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HyperBole Produces X-Files CD-ROM
A talk with company Muse Greg RoachBy Marietta Szubski
Colorful, carved Indonesian figures dangle from the ceiling of Greg Roach's office like a flight of omnipresent muses, while the room next door is papered wall to wall with a detailed schedule for HyperBole Studio's upcoming production of The X-Files CD-ROM Adventure. Greg Roach, HyperBole's CEO and Artistic Director, has managed to balance his artistic integrity with market success.
Earlier this year, Fox TV approached HyperBole, a video production and multimedia development company, to create an interactive movie based on the series, The X-Files, and its characters, Mulder and Scully. Actors Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny will star in the production which will feature an original X-Files storyline developed by the show's creator, Chris Carter, as well as a new protagonist which will allow the player to become a main character in the X-Files story. The CD will feature all new footage which is slated to be shot here in the Northwest. The Northwest was chosen for a variety of practical reasons, but HyperBole also hopes that it will continue to enhance Seattle's image as a production center. The X-Files CD-ROM Adventure is scheduled for release in 1997.
HyperBole won the contract with Fox Interactive because of the strength of their "dramatic awareness" and their proprietary software, VirtualCinema®, an interactive story telling engine. VirtualCinema measures the responses and activities of the player and applies them to the storyline. This continually evolving software gives the user a "seamless" viewing experience because it was developed out of HyperBole's creative needs -instead of in an artistic vacuum. VirtualCinema is a unique collaboration between art and science which evolved from Roach's desire to produce complex plays that were economically unfeasible to stage.
Roach's keen "dramatic awareness" developed out of his years in theater and film. He holds an M.F.A. in directing and is a prolific storyteller who becomes immersed in the characters he creates. He is a fan of history and is fascinated by the exotic personas created by authors such as Italo Calvino and Robertson Davies. His character-driven stories lend themselves to a wide range of plot variations which makes interactive movies an ideal medium for his ideas.
"My initial intentions were not commercial, they were artistic. We gave the stuff away at first," Roach said. Since they opened their doors in 1990, HyperBole has written, designed and produced numerous multimedia titles and websites. They have expanded their capabilities to include every phase of a project management from conceptualization and scripting to graphic, sound and video design to programming and CD-ROM mastering. They pioneered the creation of the "multimedia novel" with award-winning productions such as The Madness of Roland, Quantum Gate and Vortex. The fantasy worlds created in these productions allow the viewer to explore 3-D environments as well as interact with up to 30 characters who each have their own point of view on the stor yline.
"I'm intrigued by the human element, by everyday people becoming remarkable by going through extraordinary external circumstances which leads them to find resources within themselves that they didn't realize were there before," said Roach.
Though he's an artist at heart, Roach has found the resources within himself to become an astute, strategically oriented businessman. HyperBole has expanded and contracted over the past several years, and they now have a core group of about 15 employees who work on creative and technical development. Roach enjoys the fact that he can still close the office and take his team out on "field trips," but he has found that multimedia production can be "a very hungry enterprise."
"There was lots of unbridled promise, and now things are tinged with an on-going pragmatism," Roach said. He admits that many of HyperBole's projects are now driven by commercial opportunity. The overall environment in interactive entertainment is not what he initially envisioned. Roach originally thought that interactive entertainment would encompass a variety of themes and topics as broad as that found in film and literature.
"One of the culminations of 20th century culture is the dramatic cinema. There's no reason that this art form (interactive media) can't yield the same thing, but ...the market is running contrary to that," said Roach. "The world of entertainment softwareis still a testosterone-filled ghetto."
HyperBole developed several titles with the now defunct MediaVision, including 10 State Spree, an interactive movie about an escaped convict which has been described as "Pulp Fiction meets Raising Arizona." The story evolved into a dark satire and exploration of contemporary culture's willingness to use extreme violence to protect radical beliefs.
"It began as a joke. MediaVision wanted more guns and tits in the title and we realized that it was a great opportunity to turn the whole equation on its head," said Roach. "We were examining the deep wackiness that goes on in this country every day." Roach's intention in creating the highly charged situations was to set the viewer/character down in the middle of the action to explore the psychological and even karmic ramifications of the circumstance.
"Who's the real character here? What are they afraid of, what's driving them?" asks Roach.
One of the greatest challenges that HyperBole will be facing in the next few months will be to maintain the integrity of the existing X-Files characters and storyline while incorporating a new character and plot variations suited to this new, interactive medium.
"We'll be facing that challenge up 'til the day we ship," said Roach, who needs to balance the obligations to Fox and the show's fans while raising the standards for interactive entertainment. Roach is not unlike Salvador Dali, his favorite artist, whom he describes as "the ultimate huckster." He sees Dali as someone who was able to create a professional life and artistic myth for himself. "He rendered things with loving precision, but presents a bizarre mix of juxtapositions."