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Long, Slow Summer Ahead for Video-Game Players

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Master Chief gets ready to kick more Covenant butt in 'Halo 3.'AP/Microsoft

Summer is typically a slow time for hot new video game releases. This year is no different.

Gamers looking forward to big brands like "Halo 3" and "Grand Theft Auto IV" will have to wait until this fall and the Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays. That's when the games business goes into overdrive and makes up half its revenue, says analyst Anita Frazier at NPD Group.

"Traditionally, the summer months haven't been super strong game-sales months," says analyst Ted Pollak of Jon Peddie Research. "Games are an indoor sport and it just lends itself to the holidays."

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Filling the void for the next few months are video game spinoffs of Hollywood blockbusters like "Spider-Man 3."

Joining Peter Parker in the transition from silver screen to television screen is an avalanche of franchises, including "Shrek the Third," "Fantastic 4: Rise of Silver Surfer," "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" and "Transformers."

The Walt Disney Co. (DIS) is banking that Jack Sparrow, Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner have enough appeal to keep two upcoming titles afloat.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" will come out later this month for a variety of platforms, while "Pirates of the Caribbean Online" is an upcoming PC game that includes sword fights and naval battles in a persistent, real-time fantasy world.

In another movie twist, Midway's "Stranglehold," due later this summer for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360, will serve as a digital sequel to the 1992 Hong Kong action film "Hard-Boiled."

It's billed as a collaboration between director John Woo and actor Chow Yun-Fat, who reprises his role as the gunslinging Inspector Tequila.

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) is making several moves this summer to woo gamers to its Xbox 360 and Windows Vista platforms.

The armor-clad star of the popular "Halo" sci-fi shoot-em-up games already debuted on the Xbox 360 this month — sort of.

A "beta" version of "Halo 3" will function until June 6 for consumers who signed up for it ahead of time or purchased a copy of the action game "Crackdown," which includes a special access code.

Don't be too jealous: They'll be testing out a very limited version of Master Chief's newest adventures to help work out the kinks. The final game won't be available until Sept. 25, says Shane Kim, corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios.

Microsoft is also hoping to get more consumers hooked on its Vista operating system with two first-person shooters.

Available for Microsoft's game console since 2004, a new "Halo 2" for Vista PCs adds some of the features found in the company's Xbox Live service.

"Shadowrun," meanwhile, will be the company's first game to pit Xbox 360 gamers directly against PC players. Part of a larger strategy to integrate the two platforms, players on the Xbox 360 version will be able to battle Windows Vista users in the same online shootouts.

Fans of Nintendo's interactive Wii will have "Mario Party 8," the latest in a long line of over-the-top party games, at the end of this month. In June, the wildly popular "Big Brain Academy" series for the DS debuts on the Wii with "Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree."

"Pokemon Battle Revolution" arrives a few weeks later, giving Wii gamers a chance to collect and fight their battle critters for the first time.

In June, PC gamers clamoring for the latest from the gurus at id Software will get "Enemy Territory: Quake Wars," a squad-based war game pitting humans against the Strogg aliens.

For PlayStation 3 owners still playing "Resistance: Fall of Man" until something more compelling comes along, there's the fighter "Ninja Gaiden Sigma" in June and the gorgeous dragon-riding romp "Lair" due about a month later.

Sony Computer Entertainment America has several other PS3 games in the works as well, including the hack-and-slasher "Heavenly Sword" and the jet fighting game "Warhawk" in late summer. Exact dates haven't been announced.

Owners of pretty much every platform can look forward to August, when new gridiron cover star Vince Young headlines "Madden NFL 08."

The football franchise, a perennial top-seller for Electronic Arts Inc. (ERTS), gets some competition this year from 2K Sports, which is releasing its own take on the NFL with "All-Pro Football 2K8" for the PS3 and Xbox 360.