While Fox’s feature film remake of “Planet of the Apes” remains on hold for the time being, awaiting a director and casting, the company nonetheless is forging ahead with a CD-based game version that’s skedded to hit store shelves next year.

Such is the world of the studios’ interactive divisions, which are now coming to grips with the reality that it takes nine to 12 months to do a movie and at least 18 months to produce a CD-ROM. Such disparity in time schedules can play havoc with any effort to coordinate marketing and promotional efforts.

“Certainly the thinking is to correlate the opening of the movie with the release of the game version,” said Steven Koltai, senior veepee of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. “We consider our ability to market second only to our ability to produce a product.”

Tie-ins tough

But as movie studios start to actively explore ways to expand their pic properties in the interactive arena, they are finding it tough to link the two properties in terms of marketing and promotional ties. Unless the game division has a huge head start, it’s impossible to have the game on sale in movie theater lobbies as people are seeing the pic.

In the case of Warner Bros.’ “Demolition Man,” the studio inked with Virgin Interactive to create a videogame based on the film. “But that deal was done well after the movie was in pre-production,” Koltai said. “And thus the game version was released separately from the film.”

In fact, the game came out in October 1994, a full year after the film’s release.

“We have come to the realization that we’re not going to be able to get a day-and-date release with a live-action film unless we get the script very early or unless there are production delays on the film side,” said Ted Hoff, who heads Fox’s interactive division. Fox has two game versions in development on upcoming live-action films, the “Planet” remake and “Die Hard With a Vengeance.” Both games will be coming out on three platforms: CD-ROM, Sega’s new CD-based Saturn system and Sony’s Playstation.

There is an outside chance that the game version of “Apes,” which has been in development since last summer, could be ready when the film is. The delay in starting the film has certainly helped to even the race.

The “Die Hard” project, while somewhat tied into the upcoming release of the film, will actually be a trilogy property. The game developers will use three different worlds tied into the three “Die Hard” properties.

“We’re taking the three different ‘Die Hard’ films and giving the game player the opportunity to play through three scenarios that feature different gaming styles,” Hoff said.

While the film is due out May 19, the game trilogy won’t hit store shelves until spring 1996.

“We elected to go straight to a trilogy property because it was more cost-effective,” Hoff said.

While it’s considered optimal to have such a product ready in time to capitalize on the film’s release, Hoff says he feels it’s more important that the game be able to stand on its own merit.

“We think too many other products have been rushed to market to capitalize on these kinds of things,” he said. “We want to ensure the quality of our product, because for a game to be successful, it has to compete with other game properties.”

Gravitation to animation

One area where game developers can capitalize on a film’s marketing push is animation. It takes about two years to produce an animated feature, which fits nicely with the average CD-ROM production schedule.

Already Fox Interactive is looking at several animated projects out of the studio’s Arizona-based animation division. Fox Interactive also is about to release several CD-ROM projects based on animated TV shows on Fox Children’s Network. Some titles that will hit store shelves this coming Christmas are “Eek the Cat,” “The Tick” and “Bobbie’s World.”

In the interim, more and more interactive execs are now being invited to the studio’s creative roundtable sessions to get an early look at projects that are being considered.

“We read the scripts very early and, if the project looks good, we start production design based on the script before the movie gets going,” Hoff said.

Koltai says that his division, too, is invited to sit in on the creative meetings from all of Warner’s divisions, looking at material in very early stages.

“If anything, getting such an early start allows us to spend more time making sure the interactive product is the best it can be,” Hoff said.