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The Week in Games: Aug. 4, 2008

Real news from the virtual world:

— SONIC BOOM: The people who create and publish video games — and those of us who just write about them — are still debating whether the industry's annual E3 trade show has lost its mojo.

Sure, it's not as flashy as it was; on the other hand, shouldn't the games speak for themselves?

I saw a lot of cool software at E3 this year, and wouldn't have been any more impressed if it had been surrounded by flashing lights, booming music and leggy models.

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Tucked away in conference rooms at the Los Angeles Convention Center, developers showed off much anticipated games like Ubisoft's lush "Prince of Persia," Capcom's gruesome "Resident Evil 5" and 2K Games' intense "Borderlands."

A few long-promised, soon-to-be-released titles — Electronic Arts' "Spore," Bethesda's "Fallout 3" — took their E3 victory laps.

And there were even a few surprises, like THQ's "Deadly Creatures," whose protagonists are a scorpion and a tarantula.

Electronic Arts had one of the show's more impressive rosters, giving us some hands-on time with the parkour-inspired "Mirror's Edge" and the sci-fi thrill ride "Dead Space."

EA's also going to be handling "Rage," Id Software's postapocalyptic adventure; "Dragon Age: Origins," BioWare's new role-playing fantasy; and Valve's zombie shooter "Left 4 Dead."

The most eclectic lineup at E3, however, belonged to Sega.

Of course, the company's hedgehog mascot was well represented, with "Sonic Unleashed," "Sonic and the Black Knight" and the BioWare-developed role-playing game "Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood."

But Sega also demonstrated a pair of hyperkinetic brawlers, "Bayonetta" and "MadWorld," from its new Platinum Games studio.

And two new epics — "Valkyria Chronicles," set in 1930s Europe, and the contemporary espionage drama "Alpha Protocol" — take fresh approaches to the often-predictable role-playing genre.

— DISAPPEARING ACTS: Even though it wasn't officially part of E3, the newly formed Activision Blizzard made a splash with a big party in L.A. during the week of the show.

Since then, however, some high-profile titles have been dropped from the combined catalogs of Activision and Vivendi (Blizzard's parent) — in particular, about half of the projects that had been slated under Vivendi's Sierra label.

One of those projects is "Brutal Legend," the heavy metal adventure from developer Tim Schafer's Double Fine Productions.

Schafer has been down this road before: His "Psychonauts" bounced around between publishers before being released in 2005 to great critical acclaim and widespread consumer indifference.

According to Variety, however, another publisher is ready to come to the rescue this time.

Other games in limbo include "Ghostbusters," "50 Cent: Blood on the Sand" and "World in Conflict: Soviet Assault."

"The Bourne Conspiracy," which came out earlier this year to middling reviews, will be the last Sierra game starring superspy Jason Bourne. Activision Blizzard has returned the video-game rights to the character to the estate of creator Robert Ludlum.

— BLANK SPACES: Offices across the United States experienced a rare surge in productivity last week when "Scrabulous," the word game that's hijacked hundreds of thousands of brains, disappeared from the Facebook social networking site.

Even the most naive "Scrabulous" player should have seen it coming: A week earlier, Hasbro, which holds the rights to Scrabble, had sued the knockoff's creators, claiming copyright infringement.

A few days later, "Scrabulous" returned with a new name — "Wordscraper" — and new rules. The tiles are now circular rather than square.

Players can design their own boards, putting double- and triple-point spaces wherever they want. And there are quadruple-point spaces.

"What they've done is taking a step in the right direction," Ethan Horwitz, an intellectual-property lawyer at King and Spalding in New York, told The Associated Press. "But I don't think it's a big enough step."

Hasbro said it "will evaluate every situation individually and take actions as appropriate."

— OFFENSIVE INTERFERENCE: Elsewhere on the legal front, legendary NFL running back Jim Brown has sued Sony and Electronic Arts for using his likeness without his permission.

The Hall-of-Famer accuses the companies of "taking a free ride on the trade value" of his reputation by selling a video game that includes an "All-Browns" team featuring a Brown lookalike wearing his number, 32. (Brown played nine seasons for the Cleveland Browns ... are all you football haters confused yet?)

The suit doesn't mention a specific game, though it's clearly EA's "Madden NFL," which has featured such all-star rosters in the past.

Nor does it explain why Sony's PlayStation is singled out, even though "Madden" has also been published for Nintendo and Microsoft consoles and well as personal computers.