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The Cyber Space

By and large, the movies that come out today are totally amazing-they're technological marvels with awe-inspiring production, presentation and gimmickry. However, even this untouchably flawless status hasn't stopped the average person from wanting to mess with them. Voila, multipath movies-customizable celluloid...
February 1, 1999

By and large, the movies that come out today are totally amazing-they’re technological marvels with awe-inspiring production, presentation and gimmickry. However, even this untouchably flawless status hasn’t stopped the average person from wanting to mess with them. Voila, multipath movies-customizable celluloid (or in this case CD-ROM) that gives you the ability to choose plot direction, character development and a host of possible outcomes. Brilliant.

Multipath movies, as the name implies, contain a variety of different `paths’ that users can choose to modify the progression of events. Because the viewer has input into what actually transpires, there is a fair degree of control over specific outcomes; it’s this satisfaction of one’s curiosity that makes the multipath so exciting.

This genre of movie has come a long way in the past couple of years; even as recently as a year ago, the multipath movies we tested were dogs, burdened with choppy motion, block-ish characters and a flow of action that resembled gridlock, rather than interactivity. Regarding `input into different scenarios’ of these dino-movies, let’s just say that ‘limited’ was the word that immediately sprang to mind. Well, limited no more! While today’s multipath incarnations are still hardly perfect, everything is noticeably more slick.

When it comes to viewer-directed offerings, Brilliant Digital Entertainment (www. multipath.com) is right in the thick of things. This company’s content development is currently based on popular films and TV characters like Ace Ventura, Xena and Superman, and is available on CD-ROM and over the Internet. In putting one of the new movies through its paces, we opted for a guaranteed laugh, choosing an Ace Ventura title.

So how do these movies work? You simply pop in the CD, press play and soon enough you’re watching an animated Ace in full quirkiness, waltzing across your screen. Scenario options pop up about every couple of minutes or so, letting you choose whether Ace takes the job of manure handler, how he dances through his dialogue or where he finds his clues. Needless to say, if you explored every option, you would be preoccupied for a while. Typically, an episode can last anywhere between 30 minutes and a couple of hours, depending on how adventurous you choose to be.

The character animation uses polygons to provide a sense of depth. What this means is that the characters aren’t two-dimensional or completely smooth, but instead look like they’re made of softened cubes. They are however, far more realistic than the animation you see on TV, with life-like facial expressions and mobility. Also worth mentioning are the superb sound effects and 3-D perspectives.

A key component of any multipath offering is the integration of the user’s selections-the more seamless, the better. Our utopian visions of the future (video on demand, wrist walkie-talkies and all that) mean that we’re a technologically demanding bunch, expecting interactivity of any sort to be super-slick and unnoticeable (in this case meaning absolutely no breaks in the flow of content). The Ace Ventura CD pulls this off marvelously, with zero delay in the action.

In screening a movie with so many options, one might expect to get quite bored wading through them all, but actually the plot development and execution is so well done that you don’t. You always feel like a key part of the whole scenario. A save (to desktop) option would be a boon, giving future Spielbergs the ability to revisit their creations for future viewing.

Multipath movies (and the technology behind them) are going to be an important medium in the near future, for content providers and publishers alike. They provide significant flexibility in giving viewers access to alternate views and ways to ingest your content or messages (in everything from full-length features to the shortest interactive advertisements). Brilliant has already formed a joint venture with the rock group KISS that will allow users to interact with 3-D animated images of the band, their voices and some of their recordings as they travel on tour (available this spring), so things are definitely pushing forward.

Being able to take an active role in steering plots and outcomes offers a truly interactive experience. Soon enough, viewers will feel in total control of their multipath experiences, and that is a huge step from where we are now.

Next month: The Cyber Space checks out how new Shockwave technology is

revolutionizing blockbuster movie Web sites.

Greg Skinner is the director of Mina, a market intelligence company with expertise in the youth market. He also admits to having an unhealthy obsession with the World Wide Web. KidScreen asked him to do some browsing on our behalf and report on the latest developments in new media and how these innovations are having an impact on the kids entertainment industry. He is still at it. If you have any suggestions or ideas for topics you’d like to see in ‘The Cyber Space,’ please contact

Greg Skinner at 416-504-6800 (phone), 416-504-4054 (fax) or postmaster@minathinks.com (e-mail).

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