconds; ten times faster than the fastest CD-ROM’s. Ten minutes of uncompressed, D1 quality video, requires about 1 gigabyte of storage space, well beyond the storage capacity of CD-ROM.
Komisar views the technical limitations described as only part of the problem , and the opportunities of animation as an exciting alternative.
“Animation takes you in a different direction,” says Komisar. “You don’t have to provide as much data. Instead you end up with animated characters and sequences that allow you control without necessarily having to go back and rerun (video) clips, one after another, off of a CD.”
In “Rebel Assault,” the video clips, scenes from the famed George Lucas “Star Wars” movies, are used to set up the animated play, to segue between the stages of play or “chapters” as they’re called, and in the end sequence.
Komisar believes that animation “still provides the best game play. The game play itself is animated, and the animation gives a truly interactive experience. I think this differentiates Rebel Assault from a lot of what are called interactive movies today,” says Komisar.
“Rebel Assault” enjoys the great advantages of its “Star Wars” heritage.
Komisar sums up LucasArts philosophy this way: “Full motion video is a novelty. We reject the idea that the holy grail is full motion video or photo-realism. The reality is there’s a whole bunch of styles that appeal to different audiences.” In Komisar’s view, the bottom line at LucasArts is great game play, no matter what the vehicle.