News from the virtual world:
— DAWN OF CIVILIZATION: Sid Meier has won more awards than any other game designer, according to the folks at Guinness World Records.
He's known for deep, cerebral simulation and strategy classics like "Railroad Tycoon," "Pirates!" and "Civilization" — complex games that were better suited for home computers than living-room consoles.
That's going to change next month with the arrival of "Civilization Revolution," the first game Meier has designed specifically for consoles. (It's coming to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo DS.)
"It's an interesting opportunity to introduce a genre to console players," Meier says. "I hope it will appeal to those players who want something new."
Meier says consoles have one big advantage: "You know exactly what the hardware is, while every PC is different."
The first hurdle was mapping the keyboard-based controls of "Civilization" to the buttons of an Xbox controller; once Meier's team at Firaxis Games pulled that off, the rest was easy.
"We made it more colorful and visually appealing, and made the interface elements larger and easier to read," he says.
"'Civilization' can be intimidating," Meier acknowledges. "We want you to be comfortable sitting in your easy chair. But as you play it awhile, you get drawn into the depth of the game. Then you go to sleep thinking about strategy."
While "Civilization Revolution" may not be as complicated as his PC games, Meier seems energized by the chance to reboot the series for a broader audience.
"We know what the cool parts of 'Civilization' are," he says. "It was a lot of fun to put them all together."
— PARIS IN THE SPRINGTIME: Video games may be the burgeoning art form of the 21st century. So what better place to show off works in progress than the Louvre?
That's where Paris-based Ubisoft launched its Ubidays 2008, a showcase of its forthcoming software for this fall and beyond.
The one stunning development was a brief trailer featuring two of the characters from the 2003 cult classic "Beyond Good & Evil."
Critics (including me) adored the original, but nobody bought it, so the news that creator Michel Ancel is working on a follow-up is a huge surprise.
If "BG&E 2" approaches the greatness of its predecessor, it'll be one of 2009's best games.
The other major announcement was of a new "Prince of Persia" epic featuring an entirely new cast. Ubisoft also introduced the Wii game "Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party," which uses Nintendo's new Balance Board.
For the Nintendo DS, the company debuted a batch of female-oriented titles like "Imagine Teacher" and "My Fashion Studio," as well as a game designed to help smokers kick the habit.
Otherwise, Ubisoft showed off footage from a bunch of previously announced titles like "Tom Clancy's HAWX," "Shaun White Snowboarding" and "Far Cry 2" — though not, strangely enough, the much-anticipated "Splinter Cell: Conviction."
— HIGHWAY TO HEALTH: Over the last few decades, dozens (if not hundreds) of studies have been done on the negative effects of video games. But lately, more researchers are looking at the possible benefits.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a leading philanthropic group that focuses on health care issues, has donated more than $2 million to researchers who are studying the upside of interactive entertainment.
The money is being divided among teams at 12 institutions. For example, a project at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine will study an online role-playing game designed to teach recovering alcoholics how to avoid relapses.
Other experiments will test the effectiveness of video games in treating stroke victims, promoting healthy diets and encouraging exercise.
"Previous studies and clinical trials have shown that well-designed interactive games can significantly improve players' health-related knowledge, skills, behaviors and outcomes," said Debra Lieberman, director of Health Games Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "The 12 new studies will give us deeper insights into how and why certain game designs are compelling, fun and effective, and for which types of people."
— NEW IN STORES: You can turn your living room into a cineplex this week, with Sega's "The Incredible Hulk" (for most systems), Activision's "Kung Fu Panda" (most systems), LucasArts' "Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures" (most systems) and Sierra's "The Bourne Conspiracy" (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3). ... There are plenty of summer sequels, too, with Microsoft's "Ninja Gaiden II" (Xbox 360), Sony's "Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee 2" (PlayStation Portable) and Atlus' "Summon Night: Twin Age" (Nintendo DS). ... And Codemasters returns to auto racing with "Grid" (Xbox 360, PS3).