News from the virtual world:
— BLOODY MESS: The initial version of "Manhunt 2" was gory enough to earn an "adults only" warning from the panel that rates video games.
So publisher Rockstar Games blurred out enough of the nasty bits to get the rating lowered to "mature," which is how the game ended up on store shelves last week.
But it only took hackers about 24 hours to un-blur the footage, leading to more headaches for the rating board and more headlines for Rockstar.
The hack only works on the PlayStation Portable version of the game, and only on PSPs that have been illegally modified.
Entertainment Software Rating Board President Patricia Vance, noting the difficulty of unlocking the offending content, said the game's "M" rating "is still valid, and we stand behind it."
Vance is used to such shenanigans from Rockstar: Two years ago, after hackers found a hidden sex scene in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," the ESRB slapped an "AO" rating on it, forcing Rockstar to pull it from stores.
Anti-violence advocates raised the usual ruckus, but Rockstar also drew flack from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
"Manhunt 2" — which begins in a mental hospital — "perpetuates and reinforces cruel, inaccurate perceptions that people who live with mental illnesses are violent," the group said.
— HO HO HO: As sordid as the whole "Manhunt 2" story has been, it's reassuring to know that there are still some nice guys in the video-game industry.
And with Christmas around the corner, it's time again to acknowledge the people at Child's Play, who have raised more than $2 million worth of toys, games and cash for children's hospitals over the last four years.
Last year's campaign was the most successful yet, and Child's Play founders Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins — also known as Gabe and Tycho, creators and stars of the Web comic "Penny Arcade" — intend to keep the momentum going.
As usual, they'll be auctioning off video-game goodies at a dinner in Seattle, scheduled this year for Dec. 11.
But if you can't make it to the banquet, you can contribute online at www.childsplaycharity.org.
— RABBITY REDUX: Another great video-game duo — Telltale Games' Sam & Max, the dog/"hyperkinetic rabbity thing" detective team — returns to the Web this week.
The boys are back in "Ice Station Santa," the first episode of their second season on Turner Broadcasting System's GameTap network.
Season one of "Sam & Max," released as six episodes between November 2006 and May 2007, got great reviews and drew a nice crowd to GameTap, a subscription service that lets you download nearly 1,000 classic video games.
In fact, game No. 1,000 is going up on GameTap next week. And "Myst Online: Uru Live" just wrapped up its first season.
But "Sam & Max" may end up being the most influential title on the system, if only because it proved that episodic games can work.
— TREMOR IN THE FORCE: The previous collaboration between LucasArts and BioWare was "Knights of the Old Republic," a brilliant role-playing game that was also the best "Star Wars" tie-in ever.
So the news that the BioWare studio — which was just acquired by Electronic Arts a few weeks ago — was getting back in business with LucasArts got a lot of gamers excited.
Could they be working on a new "KOTOR"? Or a "Star Wars" online game?
We don't know. All the companies said is that they will "deliver an experience that will span the traditional boundaries of video-game entertainment."
Whatever. We'll buy it even if it's a "Howard the Duck" game.
— NEW IN STORES: Activision brings its fine World War II franchise into the 21st century with "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare" (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo DS). ...
A popular DVD game gets the Xbox 360 treatment in Microsoft's "Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action." ...
Wii-playing strategists get Nintendo's "Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn," while sports fans get Sega's "Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games." ...
The DS goes educational with Ubisoft's "My Word Coach" (also Wii), "My Spanish Coach" and "My French Coach." ...
Other new DS challenges include Square Enix's "Dragon Quest Monsters: Joker," Disney's "Enchanted," Natsume's "Puzzle de Harvest Moon" and Atlus' "Ontamarama." ...
Konami's classic horror franchise gets its first PlayStation Portable outing in "Silent Hill: Origins." ...
Title of the week: "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Zombie Ninja Pro-Am" (Midway, for the PlayStation 2).