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The CIA and KGB join forces on CD-ROM

The CIA and KGB join forces on CD-ROM — This unlikely pairing results in Activision’s ”The Great Game”

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Even by Hollywood standards, they make a strange couple — former CIA director William Colby and ex-KGB chief of counterintelligence Maj. Gen. Oleg Kalugin, seated side by side at a press conference during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles last month. The onetime cold warriors were on hand to announce their participation in Activision’s upcoming CD-ROM spy game, tentatively titled The Great Game — and, not incidentally, to bask in the irony of their transformation from ideological foes to technological collaborators.

Activision says it had originally approached only Colby; it was an afterthought to recruit the Russian as well. Although the two ex-spooks have minor roles in the final product — appearing on screen to offer advice to players — they contributed in a big way behind the scenes, vetting plot developments (which Alan Gershenfeld, an Activision vice president, refuses to disclose) and instructing the game’s creators in, as Colby puts it, ”the moral and ethical dilemmas that occur in intelligence.”

And what might those dilemmas be? Colby, who headed the Agency from 1973 to ’76, is reticent on that point, but Kalugin, who left the KGB in 1990, after 32 years, under somewhat mysterious circumstances, hints that he got himself in hot water by refusing to compromise the security of one of his field operatives. Still, he adds with a smile, ”there’s nothing wrong with having a little fun in the post-Cold War era.”

Until they became agents of Activision, neither Colby nor Kalugin had played a CD-ROM game. To familiarize the high-profile consultants with the format, staffers treated them to a run-through of Return to Zork — a role-playing fantasy adventure game — and a spirit of friendly cooperation, rather than paranoia, characterized the unlikely partnership. In fact, compared with the self-effacing former spies, the only Smersh-style megalomania was evidenced by Gershenfeld, who boldly predicted a Great Game franchise encompassing movies, books, and more CD-ROMs. For now, though, he should be content with smaller missions — like getting his product out by its target date of Christmas 1995.