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Cameron chooses Ubisoft to make 'Avatar' game

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James Cameron and 20th Century Fox's high-tech sci-fi tentpole "Avatar" is leaping into the video game space with Ubisoft.

Capping an extensive yearlong runoff among four game companies that presented creative briefs, Cameron has selected the French game publisher to develop a next-generation video game to be released alongside the film in May 2009.

"I told the Ubisoft team I wanted them to be free to do their very best work and not think of this as a movie-based game," Cameron said. "They responded with a fully realized presentation which captured the soul of the world and the characters, while promising to be a knockout game on its own terms. Their passion inspired my confidence that they are going to do something transcendental."

For Ubisoft, the deal with Fox and Cameron represents the company's biggest bet yet on a movie property, even eclipsing the terms of its landmark deal with Peter Jackson and Universal Pictures for the game based on "King Kong."

While other publishers offered even larger license fees, "Avatar" producer Jon Landau said that Ubisoft's concept was the clear creative choice. "Jim's not an easy person to nail it with, but Ubisoft presented a concept that held true to the film but also sounded like a game we'd all want to play," he said. "It is the perfect fit."

"Avatar," Cameron's first feature film in more than a decade, tells the story of Jake (Sam Worthington), an ex-Marine who persists in an alien world as an avatar, a human mind in an alien body. The concept is similar to many video games in which a player creates a virtual manifestation of themselves, often referred to as an avatar.

The similarities are not lost on Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot, who believes that the game will "let us see the world and ourselves from another angle, acting as a mirror that will help us understand the consequences of our choices."

Landau said that the game's narrative will not be a strict retelling of the film but instead play out as a nonlinear story that shapes itself to the player's action inside the alien world. Ubisoft's deal does not cover the rights for a massively multiplayer online game, an idea that Cameron has previously spoken about as a way to introduce players to the franchise. Landau said that game is still a possibility.

Given the film's digital-heavy production and extensive use of performance-capture, 3-D and effects from Jackson's Weta Digital, the film team expects to break new ground in building a digital production pipeline that feeds into the game.

"It's one of the foundations from which we built the whole production paradigm," Landau said. "The game will be right there with us every step of the way."

Although yet to be confirmed, it is expected that all the actors from the film, including Sigourney Weaver, will reprise their roles for the video game.

Although video game publishers like Electronic Arts have recently made a strategic shift away from licensed movie games because of high royalties and the inherent risk of tying a game's fortunes to a film's success, Paris-based Ubisoft, renowned for its high-quality games, has doubled-down its bet.

Guillemot said the company sees as much as 20% of its revenue coming from Hollywood licenses in the years to come, with the expectation that movie games will generate at least 50% of a blockbuster film's global boxoffice tally. Besides "Avatar," Ubisoft is at work on a video game version of Robert Zemeckis' "Beowulf," due in November.