Ingmar: There’s always been this old stereotype that the acting is so bad in interactive movies, but you have proved that doesn’t have to be true at all. Unlike many other FMV productions, the acting has been great in your projects. In Tender Loving Care, all the performances were very good but the one that stood out for me was John Hurt, and I was wondering how it was working with him on set.
TLC DVD cover featuring John Hurt as Dr. Turner
David: It was very interesting. Tender Loving Care still had a very low budget comparatively and we didn’t have a lot of money for name actors, so we spent a lot of time casting for the parts. We did look at a few people to play Dr. Turner. But I really wanted to get someone in there who could be attractive. So we decided to see if we could spend some in this one area beyond new names and scale actors.
So we put the word out and worked with the William Morris agency and they suggested several actors that were really, really good. Among them was John Hurt. I said “Oh my god, let’s see if John Hurt would do this.” Don’t forget, this wasn’t too long after Elephant Man, and that was one of the all-time great performances in a movie, so they sent him a script and he agreed to do it. We scraped together the funds to get him over here.
Working with him was fantastic. As you know, he is very, very good in the game and we got along great. One of the things that has always worked to my benefit, I think, is that I’m not really very enthralled with celebrities. They are just people like the rest of us. We are just all human beings. So I don’t get over-excited about working with famous people, and I’ve worked with people much more famous than John Hurt, and they are just people. They are actors and they have the same kinds of needs that any other actor might have. If you can provide the sort of environment for them to do their thing in, it’s no different working with John Hurt than with someone who has never done a movie before. The difference is that every word that comes out of John Hurt’s mouth is great.
I remember the very first scene we did with him is when he drives up to the house at the beginning, gets out of his car and starts talking to the camera. It was just so fantastic hearing those words I had written coming out of his mouth. It was so good. Just a funny little side story to that: We had this fancy sports car for him to drive and of course it was a stick shift, not an automatic, and he didn’t know how to drive a stick shift so he had to come up to the hill and stop in front of the house. He had no experience with it. He didn’t quite know how to bring it to a stop or get it started so one of our guys was down at the bottom of the hill helping him get it started. What we did was put up a bunch of sandbags and several grips to catch the car when he stops. He brings it to a stop and you can’t quite see that because it’s off camera, they are all just grabbing the car. But he still manages to get out of the car after that nerve-wracking experience and turn to the camera and he’s brilliant. That just says something about actors. They can do anything under any circumstances.
David Wheeler (L) with John Hurt (second from left) on the set of Tender Loving Care
Ingmar: TLC was groundbreaking in the way it dealt with sexuality. You mentioned you got censored in the App Store. What happened with that version? Did you get a lot of problems over the nudity or was that okay?
David: Our most successful version of Tender Loving Care was actually in Germany. There is no question, I think, that Europeans in general and possibly Germans in particular are more capable of dealing with this sort of thing than American audiences are. We had no trouble at all with Europe. Nobody even mentioned it. We got great reviews. Even the London Times gave it 9 out of 10. But by the time we were there, Trilobyte had fallen apart basically and we didn’t have a normal distributor and people were afraid of us. Afraid of our risk-taking.
The main release in America was on DVD. It was a whole new version that we did. We applied all our CD-ROM technology to what we could do on DVD and it was amazing. We had a very small distributor. DVD International was a very small company and they were able to get it out, but they didn’t have the big bucks to really promote it. But there was no negative return from them because it was distributed as a movie basically. It was with other DVDs in stores. It was not distributed as a game. We did have another distributor eventually from Canada, and they were primarily distributing the DVD but they were also very small. Great people, but without the clout to get it out there.
Primary reactions came from publishers who would not touch the game. Some other people in the game business felt the same way. The hardest reviews were from customers, amateur reviewers who would say things like: “This is just some pornography!” and they’d scream very loud about things like that. Other people read that and it might have made them want to run out and buy it. So there was lots of that and even the company, Trilobyte itself, was not happy we were going in the direction we were. It’s amusing to me because it’s very mild. Any number of movies are much more sexual. The one big scene that happens between the husband and the therapist, people objected to on moral grounds. “How could you possibly do that?” But it’s very clear if you follow the story exactly why that happens. It’s just a matter of being with the right audience.
The mature thematic content of Tender Loving Care sharply divided critic and audience reviews upon its release in 1998 and required censoring to distribute via the App Store even in 2012
Ingmar: Being from Germany myself, it was quite impressive for me. You may not know this, but when Tender Loving Care was released in Germany, there was a very big marketing campaign. One of the biggest TV channels in Germany is called Pro 7. They were a marketing partner for the German version of TLC. Their logo was on the box. They had TV commercials and so on. I remember in the city of Cologne, they had teams rushing around with the demo CD on the streets, and I’d never experienced that with adventure games. But that was because they had such a huge partner. It was quite amazing.
David: They were pretty fantastic, I have to say. We worked with Funsoft, which I guess doesn’t exist anymore, but they were really great. But the German version with the dubbed voices: the German actors were fantastic! Just great. I played the German version and I was very impressed. If we had had that kind of promotion in America it would have been an enormous success I’m sure. They paid for it. They paid well. Unfortunately, all the money went to Trilobyte, not to us. They didn’t have to pay any royalties, because the deal was with Trilobyte and by the time it came out Trilobyte didn’t exist anymore, so they didn’t pay anybody. That was a business thing and I understand that and I never held that against them. I really respected what they did with the game and it sold quite a few copies. It was very respectable. The numbers in Germany were really great. So I would work with those people, if only they still existed, any day.Continued on the next page...