Atari gets ‘Riddick,’ ‘Ghostbusters’

Videogame sequels planned for both franchises

Riddick and the Ghostbusters have both found a new home at one of America’s oldest videogame companies.

Atari has bought rights to publish the videogame sequel to “The Chronicles of Riddick” and a new game based on “Ghostbusters” from Activision Blizzard, which declined to pick up the two projects after merging with Vivendi Games this summer.

The publisher confirmed it will release “The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena” this spring. It’s a follow-up to Vivendi’s 2005 movie tie-in “Chronicles of Riddick: Escape at Butcher Bay,” which sold decently worldwide and was critically acclaimed as one of the best-ever film-based games.

In addition to buying publishing rights to the game from Activision Blizzard, Atari also has signed a new licensing deal with Universal that will let it continue “Riddick” as a videogame franchise.

Execs at Atari wouldn’t comment on “Ghostbusters,” but sources close to the publisher confirmed it is also picking up that game, with plans to publish it early next summer in conjunction with the film’s 25th anniversary. It’s believed Atari has a similar licensing deal with Sony Pictures to produce further “Ghostbusters” games should the first one prove successful.

Atari is paying Activision Blizzard a flat fee to cover a portion of the development coin Vivendi Games previously spent on both titles.

Deal is one of the most significant for Atari since it came back from the brink of bankruptcy earlier this year by securing new capital funds and recruiting an experienced team of videogame execs.

“Riddick” is a “high-quality franchise with a strong future that presents a great opportunity for Atari’s portfolio,” said Jim Wilson, CEO of Atari Inc., which is technically the North American subsidiary of French vidgame publisher Infogrames, though the two have essentially merged into one entity.

New Atari execs including Wilson and Infogrames CEO David Gardner and prexy Phil Harrison have talked primarily about rebuilding the company with a focus on online gaming, utilizing its extensive library and distributing titles for other partners. “Riddick” and “Ghostbusters” rep the biggest traditional videogame titles they have added to Atari’s slate since taking over.

Deal marks a welcome resolution for Universal, which had to work with Activision Blizzard to find a new home for the game after it was canceled.

“The biggest point for us was to find a publisher that doesn’t just want a game to fill a slot in its schedule but wants to work with us to build ‘Riddick’ in the gaming space,” said Bill Kispert, VP of interactive for Universal’s digital platforms group.

“Dark Athena” combines an upgraded remake of “Butcher Bay” for the new generation of videogame consoles with a new single player campaign and online multiplayer modes. It is being developed by Starbreeze Studios, maker of the first “Riddick” game. Film star Vin Diesel is doing voiceover work and producing through his Tigon Studios videogame shingle.

The “Ghostbusters” game, which features all four actors from the original movie and a new script by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, is a follow-up to “Ghostbusters II” and is being developed by Terminal Reality and Red Fly Studios.

In addition to “Riddick” and “Ghostbusters,” another former Vivendi Games title, “50 Cent: Blood in the Sand,” starring the rapper, was recently picked up by THQ.

Two major entertainment licenses, “Scarface” and the Jason Bourne spy novels, have reverted back to their owners after Activision Blizzard declined to continue the videogame franchises started by Vivendi. Universal and the Robert Ludlum estate, respectively, are seeking new publishers for their properties.

One other highly anticipated game in development at Vivendi, “Brutal Legend,” is still without a home. The heavy metal music action game, for which Jack Black is voicing the lead character, was close to being picked up by MTV Games. Since that fell apart, developer Double Fine Studios is now trying to set up a deal with a new publisher.