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The World's First Live Action Interactive
Video Game (For Real)
by Billy Ingram

Recently I was contacted about an comment I made about the "world's first interactive video game" that has now been attributed to Bill Gates (Billy Ingram - Bill Gates - close enough, right? For all I know Gates really said it).

Back in 1995 when I first started TVparty! (as part of a larger site I envisioned called 'Homeroom 1' - the url was http://www.infi.net/~homeroom or something close) one of the first articles I wrote was about a show called 'Winky Dink and You' from the mid-1950s. I called it, somewhat euphomistically, the world's first interactive video game.

Winky Dink kitOf course, it wasn't interactive in the modern sense, there was nothing the user could do would really change the outcome of the game. On 'Winky' kids were asked to put a plastic screen over the TV glass and draw whatever Winky Dink needed to escape the villain, a bridge or a car, for instance. Time was given over in the cartoon where the action stopped for the kids to do their drawings. That way the young viewers felt they had contributed to the events... making it, de facto, interactive.

Here's one of the shows... you can read more here about Winky Dink & You.

But no one to my knowledge has ever written about the actual first interactive video game that went beyond Pacman like animation, I just happened to have worked on the project 30 years ago this year. Produced for the Walt Disney Telecommunications and Non-Theatrical Company by Bosustow Entertainment in September 1983 it was called 'The Disney Disc of Fantasy and Magic'. Stephen Bosustow was one of the founders of UPA Studios, they produced those Emmy winning Mister Magoo cartoons along with many other faves like Gerald McBoing Boing.

In 1963 he went out on his own and formed the company with his son Nick; in the 1980s they were providing content for 'CBS Library'. In 1970 they produced a cartoon version of 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow' with John Carradine starring; 1978 they animated the children's story 'Tom Thumb' for television with voices provided by June Foray and Hans Conried. Bosustow also employed the vocal talents of Louis Nye, Don Messick, Stan Freberg, Claire Bloom, James Earl Jones, Michael York, and many other entertainment giants. They won the Emmy in 1983 for the CBS animated special 'Wrong Way Kid', starring Dick Van Dyke.

Though Bosustow was an animation house, 'The Disney Disc of Fantasy and Magic' was a live action shoot. It was about a wizard and his assistant, an ape (obviously a guy in a costume) who ran a haunted hotel. At different junctures in the 30 minute game the kids would be given three hotel room doors to choose from, that would determine the next chain of events.

Because of the limited space on a Laser Disc there weren't really that many pre-determined outcomes so the disc never really caught on. To be honest I don't know for sure if it was ever released... who had a laser disc machine?

I was the prop master for the project, creating the door exteriors and other things. Bosustow had rows of animation desks in a large open studio that all sat empty. I was asked to man one of those desks to make it look like the studio was still operating when, in fact, there were no active animattion projects in house.

The director was the famed Norman Abbott who directed everything from 'The Munsters' and 'Leave it to Beaver' to 'Alice'. What a nice guy he was, such a pleasure to work with, whatever weird stuff would happen on the set he could adapt at a moment's notice. (Everyone was convinced the project was haunted and I heard later that Disney took so long to pay Bosustow's invoices that they went out of business.)

I hired a freelancer that worked with Bosustow to create illustrated cards featuring the requisite Disney characters (like Snow White) that had to be drawn 'on model'... in other words they had to be correct in terms of the character's designs. Whoever the artist was she was spot on. The disc was filmed at CBS Television City in Hollywood.

The effects guy / art director on the film was Peter Knowlton. I had just worked with him on the special effects for Cujo, that's another wild story I'll have to tell (I was almost Cujo in the film).

First interactive video game still

CORRECTED WITH NEW INFO: Above is a still from 'The Disney Disc of Fantasy and Magic', (I can't find the original, this is a 1980s photocopy so it's a bit murky). The folks at Disney were so nice they sent everyone who worked on the project a snapshot and a personalized letter of recommendation. Who does that?!? What I recall most is what a class act Stephen and Nick Bosustow were, in a business full of sharks and low lifes they stood out to me.

Disney Disc of fantasy & magic / first interactive video game

Now when someone asks what the first modern video game was you'll know.

Tuesday, March 11, 2013

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