So, have you stopped shuddering at Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s digital Kevin Spacey yet?
It’s so much like him, but, at the same time, so much unlike him. It takes you deep into the uncanny valley, the concept that a human image gets more disturbing the closer it gets to looking lifelike without actually matching 100 percent.
And digital Kevin Spacey is far from the first time video game makers have marched down into this valley. Some of these attempts are pretty pedestrian. But some, they get a little strange. Here are five of my favorite earlier attempts at putting movie, music, and TV stars in you video game box.
Bruce Willis in Apocalypse
So the original idea behind Neversoft’s Apocalypse for the original PlayStation was that Bruce Willis would be a helper/companion character that would follow the player around. When they couldn’t get that to work, they decided to make him the star, with the appropriately action movie name “Trey Kincaid.”
The game is dark, sometimes frustratingly difficult third-person shooter that’s sometimes hamstrung by the limitations of the PlayStation hardware. Willis’s character kind of looks like him, because they photo-mapped his face, but maybe because he was originally intended as a helper the main way the game develops his personality is incessant repeating voice clips where he says things like “Suck on This” and “These guys need a little more lead in their diet.” A lot of the clips still sound like he’s encouraging someone else, but since there is no one else and since they play over and over he starts to sound oddly insecure.
It all adds up to a not very good game, but it works out for Neversoft in the end. In making Apocalypse they had a testing level that featured “Trey Kincaid” riding around on a skateboard. That tech, and lessons learned putting celebrity in a game, eventually combined to make the mega-hit Tony Hawk’s Pro-Skater franchise.
The original Spider-Man movie trilogy actors in the original Spider-Man movie trilogy games
The Spider-Man games for the PS2, Xbox and other systems scored a coup by getting Tobey McGuire (Peter Parker) , Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), Willem Dafoe (Norman Osborn), Alfred Mollina (Otto Octavius), and others from the big-budget films to lend their likenesses and do original dialogue for the games. So far pretty standard, but unfortunately, some of the actors don’t seem that happy to be virtual characters.
Tobey McGuire sleepwalks through his role, at times imparting Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s dialogue with all of the life-and-death excitement of ordering at Starbucks. The in-game models also only look vaguely like the actors.
Except for James Franco as Harry Osborn, which looks disturbingly spot-on with the Franco smirk in Spider-Man 2, but that just makes it weirder because for the first two games Franco let his face be scanned but didn’t do a voice. When Franco opens his mouth voice actor Josh Keaton’s voice falls out (yes, the same Josh Keaton who would originally star as Spidey in The Spectacular Spider-Man). The in-game J. Jonah Jameson also is based on J.K. Simmons, but the voice is by Jay Gordon in most versions. Franco and Simmons come around to do voices by the Spider-Man 3 game, but Dunst drops out and is replaced by Kari Wahlgren.
Christopher Lloyd in Toonstruck
Hey, you wanna play a game with Christopher Lloyd in it? Sure, go grab one of Telltalle Games’ great Back to the Future games. No, you want something more obscure and unusual ? Oh, then you want Toonstruck.
Toonstruck is a 2D adventure game, released by Virgin Interactive back in 1996, when those still got widespread releases. It lets the player control Lloyd as live action main character Drew Blanc, exploring an animated world. You also have an annoying cartoon sidekick voiced by Dan Castellaneta.
The game features extremely high quality animated sequences and decent if not exactly ground-breaking adventure game gameplay, but it’s only about half a game because Virgin Interactive decided to make cuts and sell the second half as a sequel. Because it was only about half a game the Toonstruck did not sell enough to warrant a sequel.
Phil Collins in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
Grand Theft Auto games always pack some hefty voice talent. Ray Liotta plays the main character in the original Vice City, for example. But Phil Collins in Vice City Stories isn’t Phil Collins voicing a character. It’s Phil Collins playing Phil Collins, complete with blocky character model.
There are several missions in the game where you have to protect Phil from assassins who want to kill him (presumably because of “Sussudio”). Get through that and you get to experience this amazing concert with a full-on rendition of “In the Air Tonight.”
David Bowie in Omikron: The Nomad Soul
It’s possible that for David Bowie the “Uncanny Valley” is a place he goes every Tuesday for metaphysical daytrips, and maybe that’s what inspired his character in Omikron: The Nomad Soul. Omikron is a strange, dreamlike action game where the gimmick is that the player character can possess the bodies of other characters. Part of the reason it’s so weird is because of input from David Bowie.
Bowie plays two characters in the game, a revolutionary named Boz, who appears as blue-faced, ornate hologram that refers to the player directly as if they’re connecting with a real other world. And the lead singer of an illegal band called “The Dreamers.” As the singer the player can watch him sing tracks from his album “Hours …”
Here’s a second video, because, seriously, you have to see the concerts.
The idea of recreating actors digitally must have appealed to Omikron designer David Cage, even if the technology wasn’t really in place at the time. Cage would eventually go on to design the recent Beyond: Two Souls, which stars nearly perfect re-creations of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe.