In 1995, a company called Propaganda Code took on what must have been a strange task of adapting William Gibson’s “Johnny Mnemonic” into a kind of interactive movie experience that would be played on Macintosh and Microsoft Windows.
The game had unusually good production value for the time, but this was because the now infamous cyberpunk film starring Keanu Reeves was in production and Propaganda was able to re-used some of the movie’s sets and props because they were filming at the same time.
It’s worth noting that the game was the first use of a new interactive movie engine called CineActive, developed by Evolutionary Publishing, which Sony licensed for use. We’ve had some trouble tracking down much info on the engine and how it worked and the only other game that used that engine as far as I can tell is called Terror T.R.A.X.: Track of the Vampire.
While all the film’s actors are re-cast for the interactive action movie, the basic story remains the same as the film. The main character is Johnny (played by Black Swan actor Christopher Gartin) a data dealer, who stores data in his head and delivers it to clients. During a job, he’s grabbed by Yakuza who may be working for a rival company who want what you’ve got. The problem is you don’t have the download code and if you don’t get the data out of your head soon, your brain will melt.
While the movie is interactive this is no CYOA a la “Bandersnatch”. Directing the action of Johnny Mnemonic is managed by the keyboard’s number pad. Whenever the movie’s full-screen video narrows to a widescreen letterbox you know it’s time to tap a key. You can make Johnny look left or right, move forward, pick up items and use weapons, open windows and doors, as well as punch, defend yourself or kick during real-time fight scenes.
If this sounds a lot like Dragon’s Lair that’s because it is. And like Dragon’s Lair it’s pretty damn hard.
Despite William Gibson helping out with the promotional push, the game was received with mixed reviews upon release. The Los Angeles Times felt the game found ways to make the generally “deadly” genre of interactive movies interesting and exciting though.
Remember, this was released right right around the time that Roger Ebert was angered by the sudden boom of interactive movies so the very idea of interactive movies was under the microscope.
A game can take many hours (up to 20) and requires saving progress. There are four possible endings and thousands of permutations so every play is slightly different even though there is no changing the overall narrative of the story.
Hardcore fans of cyberpunk or William Gibson’s early “Neuromancer” trilogy will dig this one, but it mostly remains a game novelty and piece of interactive fiction’s journey into the mainstream.
THE PULSE is out now on Google Play