When it became clear that full motion video on cd-rom was a selling feature for games in the early 90’s, hardware manufacturers wanted to be a part of it as well. Sigma Designs’ RealMagic card, also sometimes known as ReelMagic, was a MPEG accelerator card that allowed users to play video up to 30 frames per second by plugging into a video card’s feature connector. While developers were initially excited to support it in 1993 and companies like Access Software, Interplay, Psygnosis, Readysoft, and Sierra On-Line announced they would create games for it, but the card only got a handful of games that support it. The card only being for a very specific niche and price tag of $450 meant the card had a short lifespan. Some of the known games that had special editions released for it include:

  • Dragon’s Lair
  • Space Ace
  • Return to Zork
  • The Horde
  • Entity
  • Flash Traffic
  • Crime Patrol
  • Crime Patrol 2: Drug Wars
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Man Enough
  • Conspiracy
  • Space Pirates
  • Return to Cyber City
  • Prince Interactive
  • The Psychotron
  • Silent Steel

There’s other games that reportedly exist for it as well that have never been confirmed, such as Gabriel Knight 1 and King’s Quest 6, although these might have just been mentioned on the demo disc. The demo disc that shipped with the card has videos on it for games that never shipped for it, such as The 11th Hour, which was an early video of the game that uses an old version of the game’s logo. If you’re interested in checking out some of these games, there is a fork of DosBox that has ReelMagic support. I wouldn’t say the changes it makes to the games will make you re-evaluate them, they are noticeable. Return to Zork features FMV of people talking instead of digitized sprites, Crime Patrol features better quality video, and Lord of the Rings uses footage from Ralph Bashki’s animated film. The Return to Zork one is fascinating because while it adds more FMV, it uses the floppy disk version’s soundtrack, which is less impressive. It also leaves in takes where actors flub their lines and ruin some of the game’s jokes, where the more mainstream release of the game would edit around those. The strangest part is that it has video of dialogue not in the other release that gives more context to some puzzles, which are one of the more frustrating parts of the game. While I can’t say I’m surprised it never took off, it’s kinda fun checking out games from childhood that are actually slightly better than how I remember them.

2 thoughts on “RealMagic

  1. @loadhigh – Return to Zork was such a wierd little game. I'm not sure if I had the ReelMagic version of the game or not, but my CD-ROM version had FMV. But it was super wierd, like, it'd pop in for video for a bit…then suddenly pop out back to still-frame animation. Sometimes mid-conversation.Didn't feel very Zork, honestly. But still a fun game, though.

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