From the moment doors opened on last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles to reveal the Bat-mobile from “Batman Forever” and the apes from “Congo,” it was clear that Hollywood film and TV product is a primary inspiration for the nascent multimedia industry.
Behind the hype however, is frustration among game developers not at the availability of creative ideas but at the pace of technology.
“Everybody wants things to move faster, for the machines to have better memory,” film-maker and games company mogul George Lucas told the press while announcing a children’s title to be published by LucasArts.
An estimated 40,000 visitors exceeded the organizers’ original attendance projections for E3, the first trade show focusing exclusively on the new entertainment media. The two sold-out halls at the May 11-13 show of 400 exhibitors featured extravagant displays and elaborate booths that in many cases were anchored by titles spun off from some of the summer’s biggest studio films, including Paramount’s “Congo” (Viacom New Media), Warner Bros.’ “Batman Forever” (Acclaim), Sony’s “Johnny Mnemonic” (Sony Imagesoft), MGM/UA’s “Species” (Cyberdreams), Disney’s “Pocahontas” (Disney Interactive) and Universal’s “Waterworld” (Ocean of America).
But while the games makers promised Hollywood, what they deliver is, well – games.
Sony Imagesoft’s “Johnny Mnemonic” game, for instance, uses only some second-unit footage as a scene setter. Keanu Reeves and other stars of Sony’s upcoming “Johnny Mnemonic” do not appear in the game, which consists mainly of video material shot especially for Imagesoft.
And an early version of “Congo” showed no actual clips from the future Paramount pic.
Only after the year end’s holiday sales season will the evidence be in on whether or not the Hollywood movie-to-game connection is true synergy or a losing game.
However, keynote speakers Tom Kalinske, CEO of Sega, and Olaf Olafsson, president of Sony Electronic Publishing, emphasized the importance of content at a time when the industry is undergoing a hardware upgrade and new game machines are being introduced.
Kalinske stressed that game developers, until now focused on 6-to 17-year-olds, will have to aim for a wider demographic in order to compete with the more sophisticated and increasingly popular interactive products playable on the personal computer.
He also announced the new Sega Saturn game gear debuted on store shelves this week, tagged at $399-$499 retail, backed by a $250 million allotment for media buys to support the product launch.
A hard and soft commitment
Olafsson’s presentation in support of Sony’s new PlayStation, the company’s first gambit in the game hardware arena, referred to the Japanese consumer electronics company’s link to its Hollywood studio operations when he emphasized the connection between filmed entertainment and their game gear.
“Sony is the only company with hardware and software under one roof,” he declared, receiving an ovation from the retailer-heavy audience when the pricetag of the PlayStation was announced at $299.
Nintendo president and CEO Howard Lincoln said the delay of its new Ultra 64 game gear until next year was a tactical move to allow more and better game titles to hit the market.
Lincoln focused his remarks concerning the issue of software piracy, which he said costs the entire industry $15 billion per year in lost revenues. He estimated that figure at $2.5 billion each year for Nintendo and its third-party developers.
Some of the news announced at E3 include:
* an alliance between Acclaim (“Mortal Kombat”) and the Edward R. Pressman Film Corp. to create interactive titles based on Pressman-produced films including Pressman’s upcoming “The Mutant Chronicles.”
* BMG Interactive Entertainment announced an agreement with Boss Game Studios, the vidgame division of visual effects house Boss Film Studios, to publish and distribute worldwide Boss’ first game title.
* Warner Music Group said it will assume manufacturing and distribution responsibilities for all software released by Time Warner Interactive beginning June 1.
* LucasArts unveiled plans for a series of games based on the continuation of the “Star Wars” films, now in the writing stage from George Lucas.
* And in a move making L.A. the premiere showcase for interactive entertainment software – at least for another year – the Interactive Digital Software Assn. endorsed E3 for three years, with next year’s show scheduled at the L.A. Convention Center from May 30-June 1.
E3 organizer Patrick Ferrel, president of games magazine publisher Infotainment World, said similar shows are in the works for Japan, Europe and South America.
Although this year’s endorsement of E3 forced CES to cancel its 1995 spring expo, a spokesman for the consumer electronics show CES said that E3’s three-year lease would not alter its plans for a CES Interactive expo in Orlando, Fla., slated for 1996.