David Riordan was driving around Aspen, Colorado when he first realised the power of videogames. The weird thing was, he was actually sitting 2,000 miles away in Massachusetts at the time. Hired as a consultant by Lucasfilm in 1980, Riordan spent much of the year ferreting out new technology that might interest the movie company. Among the things he came across was MIT’s Aspen Movie Map – a LaserDisc-driven simulation of the famous ski town.
As he waggled a joystick in Massachusetts and propelled himself through onscreen Aspen, the film producer felt like he’d discovered the missing link between two media. “I had always been a games player,” he says, “and I always wanted to make games that were like movies. But when you looked at things like the Atari VCS, the games on it were just bits of light showing some guy swinging on a jungle vine or whatever. They weren’t of interest to any of us who had come out of the film business. They were programmers’ toys, basically.”
As one of the creators of the ill-fated LaserDisc game Freedom Fighter, Riordan hoped to change all that by using footage from Japanese anime Galaxy Express 999 as the basis of an interactive movie-game. But when the LaserDisc craze stalled in the mid-’80s, he became disheartened and decided to head back to the movie business.
“I was bemoaning to someone about how I thought it was a lost opportunity and they said: ‘Can I show you something?’ So they took me to this computer called an Amiga and loaded up Cinemaware’s first game, Defender Of The Crown. I just freaked out. The first thing I saw was the classic Cinemaware thing – the princess with big breasts. I remember my wife at the time going, ‘What the hell is that?’ I was like, ‘It’s a game’.
She says, ‘It’s not like any game I’ve ever seen before…’”
Mrs Riordan was right. It wasn’t just a game. It was a game that was pretending to be a movie, and her husband knew immediately that he wanted in on the action. So he dropped Cinemaware’s owner Bob Jacob a fan letter. A few days later, the phone rang. “Bob said: ‘You have this really weird resumé. Come see me because we’re looking for people who know how to tell a good story. We’re doing movies, but we’re just doing them in this videogame form’.”