- The Washington Times - Monday, March 30, 2009

Real news from the virtual world:

_WELCOME TO THE MACHINES: The familiar way to start up a video game _ sticking a disk into a console or a computer _ isn’t about to go away anytime soon. But much of the buzz at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco revolved around machines that do without the disk drive. The devices’ creators hope to be at the forefront of a new age of downloadable gaming.

OnLive Inc., based in Palo Alto, Calif., plans to host dozens of popular computer games, from big publishers like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft, on its servers. Anyone with high-speed Internet could then connect a PC or a Mac to a server and start playing, say, “Crysis” without having to worry about whether his computer was powerful enough to handle its high-end graphics. You could even play PC games on your television through the OnLive MicroConsole, a sleek device that’s about as big as a pack of cigarettes.

Another machine introduced at GDC isn’t likely to make it into too many U.S. homes. But that’s OK, because Zeebo Inc.’s “video game console for the next billion” is aimed at places like India, China and Eastern Europe where few people can afford a PlayStation 3. Games will be distributed through cell-phone networks, using technology developed by San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc. Graphics quality is far from state-of-the-art, but Zeebo is wagering that developing markets will be wowed by decade-old hits like “Quake II” and “Crazy Taxi.”


_THE SOFT PARADE: Nintendo has a new console coming out next week: the DSi, the third generation of its DS portable. Nintendo President Saturo came to GDC with the DSi in hand, but got a far bigger reaction when he announced “The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks,” the second Zelda adventure for the DS. Iwata’s second software debut _ “Rock and Roll Climber,” which uses the Wii Balance Board to simulate rock climbing _ got a far less enthusiastic reception.

Just a handful of other games were announced at GDC, led by Sony’s “Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time.” Also intriguing: Ubisoft’s “R.U.S.E.,” which promises to bring actual strategy (in the sense of outwitting rather than overwhelming your opponent) to the real-time strategy genre.


_CHAMPIONS UNITE: GDC is also the site for the annual Game Developers Choice Awards. Game of the Year went to Bethesda Softworks’ “Fallout 3” (yay), which also won the award for best writing.

But “LittleBigPlanet” developer Media Molecule came on strong, picking up prizes for best debut, game design, technology and innovation. Erik Svedang’s “Blueberry Garden” won the top prize at the convention’s Independent Games Festival Awards.


_NEW IN STORES: Nothing can save you: Activision’s “Guitar Hero: Metallica” (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii) has arrived. … Prefer marching bands to metal bands? Majesco’s “Major Minor’s Majestic March” (Wii) may be more to your liking. … Still too noisy? Mellow out with Majesco’s “Gardening Mama” (DS).

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