November 18, 2005

Aping ‘Kong’ Film Key for Ubisoft Video Game

LOS ANGELES -- Ubisoft's "Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie" has been building buzz since it was previewed at the E3 conference in May.

Consumers finally will get the game in their hands Tuesday, three weeks before Universal Pictures' movie hits theaters and -- not by coincidence -- the same day Microsoft releases its new     Xbox 360.

Ubisoft vp marketing Tony Kee said the close involvement of Jackson and his WETA special effects house in the creation of the game, in addition to the director's continuing participation in the game's publicity, has been a great example of how Hollywood convergence can work. Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Colin Hanks and the other members of the movie cast signed on to provide voices and likenesses for the game.

To ensure authenticity and continuity between the film and the 20-hour game experience, Ubisoft hired Philippa Boyens, co-writer of the film, to co-write the game's script and supervise and direct the voice-acting sessions with the cast. The actors provided dialogue in soundstages from New Zealand, while they were filming, as well as in Los Angeles.

Kee said this was even more important than for other movie tie-ins because many people will interact with the cast and environment before seeing them on the big screen.

"Some people will buy the game and then go see the movie, others will see the movie and then buy the game," he said. "It's a win-win situation for everyone."

Being such a high-profile part of the Xbox 360 launch frenzy is expected to be mutually beneficial to the game and to Microsoft's new console, but Ubisoft is equally enthusiastic about existing hardware as well.

The first 1 million copies of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox "King Kong" games will come packaged with a free ticket to see the movie. Although this is a common practice in the home video business, it has been used only on occasion in the games business -- and never on this scale.

"King Kong" will be the biggest launch in Ubisoft's history. The TV campaign emphasizes the connection between the media as it begins with movie footage and morphs into game footage. Splashy public events last week in Los Angeles and this week in New York allowed players to sample the game outdoors on huge Jumbotron screens, and a massive print and online presence features a contest that will send a winner to New Zealand to tour Jackson's WETA workshop.

Using a unique approach, the game has been split into two gameplay branches. The player will assume the role of Jack Driscoll in the beginning of the game. As the story progresses, players will be able to control Kong from a third-person perspective.

"We used acting to serve the gameplay," said Catherine Roy, producer of the "King Kong" game. "Instead of having traditional cinematics, all of the story elements occur in-game through scripted events. You live the movie rather than watching someone live the movie."

Kee said Ubisoft will continue the relationship with next year's DVD release. "When the DVD ships, we'll do some type of relaunch of the game," he said. "We'll be part of the in-store programs that Universal Studios Home Video is working on."

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter