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DVD Delivers a New Pitch

By John Gaudiosi
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 17, 2000; Page E11

The movie industry may finally have found a use for all those DVD-ROM drives in home computers. No, it's not watching movies on your computer--although you're free to watch "The Matrix" on a 15-inch monitor while listening to the surround-sound effects pour out of $20 speakers.

And it's not DVD-ROM software either--it's still hard to find and, except for some weighty databases or multimedia-soaked games, besides the point anyway. The 650-megabyte capacity of the CD-ROM remains enough room for many software developers.

Instead, the next big thing in DVD-ROM-land may be movie trailers of a sort, in the form of computer-game demos, or entire movie-theme games, to play on your PC.

Things started last Christmas with the release of Warner Home Video's DVD release of the summer non-hit "Wild Wild West," which featured a playable PC demo of the first level of SouthPeak Interactive's adventure game "Wild Wild West: The Steel Assassin."

Buena Vista Home Video followed suit last month with its "Tarzan" DVD release. Players can partake in the early stages of the "Tarzan" PC action game by popping the disc into their computers.

To the companies behind this, it's another way to hook people into DVD (more than 5 million DVD players have been shipped in the United States so far). "Just like the director's commentary or separate music tracks, interactive entertainment is another feature that will help solidify DVD as an entertainment format," said Mark Horak, senior vice president of marketing at Warner Home Video.

Fox just shipped its "The Abyss: Special Edition" DVD with three mini-games: Sonar Spy, Valve Control and ROV Pilot. Meanwhile, consumers who buy the "Independence Day" DVD will receive a free month of online play for Centropolis Interactive's ID4 Online game, where they can choose a side (alien or human) in a massive space combat game. And the six-DVD boxed set of the "Planet of the Apes" movies will include a demo of Fox Interactive's upcoming "Planet of the Apes" adventure game.

The results so far have varied. Disney, for instance, maintains its track record of quality movie tie-ins with its simple but addictive "Tarzan" game. This visually stunning side-scrolling action title is easy enough for kids to play over and over again, although there's no replay value for an older gamer. And Fox's three "Abyss" games are simple, mindless fun--a step in the right direction when it comes to free DVD add-ons.

But "Wild Wild West: The Steel Assassin" is a bad game based on a box-office bomb, sandbagged by dated, two-dimensional backgrounds and terrible control. Who's going to want the full version of the game after suffering through this?

The coming-attractions list in this category is starting to fill up. For one thing, the game industry has a long-running addiction to tie-in games.

"We'd like to bundle the first two 'Blair Witch' DVDs with all three 'Blair Witch' PC games and Nocturne for a Christmas gift," enthused Mike Wilson, CEO of the Gathering of Developers. "We also plan on getting playable PC demos on the re-release of the 'Blair Witch' DVD and the sequel's DVD."

For another, the next round of home video-game consoles--Sony's PlayStation2, due this fall, and Nintendo's Dolphin and Microsoft's X-Box, both scheduled to arrive next year--all include DVD drives. So consider yourselves warned.

Said Sven Davison, manager of DVD product development at Fox Home Video: "As long as timing, scheduling and the legal departments allow, we're going to incorporate interactive games into as many of our . . . titles as possible."

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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