Real news from the virtual world:
— BRASS IN POCKET: With more than 77 million units sold worldwide, Nintendo's handheld DS is by far the most popular video-game machine out there. But Sony's PlayStation Portable, while lingering far back with 41 million total sales, has been outpacing the DS in Japan recently.
Nintendo's defense? A new model of its popular portable.
The DSi's major new feature is a pair of digital cameras, one facing outward and one facing inward as you play.
It also has a slot for a memory card, allowing you to store images, music or games that you'll be able to download through its built-in Internet browser. The whole package is thinner and has bigger screens than its predecessor, the DS Lite.
The DSi goes on sale Nov. 1 in Japan for the equivalent of $180. But Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said, "We will not see the DSi in America until well into calendar year 2009."
He said 2008 sales of the DS Lite are still ahead of last year's, so there still appears to be plenty of money to squeeze out of the current model.
At a press conference in San Francisco, Fils-Aime did announce some new Nintendo games for 2009. Topping the Wii lineup: "Punch-Out!!," a revival of the 1980s boxing game, and "Sin & Punishment 2," a sequel to a cult-favorite shooter.
DS highlights include "Mario & Luigi RPG 3," "Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon" and "Rhythm Heaven."
— HIGH VOLTAGE: As a longtime fan of AC/DC guitarist Angus Young, I like to play "Rock Band" while wearing schoolboy shorts and spinning in circles on my back. And MTV Games' "Rock Band 2" really let me go all out by including "Let There Be Rock" on its soundtrack.
But you can never have enough Aussie metal, so the announcement of "AC/DC Live: Rock Band Track Pack" ... well, it shook me all night long.
There are a few catches, though. The 18-song disc for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii will cost $40 ($30 for the PlayStation 2 version).
That's not a lot for the money, even if the songs include "Back in Black," "Highway to Hell" and "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap." And the disc will only be available at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, the same places you'll have to go to buy AC/DC's new album, "Black Ice."
MTV described the package as an exclusive arrangement with AC/DC.
A few months ago, Eric Brosious, the audio director for "Rock Band" developer Harmonix, told the IGN Web site, "We prefer not to sign exclusive deals with anyone because ... in the long run, it's not really good for anyone." Apparently there's been a change of heart.
With more bands choosing sides between "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero," it looks like aspiring ax-slingers will need to buy both to get the full pantheon of rock gods.
— ALONE AGAIN OR: The E for All Expo was started with the idea of giving regular consumers the chance to check out the latest video games before they hit stores. But after two years, clearly the show isn't getting the job done.
Sony and Nintendo didn't even show up at this year's Expo, and The Associated Press reporters who trekked down to the Los Angeles Convention Center said there were very few as-yet-unpublished games in sight.
It's not like there isn't an audience for such an event. The fan-friendly Penny Arcade Expo drew 45,000 gamers to Seattle in August; that gathering has become so big that its founders are starting an East Coast version in 2010.
If E for All's organizers can't get the industry's big hitters to play along, it's probably time to cede the territory to PAX.
— HIGHWAY STAR: Do video-game players make excellent drivers? Allstate Corp. is hoping to find out.
The insurance giant is giving computer games to 100,000 Pennsylvania drivers ages 50-75, and plans to compare the accident records of those who play frequently with a control group of non-players.
The games, developed by San Francisco-based Posit Science, don't necessarily involve driving — and, personally, I wouldn't want to get in a car with a "Burnout Paradise" expert. Instead, they're meant to reverse cognitive decline and improve visual alertness.
Allstate assistant vice president Tom Warden said he hopes the software can show "significant benefits here, beyond dollars and cents."
— NEW IN STORES: The pro hoops season gets under way with EA Sports' "NBA Live 09" (most systems), 2K Sports' "NBA 2K9" (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2) and Sony's "NBA 09: The Inside" (PS3, PS2, PlayStation Portable). ... LucasArts brings its literally earth-shattering "Fracture" to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.