The rise and fall of interactive movies

Bringing in the stars

Sadly, few companies bothered taking the time and effort to improve the general standard. Instead, they went for quick fixes. The word 'Starring' has rarely been so universally abused. When Critical Path proudly announced 'Starring Eileen Weisinger as Kat', it was with the desperate hope that you didn't know she was a stuntwoman.

Games would proudly trumpet big names like Dennis Hopper and Tim Curry... hell, even names like Margot Kidder and Dirk Benedict, regardless of how much time they actually spent on screen, or whether they were an important character or simply a comedy bartender, like John Hurt's character in Privateer 2: The Darkening.

Most of the time, these were simply small, irrelevant jobs that known actors would agree to do between 'real' jobs, spend a day or so filming, then never think about again. Dennis Hopper agreed to star in Take Two's Hell not because of a desire to be part of the endless creative possibilities of videogame/movie crossovers, but because CEO Ryan Brant was a friend of the family.

The Wing Commander games are arguably the only ones where known actors have emerged smelling of roses. It helped that unlike many, these games had a real budget – a then-insane $4 million for Wing Commander III, which used the standard bluescreen technique, and $12 million for the fourth game, which finally allowed for actual sets and physical special effects.

Mark Hamill's performance as world-weary space hero Christopher Blair grounded the series in a way that surprised everyone who thought Origin had just hired Luke Skywalker as a gimmick, while Tom Wilson (as the arrogant but insecure pilot Maniac) was pleased to be recognised as something other than Biff Tannen from the Back to the Future movies.

Malcolm McDowell and John Rhys-Davies also showed up and gave excellent performances, to the point that the fourth game's most exciting moment wasn't the last battle, but the FMV debate that followed it, where you had to talk a council chamber full of diplomats into acknowledging the bad guy's naughtiness.

Sadly, the story didn't end well. Series creator Chris Roberts had the chance to make the real Wing Commander movie he'd always wanted – which bombed harder than the Dambusters at the box office. A terrible movie. And a terrible end to the series.


One of the oddest things about interactive movies was how restrained they were. This was at least partly a political issue, thanks to Night Trap – a Sega CD game that quickly found itself banned and brought up in the US Senate as an example of a video game nasty. Clearly, a horrific nightmare of blood and gore, right? Well, no. It really didn't deserve any of this.

As with Rockstar's Bully, the controversy was based on a misunderstanding – that the player's job was to spy on and murder a group of nubile co-eds at a slumber party. Instead, it was a parody of the slasher genre, involving activating Scooby Doo style traps to protect them from a band of PG-rated vampires.

Now that devs knew they didn't have to do anything wrong to get it in the neck themselves, it's no wonder they became very cautious. Even some of the actors expressed concern, notably Tia Carrere, who specifically requested that she not be directly killable by the player character in The Daedalus Encounter, even if they had wasted good money to see Wayne's World 2.