Law & Order - Interview with Christina Oliver of Legacy Interactive

Interview by Steve Ramsey (December, 2004)
Law & Order: Justice is Served is the third title from Legacy Interactive inspired by the TV series. It's set in the world of high flying Grand Slam Tennis and opens when a young female tennis star is found dead in the players' locker rooms. As with the first two Law & Order games, Dead on the Money and Double or Nothing, in this game you join the familiar team and conduct the investigation, make an arrest, then build your case to get a guilty verdict.

Steve, who did the Quandary review of Law & Order: Justice is Served, recently took the opportunity to put the following questions to Christina Oliver who is a Producer at Legacy Interactive.

Steve: With Law & Order Justice is Served the third game in the L&O series we all expect to see and hear the actors from the TV show, but Patrick McEnroe was a surprise in Justice is Served. Was this a good move? Have you had a lot of feedback on this?

Christina: We felt that including a real tennis personality would add a layer of credibility to the plot, and just might intrigue some tennis fans who aren't necessarily adventure gamers. We don't know if his presence in the game has prompted customers to buy it who otherwise wouldn't have, but it has been mentioned in most reviews of the product, so it is striking reviewers as something a bit unique.

Steve: Did Patrick McEnroe have fun? Did he have a chuckle at all the 'goings-on' on the tennis circuit?

Christina: He seemed to have a great time. His wife is an actress, so he said he runs lines with her all the time, and this gave him a chance to try his own hand at it. We did ask him if the descriptions in the script of the pro tennis world were accurate, and he said we hit it pretty much on the money, in terms of the competitiveness and pressure that's put on the players. Since he was playing himself, we gave him free reign to change his dialog to something closer to how he'd phrase something, and he seemed to like being able to tailor the part to himself during the recording session.

Steve: What about the familiar actors (Jerry Orbach, Jesse L Martin and Elizabeth Rohm, ect). What do they think about lending their voices to a computer game? It must be quite a different experience to making a TV series, I presume they don't even have to meet up during production?

Christina: The actors never see each other during the production process, they each come in for their own voice over session and record all their lines at once. They all comment on how similar the dialogue is to the TV scripts they work with (which is no surprise since they are written by Law & Order writers). They seem to like the idea that the game may draw new people to the show, and like being involved in a video game that is based in logic and thinking.

Steve: I've heard that some actors never watch their movies when they are released. So do you have any idea if any of the L&O actors that appear in the games have sampled a Law & Order game to see what they are like?

Christina: I doubt they have time to actually solve the case, but we do give them copies. I think they do take a look at the first part of the game in order to see their characters in action and get a sense of how the graphics look.

Steve: After having released three Law & Order games now, we have to presume that they are doing well. Do you have any idea if they are attracting first time adventure game players? I mean fans of the TV series who hadn't played a computer game?

Christina: We don't have hard data on this, but based on posts on our discussion boards, we believe there are many fans of the show who buy the game who haven't ever played adventure games before.

Steve: I'm sure I've read that all the stories for the Law & Order games are especially written. Is this the case, and if so will you keep it that way? I imagine it gets hard to come up with new plots for a show that's been running so long?

Christina: Yes, all of our cases are written exclusively for the game, since if we used an existing episode there'd be a lot of people who already know who did it! The writers we use are always scouring the headlines to look for story ideas, so they usually come up with 8-10 plot ideas for us to choose from.

Steve: Is there a lot of difference between writing for a TV show and for a computer game? There must be quite a few adjustments. I'm wondering if it's easier or more difficult?

Christina: I think overall it's more difficult, because every thread that is introduced has to tie up somewhere, or the player is going to feel frustrated. On the show, vague references can be made to things the detectives are wondering about that never pan out, and as a viewer you never give it a second thought because the show keeps revealing what is actually relevant. Also, in interactive writing you have to figure out all the different ways players could proceed through the case, and be sure that the story will make sense no matter what order they do things in. In the show, the writers control exactly what happens when, so they don't have to worry about people discovering a key piece of evidence before it really make sense. In terms of sheer volume, a standard TV episode script would run about 60 pages, whereas a script for an interactive game is closer to 600, since there's so much branching, it's meant to last much longer than one hour, and there are many elements in the game that you wouldn't see on the show.

Steve: The trial process in the US system is different to that around the world, and that tends to come through a bit more strongly in the games given the extra time devoted to it as compared to a one hour TV show. Do you get any feedback from players in other countries about how they relate to the process?

Christina: No, I haven't received feedback from international customers about the trial portion of the game. We do provide some instruction on trial procedure in the game so that they can have some guidelines for how to succeed in a possibly unfamiliar setting.

Steve: Legacy Interactive is well known and respected for listening to player feedback, so does it shape one game to the next? Is that why you dropped the capacity to select two attributes from the current game?

Christina: We are always working to improve each title we release, and appreciate that through the discussion boards and reviews we have such a direct link to our players. We dropped the detective attributes feature because it didn't affect gameplay enough to compel players to want to play the game again, and essentially made the game easier. We got feedback that Law & Order II: Double or Nothing was too easy, so wanted to be sure we presented enough of a challenge this time.

Steve: Justice is Served features some straight out puzzles. Was that a demand from players?

Christina: We wanted to be sure to provide enough hours of gameplay as well as variety, so that people wouldn't get tired of just interviewing witnesses and sending evidence to the lab. We also really want to nurture our relationship to the adventure game enthusiasts out there, so we wanted to create unique puzzles that they would enjoy.

Steve: Were you worried that they might interrupt the flow of the game?

Christina: No, we felt that they would add fun and challenge to the game... and we know the walkthroughs are always easy to get, so if people don't like solving puzzles, it's easy enough for them to find the solutions online. We do struggle with created puzzles in modern day New York that won't seem too far-fetched. We do have to stretch reality a bit in order to incorporate some puzzles, but we don't want them to seem tacked on or too unrealistic. We are always trying to balance our customer's desire for a realistic police investigation, and just plain gameplay fun.

Steve: I am aware that Criminal Intent and SVU are slated for games. These TV shows tend to be a bit grittier and more confronting than the original Law & Order. Will this be the same with the games?

Christina: We are tailoring the cases for these shows to fit their unique style, so for Criminal Intent the cases and gameplay really feature the psychological detective work that Detective Goren is known for, and the SVU case involves a sniper who is killing prostitutes.

Steve: Do you think they will have to be modified in any way to get the rating you want?

Christina: We want to get a Teen rating on all of our Law & Order titles, so we'll be careful about how graphically we present the grittier content to be sure it is still appropriate for both teens and adults.

Steve: Are ratings a problem in the USA, and are there any differences when you market a game abroad?

Christina: We haven't had a problem getting a Teen rating for the cases we've created so far. We basically use what would be acceptable on network television as a guide, and it seems to have worked out OK so far. I'm not sure how ratings are handled abroad, so I'm afraid I can't speak to that.

Steve: Last question. Both the TV shows Criminal Intent and SVU seem to be balanced more towards investigation, should we expect the games to follow the same format and have less of the trial part? And, of course, will we see some more familiar faces?

Christina: In both the Criminal Intent and SVU games, there won't be any trial gameplay, since as you say, the shows focus much more on the investigation component. Detective Goren and Captain Deakins will appear in the Criminal Intent game, and we believe that Detectives Benson and Stabler will appear in the SVU title.

Steve: Thanks for your time. I'll be looking out for the next Law & Order.

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2004. All rights reserved.