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Sat, Mar 31, 2001 EST
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Movies, Video Games Seen Merging
By Anthony Breznican   Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — The technological line between video games and action movies has become so tenuous that even the nimble Lara Croft may have a hard time detecting it.

The "Tomb Raider" character's leap to the big screen later this year is an example of the strengthening ties between computer and celluloid adventures, according to a panel of game experts and film scholars.

"I like games that tell stories," said Hal Barwood, a designer for the LucasArts Entertainment Co. "Games head straight to action, that's what we're best at ... and movies exert a tremendous influence upon us."

The forum "Entertainment in the Interactive Age," which concluded Tuesday at the University of Southern California, examined different methods of digital storytelling.

Barwood, a former screenwriter who designed two "Indiana Jones" video games inspired by the Steven Spielberg-directed movies, said games have begun borrowing movie conventions to develop stronger narrative plots.

Many game characters now come with complex background stories not seen in the likes of the Mario brothers or Donkey Kong.

Experts said that raises hopes for this summer's movies "Tomb Raider" and "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within," because the source stories aren't as thin as those used to produce such game-to-movie flops as "Super Mario Bros.," "Street Fighter" and "Mortal Kombat."

Rather than collecting points, shooting bad guys or leaping across busy roads, the goal in most new games is to advance the story by solving puzzles.

"We find that stories, with their intricate complexity, force events to become the substance of the gameplay," Barwood said.

Modern games like "Tomb Raider," "Shadowman," "Nocturne" and Barwood's "Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine" borrow heavily from investigative dramas. Players work long stretches gathering clues without a villain in sight.

Other games — such as the shoot-'em-up "Half-Life" — have strong supporting characters who engage a player's emotions the way a movie manipulates an audience, said David Perry, founder and president of Shiny Entertainment.

"In the game ... a partner comes in to help you out, but he keeps getting in your way," said Perry, who has developed games based on the movies "Aladdin" and "The Terminator."

The player must then decide whether to turn traitor and eliminate the partner, he added.

Just as games borrow from movies, films have increasingly used traditional game techniques to punch up action sequences — whether they know it or not, said Marsha Kinder, a USC cultural theory professor.

Blending special-effects with unusual camera work, films such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "The Matrix" feature fight and chase techniques more familiar in computer games.

The lead characters in "Run Lola Run" and "Groundhog Day," meanwhile, employed the multiple "lives" characteristic found in video games, allowing them to begin a task anew after failing the first time.

Even the hit CBS reality show "Survivor" borrows video-game conventions, such as performing feats of strength in a complex obstacle course, Kinder said.

"It (also) brings together game show, soap opera and documentary," she said. "Obviously there's a real hunger for this kind of convergence."

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