HERE I AM, LIKE A WIRED LAB rat on a slab, magnetic sensors on almost every joint and a tail of cables connecting my butt harness to a computer in the corner. I glare at my digital alter ego on the monitor, a skeleton with podlike hands, floating in space like a black-and-white cubist painting. It looks nothing like Zak Kingston, hero of the CD-ROM game Cyberia, though that’s who I’m supposed to be. Well, sort of.
Zak’s just an animated figure, but with the help of a process called motion capture, he’ll be more human in the game’s sequel, Cyberia 2: Resurrection, due on disc this month from Xatrix Entertainment. ”You don’t have any credit cards on you, right?” the technician at Xatrix’s L.A. studio asks. Great. The little black box in front of me has three coils sending 80 pulses per second to the sensors attached to my body — at twice the strength of the earth’s magnetic field, it’s a force that can zap the data right off a credit card 10 feet away.
Producer-director Joan Wood explains a few things. First, there are no sets, because motion-capture actors work on the 10- by 10-foot platform, miming movements. Second, that creature on the monitor — me — will be unrecognizable because, unlike the blue-screen film technique, this process does not use pictures; it digitizes motions that will be translated into animation. And third, yes, that is dental floss securing the sensors to my neoprene suit. And what about my character’s motivation? I know the evil Dr. Corbin wants to mutate me into a killing machine, and I’m rifling his desk for clues to stop him. But what was my childhood like? ”The guard shoots you and you die,” Wood answers. Got it.
I practice flopping into a chair, arms spread wide, head slumped to the side. I’ve been here four hours and, finally, we’re ready. All this for six seconds in one of the game’s 80 sequences. The motion-capture machine is on. I’m at Dr. Corbin’s desk. I hear a noise. A guard shoots me. I die. Then a familiar feeling overwhelms me — I must get untethered from these cables and find a bathroom. This system cost $100,000; shouldn’t the suit at least have a zipper?