News from the virtual world:
— GRAND OPENING: Ready or not, "Grand Theft Auto IV" is only two weeks away. It's widely expected to be 2008's best-selling game, and players all over the world are planning to call in sick on its April 29 release date.
Some Hollywood analysts have even expressed concern that "GTAIV" could put a dent in the box office for "Iron Man," which opens May 2.
We still have a fortnight before the inevitable furor over the content of "GTAIV," which, according to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, includes "intense violence, blood, strong language, strong sexual content, partial nudity and use of drugs and alcohol."
Developer Rockstar Games has been generous about letting us know what else we can expect, particularly in the game's all-new multiplayer modes.
There's the typical kill-or-be-killed deathmatch; a "cops 'n crooks" team game; and races, with or without weapons. There are also events where teams can compete to steal the most cars or perform other contract jobs for the mob.
Altogether, Rockstar is promising at least a dozen multiplayer games, which should keep the rabid fan base happy long after they've completed the "GTAIV" solo adventure.
— STRONG MEDICINE: "Grand Theft Auto" anti-hero Niko Bellic may think he's a tough guy, but he's got nothing on Strong Bad, star of the Internet cartoon "Homestar Runner."
For one thing, Strong Bad always wears a mask and boxing gloves — and, frankly, I'm more excited about his video game, which is being developed for Nintendo's WiiWare Internet service.
"Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People" will be delivered in five chapters — one per month, beginning in June — making it the first episodic console game.
It's being developed by Telltale Games, which comes to the project after 11 successful episodes of the goofy detective series "Sam & Max" (which, incidentally, is also coming to the Wii).
"Homestar Runner" creators Matt and Mike Chapman helped develop the game's art and script. It's a point-and-click adventure with simple controls, and also offers "time-wasters" like e-mail, prank phone calls and other minigames.
Fans of Strong Bad — and of "Sam & Max" — now have an undeniable reason to hook that Wii up to the Internet.
— DEVIL'S WORKSHOP: "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" isn't just another "Guitar Hero III" track. It's the last tune in the game's career mode, and you have to master it to survive the climactic duel with Satan.
You'd think any songwriter would be thrilled with such a high-profile slot in Activision's best-selling video game. Not Charlie Daniels, who recorded the original in 1979.
On his Web site, Daniels wrote that his song "is supposed to be a lighthearted novelty about a fiddling contest between a country boy and the devil, and the devil always loses. That is not the case with the 'Guitar Hero' version, which comes complete with a horned, guitar-playing devil who battles the player and very often wins.
"I want any of you parents out there whose children have this game to know that I did not grant these people my permission to pervert my song and am disgusted with the result," Daniels wrote.
— DEF JAMS: Other aging rockers are more grateful for the "Guitar Hero" exposure. Take pop-metal icons Def Leppard, who are releasing their next single, "Nine Lives," as a tune for "GHIII."
You'll be able to download the single, along with Lep classics "Photograph" and "Rock of Ages," on April 24 — five days before the band's new album is available.
But another '80s arena-rock dinosaur is beating Def Leppard to the punch. Motley Crue is releasing its new single, "Saints of Los Angeles," as a download for MTV Games' "Rock Band" Tuesday. May the best hair band win.
— NEW IN STORES: Sony's greatest racing franchise returns in "Gran Turismo 5 Prologue" (PlayStation 3). ... Our 2006 Game of the Year, Capcom's "Okami," finally comes to the Wii. ... Otherwise, it's a smorgasbord of DS games, including Ignition's "Teenage Zombies: Invasion of the Alien Brain Thingys," 2K Sports' "Major League Baseball 2K8 Fantasy All-Stars," Atlus' "Rondo of Swords" and Disney's "High School Musical 2: Work This Out!"