Farm Aid: Enhancing DVD for Gaming
Posted Jun 1, 2003

Take a board game, add the visual excitement of DVD and what do you get? Well, that's what Screenlife, LLC did when they created the DVD movie trivia game Scene It? And what they got was a smash hit, one of the fastest-selling games of the past year.

Scene It? bills itself as "the only reel trivia game with real movie clips." The DVD that comes with the board game includes clips from 180 movies (from five major studios), still images of 250 stars, and 1,300 questions. In addition to movie trivia cards and questions about scenes featured on the Scene It? DVD, the game keeps players of all levels engaged with 11 unique on-screen challenges entitled Distorted Reality, Invisibles, Spellbinders, and Soundclips. It retails for about $50.

Scene It? was created by two game-loving, movie-buff entrepreneurs from San Diego, Dave Long and Craig Kinzer. Long originally got the basic idea for the game back in 1992, but couldn't figure out a realistic way to overcome the linear restrictions of that era's video medium of choice: videotape. He had to wait until the technology caught up with him. In 2000, he bought a DVD player and realized the medium he needed had arrived. Together with his movie-loving pal Kinzer, he formed Screenlife and began developing the game with the assistance of Digital Farm, a full-service digital media design studio based in Seattle.

Now Digital Farm is offering to share the technology behind Scene It?, something they refer to as a "DVD enhancement engine." According to Digital Farm, this technology introduces new capabilities to standard DVDs, enabling them to provide a new level of interactivity and gaming experiences.

Developed by for Screenlife Digital Farm's Advanced DVD Enhancement Team for use in Scene It?, this DVD Enhancement Engine has been branded as Optreve by Screenlife, which is offering the technology for license.

Screenlife defines the Optreve DVD Enhancement Engine as "a first-of-its-kind" DVD technology that enables traditional DVD players to randomly access to hundreds of video clips and puzzlers, keep track of games already played and ensure a completely new playing experience for the user.

"As an early pioneer in DVD media, we quickly realized that only the surface of DVD capability had been scratched—we wanted to delve much deeper and leverage the power of the DVD operating system to bring a new experience to the medium," says Bill Kuper, president of Digital Farm. "Screenlife approached us with a problem that no one could solve for them—creating a technology to bring a new DVD movie trivia game to life."

"DVDs are relatively dumb appliances," says Kuper. "They have no hard drives. They are meant for linear movies. This makes it difficult to get sophisticated interactivity out of them." He also notes: "The DVD spec only provides 16 registers where you can store info variables."

Doin' the DVD Shuffle
The main problem Kuper's shop solved for Screenlife's Scene It? was how to get a DVD player to deliver clips, questions, etc. in a random order so that users wouldn't get the same questions over and over. The DVD player actually needed to not just randomize but to "randomize with no repeats," as Kuper explains it—something he refers to as "shuffling," as in shuffling a deck of cards.

Kuper says that Optreve is not a "shrink-wrapped piece of software but more of a service or technique." He defines it as "a programming technique made within the format to provide random access within the DVD spec."

Optreve can manage thousands of digital game elements (video clip, audio clips, trivia questions, etc.) at a time. It shuffles the questions and then deals them out randomly during the game. Optreve also remembers what has already been played, thereby eliminating repeats.

"Optreve has the power to turn a $60 living room appliance into a full-fledged game machine," says Kuper. "This could broaden the market for game developers, allowing them to get their games out to a broader market."

Now that the success of Scene It? is behind him, Digital Farm's Bill Kuper is searching for new applications for the Optreve engine. He thinks one killer app will be in the education world, where it could be used to randomize test questions used in e-learning applications. He also thinks the randomization engine might be useful for sales presentations.

But Digital Farm is a full-service digital media design studio that is capable of more than just creating a "shuffling engine," says Kuper. "My goal is to do other things with our Advanced DVD Enhancement Team. We've been getting to know the DVD spec intimately and intend to stretch it to its limits."

Leveraging an extensive background in broadcast television and the digital arts, Digital Farm provides a breadth of services, including DVD programming and authoring, digital media design, and content creation. Digital Farm has worked with more than 200 companies and organizations, from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies to independent filmmakers, and it counts among its clients Nintendo, Getty Images, and Philips Heartstart.

"The creation of Optreve was our first endeavor and the success of the Scene It? game reflects the impact of this new technology on consumers," says Kuper. "Now we're on to the next phase, working with clients like Screenlife to take DVD technology and the user experience even further."

Meanwhile, Digital Farm also has plans to continue to collaborate with Screenlife to further capitalize on the success of Scene It?

"The DVD Enhancement Engine that we've called Optreve is the key component that makes Scene It? possible," says Dave Long, CEO and co-founder of Screenlife. "Scene It? was the first step, and now that we have a successful formula, we'll be working closely with Digital Farm as our innovation partner to deliver a series of enhanced DVD games and experiences to our fans worldwide."

Already in the works is—you guessed it—a sequel to Scene It? It will be entitled Scene It? 2—This Time It's Personal. According to the Screenlife Web site: "A big part of our philosophy is that we'll be able to keep Scene It? the freshest and most up-to-date game on the planet by putting out a DVD sequel every few months. These DVDs will be wholly compatible with our original game board, which means that a sequel will only cost you about half as much as a complete game."