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Legend leaps to life

HOLLYWOOD — Veteran videogame designer Rick Dyer has reason to breathe a sigh of relief as his new interactive, video computer game, “Shadoan,” finally hits store shelves this month. After all, he’s been hoping to get the game to consumers for 18 years, since he first thought up the concept in 1979.

What Dyer calls the “odyssey” of getting “Shadoan” developed, produced and distributed, however, may well have been worth the wait if it sells as he is expecting it to.

In August, Dyer’s Virtual Image Prods. announced a joint venture with multimedia game developer Technology Integration Group (TGI) to form a game-publishing unit called TIG Publishing to distribute “Shadoan” and other Dyer-developed multimedia products. Dyer is the creator of the first interactive, animated videogame, “Dragon’s Lair,” in 1982, and the first holographic game, “Hologram Time Traveler,” in ’91.

He says “Shadoan,” which features approximately 20 hours of game-play time on a CD-ROM, will retail for a suggested price of $29.99, less than the usual price for new, high-end, interactive games. That price is being instituted even though the game cost more than $4 million to produce, which Dyer says, puts it “easily into the top 10 most expensive games ever made.”

Since Dyer first had the “Shadoan” idea in ’79, only to have it languish for years, he has become one of the industry’s top designers. That development gave him the clout to put the project together with big-time production values.

“In 1979, I first wanted to make this game, but there existed no proper hardware to play it on the way I wanted to do it,” Dyer says. “For years, I spent much of my time trying to develop the proper hardware, but that was never practical. Then, when the technology was first developed, it was too expensive for most people, so again, it wasn’t practical. But finally, with the advent of the compact disc, it could be done, so we started the production up again in 1992.”

It then took five more years to re-design the game. “Shadoan” now features 70 minutes of original cel animation — 120 minutes were originally drawn on 84,000 cels, hand-painted for the production by 300 artists over the course of nine months. The use of that much hand-painted animation in such games is unusual, although “Shadoan” also features computer-animated 3-D segments, as well.

Dyer also made sure “Shadoan” departed from the industry norm in other ways. In addition to eight different dialogue tracks for the characters, the disc features a 30-song musical score — unheard of for a game title — created by Martin Erskin and Doug and Brian Besterman, who previously arranged music for “Beauty and the Beast” and “Pocohontas.”

Dyer then had the product packaged in a box made up of lenticular hologram pictures — a new technology that allows each picture to display 24 animated frames, instead of the normal two usually seen on holographic pictures.

With these embellishments, one might think the game would cost more. But ironically, the final speedbump on “Shadoan’s” road to release gave Dyer the luxury of lowering the price. The game was to have been distributed by a division of Canada’s Malo Communications, but Malo later closed down its distribution division, giving the product back to Dyer.

“I had a relationship with TIG from another venture, and we talked with them about it and decided to form our own publishing company,” he explains. “Because the former publisher paid us lots of money and then gave the game back, the project is already close to paid for. Because of that, we can release it as an A-plus product with an aggressive price and hope we get volume sales.”

The initial release of “Shadoan” will be for PC and Macintosh systems. In early ’98, Dyer says, it will be released for Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn.

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