A true artist can find inspiration anywhere. But not many get to find it while playing Wii Tennis against Nintendo's legendary designer, Shigeru Miyamoto. For director Steven Spielberg, however, that's just another day out of the office. "Afterwards, we were talking about the Wii and I said, 'Wouldn't it be fun if we could dot-dot-dot?' " Spielberg says of his meeting with Miyamoto at a 2006 videogame conference. That dot-dot-dot turned out to be an action-puzzle simulator—code-named PQRS—that neatly blends the creativity of the building-blocks game Jenga with the charm of a Saturday-morning cartoon. It runs on top of a physics program that lets you manipulate blocks with the Wii remote as if it were an extension of your hand. Or, as Spielberg explains for all the non-geeks out there, "It just seemed like a great thing for the entire family to play together over Christmas. Although you don't need the excuse of a holiday to enjoy it."
That's true, but we should take a moment to celebrate Spielberg's return to the world of videogames. The acclaimed director has long moonlighted in game design, working as far back as 1989 on such sci-fi titles as The Dig for his buddy George Lucas. When Spielberg cofounded DreamWorks in 1994, the new company quickly formed an interactive unit, but the division lost money and DreamWorks sold it to industry giant Electronic Arts in 2000. Still, EA executives and Spielberg remained friendly, most notably with their collaboration on the 2004 launch of a master's program in game design at the University of Southern California's film school. A year later, after several conversations and negotiations, Spielberg and EA announced a partnership to make three videogames together, the first two of which were shown exclusively to NEWSWEEK.
The second game, code-named LMNO and made for Xbox 360 and PS3, can be described as "North by Northwest" meets "E.T." —if E.T. were female, grown up and, um, hot. You don't play as the girl, however. You're an ex-secret agent, and the bond that you forge while on the run with the computer-controlled woman—good, bad, indifferent—determines the nature of her special abilities and the ways in which she'll assist you. Says Spielberg: "The challenge is, can the game have an emotional impact on players while they are actively manipulating the world?" Based on the clever ways in which he and EA are extracting a genuine performance from their digital Eve—complete with eyes that widen, lips that curl and translucent skin that lights up in different colors to express her quicksilver moods—we think Spielberg's got yet another hit on his hands.