In 1996, a PC adventure game was released that has been all but forgotten. Which is strange, seeing as it features probably the greatest ensemble of actors ever assembled for a video game.
While many contemporary games boast the names of impressive stars on the back of their box, those are generally restricted to voice-over roles. Not actual acting. But in Ripper, a game released at the end of the "full motion video" craze that swept PC gaming after the introduction of the CD-ROM drive, there is acting on nearly ever single screen. Actual acting. With faces.
The game centres around an investigation into a series of brutal murders that have been likened to those committed by Victorian serial killer Jack The Ripper. Hence, the name "Ripper". You play the role of reporter Jake Quinlan, who in turn is played by Scott Cohen, who you may recognise if you ever watched Gilmore Girls.
Since few of you will have, let's move onto the better actors. You see, there are three men appearing in this game who have been nominated for Academy Awards. One of them is an Academy Award winner. Another was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton. And finally, there is one man who has never won a major award, but were nerds able to mint and hand them out, would have a truckload of them.
Let's start with the biggest name: Christopher Walken. Star of classics like Deer Hunter and King of New York, Walken signed on for the game during perhaps the lowest (and I use that term relatively) point in his stellar career. He is...well, he does not come across as a man who won an Oscar (for Deer Hunter, in 1978), constantly over-acting and hopefully forced to wear that ridiculous hat. Also, note: the game's theme song is "Don't Fear The Reaper". This is Christopher Walken. Was what came two years later mere co-incidence?
Another big name was cinema legend Burgess Meredith. An actor, writer and director, Meredith is perhaps best known to you guys as the original Penguin in the Adam West Batman series and as Rocky's trainer in the first three boxing flicks, though he also appeared in countless big-time movies from the 30's all the way through to the 90's. Sadly, his role in Ripper - as a "cyberarchitect" - was also his last, as he died a year later, in 1997. Just as it's a strange thing to know The Transformers Movie was the last work of the great Orson Welles, it's odd to think Meredith's final performance was as a man who designed a "cyberspace weapon" in a crummy video game.
The third Academy Award nominee will be known to nearly all of you, as a young Paul Giamatti makes one of his first appearances in a bit part, playing the part of Doctor Bud Cable. Giamatti is best known for roles in Cinderella Man, Sideways, American Splendor and Private Parts, for which he's also won Emmys, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards.
While he never won any major awards from within the industry, Ossie Davis - who plays Ben Dodds - was a pioneering African American actor, director and writer, turning up in everything from Sesame Street to The Cardinal to Do The Right Thing. Davis also directed classic Blaxploitation flick Cotton Comes to Harlem. For his services not just for the arts but for the African American community, Davis was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1995.
That's it for the awarded actors, but the rest of the game's cast is just as interesting. Did you know, for example, that it featured not one, but two cast members from Raiders of the Lost Ark? Yes, John Rhys Davies, of Lord of the Rings, Sliders (and games like Dune 2000 and Wing Commander) fame was in it, alongside Karen Allen, who played Marion Ravenwood in both Raiders and the recent abomination Crystal Skull.
If you've never played Ripper, I don't blame you. Few people did, since by 1996 the novelty of seeing real humans in a video game had worn off, as had the appeal of games where FMV was the main selling-point (as it usually meant the game itself was awful). Still, if you had, congratulations: you accidentally played a game featuring the most accomplished cast of live-action performers the video game industry has ever seen.
Well, except for maybe Wing Commander III. But that's another story for another day...
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.