It's been a long time coming, but we finally have some actual details about the first game to emerge from the partnership between Steven Spielberg and Electronic Arts.
Known as Boom Blox, the game, which will be available in May only on the Wii, is from EA's casual games unit.
It will have more than 300 levels, "a cast of over thirty wacky characters" and seems to be built around letting players take on "Blox-laying chickens or...baseball-throwing monkeys" or cartoonlike grim reapers in tiki, medieval, frontier, or haunted themed settings.
EA has never said a lot about the Spielberg partnership beyond the fact that the director would be spending occasional time at the company's Los Angeles studio. It's also never been entirely clear exactly how involved Spielberg has been in the creation of the games, or how much involvement he'll have going forward. EA has said there would be at least three games under the terms of a deal first made public in 2005.
Last summer, Newsweek published a story describing the game that is now known as Boom Blox as blending "the creativity of the building-blocks game 'Jenga' with the charm of a Saturday-morning cartoon."
Based on what EA said Wednesday, that seems about right.
Newsweek also wrote at the time that the second game in the EA/Spielberg partnership was code-named "LMNO" and would be released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles. The magazine said at the time the game would be "North by Northwest meets E.T.--if E.T. were female, grown up and, um, hot."
Nothing is yet known about the third game planned for the partnership.
One thing that hasn't been discussed is how EA will market these games. For instance, will their retail boxes mention Spielberg directly, and if so, how prominently?
It does seem like putting the first game out for the Wii is a good idea, what with the runaway success of that console and EA's need for big new hits.
Another smart move is switching consoles for the second game, because Spielberg brings unparalleled name recognition and even if Boom Blox flops, the audience for the second game will likely be quite different and unaffected by what happens with the first.
But if Boom Blox is a hit, it can only help everyone involved.
Still, because little is known about how much influence Spielberg has had on these games, it's very hard to know if he's a full partner in the initiative or if he's just lending his name to the titles. It is hard to imagine the latter, since Spielberg probably isn't in dire need of the money he's likely to get out of the deal. More likely, he felt like he had some story-telling expertise to lend EA and a love of video games, a medium that he hasn't dabbled much in before.
Update: It does occur to me, however, that everyone involved in the Spielberg/EA project, let alone anyone who cares about Spielberg's legacy, would probably like to see Boom Blox and its successors do a whole lot better than one video game project he was--at least tangentially--involved in previously.
For those that don't remember, the 1982 Atari 2600 game, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, based, obviously on Spielberg's smash-hit film of the same name, didn't quite do as well as the movie.
In fact, according to Wikipedia, the game was a flop of universal proportions, known by many as one of the biggest "commercial failures in video game history."
Of course, this was a very different situation. For one, the E.T. game was based on an existing franchise. For two, it seems as though Spielberg wasn't hands-on with the 1982 game in the way he is with the EA titles.
Still, it's something to think about. And let's hope history doesn't repeat itself.