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Voyeur and Voyeur II

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Two years represents a geological epoch in the still aborning multimedia industry, and since 1994, when the interactive CD-ROM movie took off, several generations of games have flourished and withered. In fact, due to screaming indifference on the part of consumers, some CD-ROM companies are making plans to present their wares on the World Wide Web — where an audience and a distribution mechanism are already in place — and forgo the disc format entirely. None of this has stopped Philips Media from releasing Voyeur II, which, granted, represents a solid technological advance on the groundbreaking interactive mystery Voyeur. But the questions remain much the same as they did two years ago: Is there an audience for this stuff? Do mainstream couch potatoes really want to interact with a movie? Will die-hard gamers slow down their metabolisms enough to absorb an actual story?

The original Voyeur had the luxury of being early to the fair. While other interactive mysteries existed on CD-ROM, it was among the first to feature cast members you might have heard of. Robert Culp (from TV’s old I Spy) played a devious defense contractor and presidential candidate named Reed Hawke; Grace Zabriskie (Twin Peaks), his sister Chantal; unknown actors filled out the roles of Hawke’s family, scheming away and plotting murder over the course of one weekend at Hawke Manor. The conceit was that you, the player, got to watch the shenanigans from the the apartment across the way. By pointing your on-screen video camera into various windows, you could tape the characters as they incriminated themselves (or jumped into the sack, or whatever), then mail the tape to the police and solve the mystery.

The niftiest aspect of Voyeur — and one that other CD-ROMs immediately picked up on — was its concurrently unfolding narrative: While you were peeping in on an argument in one room, a love scene in another might hold far more crucial information. The disc had the potential to be a truly engaging entertainmen — like an Agatha Christie novel with the scenes occurring in real time — yet rudimentary technology hobbled it. Because full-motion video ate up too much disc space in 1994, the makers of Voyeur simply filmed the actors against a blue screen, then superimposed them over computer-generated sets for a flat, proscenium-arch effect that dispelled much of the drama. A fine opening salvo for the new medium, perhaps, but still too encrusted in gimmickry.

It’s two years later, and the video-compression problem has been largely fixed (on CD-ROM, at least; it’s still a bear on the World Wide Web). Interactive adventures such as Fox Hunt, Silent Steel, and Psychic Detective have dispensed with the computer furniture and are telling their tales via conventionally filmed segments. Voyeur II makes use of full-motion video, of course, but otherwise it sticks to what worked the first time around: the concept of peering through windows with a video camera; semi-name, where-have-they-been? actors; concurrently running scenes; and generous helpings of nudity (from the no-name actors, bien sur).

This time, you’re in a rural cabin — the kind of place Ted Kaczynski would call home — watching the drama unfold at the modern mansion across the canyon. Dr. Everett Cussler has been murdered, and you have to piece together whodunit before he or she kills Cussler’s colleague and lover, Elizabeth Duran (Summer of ’42‘s Jennifer O’Neill). The suspects include David Groh (Valerie Harper’s hubby on Rhoda) as her gurulike adviser; and if you can make it through to the end, Dennis Weaver (McCloud) shows up as the sheriff (it’s no coincidence that Robert Weaver, his son, directed both Voyeurs).

While the star power kicks the production quality to the level of a decent soap opera, the addition of several seriously difficult strategic puzzles, on the order of Myst or The 7th Guest, keep Voyeur II from being the pleasant diversion it should really be. You know — you have to figure out the combination to the gun locker, find the bullet to stop the killer, and so on. Haven’t developers figured out yet that the audience for stories (even multistranded ones) and the audience for brainteasers are different, if not mutually exclusive? Maybe I’m wrong; maybe there is enough common ground between hardcore gamers and more mainstream voyeurs to make Voyeur II commercially viable. But if that’s so, why are those CD-ROM companies trawling for an audience on the Web? Voyeur II: B Voyeur: B-

Cybertalk: Turning to Stone

”Look at Elizabeth Taylor. She’s gone through [public scrutiny] her entire life. She’s been the darling one year, the next she’s fat and horrible and on drugs. Then the following year she’s the diva of some charity, and then the next year she’s an idiot. But that’s the way Hollywood is.”
— Sharon Stone on CompuServe’s WOW!

”Brad Pitt is playing the young man [in Devil’s Own]. That’s quite enough. We don’t need any more pretty people [on the set].”
— Harrison Ford on WOW!

”I’ll be like 100 years old and I’ll hear ‘Punky, Punky, Punky’…It’s cool with friends or kids. But when you meet a guy, it kind of sucks if he lets a little ‘Punky’ slip.”
— Soleil Moon Frye, former Punky Brewster star, on America Online

”[After The Exorcist] people were afraid of me and thought that I had all of the answers…. As a teenager it is difficult enough to know who you are, but to do it in front of the world…they judge you and it’s very difficult.”
— Linda Blair on AOL

”I would much rather be the movie star in front of the camera than be behind the camera. But that’s not where my talent lies. And through self-evaluation I came to that conclusion — without someone telling me I can’t act.”
— Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of The Rock, on AOL

”Whenever I get writer’s block, I bang my head very forcibly against the wall, and that seems to clear it right up. But seriously folks…I draw a lot from my real-life experiences when I write. Luckily, I encounter a lot of strange people and have a lot of weird experiences, so I’m not at a loss of strange things to write about.”
Seinfeld coproducer and writer Carol Leifer on Prodigy