Tag Archive | Tom Zito

Night Trap – The Beginning

In 1986 Hasbro were developing their own VHS-based games console called Project NEMO (“Never Even Mentioned Outside”), later renamed Control-Vision. The console was to be billed as a cheaper alternative to rivals Nintendo and Sega. A groundbreaking demo game with parallel storylines was created in order to further push the development of the console.

Produced by Robert Fulop and directed by James Riley, a four minute Full Motion Video Game demo called Scene Of The Crime was made. Shot in a Hillsborough house over a single weekend, the demo shadowed the concept of the Tamara play, with parallel storylines and multiple rooms to view.  It was a groundbreaking idea in the realms of gaming. Hasbro seemed happy with the (rather adult orientated) demo and ordered the go-ahead for full titles;

This is great. Now go and make it for kids.

A video clip of the Hasbro executives watching the Project NEMO demo of Scene Of The Crime was a hidden Easter Egg on one of their future games releases. You can see it below;

Who’s Norman?

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Three months later, in 1987, with a budget of $1’000’000 and a 250-page script, the first FMV Game was put into production. Shot over a three week period on a soundstage at GMT Studios, California, the game Night Trap (eBay link here) became a reality. The cast and crew shot their scenes, and one by one each scene was reset and shot again with a different outcome. The variation in outcomes would eventually allow the player to interact and choose storylines to follow.

Night Trap augers

 As a member of the Sega Control Attack Team (SCAT), you have control over the CCTV system and a series of traps within a house. The house owners are hosting a second sleepover for their daughter. Mysteriously the girls from the first sleepover disappeared. Amd its your job to monitor the house, find out what happened, and protect the girls.

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Night Trap became world-renowned politically, albeit for the wrong reasons. Video game violence was brought to light in Congress as a legitimate debate. But Night Trap was tarnished as a violent and bloody game unfit for children. Although Night Trap was designed predominantly as a fun vampire game, and showed no sex, nudity or violence.

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Nevertheless, the debate over game violence caused serious damage to the games industry. And Night Trap is the reason there are now Ratings on all video games. The game was later censored and re-released.

 

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The clapperboards show that Night Trap was filmed in the summer of 1987, over a period of roughly 2 to 3 weeks.

Most interestingly, the controversial Bathroom scene (which isn’t controversial at all, given the hype it gained in US Congress which led to all future games on any console having an Age Rating certificate), seems to have been a night shoot, taking place in the early hours of 4am on Wednesday 29th July 1987. Considering they were shooting the bedroom scenes at mid day the day before and further bathroom scenes at mid day, they either split the shoot with different crews, or worked their butts off to get this in the can!

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The final edited product was also dubbed into Japanese, Spanish and French and released in those countries.  Later it was ported to the Panasonic 3DO and Sega Saturn games consoles, and re-released as a Directors Cut for the PC and Mac CD-ROM. The Directors Cut has no additional content, other than a different opening titles.

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Publishing Double Switch

Part 1 of this blog: Deconstructing Double Switch.

Part 2 of this blog: Recreating Double Switch.

Part 3 of this blog: Composing Double Switch.

Related post: Project NEMO And the Unfortunate Demise of FMV Games.

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Having had to play the game a few times myself to figure out some timings and work out the order of a few clips, it became obvious the game has a random element to it. Each time you play the Thugs and Intruders are different. However, it appears the rooms and entry times stay the same. This gives the player a chance to remember the structure of the game, although the video elements and trigger points differ and therefore could affect the perfect run. The final video below shows every thug and every intruder (repeated several times, as they are in the game too), with both trap and non-trap versions. I hope you like the final version. It took some blood, sweat and tears.

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The hope of creating such a video was to re-ignite interest in the game. I’d love to get involved with any re-release or porting, although I’m not in any way a programmer. But financially I’d love to support such a thing, should it become an Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaign.

As a quick example of how a DVD version of the game could work, I created this video. Hopefully it sparks some ideas.

The concept was great. The footage was great. The storyline and script were great. Finally, after a weeks worth of trials and tribulations, the fully rendered video is here. It shows every clip in the correct sequence in the game. It shows every occurrence of a Thug or Intruder, each with a trap and non-trap version. It didn’t come without a run of issues on my part. Missing clips, incorrect storyline order, unknown edit render errors.

Finally, I give you… Double Switch.

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Part 1 of this blog: Deconstructing Double Switch.

Part 2 of this blog: Recreating Double Switch.

Part 3 of this blog: Composing Double Switch.

Related post: Project NEMO And the Unfortunate Demise of FMV Games.

Deconstructing Double Switch

Part 2 of this blog: Recreating Double Switch.

Part 3 of this blog: Composing Double Switch.

Part 4 of this blog: Publishing Double Switch.

Related post: Project NEMO And the Unfortunate Demise of FMV Games

Very much in the spirit of Dave Voyles blog Deconstructing Night Trap, I’ve started a similar project for Double Switch. The trials and tribulations of such an endeavour are documented here.

Please note, at this stage I’m merely decoding video clips, and personally have no coding skill whatsoever. I’m certainly no Dave Voyles!

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Sega games were my childhood. The Sega CD was my teens. I can’t tell you how many hours I must have spent playing the game Night Trap. Not only playing it but writing down the times, documenting the storyline and creating sequences for the perfect run. I was eleven years old. Without connecting too many dots, it’s easy to see why I ended up working in TV as a Director. I even work on the reality show Big Brother UK, watching 46 cameras and following the action. The image below shows a one room covered by every angle, and that’s not including the camera crews behind the 60+ two-way mirrors…

Big Brother Reality Gallery Screens

Night Trap, Sewer Shark, Double Switch and Ground Zero Texas were all I ever played. Non stop. Day after day. 23 years later that Night Trap guitar rift still gives me goose bumps. And the scene is still interested in those games. Earlier this year an almost unknown Kickstarter project started, and sadly failed by reaching only 12% of their financial goal. The original team behind Night Trap were looking for funds to port all the original 35mm footage to file and re-release the game in “HD”; Night Trap ReVamped.

I, and many others, got to the project too late. And it feels like those involved took it as a kick in the teeth, despite the love still going for such a thing to happen.

(I should mention at this stage that I collect movie props and production paperwork. I managed to get my hands on an original Digital Pictures baseball cap. And knowing that a copy of the production script and behind the scenes stills for Night Trap existed as a Kickstarter Tier absolutely breaks my heart! They exist, and I can’t get them!!)

I began to dig deeper about the potential re-release and joined the Night Trap Facebook page. This community is very much still alive and kicking, and recently a post appeared to show how Night Trap could potentially be ported and played via a website. And this got me onto the path of Deconstructing Double Switch. IMG_0028 The first thing to be done was get all the footage that’s currently available in the best resolution possible. The game was released on Sega CD, Saturn, PC and allegedly Mac (though I can’t seem to find any evidence of this!). The best footage at this stage should be the Saturn version, 15fps v the Sega CDs 12fps, but there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to access the Saturn video files. Long story short, the only way I can think to get this footage would be to emulate the Saturn and play through the game. The downside to this is that any overlays to the game would be visible, and it wouldn’t be a true copy of the digital files, nor would it be complete clips beginning to end of shot. I’d also need to play the game dozens of times to capture every clip. I’m not going ahead with screen capturing at this stage, but it may happen in the future if necessary.

However, there is a tool which can read Sega CD “.SGA” files and convert them from disc to AVI movies. Annoyingly the Saturn discs contain a similar file structure with .SGA files, but sadly the SCAT tool doesn’t read them. This could be something to do with the increased frame rate, palette or resolution. I’m yet to find an answer.

An issue with using SCAT for the Sega CD files is that the video is ultra poor quality, coming in at a resolution approximately 192 x 138 with a colour palette of only 64. This isn’t the problem of the tool itself, merely the mangled and destroyed footage created by Sega in order for the hardware of the Sega CD to decode (some of the details of which I’ve written about in this blog post: “Project NEMO and the Demise of FMV games“). The other stumbling block I’ve come across is that the SCAT tool saves the AVI files with debug info on the video.

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The debug info isn’t too much of a problem as this can be cropped off during any future conversion from AVI to MP4. But then the audio seems to slip too. I think this may be to do with frame rates? And there currently isn’t a way to adjust the AVI frame rate when the file is saved via SCAT. The only other way, which is massively inconvenient, is to export every frame separately as a PNG Image Sequence, save the WAV separately, and then re-combine the sequence at 12fps in Quicktime 7.

This is hugely time consuming and not as straight forward as I had hoped. The folder structure for the 155 video clips and all the PNG files required is mind boggling to say the least. But at present, this is what is required. Till someone comes up with a better batch-convert answer…

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Updated:

23rd July 2015 18:00 100% video files converted- 155/155 files

Part 2 of this blog: Recreating Double Switch.

Part 3 of this blog: Composing Double Switch.

Part 4 of this blog: Publishing Double Switch.

Related post: Project NEMO And the Unfortunate Demise of FMV Games

Project NEMO and the Demise of FMV Games

This post is dedicated to Ken Melville, a co-founder of Digital Pictures and writer-designer of the legendary FMV game Sewer Shark. Melville passed away in February 2014, aged 65.

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There’s a collaboration between the Film and TV world when it comes to the Gaming industry. Production companies shoot real actors on real sets, and programmers incorporate these clips into computer games. But there was a short time when entire games were interactive Full Motion Video, and not just clips.

The first FMV games were actually born in the 80’s, inspired by an interactive play that was shown in Hollywood, California. The play, called Tamara, had parallel storylines acted out at the same time across multiple rooms. The audience were encouraged to physically move around all three stories of the building, to watch and observe the nine different storylines from different angles, playing out in thirteen different rooms. The understanding of the storyline was dependant on what the audience saw. Time and time again people came back (at $80 per ticket!) in order to fully piece together the story.

In 1986 Hasbro were developing their own VHS-based games console called Project NEMO (“Never Even Mentioned Outside”), later renamed Control-Vision. The console was to be billed as a cheaper alternative to rivals Nintendo and Sega. A groundbreaking demo game with parallel storylines was created in order to further push the development of the console.

Produced by Robert Fulop and directed by James Riley, a four minute Full Motion Video Game demo called Scene Of The Crime was made. Shot in a Hillsborough house over a single weekend, the demo shadowed the concept of the Tamara play, with parallel storylines and multiple rooms to view.  It was a groundbreaking idea in the realms of gaming. Hasbro seemed happy with the (rather adult orientated) demo and ordered the go-ahead for full titles;

This is great. Now go and make it for kids.

A video clip of the Hasbro executives watching the Project NEMO demo of Scene Of The Crime was a hidden Easter Egg on one of their future games releases. You can see it below;

Who’s Norman?

Page Divider

Three months later, in 1987, with a budget of $1’000’000 and a 250-page script, the first FMV Game was put into production. Shot over a three week period on a soundstage at GMT Studios, California, the game Night Trap (eBay link here) became a reality. The cast and crew shot their scenes, and one by one each scene was reset and shot again with a different outcome. The variation in outcomes would eventually allow the player to interact and choose storylines to follow.

Night Trap augers

 As a member of the Sega Control Attack Team (SCAT), you have control over the CCTV system and a series of traps within a house. The house owners are hosting a second sleepover for their daughter. Mysteriously the girls from the first sleepover disappeared. Amd its your job to monitor the house, find out what happened, and protect the girls.

Night Trap became world-renowned politically, albeit for the wrong reasons. Video game violence was brought to light in Congress as a legitimate debate. But Night Trap was tarnished as a violent and bloody game unfit for children. Although Night Trap was designed predominantly as a fun vampire game, and showed no violence or blood at all.

Nevertheless, the debate over game violence caused serious damage to the games industry. And Night Trap is the reason there are now Ratings on all video games. The game was later censored and re-released.

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Off the back of Night Trap came another FMV Game called Sewer Shark (eBay link here), directed by John Dykstra (Visual Effects operator on Batman Forever, Stuart Little, Spiderman and X-Men First Class). The game would allow the player to became a pilot in the sewer tunnels, shooting “ratigators” and interacting with their co-pilot “Ghost”, on a mission to reach Solar City.

Sewer Shark Ghost David Underwood

Ignition on three… Ready? THREE!

Shortly  after completing the shoot for Sewer Shark, Hasbro stopped developing Project NEMO. The entire idea was shelved, and the rights to the two games sold off. Tom Zito, who later created Digital Pictures, bought the rights to the two games.

It appears only one thing killed Project NEMO; the rising popularity of Personal Computers at the time meant the cost of VRAM hardware chips needed for the console went through the roof, as retailers bought out entire batches of stock in advance of manufacturing powerful PC’s. The games console would no longer be a cheap alternative to Nintendo or Sega. Cutting losses, Hasbro pulled the plug entirely.

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It wasn’t till 1992 when Sega released their Mega CD games console that Night Trap and Sewer Shark would see the light of day. Digital Pictures used the archived 1987 footage to finally port the games from Project NEMO to Mega CD.

With the money made off the back of bundling Sewer Shark with the the purchase of a Mega CD console, Digital Pictures created their “second generation” game, Ground Zero: Texas (eBay link here). With a budget of $2’000’000, the game used a full Hollywood crew to shoot the 110 minutes of footage required for the game. The production of FMV Games appeared to be ramping up.

Ground Zero Texas

However, the overall cost to hire a crew and effectively shoot a Hollywood blockbuster became one of the underlying reasons for the rapid demise in FMV Game production. Not to mention the lack of divergence in the games, with minimal level of choice leading to the same outcomes. Quality was also an issue;

All our video had to be tortured, kicking and screaming, into the most horrifying, blurry, reduced-colour-palette mess imaginable in the Mega CD. I shudder to think about it.

Ken Melville – Digital Pictures co-founder

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Two other FMV games were created by Digital Pictures; Double Switch (eBay link here) and Corpse Killer (eBay link here).

Double Switch Corey Haim Eddie

With its high production value, Double Switch had the potential to be a blockbuster game. Starring Corey Haim (Lost Boys), Deborah Harry (Blondie), R Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket), the player switched between six cameras in an apartment block to trap “mobsters” and “hitmen” as a plot unfolded around the apartment tenants and a mysterious egyptian statue.

Fun Fact: The Thugs and Intruders in Double Switch were mostly stunt men and women, who went on to do stunts in movies such as Mortal Kombat, Con Air, Timecop, Face/Off, Strange Days, Spiderman, Avatar, Vanilla Sky and Pirate Of The Carribean.

Unfortunately by the time these games were released, the want for FMV games had already declined. One other Digital Pictures FMV game was eventually scrapped; Citizen X. With the still-bubbling political rage started in Congress over the contents of Night Trap, and the unfathomable high cost of shooting video, the production of all FMV Games came to an unglorified end.

However. With todays technology, a revival of FMV games wouldn’t be a problem. Perhaps with the help of Kickstarter or IndieGoGo we could re-ignite the love once had for FMV games.

You will still find sealed original copies of Sewer Shark, Double Switch, Ground Zero Texas, Corpse Killer and the legendary Night Trap on eBay and other online auction sites.

Come back, Digital Pictures. We miss you!

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Footnote:  This entire blog came about because I was searching the internet for information regarding the production of Double Switch, after I got hooked playing it again. I recently discovered I was able to play Night Trap on my Sony PSP thanks to a clever emulator called PicoDrive! It’s still one of my favourite games.