Crichton Is Game for 3-D Computer Play


The author who conceived of Jurassic Park and the Andromeda Strain is about to try his hand at a new entertainment medium.

Novelist and screenwriter Michael Crichton announced Friday the founding of a firm to develop computer games using the latest in interactive and 3-D technology.

Crichton will be majority shareholder and chairman of the firm, Timeline Studios, which will be co-founded by Cary, N.C.-based Virtus Corp., a developer of 3-D software, and by Michael Backes, a computer graphics expert who was co-screenwriter with Crichton of the film “Rising Sun.”

The venture, which will also be located in the high-tech center of Cary, marks the first move by Crichton into computer gaming--at least as an entrepreneur. Describing himself as a “computer gamer for the past 20 years,” Crichton said in an interview that he expects storytelling skills to become more and more important to the success of interactive games.


“I’ve never seen an interactive narrative that worked for me [as a player],” he said.

Meanwhile, he argued, the technological leaps that have driven consumer interest in new games are sure to wane in the near future. “Games are structurally unchanged, except that a new generation of graphics or sound makes the same old game look more interesting.”

Beyond that, Crichton was vague about how Timeline’s offerings might stand apart in the crowded field of computer games.

He said his own personal tastes run to “shooters” like Quake, Doom, and Duke Nuk’em, in which the player deploys an elaborate arsenal to waste all enemies in his path; yet he is hoping to “find a way to reduce the violence” of popular computer games. Meanwhile, although his books and screenplays are known for their intricate and perplexing plots, he said he finds puzzle-oriented adventure games like “Myst” boring.


One clue may be the 3-D technology being developed by Virtus, a privately held company which received some of its seed financing from thriller writer Tom Clancy.

As described by Virtus founder David A. Smith, a computer gaming veteran, the technology allows game developers to create unusually detailed scenes and settings by using a library of interactive “objects” that can be customized as part of the game screen.

“That allows you to design a much higher-quality product with a lot more going on in the background,” Smith said.

The experience, he said, should resemble that of watching a movie in which not just the foreground characters, but squads of extras, are emoting on-screen.