The Week in Games: Dec. 15, 2008

Real news from the virtual world:

— HOME COOKING: Home, the social network for PlayStation 3 users, has finally arrived — at least in part.

Sony has begun an open beta test for anyone with a PlayStation Network account, so if you have an Internet-connected PS3, you've probably been invited to join.

Unfortunately, unlocking Home wasn't easy for a lot of gamers, many of whom got connection error messages when they clicked on the Home icon that had materialized on their PS3 toolbar. Sony attributed the problem to "overwhelming demand" and said its programmers were "working around the clock to tackle the issues."

• Click here to visit's Video Gaming Center.

Once you finally get in and create your avatar, there are just a few locations open for activity. Beyond a central plaza where you can chat with other guinea pigs, there's a bowling alley where you can throw a few frames, shoot some pool or play with a selection of arcade games.

There's a mall where you can buy clothes for your avatar or furniture for your private apartment. And there's a movie theater where you can watch trailers for movies or games.

So far, it's fairly desolate, which is disappointing considering that it's been under development for three years.

Still, this is a beta version — so let's hope that Home lives up to Sony's lofty promises.

— BRUTAL TRUTHS: Forget everything you've heard about the video-game industry being recession-proof. Even the mighty Electronic Arts is hurting, and has announced that disappointing sales this year will lead to cuts in its scheduled releases for 2009.

After delivering that grim news, though, EA turned around and announced something truly wonderful: It has picked up "Brutal Legend," the Jack Black-starring heavy-metal epic from "Psychonauts" mastermind Tim Schafer.

"Brutal Legend" was dumped by Activision earlier this year, but Schafer now says, "I think it's clear that this game, like metal itself, cannot be killed!"

— BLACK DIAMOND: Speaking of Jack Black, he hosted Spike TV's Video Game Awards this year. Amid the usual gratuitous female pulchritude, stilted comedy skits and irrelevant musical performances, Spike did manage to anoint a game of the year: Rockstar's "Grand Theft Auto IV."

The 2008 VGAs were probably more notable for a bevy of new trailers for games like Sony's "God of War III" and "Uncharted 2: Among Thieves."

And Electronic Arts made news with the previously announced "Dante's Inferno." The teaser didn't show much, but we need more games based on 14th century poetry.

— SINK OR SWIM: European publisher 505 Games is hoping its new U.S division can make a splash with games, due in 2010, built around swimmer Michael Phelps.

The Olympic hero looks at the deal as "a tremendous opportunity to help continue my quest to raise the profile for the sport of swimming." How about just making the games fun?

— NEW IN STORES: The last major release of 2008 is Codemasters' role-playing adventure "Rise of the Argonauts" (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3).