Epic, Grasshopper partner with EA

Megapublisher to distribute new IP from Gears of War-maker's People Can Fly subsidiary, forthcoming collaboration between Suda-51 and Shinji Mikami.

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REDWOOD CITY--Though Electronic Arts has made some major acquisitions in recent years--most notably Digital Illusions CE (2006) and BioWare/Pandemic (2008)--the publisher also has less disruptive ways of working with external developers.

In 2006, the now-second-largest third-party publisher announced it would distribute Crytek's Crysis and Valve Software's The Orange Box. The following year, it revealed it would handle marketing, PR, and retail duties for MTV Games' Rock Band, developed by Guitar Hero creators Harmonix. Just last month at the E3 Media & Business Summit, EA stunned many by announcing a deal with longtime Activision partner id Software to help bring its open-world road-action game Rage to stores.

The key to these landmark deals is EA Partners, a program which has the publisher lend its marketing, distribution, financial, and retail expertise to indie shops for a cut of their games' proceeds. As explained by John Carmack at E3, the program offers a range of services to indie developers. The flexibility EAP offers is attractive to many studios, and today at the publisher's first post-E3 media showcase, EA announced two more deals which few could have predicted.

The first will see EA join forces with Epic Games, the powerhouse North Carolinian developer and creator of the Unreal Engine 3, which lies at the heart of games like Mass Effect and Hour of Victory. Epic's project with EA will be an action game for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC, with development handled by Poland-based People Can Fly, the studio behind Painkiller. Epic president Mike Capps told the audience that his instructions to "PCF," which Epic bought last year, was to "make something as cool as Painkiller and go over the top."

This is not the first time Epic has teamed with a big-name publisher in order to get its games on shelves. The developer has also partnered with Midway Games to publish Unreal Tournament III and with Microsoft for the Gears of War games, the second of which is due out November 7.

Also on hand at today's event was Goichi Suda--sometimes referred to as Suda-51--head of the maverick Japanese developer Grasshopper Manufacture. The EAP program will handle North American distribution for Suda's next project, a collaboration with designer Shinji Mikami. It is EAP's first game from a Japanese developer, and will be made for a worldwide audience "with North America and Europe in mind," according to EA Games president Frank Gibeau. He told GameSpot that EA's history of simultaneous multiplatform publishing was a major factor in the Grasshopper deal, as the game will be released for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, and PC.

The Grasshopper project was described as a "mysterious unique action-packed horror game" by Suda, who apologized he could not provide further details. He will direct the title, while Mikami will serve as a producer. They will have even more help, as EA has said Q Entertainment (Lumines, Meteos) will also work on the project.

The pair of Mikami and Suda boasts an impressive resume, with Suda having created cult favorites Killer7 and No More Heroes, and Mikami having created the Resident Evil franchise. In recent years, Mikami reinvented his hit series with GameSpot's 2005 Game of the Year Resident Evil 4 and signed on to create another new game for Platinum Games and Sega.

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