Candid Cameraman

Roll out the red carpet and bring on the high-powered publicists: Steven Spielberg?s jumping into the videogame business. Again.

Via an exclusive deal with publishing giant Electronic Arts, the legendary filmmaker plans to create three entirely new franchises built solely for use across computer and console platforms.

That?s right ? he won?t simply be licensing off substandard cash-ins on existing films, i.e. Majesco?s forthcoming JAWS Unleashed for PC, PlayStation 2 and Xbox. So be happy? or, at the very least, indifferent.

After all, street scholars will note that it isn?t the first time the auteur has dipped his toes in the digitized waters.

Jaws Screenshot 1Jaws Screenshot 2
Jaws
 

Dreamworks Interactive, a game-specific offshoot of DreamWorks SKG ? the ultra-successful motion picture, television and home video entertainment production group Spielberg co-founded ? was originally formed in 1995. But unlike in Hollywood circles, where the director and his partners quickly churned out a string of hits such as Shrek and Saving Private Ryan, the venture?s track record soon proved spotty.

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Medal of Honor

Commercial triumphs include best-selling historical first-person shooter series Medal of Honor and the critically acclaimed Skullmonkeys, a comedic Claymation outing. But for every one success story, there were at least another two stinkers like Dilbert?s Desktop Toys.

Trespasser Screenshot
Trespasser

Ironically, Trespasser, based on the Jurassic Park franchise, wasn?t just the most disappointing title of 1998; it was one of the most over-hyped and underwhelming product launches ever.

By 2000, Electronic Arts had bought out the company and rechristened it EA Los Angeles. Bottom line: Game over? or so insiders thought.

Fast forward a few years.

Spielberg pops his head out occasionally, professing to the odd mass media news outlet his continued passion as a joystick jock.

Conventioneers at annual gaming industry tradeshow the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) get an unexpected surprise? The visionary attends one event after another in much the same way fans would: Unannounced, sporting a ratty baseball cap and t-shirt, and in the capacity of an enthusiastic, yet otherwise everyday onlooker.

Hollywood?s love affair with gaming is once again in full bloom. (Haven?t caught the Doom movie yet? Hotfoot it to the cinema? you?ve got approximately 20 minutes before the flick disappears from theaters.)

Better still, memories of E.T. for Atari 2600 ? a cartridge both so awful and grossly overproduced it all but single-handedly sunk the manufacturer and prompted a market-wide crash in 1983 ? are all but forgotten.

?Can a computer make you cry?? It?s a question Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins ? as of late producing mobile phone diversions through his new company Digital Chocolate ? first asked via a series of timeless magazine ads in the early ?80s.

Yet now, perhaps more so than ever, the sentiment appears just as readily applicable to today?s PC and videogame industry.

The next wave of set-top systems, heralded via the November 22 launch of Microsoft?s Xbox 360 ? followed by Sony?s PlayStation 3 and Nintendo?s Revolution next year ? is at hand.

In some ways, these machines are technologically superior to today?s top PCs. For example, see the 360, which sports three 3.2GHz processors operating in tandem and a custom ATI graphics chip that trumps anything currently at retail.

What?s more, all are capable of achieving unprecedented levels of atmosphere and player immersion. Witness the Revolution, whose minimalist design and motion-sensitive controls ? you literally wave or tilt the wireless, force feedback-enabled device to produce on-screen responses ? are as intuitive as waggling an arm.

Desktop computers will soon get a boost from Windows Vista, Microsoft?s long-awaited new operating system, coming sometime in 2006 as well.

Never mind options like parental controls and compatibility with user-friendly game-pads. (Including Xbox 360 controllers? you can even go out and grab a USB-enabled one that works with Windows XP in a matter of weeks).

Rather, it?s clever features like automatic game installation and the use of DirectX 10, a next-gen software toolkit which facilitates the production of impeccable audiovisuals, which should have you most excited.

Why?

All of the above offerings take one or several steps further towards helping remove the barrier between narrators and end-users. And just as with films, books or cartoons, it?s a game creator?s ability to capture your attention and physically evoke emotion in onlookers which separates the Ishtars from It?s a WonderfulLifes.

All of which, of course, brings us right back to Spielberg, renowned by many as one of the greatest celluloid storytellers of this or any age.

We?re talking about the man who made World War II into a national phenomenon. (Or rather, should we say, did for the post Hitler and Hirohito set.) The guy who proved viewers could empathize with as unlikely a candidate as a short, stubby little alien. The forward-thinker who ? with a little help from Harrison Ford ? made huge advances, of a fashion, in the field of archeology.

Even more importantly, unlike other directors dipping their toes into the interactive waters lately such as John Woo, Peter Jackson, and George Romero, we know for sure he?s a gamer. And, every once in blue moon, has the moxie to make traditional cinematic concepts work on a much smaller (e.g. 1024 x 768 LCD) screen.

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Quake 4

In an industry where The Suffering: Ties That Bind?s twisted flashbacks or worse, Quake 4?s Neanderthal premise (Grunt. Space marine see aliens. Me shoot!), pass as high-concept, well? This is big news, people.

Suffering Screenshot 1Suffering Screenshot 2

The Suffering: Ties That Bind

Spielberg?s used to working with large budgets. At $30 million-plus for certain AAA projects, games are now catching up with movies.

Spielberg?s accustomed to letting his creative instincts run wild. Given that PCs and consoles can render anything from futuristic landscapes to visions of an electronic Eden, the sky?s the limit.

Spielberg?s no stranger to Tinseltown egos and politics. Still, the only casting couches around the Electronic Arts campus? They?re usually occupied by geeky twenty-something males, sleeping off a 60-hour coding bender and dreaming of making the next Mario.

In short, nobody?s a more appropriate candidate, or in a better position to help the business earn the respect it deserves as an intellectual medium, than him.

If the venture works, the next wave of Oscar-worthy outings the world sees could star you as the main character. Or, perhaps not, given historical stumbling blocks?

But either way, it?s a positive move for the industry in terms of credibility. And in a best-case scenario, well? With everyone from Sonic the Hedgehog to Splinter Cell?s Sam Fisher to thank, at the moment, it can?t hurt to start brushing up on that acceptance speech.

– Scott Steinberg

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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