News from the virtual world:
— A WORLD GONE MADDEN: The NFL season is bookended by two spectacles: the release of "Madden NFL" at the start and the Super Bowl at the finish.
The "Madden" launch may not be as flamboyant, but that's not because publisher EA Sports isn't trying.
This year's "Maddenoliday" (ick) took over New York's Times Square for a day. The ESPN Zone hosted a tournament, Ozzy Osbourne played a mini-concert on top of the Hard Rock Cafe's marquee and devotees got the chance to run a few plays on one of Times Square's gigantic video screens.
Then the first reviews came in. And while just about everyone seemed to agree that "08" is the best "Madden" in years, several critics noted a drop-off in quality from the Xbox 360 version to the PlayStation 3 edition.
A tech support director at EA told the N4G Web site that "many publishers have been developing titles for the Xbox 360 for over 3½ years, while everyone who publishes now for the PlayStation 3, with the exception of Sony, has been developing for the PlayStation 3 for only a little over one full year."
He also said "it is very difficult to get it right the first time," although this is actually EA's second "Madden" game for the PS3.
Visually, the Xbox "Madden" is clearly superior, but the PS3 version's graphic shortcomings don't spoil the gameplay. It may take another season for EA to get a handle on Sony's console, but "Madden NFL 08" for the PS3 is a worthy effort.
— SHOCK TREATMENT: One of the year's most highly anticipated titles, 2K Games' "BioShock," comes out this week for the Xbox 360.
It's set in a huge underwater city called Rapture, built in the 1940s by a tycoon named Andrew Ryan. Something has gone horribly wrong, however, and the place has been overrun by mutants and killer robots.
"I love dystopian stories like '1984' and 'Logan's Run,'" said "BioShock" creative director Ken Levine, but the look of Rapture evokes another inspiration: objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand, author of "The Fountainhead."
The name Andrew Ryan seems awfully close to Ayn Rand, and Rapture is strewn with Randian slogans like "One Man's Vision — Mankind's Salvation" and "No Gods or Kings, Just Man."
Levine wouldn't say whether he agrees with Rand's much-debated philosophy. (She described it as "the concept of man as a heroic being.")
"Different players see Andrew Ryan as a hero or villain," he said. "So I'll have different people hating me for different reasons."
Still, "BioShock" looks like nothing else on the market — clearly the product of "one man's vision."
But for all the advance praise, Levine said, "I'm glad someone gave us the time and resources to make it."
— PONG ODDS: With games like "Madden" and "BioShock" around, it's tough to get excited about an old chestnut like "Pong" unless you can win money playing it.
Nevada gambling regulators have approved a slot machine called "Bally Pong."
If you line up three bonus icons, you enter a 45-second game of "Pong"; do well and you win more money.
Regulators approved the machine only after they were assured that the bonus round would deliver a payout even if the gambler was a lousy "Pong" player.
Bally said the game has already been approved in Michigan, and should be appearing at a Detroit casino any day now.
— NEW IN STORES: Two high-profile portable games go up against "BioShock" this week: Nintendo's "Brain Age 2" (for the DS) and Sony's "Jeanne d'Arc" (for the PlayStation Portable). ... The DS also gets Ubisoft's "The Settlers" and Majesco's "Turn It Around," while the PSP gets NIS' "Dragoneer's Aria." ... Ubisoft's "Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2" finally makes it to the PlayStation 3 as well as the PSP. ... SouthPeak invites you to explore "Two Worlds" on the Xbox 360.