* Faster than they send out for sushi lunches, Hollywood screenwriters are descending on Silicon Valley as multimedia companies there seek compelling stories to keep users glued to their personal computers.
``In the beginning, it was just razzle-dazzle and people would watch no matter what,'' says Carolyn Miller, a children's TV writer who recently wrote the interactive computer-geography game, ``Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego.''
``But now they're finding they need emotional elements to draw people in,'' Mr. Miller says.
The majority of video games are played by teenage boys - leaving millions of older (and wealthier) computer-users out of the loop. That untapped audience is being wooed with an array of educational, adventure, and action titles that aspire to deliver substance.
Such sophisticated storytelling isn't always a computer programmer's forte, though.
For the screenwriter, the interactive attraction is obvious. Even top movie and TV writers can go months between jobs. Multimedia entertainment, on the other hand, is growing exponentially. Futhermore, the Hollywood writer's imagination is limited by both studio bean-counters and physics: Write a movie scene in which 1,000 purple trolls excavate a volcano to find the Holy Grail, and you'll be laughed off the studio lot. Pitch the same scene for an animated video game, and you might have a hit.
Among the most significant improvements is interactivity - where the player helps guide the action and plot.
Although Silicon Valley paychecks are not as high as Hollywood's, the writer can enjoy more clout. While interactive software is conceived and programmed by collaborative teams, the ``writer-designer'' is quickly emerging as one of the most important players.
But Ann Greenberg, a former Hollywood marketing executive who cofounded the interactive music-designer company ION, says screenwriters who think they can simply step into the multimedia world may stumble. ``Your typical writer in Hollywood is going to approach this from the beats, rhythms, and plot twists they are used to,'' she says. But it doesn't work.
Don Daglow, president of multimedia Stormfront Studios, says writers must speed up their high-tech educations.
``I see a lot of people at conferences asking questions,'' Mr. Daglow says. ``And they clearly have not played any games.''