Games, like institutions, are extensions of the social man…

— Marshall McCluhan
Understanding Media

It’s easier to teach an artist how to program, than teach a programmer how to draw.

Chapter 5


"It's getting to a point where your only limitation in the visual storytelling is really the person doing the design and development now…"

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"The programmers are responsible for making it work. The artists are responsible for making it pretty…"

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"The level of sophistication of storytelling that you can present in something like a role-playing game is much deeper and much more involving…"

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"You have to empower the player to interact with not only the environment, but the story…"

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"As programming becomes more of a commodity the thing that shows is the art…"

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My game starts when the sun goes down and the lights go off. Darkness sets the stage for my alter ego…"

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In a memo to the RKO Film executives, Orson Welles described his first motion picture as a visual pun; the "eye" of the camera was also the "I" of Phillip Marlow, the protagonist in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. He chose to make the camera a character, framing reality to take his audience on a journey, uniquely Marlow's. This was to be his first experimental film, but due to the enormous budget needed for such a film, he was asked to produce something else. So instead, he created Citizen Kane.

The "eye as I" may have been ahead of it's time in 1941, but its commonplace in the world of interactive gaming, today. Where the viewer participates in the path and formulation of the story; its order and groupings as a whole becomes the story. The purchase of a game console usually includes a demo disc; a CD full of playable previews of available 2-D and 3-D games playable on that console. Tomb Raider 2 was on one of these discs, where the game's protagonist was a three-dimensional woman character named Lara Croft. In this trial version, she was immediately dropped into a pit from a helicopter, where she slid down the side of a cliff and landed with cat-like grace on her feet at the bottom of an enclosed canyon. There she stood, waiting instructions from the player's controller; empowered with the ability to make her jump, run, climb, walk, swim, back flip, side flip and leap tall buildings in a single bound. The controller also provided the ability to move her point-of-view and examine the details of this new 3-D world. Suddenly, the television we've all come to know and love, as a wonderful visual storyteller seemed to change. It wasn't throwing linear images, but drawing the viewer in; demanding our participation. This was very different – pulling, rather then pushing, and it's intoxicating.

An examination of this mysterious canyon showed a large architectural structure high up the cliff. As impossible as the climb appeared, it's the only logical destination and finding the path upwards was part of the fun. Along the way, she fought off tigers, uncovered ancient idols and survived outlandish, superhuman jumps.

Lara Croft, Tomb Raider jumping through fire, over bottomless pits, and mediums.

Copyright respected rights holders

After hours of exploration and falling to her death more than a cat has lives, a special path was uncovered, with a diagonal-twist-jump, and the exploration process becomes enthralling, moving further into the depths of Lara's world. It wasn't just a character that was lost – the viewers/participates were all lost, too. It was as if PlayStation gave the television a brain. It became smarter. The traditional passive television entertainment experience paled to this more active – or interactive, world, sometimes screaming at the sudden appearance of a panther, giant golem or monster mummy. The puzzle solving and the thought provoking strategy that went into moving through the exotic locales were fascinating and engaging. Unfortunately, even with the wizardry of today's Hollywood blockbusters, there's still that wall between the viewer and the characters in a traditional linear entertainment experience.

PlayStation has lowered that wall enough to allow the audience to jump over and into an experience that can still be quite linear in retrospect, but also offer outstanding possibilities for interactivity.

Now, it may appear from this narrative that Lara Croft is a "superhero," but she's not; she doesn't wear skin-tight outfits – er, wait-a-minute, yes she does. Okay, well, she does exhibit any super human strength —— er, um…actually push and pulling those huge stone blocks is realistically superhuman as are he outlandish jumps across canyons. Okay, well, she doesn't have a … yes, she's a superhero, but one that has, in the course of a few years, attained the same kind of recognition as superheroes that have been around for decades.

In the book Word of Mouse, media guru, Jim Banister, created a language that can best define the classifications of various media experiences; linear, interactive and networked. For each family of media, there is a corresponding form of entertainment. He sites that linear media, such as film and television is truly storytelling, but he doesn't believe there's such a thing as "interactive storytelling." If seated in a theatre, watching the latest James Cameron story through film, does the experience need any influence of the path and/or choice of ending? He's a great storyteller, and the movie would be enjoyable as a "sit back" linear experience. However, interactive media isn't usually a "sit back" experience, but more of a "lean forward" immersive world, with some control of the path in experiencing a visual story.

© 1995-2001 Infinite Ventures, Inc. All rights reserved.

Dracula Unleashed is a trademark of Infinite Ventures, Inc.

The new interactive DVD games provide not only multi-layered game play complexity, but MPEG2 quality video that can be played on any DVD player, from Toshiba to PlayStation 2, in an exciting attempt at "interactive movies."

© 1991-1999 Infinite Ventures, Inc. All rights reserved.

Consulting Detective is a trademark licensed from Sleuth Times. Use of the Sherlock Holmes characters by arrangement with Dame Jean Conan Doyle.

Eugene Evans, the Executive Producer of many games over the past ten years and President of Infinite Ventures, Inc., the producers of the Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective and Dracula Unleashed Interactive DVD game. He believes that when these types of video integrated interactive games first came out on CD-ROM in 1991, it was too ahead of it's time. The people who could afford to purchase a computer in 1991 (usually about $3,000) weren't necessarily interested in a role-playing game. Especially, with the level of sophistication of storytelling that Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective or Dracula Unleashed can offer. It wasn't until 1994's Night Trap; starring television's Dana Plato (Different Strokes) did full motion video achieve the limelight (see Chapter 2 sidebar on censorship). This created an interactive environment, without much complexity and sophistication as compared to Sherlock and Dracula but filled two CD discs with video footage. The newer interactive games succeed in blending the game world with the full motion video clips. This is quite the contrast to the video clips used in these early attempts, limited to hardware capabilities. Today, there is very little difference between your PC and console games.

An interactive game can be much more involving, and there's much more involved in its production than a piece of linear video. It's a programmed experience, with every facet of the viewer/player's interaction, manipulated, modified and tweaked by the software so that everything, not only by turning every corner, but every single step taken can trigger a new character, item or event to pop up and add to the experience even more. Exponentially multiplying the level of sophistication by piling layer upon layer of choices and events, making it unique to each individual participate.

The basic premise behind Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective, which has been described as an interactive soap opera or "Masterpiece Theater," where the player/viewer is trying to solve a mystery along with Sherlock and Watson. The tag line states that the players are directing the action -- directing Sherlock and Watson around London. How this is accomplished is that the players are presented with an opening scene where a there's details on the description of a murder which has taken place. There are a number of characters introduced during this film sequence; who was murdered, their wife, who was there at the scene, who discovered the body, with their names mentioned during the video. The players have to pull up a directory. This directory has hundreds of peoples' names and is a directory of the fictitious characters and people in London, mostly red herring and irrelevant, but the player needs to visit these people that are mentioned in the introductory video and learn about their version, or their part of the story unfolding. There is a possibility that the game may be providing the players with a lot of irrelevant information, forcing acute attention to the details to quickly determine what is important to solving the mystery. If the player didn't pay attention to the names mentioned in the introductory video or just ignore it, the player is then overwhelmed with this directory of a few hundred people. If the player starts randomly visiting people, there is no way to win the game as the only way to win the game is to visit as few places as possible. The number of characters that player listens to increases exponentially because every visit somebody and watch Sherlock interview them, the player will hear them mention more names, so that the number of names grows very quickly and only by deduction and listening for clues can the player figure out who the relevant suspects are and who are the irrelevant distracters. Eventually, from the collection of clues that are in the dialog and on the videos, the player will be able to answer a number of questions and allowed in to see the judge, who in a very simple way will ask a series of multiple choice questions that demonstrate a clear understanding of the answers to those questions. The player then get scored, based upon how many videos they had to watch to come to that conclusion and are rated next to Sherlock's own performance.

There are new enhancements currently being developed for DVD players that will establish them even more as an interactive game console, such as the new Nuon Enhanced DVD Player. Consumers now have a choice when shopping for a DVD player, to select a model with a logo that says "Nuon Enhanced." In effect, this may be the first generation DVD appliance that includes a game system, instead of a game system playing DVD movies, such as Playstation 2.

It sure looks like it'll all become one master visual storytelling device someday; different brands, styles and colors, but essentially one magic box.

The first Legend of Zelda video game in 1987 (called a video game because the console on which it played was connected to a television) was the first stand alone game (not sold with a game console) to sell over one million copies. The Nintendo 64 Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time game in 1998 sold over 10 million copies and although they spent $40 million (the size of a moderate special effects movie) to produce the game, it made something like $250 million dollars -- more than any feature film that year. So, interactive RPG storytelling has already demonstrated that it can outgrow linear storytelling, but the formula is still in its infancy, as those examples don't happen every few months as they do in the $100 million plus genre of filmmaking. It can be done, and it can be delivered, but today; it's exceptionally difficult to produce, due to its complexity.
In the first person shooter games, the interactivity is as simple as a character steps up and shoots "you," or tries to shoot you. In a role-playing game, it can be as sophisticated as a character popping up, offering to buy something or offering to sell something and the story evolves much more. A higher level of granularity is added to create an immersive experience that will last for days, not hours or minutes. Even with this highly advanced level of sophistication, there is still a story being told.

Consider this opening narrative to the PC RPG called Septerra Core:

In the beginning, the Creator brought forth the shining jewels of the universe and all their secrets. One such jewel was the world that would be known as SEPTERRA, Its secret hidden within its core. 7 distinct layers of continents called world shells orbit the planet. Each connected to the other by a giant bio-organic spine. At the center of all lies the core, an immense bio-computer regulating the movements of the shells. The Creator fashioned into this world a way in which man himself might one day obtain his power. He created twin keys that could be used to unlock this secret, granting the Gift of the Creator, the Kingdom of Heaven. Every 100 years, the alignment of the upper continents creates a beam of light which penetrates the depths of the core, activating it for a short period. At this time the keys can be used to unlock the secret. Many men attempted to possess these relics but the world was not yet ready.Then there arose one that the Creator and his host of angels could not destroy: Gemma, a fallen Seraphin who captured the keys to the core. The creator in desperation sent Marduk, his only forgotten son, to Septerra and then left the affairs of men forever. After a battle that raged for 100 days, Marduk defeated Gemma and seized the stolen keys. Teaching that the world was not yet ready for such power he hid them. But Marduk prophesized that one day many millenium in the future when the world was in grave danger they would once again be found. AND the power they could unlock would save the world from destruction. That time is now.

The level of sophistication in the interactive role-playing game, such as Septerra Core, creates over 120 hours or game play. That's about 60 movies.

Copyright: Septerra Core is TM & © 2001 Valkyrie Studios. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

There is an incredible amount of creative thought and effort behind an interactive game. The more complex the world becomes, the more layers of granularity needed to deliver that interactivity.

Role-playing games can include over a hundred speaking parts, with the same level of special sound effects, music and audio as Hollywood movies.

Copyright: Photo courtesy Danger High Voltage Software. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

Septerra Core, although it does fit on only one CD-ROM, has an average tested 120 hours of game play, a 50,000 word script that included 154 speaking parts; everyone that the character walks up to, has something to say that can further the story. The development studio that created Septerra Core included about 15 people that worked on the game for about two years, with a two million dollar budget, which is small by comparison; a game like Final Fantasy, which had hundreds of people working on it, with a 30 or 40 million dollar budget.

Septerra Core has 200 different locations that are open to visitors. The script was 53,000 words (about the size of this book), of which 35,000 words were spoken dialogue. The dialogue that was recorded totaled about 5 hours of audio. The 154 speaking parts doesn't include all of the creatures that the player fights, which include another couple dozen, not all unique – but about 25 creatures that had to be animated. There's 15 separate "chapters" or "acts" experienced in the game. It's not quite linear, but not quite totally open ended as well. A player can proceed through the game and then is offered choices of directions, but there's no real linear point A or point B and then move on to point C. It's designed to experience as much of the game as possible, through a multitude of different paths. Many game designers are reluctant to literally creating three different games, within a game, assuming that the player will only experience a third of it. The resources that are involved in creating such an environment are too valuable to be wasted on "the road less traveled."

Brian "BMAN" Babendererde, the visionary behind Septerra Core, decided to leave things open-ended so the player can experience the world through various stories and then move on. "You can do a little bit of this story, a little bit of that one, but everything's happening sort of at the same time. You have to empower the player to interact with not only the environment, but the story. You have to invite them into the kitchen as another chef, otherwise, they can just go watch a movie or read a comic. "

The difference between the interactive game, movie or comic is that the once viewer only can now actually able to participate in the creation of the story, or as Jim Banister puts it; storyforming. Game designer Doug Church, at a Game Developer's Conference, presented a concept he entitled "Abdicating Authorship." He believes that the game designer must abdicate most of the game's authorship to the player, or allowing the player to contribute substantially to the "storyforming," if he hopes to create compelling gaming experience. "Our desire to create traditional narrative and exercise authorial control over the gaming world often inhibits the player's ability to be more involved in the game world."

The development of this type of interaction is very complex, as the designer needs to anticipate all the variables of a non-AI (Artificial Intelligence) real participate. There is no one "directing" the player, nor are they "programmed" to respond accordingly. Sure, a player's path can be guided, and depending on the game, it can be more linear than others, but depending on the sophistication level of the game, when the visual storytelling is created, the "I," or the person actually controlling the interactivity is actually considered another character in the experience.

Many games already have a defined character, Super Mario Brothers, Tomb Raider, or Sonic the Hedgehog (again, all relatively "super heroes"), so the player explores the environment as this character. There are games where the character is less prevalent, where creating your own character (or you as yourself, become an interactive extension of yourself). First person games such as Half-Life or Quake technically have a character that the player becomes; the Space Marine. However, to create a more personal experience, when playing Quake; it's an extension of the player's self. The player becomes the armed space marine shooting wicked monsters in a gothic world gone mad.

It's a direct experience, created for different types of game play. The developers can create different things that enhance the player's feeling of it being inside the game or enhance their perception that they are controlling another other character. Many times it's as simple as where to place the "camera." The Quake-style first person camera, experiencing through the eyes of the character, really helps in immersing the player into the new world you've created for them. However, once the camera is pulled away from the character, such as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider or Super Mario Brothers, it makes it feel a lot more like somebody else. If Tomb Raider was developed as a first person game, like Quake, players would lose that sense of Lara Croft as a character.

The interactive game "script" is a multiple volume complexity that documents not only the dialogue, but all interactive "objects," locations, events and functionality.

The development of many games is organized chaos; just hit the ground running. Most of the time, it's a publisher or licensor that may demand unrealistic expectations, like a lack of adequate time for production. This usually means long hours and the bare minimal of contributions.

BMAN added, "Septerra Core has 120 hours of game play and five hours of dialogue, alone. It's just not possible to storyboard everything all out."

This is why the interactive script, which includes elements of a traditional movie script, project management standards and a Software Requirements Specification (SRS) document. Such a scalar project makes it impossible to storyboard in a cost-effective and timely manner, but there's also the wild card; a dynamic character (the player). Keeping this in mind, it usually involves going back and forth between the artists, designers and programmers. There are elements where the designer will come up with something very specifically there own, with the exclusion of others. There isn't much freedom to expand upon it, but there are also large stretches of the various levels, with specific notes, such as a hallway where specific action is programmed to happen. When the level is being designed, there are specific notes attached to it, much like a storyboard; the player will be running through this area and fighting these guys, if the player succeeded in picking up this particular object. There are no official storyboards formally created to visual it. At that point is where the artists are assigned to add ingredients to the space; little glass tubes, yellow streaks, hot lava, etc. The creative process becomes essentially a personal relationship between the lead artist and the lead designer, who have the responsibility for the final decisions.

Catherine Court, the Executive Producer of Septerra Core found the experience a far cry from other media. In advertising, a small team will conceptualize, write, design, draw, film and edit an entire broadcast commercial production in one to three months; there isn't an extensive period of time spent for personalities to clash. That's not the case with interactive game development, which has a development cycle of about twelve to twenty four months. There's a cyclical process that includes everyone stops talking to each other, or even hate each other around the twelve month mark, or when the beta is released. Court discovered that her job description also included group counseling and morale. "I bought 50 pumpkins once, took them to a field with a bunch of baseball bats and told them to knock themselves out," said Court of one of her techniques for getting her team to start communicating once again. "It worked."

The written description is one of the most important documents for developing interactive games. This is where the foundation is laid out to build upon. During the course of communication between the designers, artists and programmers, a mutual vision is developed. This centers on the look of the game, such as scenes, style and characters. Then, the game play is built around the content or they go back to the drawing board and modify the work. Many times, there are technical concerns. Where something is built that is mediocre, once included within the game play, but allows for imagery all the way across the world with too many polygons for the machine to draw in at one time.

Historically, too much information for the hardware platform to process is a common problem. Traditionally, if the game gives the player the ability to look all the way across the virtual world at once, then the programs are just going to crash, because historically the hardware can't draw that entire world at once. It's been a common practice to block the player's visibility, so only a certain chunk is visible at one time. One of the many secrets to the better interactive games is that the blocking is made invisible to the player, further contributing to the engagement and immersive feel of the game. The player feels like he's looking across the entire world, when he's not. He's only looking at a small part of it and looking at different parts as they move through the space. This will soon be a memory as hardware limits become a thing of the past.

The importance of communication is paramount, with any collaborative endeavor, but with interactive games, a mistake can cost the game and the millions of dollars spent on development and promotion.

The Phantom 2040, which was produced for Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, neglected to inform the player of a very important component of the story. During the game, if the player concentrates their efforts on fighting bad guy "A," at the end of the game they'll have to fight bad guy "B," or visa-versa. No matter which single one is picked out, one or the other; one is going to get away and win (leaving the player with one of the least attractive endings), unless the player can find a way to defeat them both. There is a crucial step in this game, when the player goes to make his final choice between bad guys A, B or find a way to defeat both. During play testing, no one had caught the fact that this crucial information was never given to the player. The problem was that a little movie that informed the player about this was supposed to play, but wasn't hooked up. This crucial fact wasn't discovered until months later, after the product was released and consumed by the populace. The designer and producer made a mistake, and now the players don't know that in order to achieve the best of several possible endings, but the player needs to defeat both bad guys.

The concept of a sole creator in an interactive game production may be to put at stake the possibility to use the romantic idea of an isolated author. The production in the context of cultural industries, such as film and interactive games, requires a collective action – a collaboration of various contributors to the creative process, from production to distribution, a philanthropic system for a sole outcome. However, most films, comics or interactive games that burst into the limelight as above and beyond the norm usually has a visionary driving these unique forces. Again, that's the auteur; infusing his/her vision for the passion.

Catherine Court, who's been a senior producer in media for over fifteen years, believes that the audience recognizes that passion and that the payoff is usually immeasurable. "We got outstanding work out of the [Septerra Core] team, because they were given the freedom to be creative when they could be creative, not when they were told. That freedom was everything, and they believed in the project so much that they gave everything they had to give." Court said, recounting the fact that the team didn't sleep much for nearly a year. "People were living there. They were willing to do it, because they got to do it at their own pace and it was a story and concept that was exceptional enough that these people became very attached to it."

Usually, mediocre products don't get that level of commitment and usually lie witness in the end result. "If you're doing something that everyone is so desperately passionate about, you're going to get something that looks and feels above and beyond. Everyone who's played the game recognizes that passion."

"I've met maybe two people who are able to be creative on demand. Creativity comes when creativity comes; for some people that's at two o'clock in the morning. You try talking to them at 11AM and you get tapioca-- you get nothing. You wait until they wake up in the middle of the night and by God, you get brilliance. It's very hard to schedule creativity."

Obviously, this isn't exclusive to interactive media.

A standard system was developed for the storyboards produced for Septerra Core, which were primarily for the movie sequences (cut scenes). The treatment was developed for the game, which included an overview of the game play, characters, movies and environment. Then storyboards would be produced for it, being reviewed and modified until the auteur or team was satisfied with the scenes, characters, angles, dialogue and clarity.

The storyboard for an interactive game resembles that of any film or animation, but is really limited to the cut scenes; the short film clips between game play that move the story forward. A complex role-playing game such as Septerra Core has hundreds of sets, with thousands of variables (including the player wildcard) that make it impossible to completely storyboard.

© 2000 Valkyrie Studios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The interactive game play portion of development rarely uses storyboarding to determine how scenes would play out because it would be a monumental (and expensive) feat to storyboard 120 hours of game play, and the unknown variable of the audience's participation. The dynamic nature of the interactivity negates storyboarding per sequence but rather using concept sketches of the game environment and characters. There were specific parameters necessary for the flow of the action, such as entry from a particular area, but mainly the artist's own creativity contributes to the sometimes outlandish detail within role playing and adventure games. Many times the artists would add personal details to the interactive play, such as dramatic reactions by the characters upon meeting or seeing other characters, which all help in providing a unique and realistic experience.

For example, one particular scene in Septerra Core presents all the main characters converging in an exposition bar scene, where they're all discussing various story elements. They meet these new characters, who were introduced to provide information for continuing the game. Two of the nine player characters in the game become romantically involved, with subtle hints periodically included throughout the game. However, if the players don't notice the hints then it may not happen, only if the players want it to happen, will they become involved. One of the hints was added by one of the artists with this exposition bar scene, where the male character is flirting with two barmaids, and the girl that he may or may not fall in love with is furiously jealous. He'd be looking at her, she'd turn and he'd look away. As in film, the background can provide elements to visual storytelling, the malevolent shadows on the wall, or when the seemingly dead body of a blurry Michael Myers abruptly sitting up behind an unsuspecting Jamie Lee Curtis in the original Halloween.

Greek mythology introduced the cultural metaphor of the bad guy god and a good guy god; good versus evil. As in real life, the characters within Septerra Core all believe they're the good guys, because people rarely walk around saying, "Oh yes, I'm evil." The characters in real life or in visual storytelling do things because they follow their beliefs. In the interactive game, there is a platform that offers a level of complexity that encourages ideas that are more challenging than a typical fantasy movie, which is limited to two hours and certain formula elements. This is a media format where there is the ability to really put together a complex story with intricate character depth.

Interactive games also provide a wealthy palette for visual storytelling as the scene is really controlled by the game player. He or she may stay in one location for hours, exploring all the nicks and crannies for clues, items or secrets. What would the movie Jurassic Park be like, if the viewer could stay in the dark jungle for more than a few seconds? Scarier.

The little personal nuances added on by the creativity of the artists contribute greatly to the experience. There were no storyboards for the exposition bar scene. There was just a script of the necessary dialogue to continue to move the story forward, with directions for the entry and exit for each character, in this case, from different areas. For these major scenes, the artists would approach the producer or auteur and provide some concept sketches and ideas of how he or she would plan out the scene. The early stage concept mock ups of the interface would also be part of this meeting, showing where all inventory items, characters and hit points would be placed within the environment. Usually, hundreds of sketches are produced as the characters and their world develop into something more substantial than an idea at large. For example, in Septerra Core, the player acquires a series of cards, which controls a magical spell. These cards are placed on the bottom of the action screen, and can be dragged and given to any of the active characters.

The interactive game also provides items and objects that add to the visual storytelling experience and final outcome of the game.

© 2000 Valkyrie Studios. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

These additional objects also contribute to the gaming experience and could also affect the outcome of the game. The "fire card" by itself will case a spell of fire, but mixed with a "demon card" from another character, it would summon a more powerful "fire demon." To add another layer of complexity, each of the three players in the playing party could summon a different magic card, creating different attack powers each time. Experimenting with card combinations is part of the interactive enjoyment and the visual storytelling experience, and there's always something deeper to discover.

Mark Manyen, the CEO & President of Wounded Badger Interactive and a veteran programmer has been developing interactive games since the days of Atari and Commodore. "When you had only 16 X 16, with four colors to play with, a programmer could easily be an artist. It's not that simple any longer." Recently, Manyen completed the development of porting the Monopoly game onto an interactive DVD. He's seen many changes in the industry and clearly understands where the future's headed. "As programming becomes more of a commodity the thing that shows is the art. It used to be clever game play and technology to make a game play smooth and look as good as you could. This was due to the hardware limitations, but now; it's all on the artist. They're not getting paid like that, yet. You can get guys out of college and write games. It's not hard anymore, but art guys; you get a good guy that can model or animate, texture -- the whole thing, that guy is gold."

The intense Hunter: The Reckoning was developed for the Xbox game system from Microsoft. Hunter is a thrilling action-adventure game based on the popular license from White Wolf Publishing, Inc., with amazingly realistic characters and scenery. Motion capture was used to give the characters more natural movements. The zombie's alone are enough to give you nightmares!

Copyright: High Voltage Software

Interactive games are now being developed at 32 bit depths per pixel and at DVD resolution. This type of detail puts more pressure on the artistic value and the amount of content contributed by the artist. "I mean, it's voluminous how much art you actually have to produce for an interactive game," Manyen said. "The quality of that art all has to be very consistent, too. You can't just say oh, that's a rock-- screw it; I'll do it with texture, or something, because people will see that. They'll walk up close to that rock and give a look, because they want to see how it's done or they're looking for clues or secret passages. You have to give a level of detail and continuity that's ridiculous to everything.

"One of the biggest flaws in most games to date has been that so little attention has been paid to writing a solid story and good dialogue or bothering to cast good voice talent. The suspension of disbelief is blown by shoddy voice acting or clumsy dialogue. Again, it's about communicating a story and doing it in such a way that somebody naturally falls into it."

In 1990, created the first game in the Commander Keen series, Invasion of the Vorticons. One month after Commander Keen was released into shareware, John Carmack, Adrian Carmack, and John Romero left their jobs at Softdisk Publishing and officially began id Software, on February 1, 1991.

On May 5, 1992, John Carmack, Adrian Carmack, John Romero, and Tom Hall released the very first "first-person shooter." As the newly formed id Software, the monster-hit, Wolfenstein 3-D, was released by Apogee. Wolfenstein 3-D brought id Software worldwide notoriety and raised the expectations for games.

Then, in December 1993, id software released the game that changed the face of interactive games forever-- DOOM. An estimated 15 million copies were downloaded around the world and is still recognized as the hottest and most influential 3-D action game of all time.

The player imagines that the person holding that gun is them, but in the frame, the player is presented as a walking gun. However, that seems to work. The player doesn't need anything more to become immersed within the environment.

© 1996 id Software

Now, obviously if it's a first person shooter, the character who is assumed to be the player is nothing but the butt of a gun. The player imagines that the person holding that gun is them, but in the frame, the player is presented as a walking gun. However, that seems to work. The player doesn't need anything more to become immersed within the environment.

The 3D interactive will invade many other "frames," include smartphones, tablets and even the windshield of your car.

© 2001 Siemens. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

As technology progressed and became more sophisticated, allowing for better visuals, most studios discovered that most programmers can't draw. It's easier to teach an artist how to program, than teaching a programmer how to draw. So, even in most organizations, where there are separate programmers and artists, programmers are treated better than the artists. They could automate a thousand machines to render, or hire kids out of college to program, and it's now to the point where the quality of the real-time graphics can be just as good as the cut scenes. Thus, the advancement of technology makes interactive games more of an art problem, than it does a technology problem. Artists will become king, much like the cinematographer, not necessarily the cameramen.

In the comic book industry, it's not unusual for fans to ask for autographs of their favorite artists, who are even admired more than the writers. This may come true for interactive artists, as in countries such as Japan, where creators not only develop the game imagery, or films, but have also drawn the comics [Manga]. Programmers will always have a job, but I think they're going to be the tail rather than the dog. It's easier to teach an artist how to program, than teach a programmer how to draw.

Manyen added, "If you're going to go into games you better be prepared to be judged not only on your knowledge; your art, programming, design or documentation skills, but also on how you interact with the community. A lot of people say they fit into the community, but do they fit into the group?"

As with any collaborative art form, team play is essential for the outcome. As Catherine Court explained earlier in the chapter, the extended length of time that's involved in developing the visual media can develop animosity and friction between colleagues. This can jeopardize the quality, if not the entire outcome of the media. "In a long collaborative effort, there always seems to be that time in the schedule where everybody hates everybody. I felt the producer's job is also as referee and my methods were very unorthodox; drag them out to go-kart races, give them baseball bats and 50 pumpkins to smash in the back parking lot. Management let me get away with it and it worked."

The 3D modeler uses a polygonal shape to build three dimensional objects.

© 2001 Anthony Rassano ( All rights reversed and used with permission.

Another interesting thing about technology is that society tends to be progressively less forgiving. Reflecting on the early attempts at animation and stop motion, it's jerky and unrefined, but in that generation, in that point in time that was pretty spectacular. So, something like Shrek in a few years may look just as primitive, just as Pac-Man or pong looks today.

(Click on image to download Hi-Rez version) Many industry professionals believe the garage-based gaming development projects may be a thing of the past. The level of complexity in developing an interactive game, depends largely on what type of game. The more intricate role-playing games (RPG), such as Septerra Core, with 120 hours of gameplay, 154 speaking parts and over 200 sets required a script and software document that fit in two spiral bound notebooks measuring about ten inches thick.

Eric Nofsinger

VP of Content Development, Danger High-Voltage Software

"It's getting to a point where your only limitation in the visual storytelling is really the person doing the design and development now. All game companies are building the games that are coming out twelve to eighteen months from now. What newcomers need to do is not make their demos blocky and video-gamey looking, because games don't look like that anymore. In the future, they're going to look like film."

Tom Smith

Lead Designer, Danger High-Voltage Software on building the interactive game.

"The programmers are responsible for making it work. The artists are responsible for making it pretty. The designers are responsible for making it fun, and the producer is responsible for making it happen."

Eugene Evans

President, Infinite Ventures, Inc

"The level of sophistication of storytelling that you can present in something like a role-playing game is much deeper and much more involving, and involved than a piece of linear video can be, because it's a programmed experience. Every facet of your interaction with those characters can be manipulated and modified and tweaked by the software so that everything, not only every corner that you turn around, but every step that you can take can trigger a new character to pop up, give you goods or do something to you. That suspense and journey into the unknown is part of the enjoyment of the interactive experience."

Brian "BMAN" Babendererde

Senior Game Designer and Artist

"You have to empower the player to interact with not only the environment, but the story. You have to invite them into the kitchen as another chef, otherwise, they can just go watch a movie or read a comic."

Mark Manyen

CEO & President of Wounded Badger Interactive

"As programming becomes more of a commodity the thing that shows is the art. It used to be clever game play and technology to make a game play smooth and look as good as you could. This was due to the hardware limitations, but now; it's all on the artist. They're not getting paid like that, yet. You can get guys out of college and write games. It's not hard anymore, but art guys; you get a good guy that can model or animate, texture -- the whole thing, that guy is gold."

"The Ultimate Online Experience"

My game starts when the sun goes down and the lights go off. Darkness sets the stage for my alter ego. The surroundings could be described as a mystical medieval setting, with various towns and villages, day and night, plants, wildlife and characters all programmed to present a sense of realism. Even though I'm a women, I can log onto my account to create a maximum of five different characters, male or female, with any length or color of hair (which you can change later, if you can find a shop that sells dye) and, of course; your skill.

Skills are the key to your character's success, so choosing wisely is a matter of life and death. The concentrated effort in building the skill you choose is the best part of the game. Alchemist, blacksmith, healer, magery, tailor, scriber, and many more, include begging and stealing. Carpenters build furniture, tailors make clothes, blacksmiths make armor and weapons, and healers can cure you from snakebites, illnesses and even death. Pick one, and then develop those skills to become a master at your craft.

If you believe this is a simple and quick effort — it's not. The only way to build your skill is to use it, continuously, and that can take months. Every time you successfully use a skill, which is based on one of your core attributes – Strength, Intelligence, and Dexterity – that attribute improves, bringing you ever closer to a master. Neglect your skills and your skill level and attributes will suffer, leaving you as a vulnerable victim and a miserable existence.

During play, if someone distracts you (in the real world) and you step away, leaving your character vulnerable, a vicious monster may come by and kill you. Leaving your dead body to the looters and wildlife. However, it's far from "game over." You've now become a ghost, and no matter how hard you try, your words only come out as a death moan. You may be able to find someone who can communicate with you in "spook speak," but your goal now is to find a healer, with the right level of skill, who can bring you back from the dead. The longer you stay dead, the more skill level you slowly loose, forcing you to build them up again, if by chance you do find a healer who can help you.

The detail is rich, with high quality visuals, sounds, music and a plethora of characters, with various skill levels, inside diverse environments of which to participate and explore.

One of my characters is a warrior. I battle monsters, animals and other players. To keep my player well equipped, I kill animals for their meat and hide. Nevertheless, in order to make something out of the hide, I need to make sure I have a pair of scissors, thread, knives, which I can buy, beg or steal. I can also sell my creation in town for gold pieces, or store for future use. I also collect reagents to sell or use to cast spells. You can also own houses, castles, pets, and boats, and you are responsible for their upkeep. If you do not feed your pet, it will die.

The game is so detailed it'll take hours to explain it all. The biggest part of why I play is the people. I play this adventure with hundreds of people from all over the world. Simultaneously, we make our own movie, our own ever-evolving adventure story. I spend hours playing. It's the coolest thing, ever.

— "Tabitha King"