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Technology
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A new kind of movie?
graphic January 24, 2002: 1:31 p.m. ET

After several failed starts, games make a more educated push for Hollywood.
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  • Nintendo's changing of the guard -- Jan. 9, 2002
  • Kill an alien, win a car -- Dec. 27, 2001
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    NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Finally got around to seeing the cinematic version of "Tomb Raider" this weekend. And while it's pretty much pointless for me to deny I enjoyed watching Angelina Jolie in her Lara Croft wardrobe, kicking more butt than Jackie Chan on a good day, the movie on the whole had me cringing.

    What's fun to play on the small screen isn't always fun to watch on the big screen. A quick glimpse at the Hollywood versions of "Mario Brothers" and "Wing Commander" should settle that. Yet more and more, the gaming and cinematic worlds are moving closer.

    "The media companies who own these copyrights are stretching them as far as possible," said P.J. McNealy, research director for Gardner G2. "You traditionally see video games after the movies, so this is a new trend for the industry."

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    Rodriguez and Jovovich in "Resident Evil"
    Up next in the games-to-movies lineup is "Resident Evil," based on the popular horror/action games and starring Milla Jovovich ("The Fifth Element") and Michelle Rodriguez ("The Fast and the Furious").

    In the planning stages is "Alice" -- based on developer American McGee's (yep, that's his real name) action game for Electronic Arts. The game lets you play an older Alice, who returned to a Wonderland that had fallen into true insanity.

    As a game, "Alice" turned in pretty good numbers, selling 204,000 copies, according to NPDTechworld, which tracks sales in the gaming industry. Hollywood liked what it saw, too. Dimension Films is working on the film version, with Wes Craven attached to direct.

    No longer with EA, McGee and Transmeta alum Dave Taylor have established Carbon6 Entertainment, a gaming company that simultaneously develops and manages projects with several different industries in mind -- including Hollywood.

    "Oz," the company's first title, will once again offer McGee's slightly twisted take on a bedtime classic. A developer and publisher (which McGee declined to name) have been lined up to help create and distribute the game. A comic book version is also being worked on, as is a model toy line. And Dimension Films has rights of first refusal for a film based on the game's theme. (Should they pass, McGee said several other studios have expressed interest.)

    Whereas "Alice" was a sequel to Lewis Carroll's classics, "Oz" will be a prequel.

    "We're showing the creation and formation of Oz before the history you know," said McGee.

    Among the questions to be answered: Why are the scarecrow and tin man there? And why are some witches good and some evil? You'll play a "semi-reluctant hero" called upon to save Oz in its pre-Dorothy days. The game is tentatively set for release in Christmas 2003.

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    McGee's take on Alice and the Cheshire Cat
    "We're learning a lot about story telling -- applying the way Hollywood works to the gaming world," said McGee. "What's important for a film is you've got to have a believable universe. Most games don't have a good lead character and a universe that can be imagined on the screen."

    Other promising titles that might see the movie house include "Max Payne," a noir, story-driven action game, and "Half-Life," one of the top PC gaming titles for the past few years.

    "We see 'Half-Life' as an extraordinarily strong brand that's at the beginning of its career," said Dou Lombardi, director of marketing for Valve Software, the developer of the game. "We're cognizant that some of the games that have gone to movies haven't gone well and want to guard against that."

    The safer way to bring the two industries together, said McNealy, is to follow the more traditional route of building games around movies. With development costs for computer and video games ranging from $1 million (for smaller titles) to $10 million (for massively multiplayer titles), developers and publishers can ensure a stronger retail reception by riding on the coattails of Hollywood's marketing dollars.

    "It's a safer bet," said McNealy. "It's a win-win for the movie companies and video game companies. They both benefit by the value that's built by a movie."

    Let's just hope that whatever course they take, the films are better than "Tomb Raider." Of course, if they'd like to cast Angelina Jolie again, I'm fine with that.


    Morris is director of content development for CNN/Money.

    Click here to send e-mail to Chris Morris. graphic

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