Ripper, a PC game with an A-list cast and a budget in the millions, more or less disappeared after arriving in 1996, but it’s resurfaced over the past few years, mainly due to clips of Christopher Walken’s hammy, hard-boiled performance. A lengthy new piece in Wired, however, argues that there’s more to be gleaned from both the game and the era of full-motion technology that, once upon a time, promised to be the future of the form.
Set in a cyberpunky vision of new York City in the year 2040, Ripper followed a crime reporter in search of a Jack the Ripper-type slayer. Through a series of point-and-click prompts and dialogue trees, players encountered a cast of characters played by Walken, Karen Allen, Ossie Davis, and a then-unknown Paul Giamatti. It was also the final performance of legendary actor Burgess Meredith. Making it, however, was a nightmare. Author Lisa Wood Shapiro, who worked as a production coordinator on the game, speaks with several of the game’s artists, all of whom remember an exhausting, frustrating process. The story begins with a tale of a weary Walken after a 19-hour day, asking for a car to Connecticut.
“I don’t think Walken even knew what we were making,” recalls head game designer and writer F. J. Lennon.” Maybe none of the actors did.” Perhaps most crushingly, Lennon recalls playing the just-released Doom II and feeling that a game like that was “always going to be far superior to a game with full-motion video.” He adds, “I remember thinking a game was not a movie. And a movie was not a game.”
That lesson was learned the hard way, though, as Ripper was one of several full-motion games to garner enough disinterest to steer game studios towards more traditional modes of gaming. Take-Two, the studio behind Ripper, recovered just fine, after all, having acquired the Grand Theft Auto franchise in the late ‘90s. It currently owns Rockstar Games and 2K.
Read the full piece, which also digs into Take-Two’s rich-kid founder and the difficulty of playing a game like Ripper in the modern age, here.