The traditional notion of how books, movies, graphic novels and films are created and relate to one another within the mega-dollar pop culture industry is about to change radically. Tie-ins have already evolved from slavish adaptations to fully fleshed-out novels, and even into series that venture well beyond their sources. Recently, books have developed out of video games and even graphic novels as those formats have grown more sophisticated in both appearance and story content. Now, traditional writers are pushing the envelope even further by writing games and graphic novels that blur the lines between narrative and interactive mediums, with profound effects on how these formats are created and the writer's role in all of them.

Many factors are driving this progression—some creative, some technical—but the bottom line is still king. Working in multiple formats opens up new audiences and leads to new and better products. That's why publishers are spending more time reaching out to game manufacturers and graphic novel publishers, as they have been doing for years with TV and film producers.

Competition and Collaboration

Audiences are more fragmented than ever before. "We live in a world where people's time, attention and money is divided among so many different media these days—TV, movies, computer games, graphic novels, books," explained Shelly Shapiro, editorial director at Del Rey. Case in point: Hollywood was rocked last year when, for the first time, video games generated more revenue than film. TV, meanwhile, has seen dramatic falloffs in the key 18—34 demographic, as fans dissipate into other mediums, notably video games. Seamus Blackley, co-creator of the X-Box video game console, put it mildly: "Because of its size, the game industry is going to compete with other mediums in a very real sense."

Blackley was recently hired by Hollywood's powerful Creative Artists Agency to beef up a division devoted to shoring up the relationship between Hollywood and the gaming community. Like publishers looking to tie into pop-culture titles, CAA recognizes the value of established brands, especially video games. "With so much material out there now, it can be confusing for an entertainment consumer, so they often like to stay with an established character," said CAA's Larry Shapiro, who co-heads the division. Publishers make the same point from a different angle: "Working with game titles allows us to reach a new readership," explained Del Rey executive editor Steve Saffel.

As publishers, Hollywood and game manufacturers expand and capitalize on existing entertainment brands, it's requiring closer collaboration among different mediums than ever before. "I think it's both a business and a creative necessity," said Saffel. "Readers are demanding more and we can deliver better books by working closely with game developers and film studios." Pocket v-p and associate publisher Scott Shannon agreed, stressing, "You want to build something where all the pieces fit together to help bring legitimacy to the games and the books."

To ensure Pocket's highly successful book series dovetail with Blizzard Entertainment's WarCraft, StarCraft and Diablo games, Shannon works directly with the producer in charge. "He shares storylines that our authors flesh out in books. He even wrote an original e-book for us," said Shannon, noting that the nine mass market titles in Pocket's three series have 750,000 copies in print, with 18 more titles under contract. At Del Rey, Saffel put author Aaron Alston to work directly with Deus-Ex game creator Warren Spector. "We have not only broken down the walls between mediums, we've gotten rid of them altogether," Saffel said. For his original novels based on TV's #1 show, CSI, author Max Allan Collins works very closely with the TV production team. "The books would be hollow exercises otherwise," said Collins.

Lend Me Your Ideas

Sometimes, the close collaboration between publishers and other media entities becomes a two-way street. When Geri Taylor was an executive producer of Star Trek: Voyager in 1996, she wrote a related book (Mosaic: Star Trek Voyager) for Shannon, opening the door for ideas that flowed back to the TV program. Author Alan Dean Foster, who is novelizing the upcoming movie The Chronicles of Riddick (Del Rey, Apr.; mass market), actively developed new story elements with the film's writer/director David Twohy during production.

For the upcoming book Star Wars Galaxies: The Ruins of Dantooine (Ballantine, Dec. 30; mass market, 100,000 printing), the feedback loop was premeditated. The novel is based on a massively multiplayer (MMP) game in which thousands of online participants invent characters that interact in an imaginary universe. Author Voronica Whitney-Robinson worked with game producer Haden Blackman to develop two new characters for the book that will be incorporated into the online game as "non-player characters" that are controlled by the game itself. Readers can learn a great deal about the characters, then "meet" them online.

MMP games transcend linear narrative, since the players experience an open-ended alternative "life," rather than a clearly defined mission. Nonetheless, some observers, such as author and war game creator Larry Bond, believe this puts even more emphasis on durable storytelling. "A writer working on a game creates events, like a caravan that gets ambushed, in which one of the guys is working for the other side," explained Bond. "But there is no 'winning.' You just advance, and that presents your character with a different set of problems."

For Bond, the interplay between mediums stimulates creativity. When he co-wrote with Red Storm Rising with Tom Clancy in 1986, the two authors struggled with a large-scale battle chapter. They ultimately used a war boardgame called Harpoon that Bond had created to envision the complex logistics and fed that info directly into the book.

Games Embrace Storytelling

"Historically, games didn't have good stories," said Spencer Lamm, CEO of Red Pill Productions, which produces the Matrix video game and graphic novels. "That's changing and people are recognizing that games are big business because audiences are demanding them more and more."

As the technology improves, however, the growing audience is becoming more exacting. Lorne Lanning, president of Oddworld (whose three game titles have sold 4.5 million units) revealed how focus groups for a new game were troubled by the fact that the characters didn't blink: "The rest of the game has gotten so realistic that they're noticing that detail now."

As gamers begin to see these characters as more human, they naturally want to know more about them, and that opens the door for traditional writers. "A writer who understands game design can get involved early, so we can focus more on the character arc to get the audience more involved in the guy's plight," said Lanning. That also eases the adaptation to books, explained Saffel: "As games develop more elaborate backstories, we have a greater ability to develop fabulous novels." Gamers are paying attention: Del Rey's three novels based on Microsoft's Halo have more than 500,000 copies in print after two years.

Moreover, Lamm thinks technological advances will continue to require more story content in order to make sense of increasingly complicated gaming universes. "Imagine plopping someone down in a vast environment without any goals. The story defines those goals, without which the game is really just a big technology test," he said.

CAA's Shapiro thinks games benefit by emulating book and film story structure to offer a similar communal experience. "A common story gives you the ability to share your experience with others and build the brand," he noted. Sophisticated game designers balance a high level of control for individual players with common locations and events that unify the experiences of all the players. That may not be a classic narrative structure, but it represents a kind of narrative nonetheless.

Writers Branch Out

The evolution of video games is drawing authors to the medium. Famed science fiction author Orson Scott Card wrote the screenplay for the Glyphx game Advent Rising and is adapting it into a novel. He has also dreamed up Robota, a project he undertook with digital special effects whiz Doug Chang that's designed to work as a film, a novel and an art book. If, as Saffel believes, a closer link between gamers and authors results in more marketable books, then having one person write both should be ideal. Or, as Card put it sardonically: "When I'm adapting the game, at least the person that I'm cursing at for the stupid game dialogue will be me!"

Still, the gaming world holds pitfalls for authors, such as committee rule. "In a novel, the author has authority," said Card. "But games involve a whole production team, more like film or theater." Lanning added that writers sometimes "feel held captive by a highly technical crew that often doesn't share his or her vision for subtle nuance." There are also limitations on making changes once the process has begun. "These game artists are essentially building sets that, while virtual, are as expensive and elaborate as an Andrew Lloyd Webber production," said Card. "As a novelist, I can throw out hundreds of pages, but in games you become committed."

For writers like Max Allan Collins, being savvy about multiple formats offers more opportunities to get work published. "Ten years ago, I only could've pitched my ideas as a novel," he said. In recent years, Collins has had unusual success in nearly every format, including his breakout graphic novel, Road to Perdition (Pocket, 1998), which was adapted to film and then novelized by none other than Collins himself. He also writes three original CSI novels a year (there are five so far, with a total of 650,000 copies in print; the latest is Body of Evidence, Pocket, Oct.; mass market, 110,000 printing), which led to him writing the CSI video game. For game developer UbiSoft, Collins was the natural choice, since he was deeply invested in the world and had already been approved by CSI and by the network.

With his original work, Collins can choose the format that best suits the kind of story he wants to tell. He is writing Road to Perdition's sequel, Road to Purgatory (Morrow, fall 2004) as a traditional novel, but decided to do another Perdition series in graphic novel form. The three On the Road to Perdition books are "continuity implants" that take place during the timeframe of the original graphic novel (and movie), but tell new stories (Paradox Press published Oasis in May and Sanctuary in December; Detour is due in spring 2004),. "On the artistic side, you choose: Is this better told as a novel or graphic novel?" said Collins. "On the commercial side, I just want to work in both."

Building Franchises Together

Collins is doing exactly what publishers want to do: extend his franchise into several mediums to reach a broader audience. Even Michael Chabon is debuting a graphic novel series (Michael Chabon Presents: The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, Dark Horse, Jan.), based on a comic created by the fictitious protagonists in his Pulitzer Prize—winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Picador). "Working to develop franchises [with other format developers] makes sense because we all want to expand our audiences, plus you don't want to contradict each other," said Del Rey's Shelly Shapiro.

No surprise, then, that CAA is trying to bridge games and more traditional entertainment mediums. "In the long term, we want to weave together our writer and game-designer clients to build something from the ground up that has the ability to be experienced in different mediums," said CAA's Shapiro. Director James (Titanic) Cameron, for example, founded his digital effects company with an eye toward birthing content in video games that would expand into other mediums. Lanning, meanwhile, describes Oddworld as a "property development company," rather than a game developer.

The confluence of entertainment developers (including publishers) and content creators (including authors) working together in more mediums signals the biggest potential change of all: a total redefinition of the tie-in. If an entertainment brand can originate in any medium and grow into any other, where does the original begin and the tie-in end? In effect, each component will be part of a greater whole. And that means that publishers will need to be as conversant in the video game and graphic novel world as their authors are rapidly becoming.

LucasFilm has been encouraging interformat migration for years with the Star Wars universe, which reaches into film, books, games, graphic novels, toys and video games. "We have an understanding with all of our licensees that anything they create in the Star Wars universe is available for anybody else to use," said Howard Roffman, president, Lucas Licensing. The company employs dedicated staffers as go-betweens to facilitate information exchange and monitor continuity.

No system is perfect. LucasFilm encouraged Del Rey to incorporate a character from a graphic novel published by Dark Horse in Del Rey's New Jedi Order book series, but creative differences led to Dark Horse dropping its own creation. Logistics pose another problem: "We're all in different places and we're all extraordinarily busy just trying to get all of our own product done," explained Del Rey's Shelly Shapiro, who handles the publisher's Star Wars book franchise.

Still, she added, "You're missing an opportunity to bring a franchise to life if you're only working in one medium." On that front, LucasFilm is the state of the art. At the same time, added Roffman, "the one thing we are not trying to do is have everything tell the same story, which would be boring." CAA's Shapiro agrees, "It all shouldn't cover the same beats, but be a deeper, richer experience of the franchise."

Furthermore, developers on all sides strike a note of caution about trying to launch everything simultaneously. "In order to build a franchise, you have to create loyalty," said Larry Shapiro. "If you pump everything out all at once, the audience might feel that they're just getting sold to." Roffman agreed, adding that a successful multiformat franchise requires "a big bang that has enough impact on enough people to get them interested in exploring the fantasy further." In the current climate, that initial big bang can come from a much wider variety of sources than ever before, whether it's a film like Star Wars, a book like Harry Potter, a graphic novel like Road to Perdition or a video game like Halo.

As the lines between the mediums continue to blur, so do our definitions of each medium. "I think games are getting closer to being a novel than a movie because you could eventually contain maybe 60 hours worth of storytelling within them," said Lamm. Seamus Blackley, who envisioned the storytelling capability of the X-Box platform, is looking even further down the road. "As you have more interplay of ideas between people who know story and people who know how to connect with the audience interactively, you could have new forms of entertainment emerge that are impossible to describe in the terms we use today," he suggested.

If that sounds far out, just consider that Aldous Huxley envisioned just such crossover entertainment when he described "feelies" in his novel Brave New World, published in 1932. Technology has only just begun to catch up.

Adult Movie Tie-ins January—AprilJANUARY
Starring Brendan Mackey, Nicholas Aaron
Directed by Kevin MacDonald
Release date January 23 N.Y./L.A. (IFC Films)
Novel by Joe Simpson (Perennial; trade paper)
• Documentary about a man who, left for dead, crawled down a mountain despite a triple break in his right leg.
Starring Jacqueline Bisset, Mary Kay Place, Wes Ramsey
Directed by C. Jay Cox
Release date January 30 N.Y./L.A. (TLA Releasing)
Novelization by T. Fabris (Alyson, Feb.; 10,000 trade paper)
• A sweet and sexy tale of redemptive love, about a gay L.A. waiter who seduces a Mormon "just off the plane from Pocatello."
Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst
Directed by Michel Gondry
Release date March 19 (Focus Features)
Tie-in Shooting script by Charlie Kaufman (Newmarket, Mar.; 10,000 trade paper)
• Could be brilliant at box office and bookstores, or just plain weird. Either way, Carrey, Winslet and writer Kaufman make it worth a look.
Starring Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland
Directed by D.J. Caruso
Release date March 19 (WB)
Novel by Michael Pye (Vintage, Jan.; trade paper)
•Jolie as an FBI profiler on the trail of a serial killer is only slightly more credible than her last star turn, as a Third World doctor.
Starring Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Naomi Watts
Directed by Gregor Jordan
Release date March 26 (Focus Features)
Novel (originally titled Our Sunshine) by Robert Drewe (Penguin, Jan. 27; 50,000 trade paper)
• Hoping for the Australian Bonnie & Clyde. The impossibly gorgeous cast may lure teens, but the violence may be too much.
Starring Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Webber
Directed by Zack Snyder
Release date March 26 (Universal)
Novel by George Romero (St. Martin's Griffin, Mar.; 50,000 trade paper)
• Remake of the 1979 zombie cult classic has cool cast and possible kitsch appeal.
Starring Giuseppe Cristiano, Mattia Di Pierro
Directed by Gabriele Salvatores
Release date April 9 (N.Y./L.A.) (Miramax)
Novel by Niccolò Ammaniti, trans. by Jonathan Hunt (Anchor, Feb. 24; 35,000 trade paper)
• Set in Sicily and told through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy, this dark thriller was a hit in Italy and is that country's official entrant to this year's Academy Awards.
Starring Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Rebecca Romijn Stamos
Directed by Jonathan Hensleigh
Release date April 16 (Artisan)
Novelization by D.A. Stern (Del Rey, Mar. 2; 125,000 mass market)
•Trailer looks more like The Phantom (which tanked) than Spider-Man. Fans of the graphic novel are likely to be unforgiving if the film disappoints.
Starring Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Patric
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Release date April (Touchstone)
Tie-inThe Alamo: The Illustrated Story of the Epic Film by Frank Thompson (Newmarket, Apr.; 15,000 paper)
•Troubled early screenings delayed the release, but this could still spark interest in the Texas battle.
Starring Gael García Bernal, Mia Maestro, Rodrigo de la Serna
Directed by Walter Salles
Release date Spring 2004
Based on Ernesto Che Guevara's memoir (Ocean Press, Sept. 2003; trade paper)
• Spanish-language film about Che as a 23-year-old trekking through South America and discovering his revolutionary soul. Robert Redford produces.
Adult TV Tie-ins January—AprilJANUARY
Produced by Andrew Graham-Brown and Andy Byatt
Air dates January 1, 4 and 7 (3-hour episodes) (Animal Planet)
Tie-inLand of the Lost Monsters: Man Against Beast—The Prehistoric Battle for the Planet by Ted Oakes (Hydra Publishing, Nov. 2003; 25,000 hardcover)
• The show, like the coffee-table book, takes kids up close and personal with reptiles, marsupials and even Polynesian natives.
Host David Hyde Pierce
Air date January 21 (PBS)
Tie-inThe Forgetting: Alzheimer's: Portrait of an Epidemic by David Shenk (Anchor, Jan.; trade paper)
• Shenk's moving, powerful and thoughtful "biography" of the disease weaves anecdotes from Plato to Reagan.
Host Michael Wood
Air date February 4 (PBS)
Tie-inShakespeare: For All Time by Stanley Wells (Oxford Univ. Press, Jan.; 10,000 hardcover)
• Bard scholar Wells appears as talking head on PBS's "historical detective" show from BBC history maven Wood. Well-reviewed book should get a bump.
Directed by Independent Lens
Air date February 10 (PBS)
Tie-inNat Turner: A Slave Rebellion in History and Memory, edited by Kenneth S. Greenberg (Oxford Univ. Press, Feb., 5,000 hardcover)
• In his investigation of the slave rebellion, Suffolk University history chair Greenberg draws on multiple sources, including William Styron's famous novel.
Tie-inThe Office, The Scripts: Series 2 by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (BBC Books/Trafalgar Square, Mar.; 75,000 paper)
Tie-inQueer Eye for the Straight Guy: The Fab 5's Guide to Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better, and Living Better by Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley, Jai Rodriguez (Clarkson Potter, Feb. 10; 400,000 hardcover)
Tie-insSmallville: Curse by Alan Grant (Warner/Aspect, Jan.; 25,000 mass market); Smallville: City by Devin Grayson (Warner/Aspect, Mar.; 25,000 mass market)