News from the virtual world:
— THAT OTHER CAR GAME: "Grand Theft Auto IV" is getting the lion's share of attention this week, and publisher Rockstar Games is expecting that just about everyone with an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3 is going to buy one.
But where does that leave Wii owners? Or parents who don't want their kids to be exposed to the lurid shenanigans in Liberty City?
Nintendo, which has shown uncanny marketing instincts over the last couple of years, is hoping to meet the demand for an alternative.
While every other game manufacturer dodged the "GTA IV" street date, Nintendo took it head-on, releasing "Mario Kart Wii" just two days earlier.
It could be a savvy strategy, and Nintendo doesn't have much to lose, since "Mario Kart" is certain to be one of the year's best-selling games.
There's still plenty of demand for the Wii itself, and cheapskates who have been waiting for a price cut are going to have to keep waiting.
While console prices usually drop over time, Nintendo president Saturo Iwata says, "I don't think that model is correct."
And even though the 360 and the PS3 cost less now than they did at launch, the Wii is still less expensive than either.
— SAVE THE CHILDREN: Industry watchdogs are already sharpening their knives for "Grand Theft Auto IV," preparing to dig out the game's raciest content as evidence that Rockstar is trying to poison the minds of America's youth.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board has labeled "GTA IV" Mature, meaning it isn't appropriate for anyone under 17. But the board is trying to make sure parents understand the ratings and know how to use the parental controls on game consoles.
So it has teamed up with Andrew S. Bub, creator of the excellent GamerDad Web site, to create a booklet on those subjects that will be distributed through Parent Teacher Association branches throughout the country.
The board has also joined forces with the National Institute on Media and the Family, a group that issues an annual report card on video-game sex and violence. The two groups have locked horns in the past, but they joined forces in advance of "GTA IV."
"The best way for parents to know what games their kids are playing is by watching what your kids watch and playing what your kids play," ESRB president Patricia Vance and NIMF founder David Walsh said in a joint statement.
— HOMESICK: Momentum seems to have shifted for Sony's PlayStation 3 since its bumpy launch in 2006. Thanks to price cuts and a few exclusive games (like "Gran Turismo 5 Prologue"), sales are increasing, and the release of "GTA IV" could drive more PlayStation 2 holdouts to upgrade.
But one element of Sony's strategy remains a mystery.
Home, the virtual community announced in spring 2007, was scheduled to go live that fall. It was then pushed back to this spring, and now Sony says it will be delayed until at least fall.
"The wait has been prolonged for PS3 users, but we plan satisfying entertainment by spending more time on development to improve the service," said Sony Computer Entertainment chief executive Kazuo Hirai.
— WONDER BRETT: Here's one way to beat the notorious Madden curse: Don't take on the lucrative — but potentially dangerous — cover gig until after you've retired.
That should keep Brett Favre, the retired Green Bay quarterback whom EA Sports has chosen as the face of "Madden NFL 09," off the disabled list.
Of course, if Favre changes his mind and unretires before the season begins, as many have speculated, all bets are off.
Favre admitted he's not a video gamer.
"I'm not savvy enough to play this game," he told the AP. "Some of our guys play Madden better than they play on Sundays. And they spend more time talking about playing Madden."
The other big news concerning the nation's favorite sports franchise is that it appears there's going to be less John Madden in "Madden NFL 09."
EA Sports has announced a new play-by-play and color commentary team: Tom Hammond and Cris Collinsworth, both from NBC.
— NEW IN STORES: There's one more hero who isn't afraid to challenge the "Grand Theft Auto" juggernaut: "Iron Man," in the movie tie-in from Sega (most systems). ... Otherwise, we're about as far from Liberty City as you can get with Majesco's "Wild Earth: Animal Safari" (Wii) and "Toy Shop" (DS), Eidos' "Brain Voyage" (DS) and Natsume's "River King: Mystic Valley" (DS).