Ubisoft turns on power for 'Heroes' game

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NBC's hit series "Heroes" is powering up for a video game adaptation by French gamemaker Ubisoft.

The long-in-the-works deal gives Ubisoft the rights to build a third-person superhero action game that brings the series characters, locations and story lines to next-generation game consoles and the PC. The untitled game could be in stores as soon as late 2008.

"We're very excited to be making the 'Heroes' video game with Ubisoft," said Tim Kring, executive producer and creator of "Heroes." "Time and again, Ubisoft has proven they can turn licensed properties into fantastic games."

The deal represents Ubisoft's second big licensing announcement of the week, coming on the heels of Tuesday's revelation of a partnership with filmmaker James Cameron and 20th Century Fox on a game for the 2009 sci-fi film "Avatar" (HR 7/24).

Both projects are bound to be topics of conversation at this week's San Diego Comic-Con International, especially at a "Heroes" panel. Ubisoft also plans to get buzz going there with another TV property, unveiling the first trailer for "Lost: The Video Game," created in partnership with ABC and set for release in early 2008. In that game, players will play a passenger on Oceanic Flight 815 who interacts with the main characters on the show and battles the smoke monster.

The game is the latest addition to a rapidly expanding canon of "Heroes"-related brand extensions including graphic novels, the Heroes 360 Web site, a mobile game by GameLoft, and "Heroes: Origin," a spinoff show set to begin airing in 2008.

The deal was set up by Universal Pictures Digital Platforms Group, which previously worked with Ubisoft on "Peter Jackson's King Kong."

Like other elements of the "Heroes" canon, Kring and his creative team have long been planning how the game will tie into the over-arching franchise.

"From Day 1 we've all been thinking about the game," said "Heroes" co-executive producer Jesse Alexander, who first hinted about the game during an online podcast in May. "All along we've been writing some of our stories in ways they can tie into the eventual video game."

Instead of highlighting a specific character's heroic journey, the game will focus on the entire ensemble cast. The game also is expected to play a crucial role in how the show's writers explore cross-platform storytelling for future seasons.

While Ubisoft likely will hire its own writer to pen the game script and develop the game at one of its internal studios, the TV series writers will supervise and consult on game design and story. But with the show's evolving cast and fast-moving story lines, spending two years developing the game still poses a creative challenge for Ubisoft. To ensure its relevance, the "Heroes" game won't retell a specific volume's story or be used as a bridge between seasons.

"We want it to have a lasting shelf-life and tell a distinctive story that gives you enhanced insight into the entire franchise," said Alexander, an avid gamer.

Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot actively began pursuing the "Heroes" license last fall, shortly after watching the show's first episode in Paris via iTunes. "Besides being one of my favorite shows on TV, 'Heroes' is the perfect fit for a video game with all the various superpowers and special abilities," he said.

Given development time lines, one challenge for game companies with TV games is predicting two years in advance which television shows will still be hot. That worry tends to limit deals to proven TV franchises with multiyear renewals, and even then, such major game publishers as Electronic Arts and Activision rarely sign such license deals.

Recently, such hit shows as "The Sopranos" and "The Shield" have even floundered in the video game space. Last fall's "The Sopranos: The Road to Respect" was one of the biggest bombs of the year, selling just 169,000 units according to the NPD Group.

Ubisoft, which is eager to increase its number of Hollywood licenses, has been more successful in greenlighting TV-themed games.

With "Lost" and "Heroes," it now has deals with all three major broadcast networks. It also publishes games with CBS based around "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," with the latest, "CSI: Hard Evidence," arriving on Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Nintendo's Wii in the fall.
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