Steven Spielberg's Director's Chair

on November 01, 1996 by Ann Kwinn
   Simulation technology, which until recently has inhabited the training arena, has moved to entertainment. Imax's RideFilm and Showscan's Cinemania techniques, which move a seat in time to a filmed image, are derived from flight simulation hardware. (In the movie Apollo 13, Gary Sinise uses a simulator to study the predicament of his fellow astronauts who "think they have a problem.")
   Commercial CDROM titles are now borrowing from the simulation concept of interactive experiential software. "SimCity," which allows a user to gradually build and manage a city while taking into account reallife variables, is very popular, prompting its creator, Maxis, to develop a line of similar products. Another software company, Legacy, has delved into career simulation with "Emergency Room," in which a user gets a view of a physician's work from behind the surgical mask. "Steven Spielberg's Director's Chair," developed by Knowledge Adventure for DreamWorks Interactive, "puts the player in the director's chair," but with its heavy emphasis on budget and schedule a producer's chair might be more appropriate.
   In the first minute, the title shifts from Los Angeles reality to fantasy: After an earthquake, Steven Spielberg walks onscreen and offers you a job. He and an impressive list of actual music editors, art directors, etc., give straightforward introductions to many phases of film production. Your task is to select camera angles for, edit, score, and add sound effects to a "film" you have created from 105 minutes of original footage directed by Spielberg himself. The coverage is diverting, with priests, prisoners, paparazzi and stars"Friends" actress Jennifer Aniston and "Pulp Fiction" director Quentin Tarantino. Fortunately, you are not scored on the acting. You are, however, harshly demerited on budget and schedule slippage. Insidertype crew members, who use phrases like "it's a print" and "sound speed," interrupt your efforts to ask for more time for makeup, costume and other preparations. They are appropriately energetic though exhausted.
   The screen might show a Variety newspaper headline on your efficiency, in which case "the studio is pleased," or (uhoh) little cartoon dollar bills might sprout wings and fly away. This all gets a littleh) stressful: Many folks have ample opportunity to be fiscally irresponsible in real life; this title follows entertainment's current trend to look more and more like work, not recreation.
   The heavy emphasis on quantifiable factors could be due in part to a computer's lesser ability to describe and evaluate quality over quantity. Spielberg does not, for example, communicate his understanding of the family moviegoing audience and how he is able to appeal to them so consistently.
   Still, this is a worthwhile expenditure for a young person interested in the film business or, say, a budding production assistant, because "Director's Chair" gives a good overview of the production process, from script to screening. The CDROM does not include actual production software, which would have added considerably to the price but could have given the user real skills. In any case, this title will teach only those who invest the time in figuring out how to use it. It is not as intuitive as some filmrelated titles, such as Activision's very enjoyable "Paparazzi."
   Is it good? It's just the sort of thing for people who like this sort of thing. Knowledge Adventure and DreamWorks Interactive. Windows and Macintosh platforms, each $54.95. Available midOctober. Format: CDROM.
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