Lights, Camera, Interaction!
By CNN Interactive Producer Dave Ragals
(CNN) -- The idea of turning a movie into a video game is not a new one. You may remember Atari's "E.T.," though the folks at Atari would probably like to forget it. It was one of the first movie tie-ins and one of the biggest disasters in Atari history.
The trend continues. In fact, it seems to be picking up steam. From "Die Hard Trilogy" to "Batman Forever" to the many games based on "Star Wars," the formula might seem like a no-brainer -- if a movie earns millions at the box office, why not extend the marketing plan from action figures and posters to something interactive, like a video game?
It doesn't always add up. For every success like "GoldenEye 007," still the number-one rented game as of last week, there's typically more than one "Independence Day."
"The benefit has always been that there's brand value or recognition in the title that helps it break through the clutter of the marketplace," says David Bishop, president of MGM Home Entertainment. "The failing in the past is that people haven't always made good games to go along with that brand name."
He adds the solution, while simple in strategy, can be difficult to execute. "If you take a recognizable film title and accompany it with a flat-out great game, then your chances for success are enhanced."
From the looks of it, a number of game-makers are taking that advice. At the recent E3 show, there were more than 10 movie-based games being touted. Most of them looked good.
The head of DreamWorks Interactive, Glenn Entis, says the decision to develop a game based on a movie depends on three questions -- is there a creative fit, will the marketing of the film enhance the game and does the schedule of the film allow them to build a game?
"I'd say that 95 -- maybe 99 -- percent of the film licenses really don't lend themselves to great games for a lot of different reasons," says Entis. "So, we're pretty skeptical about which licenses we would really undertake for a game, and I think we can afford to be picky."
That probably explains why some companies are turning to their film archives for game ideas. Take MGM Interactive's new "WarGames" titles, based on a film that came out in 1983. Bishop calls it one of two movies that gamers relate to more than any others. The other was "Tron," which became an arcade hit in the early '80's.
"WarGames" for the PC and "WarGames: DefCon 1" for the PlayStation take place 20 years after the movie. W.O.P.R., the Pentagon's computer that nearly started World War III in the movie, has come up with a new way to avoid war -- by using conventional weapons to end mankind.
"DefCon 1" is not much different from other combat action games -- you control up to eight units of either side's forces throughout a series of missions -- and the link to the movie isn't too pronounced. But if you enjoy combat titles, it should provide more than a few hours of fun.
The PC game is more of a strategy game based on the same premise. You can control up to 50 units from either side, plus control a team of hackers that infiltrate the enemy's systems to gain resources and plant computer viruses.
MGM Interactive will also publish the first James Bond game for the PlayStation, "Tomorrow Never Dies." Unfortunately, it won't be out until next year, but it looks great. It's a third-person action-adventure that, unlike "GoldenEye 007," doesn't parallel the movie. Instead, it picks up where the film left off with different missions than seen in the film.
"We didn't see any benefit to following the script verbatim," says Bishop. "We just felt we had more freedom in what we could bring the gaming world if we went outside the set script."
The game will be vintage Bond, with all-new gadgets from "Q" and various daring escapes that only 007 could think of.
If you can't wait that long for a spy thriller, take heart. "Mission: Impossible" comes out this summer for the Nintendo 64. It's part of Ocean's long list of very impressive looking titles set for release soon.
This third-person action-adventure, along with "Tomorrow Never Dies," could replace "GoldenEye" atop the movie-to-game success chart. Aside from the requisite great graphics and action in any Ocean title, one nice feature about this one, as opposed to most other titles, is your character, IMF team leader Ethan Hunt, gets to interact with other members of his crew, who give him warnings, hints and support throughout the missions.
DreamWorks is taking a different approach to the movie-to-game transition, releasing two games based on "Small Soldiers," one of which will be released with the movie, as opposed to well after it.
"There are movie titles that lend themselves so well to a game," says DreamWorks' Entis. "There really is, among other things, just a creative opportunity and creative excitement."
"Small Soldiers Squad Commander," published by Hasbro Interactive, is a PC real-time strategy game aimed at kids. It uses an updated version of the same engine that drove last year's "The Lost World: Chaos Island."
In addition, DreamWorks is developing a 3-D action-adventure for the PlayStation. It'll be released by Electronic Arts, which published DreamWorks' "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" last year. It lets you control up to 16 different characters in the battle between the Gorgonites and the Commando Elite and features rather impressive graphics and audio.
Like "Lost World" last year, this game is released in the fall, as kids return to school dressed in all the garb from their favorite summer movies.
Midway is taking a completely different route, basing a game not on a movie, but on one of the most popular stunt actors of all time. In "Jackie Chan's Stuntmaster," gamers play the part of Chan during the filming of a movie. When his enemies sabotage the shoot, Chan fights his way through 12 levels of gameplay to defeat them.
Perhaps the best part about this game is that there are numerous ways to complete each level. You can run and kick your way through, but that won't get you a good score. Instead, you're encouraged to use Chan-like wits to come up with clever, and often funny, ways to defeat your enemies.
"Stuntmaster, " for the PlayStation, plays like an arcade game and features moves motion-captured by Chan himself. The only downside is that it won't be released until early 1999.
The most successful movie-to-game franchise has to be "Star Wars," which seems to spawn a new game every ten minutes. With excitement building for the next trilogy of movies, Lucas Arts is releasing two new titles. "Star Wars: Rogue Squadron," a combat flight simulator, releases this fall for the Nintendo 64. "Star Wars: Force Commander," a war strategy game for the PC, comes out this winter.
A new 3-D action-adventure is also in the works for Lucas' 'other' movie. "Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine" releases this winter.
This next batch of movie-based games should be a real test for the genre. If successful, they could set a new standard and inspire another wave of games spun off from your favorite films. And from the looks of it, that's probably what you can expect.
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