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The Cutting Edge

PC Games Taking Cue From Reel Life

Media: Titles based on TV shows and movies are enlisting help of actual cast members to satisfy fans.

August 24, 2000|GARY GENTILE | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Making a computer game may once have been the exclusive domain of techno-geeks working alone. But today's games, especially those based on television shows or films, can require as much star power and behind-the-scenes expertise as any Hollywood epic.

The upcoming "Star Trek: Voyager--Elite Force," for instance, required a casting director, voice-over director and most of the cast of the Paramount TV series, from Captain Janeway to Officer Tuvok. The script alone ran more than 700 pages--five times the length of a typical feature film script.

As technology makes computer games more lifelike, players demand a more rewarding experience, including the participation of original cast members for games drawn from other media. It can take up to two years to produce a computer game at a cost of millions. Most of that money goes to high-impact graphics and special effects.

About 10% of the budget for the Voyager game--developed by Madison, Wis.-based Raven Software and being published later this summer by Santa Monica-based Activision Inc.--went to paying actors Kate Mulgrew, Robert Picardo and others who appear on Paramount's syndicated show.

"The dedicated fans do have a desire to hear the characters as they appear on the show and in the movies," said Laird Malamed, executive producer at Activision. "All of the fans of gaming in general appreciate well-recorded, well-performed material, and the best way to get that is to get the characters who have done this over and over again."

The wrinkle in producing a game is that, unlike a film or television show, the plot is not linear. There are dozens and perhaps hundreds of twists in the story, which is controlled by the player. Actors may record lines that never get heard. Or a character may appear only if a complex series of conditions are met first.

In the "Voyager" game, a player, who assumes the role of an ensign, may be faced with the choice of saving a character's life. If the player fails, the character disappears and hours of recorded dialogue are never heard.

For one key scene, three actors had to record the same lines. Choices made earlier in the game by the player determine which character appears in the scene.

Unlike voice-overs for programs such as "The Simpsons," cast members for a game don't read scenes together. Instead, actors must deliver lines in isolation, without the verbal and visual cues normally provided by fellow cast members.

"I'm able to remember what the actor before did so when it's cut it sounds like conversation," said Kris Zimmerman, a freelance director who worked on "Voyager."

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