Some of the latest trends and products in new media for kids are on display as the world’s leading developers, publishers, distributors and retailers involved in interactive entertainment descend on the Los Angeles Convention Center for only the second Electronic Entertainment Expo.
In the following Special Report, KidScreen takes a look at the cross-over of (mostly animated) film- and television-originated characters to CD-ROMs and on-line services.
Through a series of case histories, we examine some of the issues, including the advantages and disadvantages, in adapting known characters to new media products.
Storyline: The Blinky Bill feature film was the first creation featuring the young koala named Blinky Bill. Like the movie, the animated TV series, The Adventures of Blinky Bill, is the story of the experiences of Blinky Bill and his friends, including another koala, a mouse and a kangaroo. The first Blinky Bill CD-ROM will kick off in Australia in late June. Blinky Bill’s Ghost Cave is based on an episode of the show, and will be available for Windows 3.1, Windows 95 and Macintosh.
Target Audience: Children three to nine
Key Activities: The main activity on the CD-ROM is a 12-page storybook that shows the text and the characters acting out the story. Wombo, the wise old wombat in the TV show, is the narrator throughout the CD-ROM. Children can choose to have the story read to them, or to interact with the characters and objects on the screen. The CD-ROM also features a comprehension quiz on the characters and events in the story, puzzles that test skills such as co-ordination and math, and a slide show of animals native to Australia.
While some developers might have shied away from the film and television property, InterVision Multimedia and Yoram Gross Film Studios saw that the distinctly Australian identity of Blinky Bill and his gang could work in their favor. A CD-ROM would require international sales because Australia’s population alone would not be large enough to support the product. The show had already won international audiences in countries including England, Germany and the U.S., which would make it easier to introduce a CD-ROM abroad.
With the CD-ROM set to launch this summer, Simon Leadley, technical director of Forest Interactive, a joint company of InterVision Multimedia and Yoram Gross Film Studios, is confident that the CD-ROM’s Australian identity will set it apart from other products on the shelves. And, ‘in such a competitive area, you want every advantage that you possibly can get.’
The idea of producing a Blinky Bill CD-ROM came from InterVision, a CD-ROM developer. With a short demo of the product on hand, InterVision approached the creator of the film and television show, Yoram Gross Film Studios, 11 months ago. ‘(Yoram Gross) got very excited about the whole idea of doing something in a completely new medium,’ says Leadley. The two Sydney-based companies formed Forest Interactive a month and a half later to develop the CD-ROM. Roadshow Entertainment, also of Sydney, signed on as the distributor, and has already pre-sold the CD-ROM in nine countries other than Australia.
To get the best results, Forest Interactive treated the CD-ROM like ‘a completely separate project’ from the TV show, says Leadley. While the joint company had hoped to adapt some of the existing animation, the process would have been too time-consuming. ‘It’s often best and more practical from a cost-efficiency and also an artistic point of view to produce it yourself rather than trying to adapt something to fit in a medium that wasn’t necessarily designed for it.’
The reason for the lack of useable footage was that the CD-ROM contains long shots, compared to the short scenes and close-up shots typically appearing in the TV show. Using long shots imposes constraints on the size of the characters and objects on the screen, but this d’esn’t reduce the quality of the product, says Leadley. Quite the opposite, the medium gives developers ‘a much bigger stage to play with,’ and offers consumers a ‘totally different way’ of observing the characters and the action versus the TV show.
The CD-ROM ‘still looks as rich as it d’es on television,’ says Leadley, although he admits that CD-ROM technology is not yet on a par with that of a TV show. For example, CD-ROMs can be slow in delivering information to the computer.
‘We made a very conscious decision to make it as similar to the show as possible,’ says Leadley. Since some of the animators of the CD-ROM had worked on the Blinky Bill film and TV series, the product is consistent with its predecessors in style, color and other design elements. As well, the theme song and character voices are the same.
‘To us, it was very important not only to have the technical expertise to be able to produce (a CD-ROM),’ says Leadley, ‘but (to have) something that already had some sort of exposure to begin with.’ The use of a known character on the CD-ROM helps parents who are inundated with titles make a choice because they know what the characters do and what quality to expect from the product.
Children too feel an immediate affinity with characters that they are familiar with, and established characters could therefore be applied in many ways. For example, says Leadley, known characters like Blinky Bill and his friends could be used in school materials to make ‘learning a much more enjoyable experience.’
Kids are not only responsive to known characters, but also ‘seem to be really well versed in computers,’ says Leadley. When testing the CD-ROM, Forest Interactive also found that kids usually go to the puzzles first, then on to the story. They like both change and repetition of events. And what they especially enjoy is the surprises, like a helicopter soaring by, when they click on objects on the screen. ‘It’s so incongruous with the whole thing that they love it to death. They think it’s totally amusing and silly. It’s almost kind of like a Monty Python flick.’
Forest Interactive is thrilled that Blinky Bill’s Ghost Cave is completed on time and on budget. That’s an accomplishment in this young industry because developers don’t have many guidelines to determine how much time and money developing a product will require.
Forest Interactive is planning to bring out a second Blinky Bill title, and is also looking at efforts in the areas of 3-D and 2-D animation. The company would also like to develop and launch television series and CD-ROMs hand-in-hand, which other companies are starting to do.
And Leadley predicts that the job of CD-ROM developers will be easier in the future. That’s because he anticipates that material now available on CD-ROMs will eventually reach consumers’ homes on-line. As well as making delivery easier than distributing a product through hundreds of retail outlets, on-line distribution would eliminate the need to customize products for different types of computers.