- The Washington Times - Monday, April 20, 2009

Real news from the virtual world:

_ENDLESS “HALO”: “Downloadable content” _ the current phrase for what PC game developers used to call “expansion packs” _ has become an increasingly important part of the video-game landscape. Publishers see DLC as a way to extend the lives of games, drawing players back into older hits like “Grand Theft Auto IV,” “Fallout 3” and “Rock Band.”

No studio has more experience with DLC than Bungie, creator of the “Halo” franchise on Microsoft’s Xbox 360. The latest addition, out this month, is the Mythic Map Pack, which turns three of the settings from “Halo 3” into multiplayer arenas.

Bungie community manager Brian Jarrard calls DLC “a great bridge between products” _ in this case, between 2007’s “Halo 3” and this fall’s “Halo 3: ODST.” “We have a real desire to keep players engaged,” Jarrard says. “If they’re still playing ‘Halo 3,’ they’re more likely to buy ‘ODST.’”

There’s a benefit on the production end, too. Once a full-fledged “Halo” game ships, the job isn’t over. “There’s no time when there isn’t something to work on,” Jarrard says. “It keeps the team frosty.”

Scott Austin, Microsoft’s director of digitally distributed games, points out that DLC has done unusually well this winter, traditionally a slow time for new game releases. “After the holiday season, the developers go back to work, and the consumers keep playing through spring,” he says. “All of our best records are being broken.”

Coming this week: new goodies for Valve’s zombie thriller “Left 4 Dead.” And a little further down the road is a pack of new multiplayer modes for Microsoft’s “Halo Wars” strategy spinoff.

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_WHEELS OF STEEL: Rock-based rhythm games like “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” probably don’t do much for the hip-hop generation. But it won’t be long before we see the first turntable games _ if publishers can work out their legal differences.

Last year, buzz started building that “GH” publisher Activision was developing “DJ Hero.” Meanwhile, the home video company Genius Products contracted with 7 Studios to develop “Scratch: The Ultimate DJ.”

Now, Genius and its partner, turntable maker Numark, have filed a legal action claiming Activision has acquired 7 Studios in order to delay the release of “Scratch.” Activision acknowledged it had purchased the small studio, but called Genius’ claims “disingenuous,” and said Los Angeles Superior Court had found no evidence of wrongdoing. The court did order 7 Studios to return source code and other material related to “Scratch” to Genius and Numark.

Activision said the lawsuit won’t have any effect on “DJ Hero,” which is slated for a holiday release. Genius and Numark said they’ll still get “Scratch” in stores first.

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_YOU NEVER GIVE ME YOUR MONEY: No turntable necessary for MTV Games’ “The Beatles: Rock Band,” but the $250 “limited edition premium bundle” will deliver some other collectors’ items. The package will include a replica of Paul McCartney’s Hofner bass, as well as Ludwig-branded drums with a vintage Beatles kick drum head.

Of course, you can just buy the software for $60 and use the fake plastic instruments you already own. The Beatles invasion begins Sept. 9.

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_NEW IN STORES: All hail our new robot overlords! Wii players can enjoy Nintendo’s “Excitebots: Trick Racing,” while everyone else (with an Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 2) can enjoy the mech mayhem of Namco Bandai’s “Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2.”

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