Interview: D3P's Takenaka Talks Coraline Game, Universal Pictures AgreementS

D3Publisher announced an aggressive push into kid-friendly games this morning with two announcements: First, the publisher has entered into an agreement with Universal Pictures to release video games based on the upcoming animated film Coraline, an adaptation of the gothic fairytale novella by Neil Gaiman. The Coraline game will be coming to consoles and handheld systems in 2009

Second, D3P will release a DS title based on Aardman Animation's Shaun the Sheep TV series on February 6, 2009. When Kotaku visited D3P's press event last week in New York City, we got to take a look at the Shaun the Sheep game, and we also recently spoke to D3P of America's executive vice president Yoji Takenaka about the agreement and the new titles.

"Coraline is a movie for kids, and it's part of our global strategy to bring good kids' properties to the video game market," said Takenaka. "Also, Coraline opened up a relationship with Universal Studios, a major studio, and I am very excited by that."

Gaiman's dark fairytale story had its disturbing moments, so we were a little surprised to hear that it's being adapted as a stop-motion animated kids' flick, and asked Takenaka for more details.

"It will skew toward the younger demographic," said Takenaka, "but there's something in there for everyone."

Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick will be heading up the film project, and the animation will be filmed first in 3D, starring Dakota Fanning in the title role. Coraline discovers a secret door in her house that leads to an alternate life that seems better at first, but quickly grows sinister.

"It's a very stylish movie and we love the story. We see opportunity there, and so we decided to take this property and make a game out of it."

It isn't the publisher's first partnership with a film studio, after doing Aardman's Flushed Away based on the Dreamworks Pictures film.

"We're very much enthusiastic any time we have this kind of opportunity, so I'm excited," said Takenaka. "We are here to support the kids' market."

Shaun the Sheep will be a DS exclusive, and Takenaka said it was the right time to do the game as the TV series, already well-received in the UK, began to gain popularity in the U.S, running right before Hannah Montana on the Disney channel. Takenaka expects the game will release simultaneously, or close to it, in both Europe and the U.S.

"We are making an adventure game showcase of the very funny and very memorable moments in the show, and it has an immediate hook with the sense of humor," Takenaka explained.

When I had the Shaun the Sheep game demonstrated for me at the D3P event, it did indeed look to be a kid-friendly adventure game with minigames at intervals making full use of the DS functionality - like "blowing dry" each fluffy sheep after they'd been washed. In the section I saw, the player guided Shawn around the farm with the stylus, tapping various objects in the search for a lost flock. There were also well-rendered images from classic moments in the show that the player would receive as rewards for success.

Takenaka said the kids' product line was a major part of the publisher's strategy, but not its entirety. "Our strategy is, right now, 50-50 divided between kids' games and original IP. As you know, we brought Dark Sector just about a couple months ago, and Dead Head Fred last summer, and Earth Defense Force. So we are bringing more contents in the future."

D3P also plans to continue moving into the area of digital distribution, as it did when it brought Puzzle Quest to Xbox Live Arcade. "We enjoy the success on XBLA with Puzzle Quest, and it's one of our top sellers in the last year. We would like to keep going and bringing very great games, intriguing games... we are here to support Xbox Live and PlayStation Network and PC downloadables, and we are ready to move forward onto Wii Ware."

Some of these downloadable titles, said Takenaka, will be specific to one platform, and others will be available cross-platform.

While only Shaun the Sheep was available to view at D3P's recent press event, Takenaka said he'd seen the Coraline game in progress, and that he was excited about how it was coming along.

"She is cute!" He said.