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Last Updated: Friday, 24 June, 2005, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
Movies and games' new partnership
Ian Hardy
By Ian Hardy
BBC Click Online North America technology correspondent

In the past, many movie spin-off games have been fairly lame impersonations of the film. But as Ian Hardy has been finding out in Los Angeles, all that is changing.

Enter The Matrix
Enter The Matrix heralded a whole new approach to development
In Hollywood a major film production comes with a multi-million dollar budget, and can take many years to produce.

However, until recently, a video game of that same movie title may have had to be ready in a few months, and the developer would be lucky to spend half a day on the movie set.

This meant that gamers, especially in the 1980s and 90s, felt betrayed when their favourite film title turned out to be a dud on a game platform.

Game developer Dave Perry of Shiny Entertainment says the movie studios and video game makers did not really understand each other for two decades.

Studios and actors often placed significant obstacles in the way, and game developers sometimes lost sight of the customer in a bid to cut costs.

Mr Perry explains: "If I buy the rights to Top Gun you assume I've got Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis and everything else, but there's a cheap version of the licence.

"I can buy the Top Gun logo, I'm not allowed to use any of the music, locations, actors or anything like that, but I'm able to put it on the shelf and have a Top Gun logo on it.

"That's an absolute nightmare for a fan of the property because they're expecting the Top Gun experience and that's not what they're going to get."

New generation

It was the Matrix franchise that many in the gaming industry believe turned things around.

A game based on the film title can earn millions of dollars more than the movie itself
Dave Perry and his team developed "Enter The Matrix" and are currently working on a follow up game to be released late in 2005, called "Path of Neo".

He explains that for The Matrix they were granted complete access to anywhere they wanted to go.

"We could go on any set, we could photograph anything; we took over 25,000 photographs. They also offered to do laser scans of the sets."

Many people working on the Matrix movies had grown up playing video games, so they understood their importance and realised the potential profits involved.

In America a movie ticket costs about $10. A video game costs $50. A game based on the film title can earn millions of dollars more than the movie itself.

But since great games take years to design and develop, movie executives now want their counterparts involved as early as possible.

Equal partners

In 1982 the video game version of ET had to be ready in just two months and the result was dismal.

Star Wars
All the moves in the new Star Wars game are true to the film
Increasingly the goal is to have a joint release: the movie and the video game coming out in the same week, with plenty of preparation time for both.

Douglas Hare, of Collective Studios, says: "If you come in with a high quality game, and the movie's a high quality movie, and there's great buzz around, you just get this pop in terms of sales. That's what people want.

"No-one's shirking or trying to cash in the way they used to. I think everyone's trying as hard as they possibly can to make the best possible game with recognisable characters."

Douglas Hare developed the new Star Wars game with LucasArts to coincide with the release of Star Wars: Episode III.

Rather than being shunned by movie producers, game developers are now being treated as equals.

Instead of just being a side product like a bean bag or a lunch box, it's a core thing; it's part of the whole movie-going experience
Justin Lambrose, LucasArts
Justin Lambrose of LucasArts says: "We had the stunt co-ordinator from Episode III and all the prequel films, making sure we had our moves right.

"We had Hayden Christensen that we could talk to, to make sure we were making him swing the saber right, making his transition to the Dark Side authentic, and how he performed it in the film.

"As the games industry gets bigger and makes more money every year, Hollywood takes notice and so instead of just being a side product like a bean bag or a lunch box, it's a core thing; it's part of the whole movie-going experience."

Playing hardball

The next few years are likely to see an explosion of new movie game franchises, especially since the latest technology will allow video games to replicate closely their onscreen namesakes.

David DeMartini of Electronic Arts says: "With next generation consoles like the Xbox 360, the visual fidelity has taken yet another leap, and we have the opportunity to more exactingly re-create stuff from the film."

It is not just movie executives who have noticed the dollars being generated by video games.

Earlier this year union members demanded they be paid residuals for each copy sold featuring their voice.

They eventually settled for an increase in fees but did not get residuals.

Cameron Weber of Radical Entertainment says: "I think people are starting to see the importance of games in the entertainment industry. It's becoming a major player and Hollywood's starting to recognise that, so they're starting to play hardball a little bit."

The settlement means that superheroes and A-list actors are being brought back in to work on future releases.

Judging by the flood of new titles coming soon to a small screen near you, game developers are not worried that decades of bad movie games will put off the public.

James Bond will soon make a re-appearance, using Sean Connery's real voice.

One of the most anticipated offerings is the King Kong game, from Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, and it is a safe bet that the new version of Jaws will be much better than an earlier attempt which barely resembled the film version.

Click Online is broadcast on BBC News 24: Saturday at 2030, Sunday at 0430 and 1630, and on Monday at 0030. A short version is also shown on BBC Two: Saturday at 0645 and BBC One: Sunday at 0730 . Also BBC World.

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