Real news from the virtual world:
— JUST LIKE HOMEMADE: The biggest mystery among this fall's video games could be Sony's "LittleBigPlanet," a gorgeous PlayStation 3 title that combines running, jumping and puzzle-solving with a complete tool kit that allows you to assemble your own levels.
The question: Once "LBP" is out there, will we see a flowering of player creativity? Or will most buyers pack it away once they've conquered the built-in levels?
Kareem Ettouney, art director and co-founder of "LBP" developer Media Molecule, is confident that wannabe designers will take full advantage of the game's capabilities. And in a prerelease experiment, the Media Molecule team invited students at New York's Parsons the New School of Design to spend 24 hours building original levels.
"We expected people to need our help," Ettouney said. "Instead, they were using our tools in ways we hadn't thought of. Some of the results looked more mature than our own stuff."
The winning level, inspired by the PlayStation 2 classic "Shadow of the Colossus," required the game's hero, Sackboy, to climb a single, moving monster, dodging stomach acids, parasites and other disgusting internal obstacles.
Even if you're experienced with the level-building tools offered by some other games, you may be surprised by the nearly tactile look and feel of the objects in "LBP."
Asked about art-directing a game in which so much depends on the user, Ettouney said, "This game challenged me in ways that I've never been challenged before. ... The style rose out of what is believable."
The Media Molecule team drew on a world of inspiration, from Bollywood to urban graffiti, to illustrate the components of "LBP."
"It was when we went for imperfection that we pushed the tools to the max," said Ettouney. You'll get your chance to push this ambitious game to the max next month.
— FOR GOODNESS' SAKE: The Entertainment Software Association has distributed $1 million in grants to nine organizations that are using technology in health, education and safety programs.
Interestingly, one of those groups is the National Institute on Media and the Family, which issues an annual report card on violence and sexual content in video games.
The ESA Foundation's announcement specifically cited NIMF and another group, Web Wise Kids, for their efforts promoting Internet safety.
Some of the other projects the ESA is helping fund use interactive technology to teach children about mental health, American history, biology and the environment.
Part of the foundation's funding comes from its annual "Nite to Unite for Kids" dinner. This year's event, to be held Oct. 22 in San Francisco, will honor Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of "Super Mario Bros." and "The Legend of Zelda."
— NEW IN STORES: Role-playing expert BioWare's take on a beloved mascot in Sega's "Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood" (for the DS). ... Konami's gruesome horror franchise finally goes hi-def with "Silent Hill: Homecoming" (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3). ... Wanna talk gruesome? How about the idea of anyone over 18 playing Namco Bandai's cheerleader game, "We Cheer" (Wii)?