News from the virtual world:
— KING UBI: The most consistently intriguing "third-party" publisher of video games (that is, a company not named Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft) is France's Ubisoft, which has developed a reputation for solid quality over a range of genres.
Ubisoft made a big splash at the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), and warmed up for this year's show with its own "UbiDays" events in Paris and San Francisco.
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Ubisoft spent most of UbiDays showing off the progress made on previously announced titles like "Assassin's Creed" and "Haze," but the best news was the announcement of a sequel to "Rayman Raving Rabbids."
This time, the bunnies will be wreaking havoc on Nintendo machines only — which makes sense, since the original "Rabbids" was so much more fun on the Wii than on other consoles.
Ubisoft also promised a greater focus on "casual" software for the Wii and the DS, including its "My Coach" series of self-improvement titles.
The company also announced that it's developing a game to accompany "Beowulf," Robert Zemeckis' computer-animated retelling of the 1,000-year-old epic.
"Because the film is entirely digital, we are able to share our assets with Ubisoft," Zemeckis said. "Audiences will be able to make a seamless transition between the film and the game."
— PRIME CUTS: Nintendo also held a pre-E3 event, inviting journalists to Seattle to sample its summer lineup.
While the House of Mario is no doubt saving any huge news for E3 in July, it did make a few announcements — most notably, an Aug. 20 street date for the much-anticipated "Metroid Prime 3: Corruption" for the Wii.
The portable Nintendo DS will be a little busier this summer, thanks to U.S. versions of two Japanese puzzlers, "Picross DS" in July and "Brain Age 2" in August.
Overall, Nintendo and its partners have about 40 releases scheduled for the DS between July and September, from the potentially awesome (a new "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney" adventure from Capcom) to the truly disturbing (Majesco's "Holly Hobbie & Friends").
— WHAT IS THE MATRIX? Electronic Arts still has a ways to go before it takes over the world, but for now it's trying to blur the lines between reality and virtual reality.
In its latest attempt to make its "Madden NFL" football game even more ubiquitous, EA Sports is working with ESPN on ways to make the game react to real-life news.
For example, if it was snowing in real-life Pittsburgh, it would be snowing at Heinz Field in "Madden."
"If a guy in the real world twists his ankle, you can't use him in the game until he gets back," said ESPN vice president Aaron LaBerge.
Of course, the console you're playing on would have to be connected to the Internet to get the news from ESPN.
On another front, EA's most popular computer game, "The Sims," may be on its way to the big screen.
Variety reported that 20th Century Fox has gained the movie rights to the beloved life simulator. Producer John Davis' credits include "Norbit," "Garfield" and "Fat Albert"; if anyone could make a feature out of a plotless game, it's this guy.
— REAR PROJECTION: What's the difference between Microsoft's "Halo 2" for the Xbox and "Halo 2" for Windows Vista?
Both are M-rated, but the latter's packaging now warns of "partial nudity."
The Entertainment Software Rating Board described the offending image as "a photograph of an individual showing his bare backside" that pops up when a particular error occurs in the Vista game's map editor.
Microsoft sent retailers stickers to put on packages that have already shipped; the bare derriere will be removed from future pressings.
— NEW IN STORES: Microsoft unveils two major Xbox 360 titles, the racing game "Forza Motorsport 2" and the first-person shooter "Shadowrun." ... It's multiplayer minigame madness on the Wii with Nintendo's "Mario Party 8" and Namco Bandai's "Tamagotchi Party On!" ... Sega's "Crush" is a dimension-bending puzzler for the PlayStation Portable. ... NIS America has yet another PlayStation 2 role-playing game, "Atelier Iris 3: Grand Phantasm." ... This week's movie tie-in is Ubisoft's "Surf's Up," for just about every system.