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Thanks to the video game developers at Salt Lake City's Avalanche Software, fans of "Cars 2" won't just watch the animated cars swerve around the tracks. They'll be able to get behind the wheel and drive Lightning McQueen and Mater themselves.

Avalanche, which has also made video game tie-ins based on the Disney movies "Meet the Robinsons," "Bolt" and "Toy Story 3," has released its latest game to coincide with the computer-animated Pixar movie released in theaters last weekend.

It's the newest convergence of blockbuster summer films and games following such simultaneous movie-and-game releases as "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Thor" and "The Green Lantern" (games based on "Captain America," "Transformers" and "Harry Potter" are coming soon). For Avalanche, the process of creating a game based on "Cars 2" was similar to how Pixar makes movies — it's all about story.

"What we were trying to do is create a believable story where we take the characters from the first movie and second movie and put them together in one story," said John Blackburn, an executive producer on the game and co-founder of Avalanche, which is now owned by Disney Interactive.

The result is a driving game fueled on personality in the same way Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) and redneck dump truck Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) liven up the movies. The game's producers even gathered most of the movie's original actors to provide voices for the game.

The point of the game is to do more than drive a car but "feel like you're playing as a character," said the game's senior producer, Jon Warner.

The game is a sequel of sorts to the "Cars 2" movie, with the player starting in a driving academy and choosing from one of 20 different vehicles to play with. There are 15 tracks in six areas, including Tokyo, London and Rome, and six modes. Players can outfit their cars with elaborate weaponry (this year's movie also involves a story about international spies) including machine guns and oil slicks, and they can have shootouts in combat arenas.

People can also play against one another in multiplayer contests through online game services. The game is available for all the home and portable gaming systems, including the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

Avalanche began working on the game about 2½ years ago, and it involved as many as 170 programmers and artists at its peak, according to the game's producer, John Day. But they had to start working on the game when there was no movie, just the germ of an idea. They began when the movie itself was just in its "pitch stage."

Working closely with the Pixar animators and the movie's co-director, John Lasseter , ("Toy Story," "Cars"), the programmers at Avalanche created their own story and game mechanics. Then after developing the code for the game, they hammered out the details after hundreds of hours of play-testing.

"Fortunately, we share a passion for quality with Pixar," Blackburn said. "This feels like 'Cars.' "

Recapturing that beloved family-going experience in a video game is a particularly significant leap for Avalanche. The company began life in 1995 as an independent game developer of mostly adult, sometimes ultra-violent, video games like "Mortal Kombat Trilogy," the "Grand Theft Auto" clone "25 to Life" (for which its offices were once picketed by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff) and sports games such as "NFL Blitz."

But Avalanche's Blackburn said making the transition to family games based on high-profile Disney movies has been a refreshing change.

"If you can create anything, why not create something you can be proud of?" he said.


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