News from the virtual world:

— LEAP INTO THE VOID: In May, video gamers usually turn their attention toward Los Angeles, site of the industry's biggest annual trade show. But this year, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) has been downsized and moved to July — and those of us who have gotten used to a pre-Memorial Day trip to California are left twiddling our thumbs.

To fill the void, a number of high-profile publishers have been holding events around the world to hype forthcoming games.

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Microsoft (MSFT), for example, gave journalists in several cities the chance to play the long-awaited "Halo 3." Square Enix held a party in Tokyo to introduce a pile of new "Final Fantasy" spinoffs as well as — thank heavens — an entirely new role-playing title, "The Last Remnant."

Sega, one of the biggest Japanese names in the business, has been busily scooping up projects from Western development teams.

New console games in the company's future include "Condemned 2: Bloodshot," "Ghost Squad," "Universe at War: Earth Assault" and "Happy Tree Friends False Alarm," based on the gory Web cartoon.

Sega is also teaming up with Gas Powered Games, creator of "Dungeon Siege," for an entirely new, yet unnamed PC role-playing game.

— BEST. GAME. EVER? Electronic Arts (ERTS), the biggest independent game publisher in the world, led its summer preview with a glimpse at "The Simpsons," its first crack at a game featuring America's favorite family.

Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa will all be playable characters in an adventure that finds them trapped in video-game parodies like "Grand Theft Scratchy" and "Medal of Homer."

EA also showed off some new "Sims" titles designed for Nintendo's Wii and DS, but the company's biggest news was bad news.

Will Wright's "Spore" — one of the most ambitious and eagerly anticipated games ever — has been delayed until 2008. The news caused EA's stock prices to skid, but the company deserves credit for not forcing "Spore" out the door before its time.

— LUCKY PENNY: Old-school gamers remember Ron Gilbert: He was the designer of a series of late '80s PC classics, including "Maniac Mansion" and "The Secret of Monkey Island."

For much of the last 15 years he's been working on kids' software, but he's finally returning to entertain grown-ups again.

The project is "Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness," based on the popular Web comic.

"I have always found their comic so funny and biting," said Gilbert. "When I first heard they were making a game ... I knew immediately I wanted to be involved."

"Penny Arcade" creators Jerry "Tycho" Holkins and Mike "Gabe" Krahulik have been working on the project for a few months with the Canadian studio Hothead Games.

Holkins, clearly tickled by the chance to work with a legend, said, "The whole thing is super crazy."

— LIVE FROM HOLLYWOOD: Variety reports that Hollywood's young Turks have a new meeting place: Xbox Live. And in some cases, the online network has become a job network.

Stuart Beattie, screenwriter of the film adaptation of Microsoft's "Gears of War," got the gig after playing the game online with New Line Cinema Executive Jeff Katz.

"Troy" screenwriter David Benioff said there's another benefit to playing Xbox Live.

"Whenever I play with strangers, there's always profanity directed against me due to my incompetence," he said. "I find it's an easy way to research the slang that today's 14-year-olds use when they curse."

— NEW IN STORES: Sony's (SNE) excellent baseball title, "MLB 07: The Show," finally arrives on the PlayStation 3. ... Activision (ATVI) delivers May's second big movie tie-in, "Shrek the Third," for the Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2 and DS. ... Atlus imports another weird role-playing game, "Etrian Odyssey" for the DS. ... Natsume introduces a whole new genre — sci-fi farming — in "Innocent Life: A Futuristic Harvest Moon" for the PlayStation Portable. ... And the DS becomes a zombie-killing machine in Eidos' appetizingly titled "Touch the Dead."