Cinemagicians. (computer games and programs based on motion pictures and filmmaking techniques) (Column)
by Paul C. Schuytema
Disney and LucasArts have delighted us for years with their theatrical voyages into fantastic worlds. From Snow White to Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Beauty and the Beast, we have traveled far into the realm of fantasy. Now, both companies have turned their attention to the small screen. Not TV, but the theater screens sitting on our desks.
The Indiana Jones story ended its sojourn on celluloid with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but LucasArts has brought the fourth Indy adventure to life in an interactive adventure called Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. The adventure is wildly visual, utilizing LucasArts' own SCUMM story system to create a rich, interwoven plot that may be played through three paths. You can work with the beautiful psychic Sophia Hapwood or utilize Indy's own wits or his fists (and his whip, of course) to travel the globe searching for the sunken utopia of Atlantis. When you're finished with the adventure, it's hard to tell whether you've just finished watching a 70-mm film or playing a computer game. It's all in the story.
Arguably one of the most famous movie series of all time is the Star Wars saga, and LucasArts is bringing us into another facet of that universe. X-Wing is LucasArts' space combat simulator that throws you behind the pressurized glass of an X-Wing fighter with Red Leader at your wing and an R2 unit at your back. You fly and live the struggles of a rebel pilot, blasting the annoying whine of those TIE fighters out of space and time with the satisfying movie magic of flaming explosions.
LucasArts has done a great job of bringing the theatrical feel of Star Wars space combat to the game. The X-Wing fires plasma bursts from the lasers with that reassuring squish sound and banks into a tight turn when chasing a TIE fighter bearing down on your wingman. I'll concede that it defies the laws of physics; you don't bank into a turn in no atmosphere and zero-g, but this is a fictional universe, and the X-Wing feels as if it should bank.
No one questions that Walt Disney Studios is the master of animation. From Steamboat Willie to Aladdin, Disney's animation is breathtaking, to say the least. Disney Software has created a product that lets us explore this fascinating world of cel animation: The Animation Studio. The Animation Studio gives us the chance to pencil in animations and to study classic Disney cels and the techniques of squash, stretch, and anticipation. You can follow the movement through onionskins (virtual paper that lets you see several cels at once), paint the animation, add sound effects, and even create your own complex backgrounds.
Disney also makes great family adventure films (remember Herbie, the Love Bug?), which have culminated in the wild rides of The Rocketeer (Disney also publishes a computer game based on The Rocketeer). One of the things that makes The Rocketeer so pulse-pounding is the special effects, most notably the aerial stunts. For anyone who ever wondered how they create stunts like that, Disney has created the ultimate toy: Stunt Island.
Stunt Island is a program that is set on an island off the coast of California which is used exclusively for movie magic. The program is a combination flight simulator and complete stunt-based movie studio. You can fly any one of 45 different aircraft, each with its own capabilities, from the SR71A Blackbird to a Curtis June-Bug (a WWI ultralight).
Stunt Island comes with 32 prebuilt crazy stunts (have you ever tried to land a parachutist on top of a hot-air balloon?), which you can explore or fly as part of a Stuntman-of-the-Year competition. You can also design and film your own stunts from scratch, creating sets from a library of over 800 3-D objects that you can animate. When finished filming, you climb behind an editor's console to transform your raw footage into a complete film (up to 20 minutes long) replete with music and sound effects.
Computer entertainment is growing by leaps and bounds, and now we can use our computers to explore the worlds we've enjoyed on the big screen. We can also use our computers to investigate the ways in which this movie magic was made and create a little bit of it for ourselves.