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Crichton Turning Words Into Action

November 09, 2000|SCOTT STEINBERG | steinbergs@hotmail.com

Michael Crichton is a man of many words. As the author of best-selling novels such as "Jurassic Park," his gift for writing is his most obvious strength. But he's also a huge fan of interactive games and has put that passion to work adapting his latest book, "Timeline," into a PC game.

Question: Is designing a game much different from writing a book?

Answer: Totally. You can't control the players' actions. In every other medium, whether it's books or movies, the director defines a set path. With video games, people explore in different ways and directions. As a designer of interactive entertainment, you're just fashioning a three-dimensional environment around that.

Q: In what ways do adventure games resemble novels?

A: I hesitate to venture an answer. They're structured in completely different ways. Story elements and narratives for both outlets operate on separate dimensions. Books and games are unique constructs.

Q: What storytelling possibilities do interactive entertainment media open up?

A: The thing that immediately comes to mind is that searching can be quite interesting in a computer-generated environment. Prior to video games, sustained searches were boring. Perhaps you remember the scene from "The French Connection" where they strip down a character's car in search of cocaine. That would take all night and be completely uninteresting if viewed in real-time during the movie. But in a 3-D world, it would be quite satisfying.

Q: Must game narratives evolve to keep up with future trends?

A: Absolutely, they have to. Most of the game genres now are historical archives of previous technology. Adventure games can all be drawn back to text-based titles like "Zork." And I think the shooters really go back to "Pong," with its need to constantly move and aim to hit a target. But there's a lot more to design than that.

Q: Look at the public's widespread acceptance of "The Sims." Some say its success was a surprise, but to whom?

A: Technology's begun to catch up to imagination. From my perspective, we've finally got the processing power to bring more cinematic qualities to games. That's one of the things we tried to emphasize in "Timeline."

Q: Did any challenges arise during "Timeline's" development that you hadn't predicted based on experience?

A: The entire thing. We're trying to create something new here and breathe a movie-like atmosphere into it. Since one can't be sure of the players' actions, it's tough to create a fairly loose structure for them to fit into. So the game can't be as complex as the book. But we achieved this goal by implementing a lot of movie-style puzzles and solutions.

Q: How closely should a product mirror its namesake?

A: There's a way in which you can depart quite strongly and still retain something of the original product's spirit. If you're slavish toward a license, people won't appreciate it. What constitutes a good adaptation is something that takes into account the deeper aspects of its inspiration and also makes use of the particular advantages of the medium.

Q: What type of tale is ideal for conversion to a PC title?

A: As a general rule, the story should take place primarily in recognizable settings. It's essentially impossible to portray the mental life of characters in a video game. So for a three-dimensional interactive experience, it's essential to establish a compelling atmosphere.

Q: If there were one type of game you'd never care to see again, what would it be?

A: Overly complicated ones. They should create a standardized interface. Could you imagine having to search for the gas and brakes every time you entered a car?

Scott Steinberg is a freelance writer specializing in video games.

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