News from the virtual world:
— ASSIMILATED: Electronic Arts makes a lot of money, thanks to best-selling franchises like "Madden NFL" and "The Sims," but its dependence on sequels has cost it the devotion of people who like innovative video games.
The Canadian studio BioWare has developed some of the most inventive games of the last decade, titles like "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic," "Jade Empire" and the forthcoming "Mass Effect."
So the news that BioWare and its sister studio, Pandemic, are going to be assimilated into the EA collective was greeted with howls of anguish from BioWare's passionate fans.
A typical reaction, from the Slashdot tech Web site: "No. No no no no no."
The deal between EA and Elevation Partners, the studios' owner, is worth $860 million, the biggest in EA's history.
BioWare and Pandemic ("Destroy All Humans!," "Mercenaries") are experts at role-playing and action-adventure games — genres that have been lacking in EA's portfolio.
The studios are the first major acquisitions EA has made since John Riccitiello took over as CEO in April.
"We are truly excited by John Riccitiello's new vision for EA," said BioWare CEO Ray Muzyka. "This vision is consistent with BioWare's focus on crafting the highest quality story-driven games in the world."
Riccitiello, who co-founded Elevation Partners, could make as much $4.9 million from the deal.
— ALL-IN-ONE: If you're in Los Angeles this weekend, you might want to swing by the Convention Center for the E For All Expo.
It's the new video-game showcase that has risen from the ashes of the old Electronic Entertainment Expo, and now the general public (as opposed to just us insufferable industry types) is invited.
The bad news: Sony and Microsoft are sitting this one out.
But the exhibitor list does include Nintendo, Electronic Arts, 2K Games, Konami and THQ, and E For All will offer many gamers their first hands-on time with upcoming titles like "Super Mario Galaxy," "Rock Band," Call of Duty 4" and "Metal Gear Solid 4."
Other scheduled events include a costume contest, "Halo 3" and "Guitar Hero" competitions, a concert of orchestral video-game music and a seminar for people who want careers in the business.
The fun began Thursday; two-day passes start at $50.
— A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE: Rockstar Games has already toned down its ultragory "Manhunt 2" in order to win the approval of the board that rates video games in the United States.
But even with the changes, the game is still apparently way too violent for British audiences.
"The impact of the revisions on the bleakness and callousness of tone, or the essential nature of the game play, is clearly insufficient," said David Cooke, director of the British Board of Film Classification, in announcing that "Manhunt 2" would still be banned in the U.K.
Rockstar appears unlikely to alter the game any further.
A company statement said, "The changes necessary in order to publish the game in Britain are unacceptable to us and represent a setback for video games."
— ZERO CLASS: Gilbert Arenas, the Washington Wizards' "Agent Zero," may be on the cover on EA Sports' "NBA Live 08," but he's developing quite the reputation on another game: Microsoft's "Halo 3."
On the Web site of "Halo" developer Bungie, fans have been accusing Arenas of cheating in online matches.
Arenas responded on his blog, and admitted that he was building up experience points after another player agreed to lose to him over and over.
But the Wizard insisted that wasn't cheating, since the gimmick didn't hurt any other players and the experience points don't help his online ranking.
Arenas also acknowledged that some players have taken dives for him "because I said I'd give them a jersey."
— NEW IN STORES: Three series keep rolling along in "Beautiful Katamari" (Namco Bandai, for the Xbox 360), "Tony Hawk's Proving Ground" (Activision, for the 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, DS) and "The Legend of Spyro: Eternal Night" (Vivendi, for the Wii, PS2, DS). ... Wrap your eyes around Nintendo's "Flash Focus: Vision Training in Minutes a Day" or Eidos' puzzler "Prism: Light the Way" (both for the DS). ... Kid's-show heroes come to the rescue in "Avatar: The Burning Earth" (THQ, 360, Wii, PS2), "Power Rangers Super Legends" (Disney, DS) and "Hannah Montana: Music Jam" (Disney, DS).