Real news from the virtual world:

— I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND: Last year's holiday season was pretty rough for fans of the PlayStation Portable, with only a handful of games vying for space under the Christmas tree. The dearth of new products left many wondering if Sony's handheld system was on its way out.

Not so fast, says John Koller, Sony's director of hardware marketing. The company sold more PSPs in 2008 than ever before, up about 31 percent from 2007.

Turns out, Sony was just gearing up to make 2009 "the year of PSP," Koller says.

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About 16 months ago, he says, "We talked with each of our internal developers and looked at all of our franchises and asked: How can you create them for PSP?"

The results announced so far include "Resistance: Retribution," "MotorStorm Arctic Edge" and a portable version of "LittleBigPlanet."

Other publishers are getting in on the act, with PSP editions of MTV Games' "Rock Band" and Activision's "Assassin's Creed" in the pipeline.

Koller says PSP owners can expect a "40 to 50 percent increase in software this year, with a lot more announcements" by summer including some "very large franchises."

As for persistent rumors of a disk drive-free PSP2, Koller says he has nothing to report. He says the Universal Media Disc, Sony's mini-disc format, will continue, although "we are encouraging digital distribution" so players can download more games from the online PlayStation Store.

— COME TOGETHER: Part of Sony's strategy is to figure out ways to connect the PSP and PS3 versions of its big franchises.

For example, owners of the PS3 game "Resistance 2" can use it to "infect" the PSP title "Resistance: Retribution," giving the lead character the powerful yet deadly Chimeran virus, opening up secret areas and putting the two stories together.

"Retribution" developer Bend Studios also had to deal with the challenge of scaling down the "Resistance" epic to a smaller platform.

First, says John Garvin, Bend's director of product development, "I insisted on an easy mode. Portable players don't like to die repeatedly."

Second, "Resistance: Retribution" has "a liberal checkpoint system with smaller playable chunks," Garvin says. "You might not have 45 minutes to play through a level," so the goal is to make it easier to pick up where you left off.

— WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS: With all due respect to Activision's "Guitar Hero: Metallica," the most eagerly anticipated rhythm game of 2009 is MTV's "The Beatles: Rock Band."

The new British invasion begins Sept. 9, and the pricing is interesting: $60 for the software, $100 for standalone guitars and $250 for a "premium bundle."

That last package will include new hardware modeled on the instruments played by the Fab Four.

Of course, you'll still be able to use your old "Rock Band" instruments on this "journey through the legacy and evolution of the band's legendary career."

— NEW IN STORES: Capcom's ghastly bioterror threat infects a new continent, Africa, in "Resident Evil 5" (for the Xbox 360, PS3). ... Sega delivers its twisted, kill-or-be-killed game show "MadWorld" to the Wii.