Movie Smash, Game Crash

Awesome. Mega. Cool. Pick your hype, and the movie Jurassic Park has exceeded it. Indeed, Steven Spielberg's slam-bang tale of man-eating dinosaurs is already the second highest-grossing movie of all time, after E.T.--the Extra-Terrestrial, with a heady $306 million in ticket sales. So when Sega of America Inc. trotted out its Jurassic Park home-video game on Aug. 10, another record-breaking smash seemed just a few dollars away.

Well, not exactly. A funny thing has happened to Hollywood filmmakers, who covet the $6 billion home-video-game market. Jurassic Park, like many other games based on recent box-office winners, is selling at a less-than-brisk pace. Indeed, Jurassic Park will be lucky to sell a million copies at close to $50 apiece by Christmas. That would make it Hollywood's biggest video-game hit--but Street Fighter II Turbo, released on Aug. 13, is already outselling Sega's dinosaur game two-to-one.

What's the problem? Hollywood's Gucci brigade is learning an awful truth: The Nintendo generation likes to hone its skills in arcades before buying versions of games to play at home. And it wants games that challenge and excite. Yet many moviemakers simply auction off licenses to their titles and characters. Thus, the resulting products have little of the look and zing of the movies.

Tinseltown hopes a rush of new technology will help change all that. Walt Disney Co. became a full-fledged partner with Virgin Games Inc. to tap that maker's new methods for digitizing and storing animated characters in a game cartridge. The characters then can be played back with a quality approaching TV cartoons. The two companies are creating the video-game version of Aladdin, which goes on sale on Oct. 19. "The technology knocked our socks off," marvels Disney President Jeffrey Katzenberg. "It allows us to achieve a whole new level of presentation and storytelling in a video game."

Hollywood hype, to be sure. But the studios are taking plenty of other steps to boost the sales of movie-based games. To combat the year-long lag between the hoopla surrounding a hit movie and its release as a game, for instance, studios are providing game companies with an early peek at scripts and giving them access to movie sets. They're lending their massive promotional machinery as well. Aladdin home videos will be stuffed with a flier advertising the game, and Disney will stage events at its stores and theme parks, and air a special on the Disney Channel, to mark the game's premiere.

Still, studios don't expect the big payoff until most games shift to CD-ROM. Those silvery disks can hold actual video clips from the movie, plus much of the soundtrack. "We're seeing the emergence of a new type of product that combines video games with the world of movies, music, and television," says Olaf Olafsson, president of Sony Imagesoft, which will release game versions of Sony flicks Cliffhanger and Last Action Hero this fall. But a full shift to the new technology may take three years. So for now at least, Hollywood's video games can expect a continued pounding from the Super Mario Bros. and Sonic The Hedgehog.

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