Gaming & Technology

Industry, Hollywood step up their games

LOS ANGELES — Video games based on blockbuster movies typically get panned yet shamelessly benefit from the buzz of their film inspirations. But the developers of this summer's movie games are more intent than ever on transforming gamers' groans into grins.

"Movie games have a bad history," said Jeff Poffenbarger, senior producer at Raven Software, which developed the X-Men Origins: Wolverine game. "There is a stigma to movie games, for a thousand different reasons. ... For us, it was all about creating the definitive Wolverine experience, not re-creating the movie."

Traditionally, movie games are daunting to develop because they face opening-day deadlines yet take double the time to produce as the films on which they are based. Veteran game director Joby Otero, chief creative officer at Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen developer Luxoflux Studios, said upgrading the genre's quality has become a primary goal in recent years.

"I think Hollywood is communicating with the games industry on a different level now," Otero said. "There's a recognition that a game's quality can impact the overall franchise."

In hopes of saying "hasta la vista, baby" to a poorly received game, the Halcyon Co., which owns the rights to the Terminator franchise, allowed the Terminator Salvation game developers to work under the same roof as the film crew when creating the apocalyptic third-person shooter based on the flick directed by McG and starring Christian Bale.

"It meant that the game developers, art directors and designers could literally sit in the same production studio as the film guys," said Cos Lazouras, Halcyon Games development vice president. "They worked collaboratively side by side. They had access to McG, who was intrinsically involved in the game."

Set two years before the film, the Terminator Salvation game serves as a prequel to the film, establishing what John Connor has been up to since Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. An increasing number of movie games, such as Watchmen: The End Is Nigh, are using characters from their films to tell stories independent of their movie counterparts.

Because the G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra movie mostly deals with the origins of hooded villain Cobra Commander, the developers of the accompanying arcade-style shoot-'em-up decided to let their game serve as a quasi-sequel instead, recruiting elements from the 45-year history of the toy line and cartoon series to enhance the story line.

"We pick up where the movie ends," said Electronic Arts senior product manager Jason Enos. "We tell a genuine story that's exclusive to the game but ties in key plot points in the film. That also allows us to leverage the larger G.I. Joe universe — characters, vehicles, things you're not going to see in the film but you'll get in the game."

Revenue for movie games varies, according to market researcher The NPD Group. Box office popularity typically translates to game sales. For example, Iron Man, last year's second-highest grossing film, was 2008's top-selling game based on a movie, selling a respectable 1.4 million. (A game based on The Dark Knight, last year's No. 1 movie, wasn't released.)