Studio wins rights to videogame

New Line has won feature rights to Microsoft and Epic Games’ hugely popular vidgame “Gears of War,” with Stuart Beattie penning the adaptation and Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey producing via their Temple Hill banner.

CAA conducted the auction, which featured a 21-page treatment by Beattie, who wrote “Collateral” and the upcoming “3:10 to Yuma” and “30 Days of Night.”

Studio’s deal is with Epic, the game’s developer, which held onto all ancillary rights to the property when Microsoft signed on to publish the game. Though not announced yet, a sequel vidgame is assured. If development of both projects goes smoothly, New Line and Epic would surely love to see the film and a game sequel come out around the same time.

“Gears” has sold more than 3 million units and is the most popular game on Microsoft’s Xbox Live service, which allows players to compete against each other online. Though released in November and available only for the Xbox 360 console, it quickly became the fourth-bestselling game of 2006 in the U.S. It won game of the year kudos at the Game Developers Choice Awards and the Interactive Achievement Awards.

Story, which is only modestly developed in the game, concerns a world reeling from an invasion by aliens known as the Locust. A small group of elite soldiers, including main character Marcus Fennix, who is rescued from prison at the beginning of the game, fight to retake the planet Sera for its surviving humans.

Epic developed an extensive backstory in hopes of utilizing it for a film as well as potential novels.

“We wanted to make an entertainment property that’s not just for games but for other media,” said Epic VP and co-founder Mark Rein.

“I’m not a gamer, but what blew me away about ‘Gears’ was how it captures the mythology of a war mission and how high the stakes are,” Godfrey told Daily Variety.

Once Beattie’s completed the script, Bowen and Godfrey will start looking for a director. They’re aiming at a summer 2009 release.

“Gears” lead designer Cliff Bleszinski (known in gamer circles as CliffyB) will exec produce the film and consult on its development for Epic.

Game is Microsoft’s most successful since “Halo,” which had an ill-fated life in Hollywood. After developing a script itself, the software giant sold the project to Universal and Fox in 2005. Peter Jackson signed on to exec produce, and Neill Blomkamp to direct, but the project fell apart last fall after the studios balked at the final budget.

Numerous other hit game franchises are in development for feature adaptations, including “World of Warcraft” at Legendary, “Metal Gear Solid” at Sony and “Hitman,” on which Fox is starting production March 29.

Many movies based on big game franchises, such as “Doom” and “Super Mario Bros.,” have fared poorly with critics and auds. Rein said he and the Epic team considered that history carefully when mulling a movie deal.

“Our first and foremost philosophy is to do no harm, so we debated heavily the idea of doing a movie at all,” he said. “But we feel we stacked the deck in our favor by working with the best players.”

“Gears” is the third New Line project announced recently for Bowen and Godfrey. They’re also producing “Dear John,” an adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ bestseller, and crime actioner “Parcour” — both with Channing Tatum attached to star.

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