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March 16, 2009 8:00 PM

Zombie breakout: Lands Fox movie+comics deal for new game

Posted by Brier Dudley

Longtime Seattle game developer Zombie Studios landed a major deal that will transform the company over the next year.

Its upcoming futuristic military game "Blacklight" is being made into a feature film and comic book series by Fox Atomic, a unit of Fox Filmed Entertainment.

The deal's being announced Tuesday morning.

"We're hoping to graduate into the big league, frankly, with this one,'' Zombie co-founder Mark Long said. "Fox is a great partner to do that with -- they're a big, well-integrated media company."

Long expects his 60-person company in downtown Seattle will add an additional 30 to 40 employees.

"We are excited by the huge potential 'Blacklight' has to succeed across multiple platforms -- theatrical features, comic books and video games,'' Fox Atomic President Debbie Liebling said in the release. "It offers us a remarkable franchise opportunity for film."

For about a year Zombie has been developing "Blacklight," a game set 25 years in the future with a storyline reminiscent of the movie "Apocalypse Now." Here's how Long describes it:

"You play an elite covert ops team that is sent after an American CIA colonel gone rogue who has lost all sense of restraint in his pursuit of the enemy -- you're to either capture or kill him."

"Blacklight" is based on Epic Games' Unreal Engine 3 platform and uses a team tactical format, with four main characters. The special sauce includes a new, simplified way for players to switch characters, Long said.

Zombie has worked on lots of military-themed games since it was started in January 1994, including the government-funded "Americas Army."

It also made several games adapted from movies, including games based on Disney's "Atlantis" and action film "Ecks vs Server."

The "Blacklight" deal is a twist on the usual movies-to-video games progression. Usually the movie becomes a video game. Sometimes a hit game becomes a movie. Then there's the trend of comic books becoming movies and then video games.

With "Blacklight," Zombie now has a movie and comics deal but it's still looking for a games publisher to finance and distribute the game.

Long referred to the Hollywood buzzword "transmedia," describing media franchises that are simultaneously developed for multiple platforms. The same brand may even be used for different stories that appear in games, movies, comics and Web content.

The announcement said the film, game and comic book versions of "Blacklight" "will feature the same characters and high caliber military action, but with unique, intersecting storylines that complement each other."

Starting with a game concept isn't so farfetched, Long said, especially now that decisions are being made by studio bosses in their 30s who are gamers.

"I argue if you look at comic books and how they're being adapted for film it's a pretty easy leap to look at video games before they are being developed and say that could or could not be adapted well for a feature,'' he said.

It won't be the first trip to Hollywood for Long and Zombie co-founder Joanna Alexander. Earlier they temporarily led independent film distributor Outrider Pictures.

A date for the "Blacklight" movie and comic book releases wasn't given, but they could appear in a year or two. The game could be done around the same time.

Also participating in the project is Union Entertainment, a Hollywood-based talent and production company.

Meanwhile, gamers are still wondering if they'll ever see the long-awaited movie version of Microsoft's "Halo" franchise.

Here are a few screenshots of "Blacklight":

Blacklight_Zombie[1].jpg

BLACLIGHT B Concept Art.jpg

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.