News from the virtual world:
— A RISKY BET: When Billy Levy and Zack Zeldin were roommates in Miami Beach, they played "Madden NFL" for $100 a game.
Now the guys are betting that there are plenty of other gamers who like to "make things interesting," and they're about to start a Web site where players can put their money where their joystick thumbs are.
Once you register at Toronto-based WorldGaming's site, it will hook you up with other gamblers who want to challenge you at "Halo 3," "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" or about a dozen other games.
After you put your money in escrow, you go to your console and play; WorldGaming will be able to track the competition and pay off the winner.
Levy says that since skill supersedes chance in video games, WorldGaming isn't considered a gambling arena, so it's legal in most of the United States.
The site's founders haven't sought approval from Microsoft or Sony, the proprietors of the Xbox and PlayStation networks on which the actual competitions will take place.
"We'd love that to happen," says marketing director Richard Santiago, "but we have some proving to do."
The entrepreneurs hope to make money from ads and fees for hosting online tournaments. In the meantime, they're giving away about $50,000 in prizes leading up to their April launch, and gamers with a taste for action are invited to help with beta testing at www.WorldGaming.com.
— TOYS IN THE ATTIC: In 1994, Aerosmith starred in a ridiculous light-gun shooter called "Revolution X."
But now the boys have found a vehicle more appropriate to their talents: the next installment of Activision's "Guitar Hero," due this summer.
"Guitar Hero: Aerosmith" will feature the greatest hits from the band's 30-year career, along with songs from acts that Aerosmith "has either performed with or been inspired by."
Guitarist Joe Perry said, "Fans want to get and experience music in new formats — and there are going to be some of them who will play the game, then pick up the guitar for real and start bands."
Meanwhile, over in the "Rock Band" camp: A hacker claimed to have found a list of downloadable songs that are planned for Electronic Arts/MTV's music game.
An MTV spokesman told Wired.com that the list was real, but that it was subject to change.
So without naming specific cuts that may disappear, we can report that there's a ton of Grateful Dead, a pile of Nirvana and lots of 1990s alt-rock.
— 'SPORE' IN STORE: Speaking of Electronic Arts, the world's biggest third-party game company released a slew of announcements in advance of this week's Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
The big story: "Spore," the long-awaited universe simulator from "The Sims" creator Will Wright, is almost done, and will be available for the PC, Macintosh, Nintendo DS and mobile phones Sept. 7.
"We're in the final stages of testing and polish," said Wright, "and the team at Maxis (Wright's studio) can't wait to see the cosmos of content created by the community later this year."
EA also announced the revival of "Command & Conquer: Red Alert," a much-loved real-time strategy series that's been dormant for seven years.
"Red Alert 3" takes place in an alternate reality in which the United States, the Soviet Union and Japan are equal superpowers, and wacky technologies like war blimps, teleportation and, um, armored bears have transformed the art of war.
— GRIDIRON GAMBITS: You say you love football but have grown bored with "Madden NFL"? Too bad — EA Sports has extended its exclusive agreement with the NFL and its players through the 2012 season, which means "Madden" will continue to be the only game in town for another five years.
Fans of the college game should know that the cover of EA's "NCAA Football 09" will feature a mascot, not an athlete, when the series comes to the Wii this year.
You can vote for your favorite at www.ncaafootball.com.
Since the Stanford Tree isn't on the ballot, I'm campaigning for the biggest dork on the slate, Syracuse's Otto the Orange.
— NEW IN STORES: Square Enix brings one of its big role-playing franchises to the Wii with "Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors." ...
It's kill or be killed for members of "The Club" (Sega, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3). ...
EA Sports' style of stripped-down soccer returns in "FIFA Street 3" (360, PS3, DS). ...
Phoenix Wright hands his practice over to newcomer "Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney" (Capcom, DS).