News from the virtual world:

— ONE TRUE RING: Since the debut of the Xbox 360 a year and a half ago, players have been thirsting for one title: "Halo 3." And now we know when the wait will be over. Microsoft has announced that the latest chapter in its most successful franchise will arrive Sept. 25.

A strange assortment of Hollywood talent ( Jon Heder? Dane Cook? The Burger King guy?) showed up at the splashy party where Microsoft made the announcement.

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"'Halo 3' is much more than a video-game release; it's the biggest entertainment event of the year," Microsoft vice president Peter Moore crowed. "We intend to deliver a finale that will go down in entertainment history."

You didn't have to be a celebrity to sample "Halo 3." The day after its shindig, Microsoft opened up a multiplayer beta test of the game on Xbox Live.

If you bought a copy of "Crackdown" (a game most of us have already forgotten about), you got an invitation to participate; if you logged in, you got a sample of the environments and multiplayer modes in "Halo 3."

Unfortunately, a lot of "Crackdown" buyers had trouble downloading the beta, but Microsoft was able to fix the problem within 24 hours. You still have until June 10 to play.

— STUDENT DRIVERS: A much lower-profile game took flight on Xbox Live around the same time as the "Halo 3" beta.

It's called "Aegis Wing," and it's a nifty little outer-space shoot-'em-up reminiscent of arcade classics like "Gradius" and "R-Type." And it's free.

What makes "Aegis Wing" intriguing is that it was created by three students during their internships at Microsoft last summer.

Scott Brodie, Danny Dyer and Matt Monson designed the game; Carbonated Games, the in-house Microsoft studio that translated "Uno" to Xbox Live, helped with development.

Now that he's finished college, Brodie will be working at Carbonated. Monson now works full-time at Turn 10 Studios, developers of Microsoft's "Forza Motorsport." Dyer, who's still studying at Texas A&M, will be interning this summer at Turn 10.

— PS3 POTPOURRI: Sony is hoping to blunt the impact of "Halo 3" with an assortment of PlayStation 3 exclusives.

At a media event in San Diego, the company showed off more than 30 games for the struggling console. Most were titles we'd already seen before, but invitees got to check out the progress that's been made on potential hits like "Ratchet & Clank Future," "Heavenly Sword" and "Lair."

There were a few surprises. Players were impressed by the Japanese role-playing game "Folklore," and the treasure-hunting adventure "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune" (from "Jak & Daxter" developer Naughty Dog) generated some buzz.

Sony also demonstrated a few online-only projects: the war game "SOCOM Confrontation" and the bizarre "Pain," in which you try to hurt your character as badly as possible.

— 'STAR' JONES: The "Warcraft" fantasy games — especially the online "World of Warcraft" — have pretty much given publisher Blizzard Entertainment a license to print money.

But in between "Warcraft II" and "Warcraft III" was a game called "StarCraft," a much-loved science-fiction twist on the strategy genre.

It's been nine years since "StarCraft," but Blizzard has finally gotten to work on the sequel. "StarCraft II" resumes the interstellar conflict between the Terrans (that's us), the cybernetic Protoss and the insectoid Zerg.

Blizzard said it's too early to pinpoint a release date, but did say the game was being developed for the PC only — disappointing those of us who are still waiting for a great console strategy game.

— NEW IN STORES: Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" tie-in sets sail on just about every system. ... The PlayStation 2 is still getting more role-playing games than the PS3. This week's epics include Atlus' "Odin Sphere" and Square-Enix's "Dawn of Mana." ... Mechs battle in the skies in "WarTech: Senko no Ronde" (Ubisoft, for the Xbox 360). ... Konami goes back to school with "Brooktown High: Senior Year" (for the PlayStation Portable) and "Death Jr. and the Science Fair of Doom" (for the Nintendo DS). ... Eidos brings the casual computer hit "Diner Dash" to the PSP and DS, while Majesco translates "The New York Times Crosswords" to the DS.