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New Kid on the Blox

By Mike Musgrove
Friday, May 9, 2008

If you heard, say, that director Steven Spielberg was coming out with a video game, chances are you wouldn't have pictured Boom Blox, the Wii game released this week with his name on it.

That's because the game, from the guy who pretty much invented the summer blockbuster flick, doesn't have any of the usual Hollywood-ish features, such as famous actors or a rock soundtrack featuring major acts, that signify that video games have become a Big Bucks industry.

Boom Blox is the first of three games from Spielberg to be published by Electronic Arts under a deal he signed with the company in 2005. The game publisher has not revealed many details about the other two titles.

This isn't the first time Spielberg has showed an interest in video games. DreamWorks SKG, the movie studio he launched with fellow moguls Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen in 1994, once had a video-game-developing subsidiary. The studio did not generate many hits and was acquired by EA in 2000.

Spielberg's new title is a family-friendly game centered on the low-key destructive kicks that come from knocking down toy fortresses and towers made out of toy blocks. To play, a user points the Wii's controller at the screen and makes flinging motions with his arm to wreak some G-rated havoc with the game's virtual baseballs or other projectiles.

It's a slender-sounding premise for a game, but my 7-year-old stepson and I are already fans because it's one of the not-enough titles we can enjoy together.

While many video game fans are still obsessed this week with the recent release of the new Grand Theft Auto title, Boom Blox is significant for a different crowd, said Mike Hickey, a game industry analyst with Janco Partners.

Hickey said that many game publishers have been "dissatisfied" and "disappointed" with how their titles have sold on Nintendo's system. Despite its ongoing popularity, many of the system's biggest hits were developed by Nintendo and not by outside publishers like EA.

Hickey said that publishers have been mostly releasing games that were also designed to be played on Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3 -- and such games often don't take advantage of the unique motion-sensing controls that have made the Wii popular with consumers. But with the Wii's continuing success, publishers have started concentrating more on games that were made with the system specifically in mind.

"The Wii has become critically important [to the game industry] and has tapped the artery of the mainstream consumer," he said.

Boom Blox, he notes, is already a top-seller among Wii titles at Amazon.com.

Amir Rahimi, senior producer at EA, said that Spielberg pitched the idea to the game company after he became interested in the Nintendo system and its unusual controllers. While the game was in development, the director spent about a day each week at the company's studios, putting his imprint on the title.

Spielberg is said to be a fan of "action" games such as an epic sci-fi adventure game called Crysis. But "he felt like there was an abyss between him and his kids" when it came to video games, Rahimi said, and wanted a game he could play with them.

Rahimi came to Washington recently to show off the title in a room near The Post's cafeteria, where we have a Wii. It was a bit tough to keep the meeting under control: My colleagues kept coming up and wanting to play.

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