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January 16, 2012 / jwaxo

Write Camera Action! (Games Aren’t Magic)

The case of the Maltese, Malcolm. You can’t make this stuff up.

I’ve been putting off doing this blog post for a few reason. The first is that it was really hard to find a good screenshot to base my silly doodle off of; I eventually had to do with a stupid eBay picture of the back of the CD case and a lot of good memory. The second problem was that the idea for what to talk about here was scribbled in the dark on the back of an envelope and I could not make out what it said until just now.

Ah, yes. “Games AREN’T magic.” That makes only too much sense, in the context of Write, Camera, Action!. I’ve been proven, time and time again, to be extremely gullible, especially when it’s my own brain doing the lying. This is one of those cases.

I found it, as I find all good games, in a bargain bin in our outlet mall. “Write and direct your own murder mystery!” the back of the case promised. How cool does that sound? I asked myself. It was kind of what I always wanted to do, what with my typing away at silly fanfiction or trying to make video games. In other words: silly creative stuff that I would eat right up. I hurried the cheap game home.

Now, before we get into the rest, let’s talk about titles. As you might have noticed, the back of this game said that it would involve writing and directing a murder mystery, but the title of the game had nothing to do with murders or mysteries; it was a more generic title about writing movies. It was really pretty realistic of me to expect more than just murder mysteries from the game, with a title like that.

So much more.

Generic titles like that may not be dangerous to the creator, but they’re just kind of silly. They make you wonder if the person who title the game even knew what the game was about. I recently read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and while it was good, the title of the book really had nothing to do with the story at all, other than describing one of the characters in it (the Swedish title, Men Who Hate Women, was more apt, but maybe too full of spoilers).

So, as you can guess from this dancing around the whole title affair, the game exclusively dealt with a murder mystery. It was not, as I had dreamed, a full-on movie simulator, letting you pick out virtual actors, writing up scripts, creating sets… In other words, 3D Movie Maker, or even the more recent The Movies.

No. Instead, Write, Camera, Action! was Mad Libs.

A full, fifteen minute movie script, yes with virtual actors, and with sets that you can choose, but all of them in a Mad Libs-like interface, complete with blanks that you need to fill in (via a multiple-choice system).

How I felt.

It was kind of an interesting concept, really. Supposedly, the movie was half-made with a different writer/director before he was canned, and certain parts of the script were not finished. These parts were different sentences, maybe a word here or there, and a few of the key clues that would “help” the detective in the story catch the kidnapper of a Maltese cat named Malcolm.

(Years later I would finally figure out that this was a reference to the famous Sam Spade mystery, but that was, seriously, a good seven years)

After going through each scene, choosing how to complete each line, you were allowed to edit the movie in with different dubbing, then market it, and finally see how it did at the awards. If you had a good, clear tone throughout the movie–either noir, horror, or comedy–you would get good ratings and “win” the game. If not, well, back to the drawing board.

I was deeply, deeply disappointed.

After some thought, and playing through it a few times, it finally clicked that of course the game couldn’t be how I imagined it would be. It would just be ridiculous to be as flexible as I wanted, to allow me to control emotions and motions and setpieces. There was no way for that. The game wasn’t magic, after all, and the developers had to make do with the realm of the possible.

It was a lesson I did not remember for long after.

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