Have you ever wanted to control magicians Penn & Teller? Ever wanted to direct Jennifer Aniston? Ever thought you had what it takes to tell Quentin Tarantino to bring it down a notch and stop chewing scenery? In the 1997 video game Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair, you could. Now, thanks to Paolo Pedercini—a game maker and professor at Carnegie Mellon University—you can play all the best parts of Director’s Chair at home in a web browser.
Video games got real weird in the 1990s. With the advent of CD-ROMs, games could finally show full motion video. For a few years, every other PC game on the shelf used low resolution footage of actors layered on top of computer generated backgrounds. Hollywood bigshots like Spielberg started to explore video games. Director’s Chair was an early attempt to see if Hollywood could find new modes of expression in video games.
The concept is so simple that you can see how La La Land executives thought it would print money. Spielberg teaches you how to direct a feature film. Working with Spielberg, the player would work through problems on set and piece together a story from footage Spielberg shot himself.
Director's Chair wasn’t well received. “For die-hard Spielberg fans only,” Computer Gaming World wrote in its 1997 review. “So limited and linear that it ultimately fails as both game and multimedia.”
Pedercini cut out all the gamey bits from Director’s Chair and produced a choose-your-own adventure style game from the raw footage called Director’s Choices.
“All these limited choices had film coverage to support them, so buried in the CD-ROM there was enough footage to make a Bandersnatch-style Choose Your Own Movie,” he said on Twitter. “By the way the footage was totally raw, I had to edit all the clips, add sounds and music. I also upscaled the ultra low res videos with an AI-tool. Very stupid project, I don't recommend.”
Pedercini created Director’s Choices as part of an event at the LIKELIKE art gallery where viewers played interactive video games and voted on the choices as a crowd.
“I'm not super interested in FMV, which is a kind of technology used by all sorts of games, but more in the idea of branching films,” Pedercini told Motherboard in an email. “That's a concept that seems to resurface cyclically, and fails to catch up every single time. There is something romantic about that. It's also interesting how the meta narrative strategies, the ‘illusory’ choices, and the self referential themes about free will and guilt that you see in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch were already explored by the very first interactive movie from 1967, Kinoautomat."
Playing the game online means making some basic choices about which version of a scene you want to play out. As Tarantino sits in a cell awaiting execution, will he be calm and reserved or will you tell him to act like a maniac? As he’s walking towards his doom will he be somber or will he tell jokes? Will magician Penn Jillette be respectful or creepy? It’s all up to you.
The entire production is cringe, but pre mega success Tarantino is in rare form.
“Why Quentin Tarantino was chosen as one of the ‘actors’ for this game is a mystery…a superb writer and promising director, Tarantino’s idiosyncratic style rarely comes across properly in his acting—the same is true in Director’s Choices,” Computer Gaming World noted in its review at the time. “At times, he’s downright painful to watch.”