The Week in Games: June 30, 2008

Real news from the virtual world:

— IT'S A BLAST: Nuclear Armageddon probably strikes most people as a grim subject for a video game. But Todd Howard, executive producer of the forthcoming "Fallout 3," sees the brighter side of the apocalypse.

Citing movies like "I Am Legend," Howard relishes that "moment of discovery when you see what's happened to the world and wonder: Who would I be and what would I do?"

That moment happens fairly early in "Fallout 3," another 100-hour-plus epic from "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" developer Bethesda Softworks.

Your character, born underground decades after a nuclear war, emerges from his shelter into a blasted, decayed landscape that's oddly beautiful.

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Your main goal is survival despite threats, not just the radiation but also mutated creatures that have taken over the surface. But there are also ethical and strategic choices to make.

Bethesda acquired the rights to the long-dormant "Fallout" series while it was still working on "Oblivion."

Part of what drew Howard to the original games (published by Interplay) was their "overall charm," with the bleak environment balanced by "retro '50s optimism, the idea that in a nuclear disaster you could just get under your desk."

Building on the lessons learned from the "Elder Scrolls" games, Howard and his team have taken that mix of sunniness and despair and translated it into a detailed, 3D universe.

Some of the places still standing, he said, are "sun-baked suburban clichés, but you never know: Is there something bad or is there food?"

And "Fallout" fanatics will be delighted to hear that Dogmeat, the loyal pooch from the earlier games, is back.

Bethesda initially intended to make "Fallout 3" smaller than "Oblivion," but it's grown to about the same size — great news for role-playing addicts.

— DEVIL'S HAIRCUT: In 1997, Blizzard Entertainment redefined the role-playing game with its combat-heavy "Diablo." The 2000 sequel, "Diablo II," emphasized multiplayer exploration and became one of the most popular online games ever.

Last weekend, at its Worldwide Invitational tournament in Paris, Blizzard announced that the long-awaited "Diablo III" is coming at last — although the company declined to say how close it is to completion.

"We've wanted to expand on the epic story and gameplay elements of the Diablo universe for some time now," said Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime.

Instead, the company's energies have been focused on building and upgrading its massively multiplayer "World of Warcraft," and on counting the huge piles of money that game has made.

Blizzard is developing "Diablo III" for Windows and Mac computers, and there's no talk of a console version.

The next chapter retains the series' easy-to-learn hack-and-slash gameplay and its signature topdown perspective — with much more impressive graphics, of course.

The focus will remain on cooperative online play, so if you're preparing a return trip to the dark fantasy world of Sanctuary, better call a few friends.

— GAME THERAPY: Since the debut of Nintendo's Wii a couple of years ago, I've seen dozens of stories about retirement homes using the consoles to help keep their residents active.

But the Wii isn't just for old people! With the help of the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation, Nintendo is getting 1,250 Wiis into children's hospitals across the country.

Starlight CEO Paula Van Ness said the new Fun Centers "transform the hospital experience for children, bringing enjoyment and laughter to an otherwise daunting experience."

Plus, they have therapeutic value for kids who are undergoing physical rehabilitation.

Each of the Fun Centers being installed includes a flat-screen television, a DVD player, a Wii system and a collection of family friendly games such as "Super Mario Galaxy" and "Mario Party 8." (What, no "Resident Evil"?)

A previous version of the Fun Center, featuring the GameCube, was distributed to over 1,000 hospitals.

— NEW IN STORES: Activision is back in the saddle with "Guitar Hero: Aerosmith" (Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2), the first installment of the series to focus on a single band. Not to be out-rocked, Harmonix is also releasing "Rock Band 2" in September, first for the Xbox 360 and later on PlayStation 3 and Wii. ... Who needs med school when you can play surgeon in Atlus' "Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2" (DS)?