NEW-SCHOOL CINEMAWARE (LARS FUHRKEN-BATISTA)
What is your background in the videogame industry? How did you get into game development? What are the companies you’ve worked for? What are the games you’ve worked on? Inquiring minds wanna know! ^ I actually got into game development by sheer force of my passion for games. After graduation with a Film degree from university, my intent was never to go into film production but rather into games development, where I wanted to apply the lessons I had learned in school along with my passion for games as entertainment products. I happened to meet my current partner, Sean Vesce, at an old CES and from there I got a production position at Activision, working on “MechWarrior 2,” which turned out to be a huge success for the company. From there, I ended up working as designer and lead designer on the “Interstate ’76” series, and then in business development doing external products. After four years, my long time dream of reviving Cinemaware was set in motion, and after a year or so I gathered a new development and management team to set the company up again.
Does Cinemaware still have name recognition in the gaming community? ^ Yes, most definitely. I had obviously known of Cinemaware since the mid-80s, and knew they were popular, one of the reasons I decided to start the company again. But even I was surprised when we finally got moving in earnest, especially when we launched our website: over 260,000 people have visited, and we get messages from over 42 countries around the world wishing us well and asking for new products! The most impressive thing of all though, is the fact that Cinemaware fans are extremely loyal and supportive of the types of games we make: their imaginations and feelings are truly vested in the games and we believe that’s the sign of a great company. Also, both press members and many in the retail community still recognize our brand and history, which helps us tremendously. Best of all though is the fact that everyone associates Cinemaware with good, quality products, something which we intend to maintain moving into the future.
In the early 1990s, a now-defunct company called Digital Pictures took a different approach to interactive movies, introducing FMV (full-motion video) to the videogame world. How do you feel about Digital Pictures’ approach as compared to Cinemaware’s? ^ DP’s approach was completely opposite of Cinemaware’s; they focused all their efforts on the technology that was “hot” at that time, which was FMV, but completely forgot about gameplay. Once consumers caught on that the products were actually really bad, and the gee-whiz impact of the FMV craze wore off, that was pretty much the end of it.
Cinemaware’s approach is to make the cinematics serve the purpose of the gameplay, not the other way around. As a matter of fact, for us cinematics are not a distinct, separate part of the game, but rather part of gameplay itself: we use it to enhance the drama, tension, pace and editing of all the sequences in our products, much like a good movie.
By the way, Cinemaware was really the company that coined the term “Interactive Movie.” We were the first ones to label games that way, look at any of the classic boxes to see it on the spine.
How difficult was it for you to resurrect Cinemaware? Was it expensive to purchase the name, the assets, et cetera? ^ It mostly involved some complicated legal proceedings and lawyers, as the company was held in bankruptcy for a number of years. Disentangling it all took a while, but it worked out and we were able to set up the new company with the support of new investors.
Have you been in contact with Bob Jacob, the original founder of Cinemaware? How does he feel about your efforts? ^ We spoke to him a long time ago, and he sounded quite surprised, but pleased, that Cinemaware was making a comeback. I think it’s obvious that having been his brainchild the first time around, Cinemaware holds a very special place in his heart. We are definitively working hard to make Cinemaware succeed again, and hope to please both Bob and the thousands of fans around the world.
According to at least one employee of Cinemaware’s first incarnation, Bob Jacob got into videogame development because he saw it as a backdoor into the movie industry. Do you think the videogame world is still populated with frustrated filmmakers? ^ To be honest, yes. From my experience, many people are looking for the glamour and prestige of the film industry to be present in the game industry as well, and they could care less about product quality or gameplay. However, they soon realize it’s very hard to be successful if you don’t care about the products you make.
From Cinemaware’s point-of-view, we are mostly interested in adapting film grammar and developing presentation techniques that actually enhance product quality and gameplay, not for the sake of positioning ourselves as a movie studio wanna-be. We love games and storytelling, so our goal is to provide an experience that draws and immerses the player, much like a good movie does.
You recently announced a publishing deal with Metro3D. Why go with a relatively unproven company, as opposed to a larger and more established publisher? ^ The Metro3D agreement only covers our first three GBA titles(“Wings,” “The Three Stooges,” “Defender of the Crown”) for the moment, and they have been very enthusiastic about our new games, which was a key deciding factor in us signing with them. Many of our products, including the next-gen titles, are still available for publishing. We are looking at all the avenues open for us, and will determine other relationships as we move forward.
What is your favorite classic Cinemaware title? ^ Hard one: it’s a split between “Rocket Ranger” and “It Came from the Desert.” For me, they are the games that come closest to a perfect adaptation and use of film grammar into games, without losing the gameplay that is so important.
Unlike many game companies, which take legal action to prevent the distribution of their classic properties, you have a freely accessible archive of classic titles on the Cinemaware website. Is this a service to the gaming community, a clever way to promote your remastered/redesigned titles, or both? ^ It’s both, but it’s also a way for us to acknowledge and thank our fans that have been so supportive of us since we have restarted the company, as well as for not forgetting about these great games even after over 10 years! We don’t think that allowing fans to play these classics will affect our business, on the contrary: we believe that gameplayers should have a chance to rediscover these great games and start to look forward to our next-gen games. Ultimately, it will be them who will determine our success, and we can only be successful if they support us with their encouragement and their dollars so we can make the games they want.
Posted on July 30, 2002 in Features by Zach Meston
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