'Sin City' video game goes straight to the source


Some films seem so perfect for converting to video games that one wonders why it never happened. Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill," for example.

Or perhaps Frank Miller's "Sin City." Imagine what a savvy publisher with experience in making great games from movies -- like Electronic Arts or Activision -- could do if it were able to enlist the images and voice acting of the 2005 film's considerable talent, including Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Benicio Del Toro, Mickey Rourke and Elijah Wood?

But when the "Sin City" game hits store shelves around Christmas 2009, there will be no stars, no day-and-date marketing with the film's sequel, "Sin City 2," and the publisher's name on the box -- Red Mile Entertainment -- will be unknown to even the most hardcore gamers. Red Mile?

Indeed, the fledgling game maker has secured the rights not to either of the movies but to the seven graphic novels that comprised their source material, a strategy that even the company's president and COO has a difficult time explaining.

"It's just one of those calls you have to make in the games industry," says Glenn Wong, previously president of Electronic Arts Canada, arguably the world's largest video game studio. "We decided that the 'Sin City' graphic novels, with their dark images and nonlinear stories, would work better as the basis for an interactive game. We don't have to track the linear movie screenplay and try to translate it into a game; we prefer to create an original story based on the characters from the books which, we think, will make for a longer, deeper video game experience."

It doesn't hurt, of course, that it's far less expensive to license the books than the movies, but Wong claims that didn't enter into the equation. "We wanted to go back to the source material instead of the filtered version that people saw on the big screen," he says.

Wong recognizes that, in making that call, he foregoes the one-two marketing punch associated with releasing a game day-and-date with its cinematic counterpart. After all, a simultaneous release might have been easily arranged since "Sin City 2" is currently in preproduction and is scheduled to hit theaters sometime next year. And one of its directors -- "Sin City" creator, author, and artist Frank Miller -- is the game's licensor.

"This is going to be an interesting challenge for us," Wong observes. "We want to appeal to the many faithful fans of the graphic novels and, at the same time, attract the movie audience. We'd like to think that we'll be able to capitalize on whatever awareness of 'Sin City' is generated by the second film. But, frankly, I don't even know when that's scheduled to be released."

Wong says he is simply elated that his company was able to secure the rights to the "Sin City" game. After all, Sausalito, Calif.-based Red Mile Entertainment, which opened its doors in 2006, only has a few games under its belt, including "Jackass: The Game" and "Crusty Demons: The Game." Indeed that may have been the reason why Miller licensed Red Mile; Wong says his company is so small that practically its entire focus is on the one game. "If we were a megapublisher -- and I recall building 35 games a year when I was at EA -- the 'Sin City' game would be just one property competing internally with many others."

The catalyst behind the deal was Union Entertainment president Richard Leibowitz, who represents video game writer/designer and film writer Flint Dille ("Transformers: The Movie"). Dille is a 20-year, long-time friend of Frank Miller's, which enables the duo to work closely on the "Sin City" game, with Dille as producer, writer and designer, and Miller as collaborator.

"Frank and I were driving around in 1991," recalls Dille, "and he was talking about wanting to do this film noir-like, black-and-white graphic novel, which grew up to be 'Sin City.' So I've been on the ride ever since. More recently, there was a poll in the L.A. Times that said that 'Sin City' was the thing more people wanted to turn into a game than any other product. When we saw that, it was like 'OK, this has gotta happen.' "

Miller was unavailable for comment.

Currently, the game is just six months into production with a crew of 35-50 at Melbourne, Australia-based developer Transmission Games (formerly IR Gurus). Their plan is to build the game on three platforms -- Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii -- using the Unreal 3 engine, but Dille says he can't reveal much more.

"All I can say is that it will be heavily story- and character-driven, with multiple crossing story lines, and it will contain the same kind of violence, the same kind of sexiness, the same kind of edginess that are the hallmark of the graphic novels," Dille notes. "There will be a wide variety of things for the gamer to do, from fighting to shooting to driving. We're trying to deliver it all in a very stylized, very bold, very surprising way. What makes this so dangerous a project is that, quite frankly, the source material is so damn good. It sets a very high bar for us to hit."

One thing is for sure. According to Wong, with all the effort that is going into turning Frank Miller's concepts into interactive entertainment, the plan is to build on that technology and create a game franchise, regardless how well the first game sells.

"We'd like to finish game  No. 1 in a year and a half," he says, "and then turn out a sequel every other year after that. The beauty of Frank Miller's work is that it's so rich with so many characters that, once a gamer gets a real good taste of 'Sin City,' they're not going to say, 'OK, I've seen it all.' They're going to say, 'So when do I get more?' "

Paul "The Game Master" Hyman is the former editor-in-chief of CMP Media's GamePower. He has covered the games industry for more than a dozen years. His columns for The Hollywood Reporter run exclusively on the Web site.