Real news from the virtual world:
— AT LONG LAST, 'SPORE': When "The Sims" creator Will Wright announced "Spore" back in 2005, every gamer in the world had the same reaction: "I can't wait to get my hands on that."
Turned out we could wait three long years, as Wright tinkered with his universe-spanning evolution simulator and publisher Electronic Arts kept our appetite whetted with countless demos.
The thing's finally finished, and it will be available (for the Mac and PC) Sept. 7. But the evolution of "Spore" is far from over.
There are already two scaled-down spinoffs, "Spore Creatures" for the Nintendo DS and "Spore Origins" for mobile phones, due out the same day, and future expansion packs, downloadable content and user-developed material are inevitable.
Alas, there's no word yet on "Spore" for home consoles.
One might expect an evolution sim to draw some fire from religious groups, but so far, any protest has been muted. And religion can play a significant role in the development of your "Spore" species.
"I've had no critical feedback at all from anybody who is religious feeling that we were misrepresenting religion or it was bad to represent religion in the game," Wright (who describes himself as an atheist) told the Eurogamer Web site.
Instead, he said, it's been "militant atheists" who have who have complained about the presence of religion in the game.
— FIRST AND 20: Another branch of Electronic Arts, the EA Sports label, is celebrating too, with the unstoppable "Madden NFL" juggernaut having reached its 20th anniversary.
EA marked the occasion with two parties: a VIP soiree at a Hollywood club, featuring "celebrities" like Lauren Conrad and Tila Tequila, and a huge blowout at Pasadena's Rose Bowl for those of us who actually play the game.
At the Rose Bowl "Maddenpalooza," hundreds of gamers got the chance to play the game against National Football League stars such as Warren Moon and Marshall Faulk.
Appropriately enough, EA enlisted Good Charlotte — led by brothers Joel and Benji Madden — to rock the stadium.
For those of us who are nowhere near California, Gamestop and other chains held midnight tailgate parties all over the country. It's a safe bet that many people who picked up "Madden" at one of its late-night launches called in "sick" the next day.
— MEET THE NEW BOSS: Electronic Arts has long been criticized for being overly dependent on sports and sequels, but its recent acquisitions indicate a new direction.
The latest surprise is an arrangement to publish a new horror game from Goichi Suda's Grasshopper Manufacture.
Suda is the madman behind the ultra-gory cult hits "No More Heroes" and "Killer 7," and if he's cool with EA, things have really changed.
EA has also signed a publishing agreement with Epic Games' People Can Fly studio, based in Poland. Epic is the powerhouse behind "Gears of War" and "Unreal," while People Can Fly is best known for "Painkiller."
For now, EA won't go any further than to describe the project as "an all-new action title."
The latest signings bode well for the company's new "studio-focused philosophy," which EA Partners general manager David DiMartini describes as "giving the world's best independent developers access to EA's global publishing resources, letting them focus on what they do best — making great games."
— MONSTER HOUSE: Most video-game tournaments are built around hyperviolent shooters like "Halo" and "Counter-Strike." But there is a more family-friendly side to competitive gaming, thanks to "Pokemon" — and even then, the action can be cutthroat.
Pokemon USA, an affiliate of Nintendo, invited more than 400 "Pokemon" experts to compete at its World Championships in Orlando, Fla. Most were there to play the trading card game, and the champions in three age groups each walked away with a $7,500 scholarship.
The guest list also included 64 experts at Nintendo's "Pokemon Emerald" and "Pokemon Pearl" video games.
The junior champion was 11-year-old Knight Silvayne of Chicago; the senior winner was 21-year-old Izuru Yoshimura of Hiroshima, Japan. Each won a six-day vacation for four in New York City, Honolulu or Tokyo.
— NEW IN STORES: After nearly a decade in development, Microsoft's "Too Human" finally makes it to the Xbox 360. ... Atari serves up Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and more than a dozen other pros in "Smash Court Tennis 3," for the Xbox 360.