News from the virtual world:

_ MAJOR TOM: Tom Clancy is to Ubisoft as Mario is to Nintendo: a reliable brand name whose appearance in a game title practically guarantees financial success. This, despite the fact that a "Tom Clancy" character has never starred in a game, and the author himself appears to have little input on the products bearing his name.

But the Clancy franchises _ "Rainbow Six," "Ghost Recon" and "Splinter Cell" _ are responsible for a big chunk of Ubisoft's annual profits. Last month, the Paris-based company decided it was sick of paying royalties to the novelist, choosing instead to pay an undisclosed sum for perpetual rights to use his name on "video games and ancillary products including related books, movies and merchandising products."

In making that announcement, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said one of the company's priorities would be a massively multiplayer online game. But first comes "EndWar," a World War III strategy game. And then we'll get the just-announced "HAWX," an aerial combat game from the developers of Ubisoft's "Blazing Angels." The new adventure begins in 2012 (around the same period as "Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2"), and will pit "private military companies" against each other in the skies.

It's a safe bet that a Clancy-branded dogfighting game will sell better than "Blazing Angels" did. At this rate, though, we'll end up with a new Clancy game every other month _ and a potential case of Clancy burnout.

_ READY TO RUMBLE: Feel like you've been missing something on the PlayStation 3? Whatever happened to the physical feedback _ the vibration you would feel in an off-road racer, or the jolt from being shot in a war game? Well, while Sony was fighting a lawsuit over the force feedback in its controllers, it decided to leave the technology out of the PS3's Sixaxis. But a settlement was eventually reached, and Sony's new controller, the DualShock 3, has all the rumble you could want.

I got a DualShock 3 about a week ago, and the first thing I noticed was that it feels more substantial (slightly heavier, better assembled) than the Sixaxis. The rumble adds an extra level of immersion _ which, I'll admit, I hadn't missed that much, but was glad to have back. Newer games like "MLB 08" and "Devil May Cry 4" already incorporate vibration, and you'll be able to update older hits like "Resistance: Fall of Man" and "MotorStorm."

The DualShock 3 is definitely an improvement over the Sixaxis, which is being discontinued. The only reason not to upgrade: a rather hefty $55 price tag.

_ INTERCEPTED: Twenty years ago, the only way you could play "John Madden Football" was on a computer. How times have changed: For the first time in years, you won't be able to play next season's edition of "Madden NFL" on a PC.

Peter Moore, president of "Madden" publisher EA Sports, said, "The PC presents some very serious business challenges to us in the sports category, particularly because so many of you all are playing your favorite sports games on the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii."

Moore said, "We do have ideas for how to revitalize the PC for sports games" _ but don't be surprised if more of EA's franchises, which also include "NBA Live" and "FIFA Soccer," vanish from computers.

_ FOOL'S GOLD: April 1 is one of the most annoying days on the video-game calendar, with just about every game blogger trying to pull off some lame hoax. As usual, though, it was the people at Blizzard who really managed to deliver the funny.

If you've been wondering how the "World of Warcraft" team was dealing with their new owners, "Guitar Hero" publisher Activision, check out the game's new character class. The bard, "armed with a trusty ax, killer riffs and a ton of attitude," proves that "only a true hero can vanquish evil with the power of ROCK!" The Blizzard site even has screenshots of the bard in action, mixing a lush "WoW" landscape with the familiar guitar-neck interface from "GH." It's epic.

_NEW IN STORES: In another slow week for new releases, Atlus sneaks out the role-playing game "Baroque" (Wii, PlayStation 2) and the 2D brawler "Arcana Heart" (PS2).

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