LOS ANGELES – Sequels and movie adaptations — that’s what the coming year promises from the video game industry.
With billions of dollars on the line, many game makers are relying on brand-name recognition to weather the fierce four-way competition between personal computer systems, Microsoft’s Xbox, Nintendo’s GameCube and Sony’s PlayStation 2.
Sequels to the innovative games “The Legend of Zelda,” “Tomb Raider” and “Black & White” are in the works, along with a host of new games based on popular films like “Harry Potter,” “Tron” and “Indiana Jones.”
Virtually every exhibit at last week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo featured spin-offs and movie adaptations or games with “II” or “III” at the end of their titles.
How important are such franchises to a console’s success?
“It’s everything,” said Perrin Kaplan, vice president for corporate affairs at Nintendo of America. “Nintendo is built on a couple cornerstones, and character franchise is a really huge one and not to be underestimated. We don’t take it lightly.”
The second-place console GameCube is hoping to fuel more sales with the release of the spin-off “Super Mario Sunshine,” a cartoon-style version of “The Legend of Zelda,” and the futuristic “Star Fox Adventures,” a hand-to-paw fighter derived from the original “Star Fox” flying game.
Nintendo is also hoping to lure more adult gamers with the gory prequel “Resident Evil 0” and the alien shoot-’em-up “Metroid Prime,” an update on the 1980s hit sci-fi game.
Original GameCube offerings this year will include the cutesy creature puzzler “Animal Crossing” and the Internet multiplayer “Phantasy Star Online I and II.”
PS2, the leading console in sales, will feature “Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness,” the sixth title in that series; a follow-up to the anti-social adventure “Grand Theft Auto III” subtitled “Vice City;” the 3-D role-playing game “Dark Cloud 2” and a console version of the PC hit “The Sims.”
Among its original games are the robot chase “Ratchet & Clank” and “The Getaway,” a gritty crime saga set in the London underworld.
With nearly 30 million units sold worldwide, PS2 also plans to attract more users with a handful of Disney-based games.
Those include “Kingdom Hearts,” a “Final Fantasy”-style role-play game set in the worlds of Mickey Mouse, Peter Pan and the Little Mermaid; and “Disney’s Stitch,” a prequel to the upcoming animated film “Lilo & Stitch.”
The high profile of Disney-based characters has made the entertainment company a top partner for video game developers.
“Everybody is trying to create a trend, something familiar, that will expand the market,” said Jan Smith, president of Disney Interactive. “We combine stories that people know and characters they know, and that’s what everybody is looking for.”
After debuting only last year, Xbox still lacks the character recognition of Nintendo or the “Tomb Raider” and “Grand Theft Auto” franchise games of PS2.
However, Microsoft has franchise aspirations for many of its original titles, particularly “Blinx: The Time Sweeper,” said Robbie Bach, Microsoft’s chief Xbox officer.
That game features an anthropomorphized cat that cleans up disturbances in time, which enables him to slow down enemies, freeze moments and travel backward in the continuum to stage multiple attacks on villains
But Xbox will feature a few sequels, such as the racing game “Midtown Madness 3” and “Frogger Classic,” an updated version of the 1980s dodging game.
Xbox is also offering TV and movie adaptations such as the supernatural fighter “Buffy the Vampire Slayer;” the beat-’em-up adventure “Bruce Lee: Quest of the Dragon;” and “The Thing,” based on director John Carpenter’s 1982 horror remake.
Many third-party game publishers are distributing popular sequels and movie titles across platforms.
Eidos is making “Hitman 2: Silent Assassin” for release on PS2, Xbox and PC. Electronic Arts is releasing “James Bond 007: NightFire” on all consoles and PC, while its sequel game “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” is set to debut on PS2, Xbox and PC.
Other movie games in the works include Rage-Ubi Soft’s “Rocky” for all consoles and PC, and Vivendi Universal’s “The Scorpion King: The Rise of an Akkadian” for GameCube and PlayStation 2.
LucasArts, the gaming division of Lucasfilm, is also spinning off several games from movie characters, including “Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb” for Xbox, PS2 and PC. “Bounty Hunter” and “The Clone Wars,” both inspired by the film “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” are being released on PS2 and GameCube.
“You get to see a whole new side of the Jedi, which is the Jedi at war,” said Jim Tso, a LucasArts game designer.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the console war continues ...