The idea of interactive film narrative has been around a long time, yet has never really made it to popular culture in cinema or the small screen. Kinoautomat was the world’s first piece of interactive cinema – part film, part performance, which premiered in Montreal in 1967 – “One Man and His House’. Created by Dr. Raduz Cincera, the narrative was determined by a majority vote at crucial parts of the story where the normally passive cinema-goers would push a button to decide the outcome of a particular scene. The votes (red or green) would display around the border of the screen, and the projectionist would switch the lens between 2 synchronised films depending on the result. Politically inspired, Cincera who was a Czech during the Cold War, was making a commentary on the illusion of control of voting. Although no ‘new media’ technologies were used, Kinoautomat was the first instance of interactive media.
The idea of user defined narrative took me back to the days of Fighting Fantasy books, with which I whiled away many childhood hours. The work of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, such as ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’ (1982) and ‘The Forest of Doom’ (1983) allowed the reader, armed with a pencil and 2 dice, to decide his own fate as the narrative was traversed. The format allowed the books a much longer lifespan, having many different outcomes. The series became hugely successful, putting the reader in control of the fate of the character, the idea closely related to the boom of simlar role playing games in the computer games industry.
Another nostalgic favourite from the same era was the arcade game ‘Dragon’s Lair’ (1983). Created by Rick Dyer of Advanced Microcomputer Systems, it was the first of a number of Laser Disc games, which used real animation footage where the narrative was decided by the choice of the player at critical points. The story was delivered by jumping to the chosen scene on the disc. This was very much an example of interactive video – very different to the coded arcade games of the time and with a graphical detail which was to really stand out against the pixel video games surrounding. And so it should, 6 years in the making, costing Bluth (Don Bluth – The Secret of NIMH) Studios $1.3 million to produce the 22 minutes of animation, some individual seconds using 24 hand painted cels – much higher than the industry standard. However, the initial magic (and commercial income) was to be short lived with players becoming bored with the memorizable play and operators with the unreliability of the units. Despite the emergence of some other laser disc based games such as MACH III which used video footage with the game overlayed on top, the interactive laser disc technology was to disappear from the arcades in the early 90s.
Of course, media technologies continue to make ideas more accessible, cheaper to produce and more portable. You can now download Dragon’s Lair for your iPhone and play Fighting Fantasy on your DS.