Studio jumps on joystick adaptations

Universal is getting into the videogame biz, starting with an adaptation of recent release “Wanted” that it’s fully funding and producing.

It has several other games based on its film and TV properties in early development as part of a plan to selectively finance games while still licensing out the majority of its titles.

Universal is the fourth studio to start producing videogames inhouse or via a sibling unit in recent years, along with Warner Bros., Disney and Paramount. Fox and Sony Pictures are now the only majors that aren’t in the videogame biz.

U previously had a vidgame division called Universal Interactive, which became part of Vivendi Games when the French conglom bought U in 2000.

Digital platforms group veep Bill Kispert, who oversees videogames for Universal, said financing its own videogames such as “Wanted” helps the studio to expand into the fast-growing videogame biz and also devote more time to production on movie-based titles by skipping negotiations with outside publishers.

“We’re now running a hybrid model where we can license titles where that makes sense or kick off development earlier to put ourselves in a better position for success,” he explained.

While some studios, including Par, are making lower-cost casual games, “Wanted” will be a high-end title for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 with a budget that’s likely well into the tens of millions of dollars. It will include action mechanics from the film like curved bullets and slo-mo “assassin time.” Plot picks up where the movie ended and will focus on James McAvoy’s character Wesley, though voice casting hasn’t yet been revealed.

“Wanted” is being targeted for release late this year or in early 2009, most likely along with the pic’s DVD release in order to take advantage of joint marketing.

However, Kispert said that U won’t release “Wanted” until it’s ready, regardless of the DVD street date, as it’s hoping for a well-received game with sequel potential.

Because it doesn’t have the ability to distribute and market videogames, Universal is partnering with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, which will publish “Wanted” worldwide. It’s the first time that one studio has published a vidgame produced by another.

Game is being made by European developer Grin, which is also currently working on a remake of Capcom classic “Bionic Commando.” Pete Wanat, who oversaw games based on U’s “Scarface” and “The Chronicles of Riddick” for Vivendi, has been brought on as executive producer.

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