Slave to the Game

Filling you in on the oddball gaming news

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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - 20th Century Fox has struck a deal with Microsoft Corp. to make the first two seasons of the animated series "Family Guy" available for downloads on the Xbox Live service beginning Monday.

"Family Guy" represents the first Fox product to make it onto Xbox, which lacks an overall deal with the News Corp.-owned studio. In the battle of the electronic sell-through outlets, score one for Xbox over main rival iTunes, which hasn't yet landed rights to "Family."

"This is our first one," said Jamie McCabe, executive vp at 20th Century Fox. "We hope to have other content on there, but right now with the launch of 'Halo 3' and the launch of the new season of 'Family Guy' coming out, the timing really worked well for this one."

Noting the popularity of "Family" among males 18-34 -- which also happens to be the sweet spot for the gaming industry -- he added, "It's about as perfect a demographic fit as we can get."

Xbox 360 owners will be able to purchase each of the episodes from the first two seasons as well as the straight-to-DVD film "Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story" for 160 Microsoft points, or about $2, which is comparable with the pricing of TV episodes on iTunes and other VOD platforms.

In addition to being its initial foray into Xbox, this also is first time the Seth MacFarlane-created series about the irreverent Griffin clan has been available for downloads on any platform, McCabe said.

Along with the debut of new episodes of the show, Fox also is set to release the "Family Guy Season Five" DVD on September 18, but McCabe said there is little concern that the Xbox downloads will impact those sales.

"It's a different market and a different consumer," he said. "'Family' has been a phenomenon on DVD, and that audience will continue to buy it."

Since its formal launch as a provider of movies and TV content in November, Microsoft has aggressively built out the Xbox content offerings as it looks to position the Xbox 360 console as the home-entertainment hub for the living room. Among the content providers for the Live service are Warner Bros., Paramount, the Walt Disney Co., New Line, Lionsgate, Miramax, MTV, Turner Broadcasting and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

"It's a great interface, and they're definitely doing all they can to support this content," McCabe said.

TOKYO — Answers to questions about your lover's fidelity, your boss's mood or your own temperament could be just a push of a button away on the Nintendo DS handheld machine.
Heart Scan, a new video game from Sega, uses the microphone on Nintendo's hit portable to analyze people's voices for a range of feelings — calm, jittery, happy, disappointed, angry.

Have lovers declare their passion, interrogate potential liars and place the DS in a workplace meeting to see if colleagues are as intrigued as they claim to be, Sega spokesman Yasushi Nagumo said.

Numbers, drawings, charts and words pop up on the screen: "The speaker more or less likes you," or "The speaker is agitated."

If a person reads a list of words, "rendezvous, extramarital affair, living together, divorce, marriage," the software shows which rattles nerves much like a lie-detector test, Sega says.

But developers warn against jumping to conclusions about someone's actions, such as infidelity, just because a voice sounds nervous.

The game is being billed as capable of deciphering the psyche of people on a televised news conference, as well as of manga animation characters. It also helps you understand yourself, according to the Tokyo maker of Sonic the Hedgehog games.

Its "sensibility technology" was codeveloped by Advanced Generation Interface Japan Inc. and SGI Japan, to monitor the moods of workers who answer phones and those making complaint calls, said AGI engineer Fumiaki Monma.

Voice samples were collected and analyzed for "parameters," or characteristics, and then labeled as representing emotions, he said. The parameters don't reflect volume, but patterns of tones.

Sega has not decided on overseas plans for the game, which went on sale in Japan Aug. 16.

Nintendo and its partners are introducing new kinds of games to attract novices, including brain drills, facial beauty exercises and cooking recipes.

Nagumo said he has tried Heart Scan at meetings and other situations, but not on his wife.

"I'm too scared to try it," he said.

Two years ago, I found myself wide awake at 3 a.m. on a random Thursday night in August, playing NCAA '06. I'd gotten the game earlier in the day, spent the first few hours of the night making all the necessary changes on the depth charts, and just cracked open the first of what would be several Barq's Root Beers.

Starting off a season with the Tennessee Volunteers, I was excited for the realism and accuracy that made the video game one of the best on the market. Of course, a mere 15 minutes into my opener with UAB, I noticed something very odd scrolling across the fake bottom line ticker. According to the game, unranked TCU, apparently, had beaten No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman.
I was disgusted.

Long a fan of the Electronic Arts franchise, I couldn't take the game seriously from that point on. I'd lost faith. A crazy upset? On the road? During the opening week of the season? Ugh.

That kind of stuff didn't happen in real life. My beloved game had clearly let me down.

Sure enough, three weeks later, the real TCU Horned Frogs beat the real Oklahoma Sooners in Norman.

I haven't doubted the game since.

Throughout last year, we turned to NCAA '07 for predictions. The results were uncanny. Before the season, a simulated run-through of the game revealed Florida as the eventual SEC Champions, Boise State making a run at a BCS bowl berth, and both Florida State and Miami finishing the season outside of the Top 25. Furthermore, Troy Smith was accurately predicted as the Heisman, Arkansas and Wake Forest foreseen with winning records, and Kentucky capable of both an upset over Georgia and an eventual victory in a bowl game.

Move over Kreskin.

By now, you've read all the college football previews, heard all the hype, and seen all the lame Heisman promotional material you'll ever need for the 2007 college football season. You know Colt Brennan's going to throw for 40-plus touchdowns, Darren McFadden's going to do some wild stuff out of the Wildcat formation, and Jimbo Fisher's going to bring offense back to Tallahassee. Boise State returns a slew of starters, West Virginia adds Noel Devine to its already loaded backfield, and Tulsa's everyone's sexy mid-major sleeper pick.

It all starts this week, and you've never been more prepared.

But before we get started, let's see what the old video game console had to say.

With every player's name loaded and every team's roster updated on to the game, we've simulated the entire 2007 college football season. After a half hour of scores zipping, names flashing, and fight song music blaring in the background, we've got polls, awards, a national champion — the whole deal. Take some time and read through.

NCAA '08 end of regular season rankings
: 1. LSU
2. Nebraska
3. West Virginia
4. Arkansas
5. Virginia Tech
6. Louisville
7. Boise State
8. Penn State
9. Michigan
10. USC
11. Ohio State
12. Florida State
13. Wisconsin
14. Texas A&M
15. UCLA
16. Florida
17. Rutgers
18. Auburn
19. Oklahoma
20. Miami
21. Texas
22. Tennessee
23. Notre Dame
24. Washington
25. Purdue

BCS matchups
Rose Bowl: Penn State (Big Ten Champions) vs. USC (Pac-10 Champions)
Final score: USC wins 51-13

Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech (ACC Champions) vs. West Virginia (Big East Champions)
Final score: West Virginia wins 31-28

Sugar Bowl: Louisville (At-large) vs. Michigan (At-large)
Final score: Louisville wins 27-20

Fiesta Bowl: Arkansas (At-large) vs. Boise State (At-large)
Final score: Arkansas wins 35-21

National championship: Nebraska (BCS No. 2) at LSU (BCS No. 1)
Final score: LSU wins 34-17
MVP: Matt Flynn, QB, LSU — 23-30, 311 yards, 3 TDs

National champions: LSU Tigers

Heisman finalists
Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville
John David Booty, QB, USC
Chris Wells, RB, Ohio State
Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
Sam Keller, QB, Nebraska

Winner: McFadden

Other award winners
Maxwell (best player): Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
Bednarik (best defensive player): Dan Connor, LB, Penn State
Davey O'Brien (best quarterback): Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville
Walker (best running back): Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
Best WR: Mario Urrutia, WR, Louisville
Best TE: Dustin Keller, TE, Purdue
Best OL: Sam Baker, OT, USC
Rimington (best center): Jeremy Harrell, C, Arkansas
Lombardi (dest defensive lineman): Andrae Wright, DE, West Virginia
Best LB: Vince Hall, LB, Virginia Tech
Thorpe (best defensive back): Jonathan Hefney, CB, Tennessee
Groza (best kicker): Richard Jackson, K, Clemson
Best Punter: Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan
Best kick/punt returner: Eddie Royal, WR, Virginia Tech
Best coach: Bill Callahan, Nebraska

First-team All-Americans:
QB: Brian Brohm, Louisville
RB: Chris Wells, Ohio State
RB: Darren McFadden, Arkansas
WR: Mario Urrutia, Louisville
WR: Early Doucet, LSU
TE: Sam Wheeler, Virginia Tech
G: Sergio Render, Virginia Tech
C: Ryan Schuman, Virginia Tech
G: Greg Isdaner, West Virginia
T: Sam Baker, USC
T: Jake Long, Michigan
DE: Andrae Wright, West Virginia
DE: Bruce Davis, UCLA
DT: Frank Okam, Texas
DT: Glen Dorsey, LSU
LB: Steve Octavien, Nebraska
LB: Dan Connor, Penn State
LB: Vince Hall, Virginia Tech
CB: Zack Bowman, Nebraska
CB: Jonathan Hefney, Tennessee
FS: Kyle Jackson, Florida
SS: Reggie Smith, Oklahoma
K: Richard Jackson, Clemson
P: Zoltan Mesko, Michigan

Second-team All-Americans:
QB: Colt Brennan, Hawaii
RB: Branden Ore, Virginia Tech
RB: Steve Slaton, West Virginia
WR: Jason Rivers, Hawaii
WR: DeSean Jackson, California
TE: Dustin Keller, Purdue
T: Jose Valdez, Arkansas
C: Mike Dent, West Virginia
G: Ramon Foster, Tennessee
G: Jordan Picou, Nebraska
T: King Dunlap, Auburn
DE: Chris Long, Virginia
DE: Chris Harrington, Texas A&M
DT: Terrance Knighton, Temple
DT: Derrell Hand, Notre Dame
LB: Ali Highsmith, LSU
LB: Rey Maualuga, USC
LB: Xavier Abidi, Virginia Tech
CB: Jonathan Zenon, LSU
CB: Chevis Jackson, LSU
FS: Otis Wiley, Michigan State
SS: Myron Rolle, Florida State
K: Kevin Kelly, Penn State
P: Patrick Fisher, LSU

All-freshman team:
QB: Adam Weber, Minnesota
RB: Noel Devine, West Virginia
RB: DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
WR: Terrance Tolliver, LSU
WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech
TE: Bailey Woods, Auburn
G: James Pouncey, Florida
C: Beau Warren, Virginia Tech
G: Kevin Young, South Carolina
T: Aaron Brown, Virginia Tech
T: Jarvis Jones, LSU
DE: Lawrence Marsh, Florida
DE: Jason Adjepong, Virginia Tech
DT: Wayne Thomas, Rutgers
DT: Dexter Larrimore, Ohio State
LB: Jared Detrick, Virginia
LB: Manny Abreu, Rutgers
LB: Jeremiha Hunter, Iowa
CB: Eric Berry, Tennessee
CB: Jai Eugene, LSU
FS: Deunta Williams, North Carolina
SS: Jordan Bernstine, Iowa
K: Richard Jackson, Clemson
P: Chas Henry, Florida

Get all that?

USC losing to Nebraska in Lincoln on Sept. 15, Penn State topping Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin in the Big 10, and both Oklahoma and Texas finishing out of the top 15. Bill Callahan leading an undefeated Nebraska squad to the BCS Championship Game, UCLA and Washington edging out Oregon and Cal for the 2 and 3 spots in the Pac-10, and Boise State making a return to the Fiesta Bowl. Sam Keller invited to New York for the Heisman presentation? A team that had four players from last year's Sugar Bowl champion squad get selected in the first round of April's NFL Draft winning it less than twelve months later?

It sounds absurd, I know.

And hey, believe what you want.

But I'd keep this article bookmarked somewhere on your desktop. Save it for early December.

This video game is eerily good at predicting things.

The TCU-Oklahoma upset in 2005, Boise State's miracle season last year, Wake Forest and Arkansas turning it around in '06 ...

All things considered, Nebraska in the BCS Championship doesn't seem so crazy after all.

Is in-game advertising really the great white hope for subsidizing games development? In the latest report from DFC Intelligence, the analysts address underlying problems of mass market versus enthusiast audiences, professing cautious optimism on advertising's impact as the industry moves forward.

The full text of the report, released on the analyst firm's website, follows below:

"DFC Intelligence has been known for being conservative when it comes to forecasting industry growth. One compliant we hear is that we are not bullish enough on our forecasts. Our philosophy is that when making a business plan it is easy to run-off of hockey stick growth numbers. However, prudent investing should entail realistic forecasting that leans on the cautious side. Furthermore, our experience has shown that when DFC and others have been aggressive about forecasting rapid growth for a market is has inevitably lead to over speculation and disappointment.

Considering our forecasting philosophy, it was difficult last fall when we released our forecasts for the video game market in 2007. Last fall we forecasted that in 2007 the video game market would experience over 30% growth and could reach record worldwide revenues of $42 billion. From our standpoint, we were concerned that DFC Intelligence was becoming another reckless market promoter leading potential investors onto the hype bandwagon.

It is still too early in the year to say how things will turn out for 2007. October, November and December generally see progressively higher sales and historically it is unreliable to try and project fourth quarter sales based on the first six or even nine months of the year. However, we can say that going into the fourth quarter of 2007 we feel a whole lot more confident about our $42 billion forecast.

In January 2008, it looks like there will be all kinds of big numbers from 2007 for companies to throw in press releases. Of course, this is exactly the time that our cautionary side comes into play. Big numbers are meaningless unless you take a close look at where growth is occurring. In 2007, a huge chunk of revenue is coming from hardware sales. That means some of the growth is deceiving. Yes, hardware sales mean future software sales to the installed base. However, for software developers, hardware sales revenue is not he most important metric, instead it is unit sales and installed base. A game system that sells 1 million units at $100 can be just as strong a platform for software as a system that sells 1 million units at $500. However, the $500 system will add five times as much revenue to the overall industry figures.

The other big issue in the game market is the continued strength of portable platforms and online games. In many cases, this growth represents potential new revenue and business model opportunities for developers. However, in these cases it is very important to have a detailed understanding of these opportunities. One big example is the potential revenue growth from the increasing number of console systems that are going online.

DFC Intelligence recently released its latest detailed forecasts for console online game revenue. We broke our forecasts down by region of the world (North America, Europe, Japan and East Asia), game genre (MMOG, casual, FPS etc), consumer type and business model of which the primary ones were digital distribution, subscriptions and advertising. When it comes to console online game revenue we feel we were fairly bullish about growth on all fronts. However, one area where we got complaints about being overly cautious was on advertising on console game systems.

For the record we forecasted that console game advertising would grow 250% from 2007 to 2012. This would seem like strong growth, but it is an order of magnitude lower than what some people are expecting (?praying for?). However, we have several reasons for being on the cautious side in our forecasts.

The first issue to note is that consoles are just starting to get connected online. In today's market it is often assumed that anyone buying a PC will have an online connection. In fact, without an online connection, many consumers would be reduced to using their PC as a paperweight. This is clearly not the case with console systems. An online connection is not necessary to enjoy the bulk of what a video game platform can offer. Furthermore, the ideal setup for connecting a game system is to have a home PC network, preferably with Wi-Fi access. This is becoming increasingly common, but still only reaches a subset of console owners.

Of course, more consumers are connecting their consoles online and this is why DFC Intelligence feels online game revenue is going to experience strong growth. However, it is important to understand that this is more of a steady increase, not an overnight revolution. For the early lifespan of the Xbox 360, Microsoft reported that over 50% of initial purchasers connected online to Xbox Live. That sounds pretty impressive considering that the original Xbox system only had about 10% of members subscribing to Xbox Live.

However, looking in detail at the numbers raises some issues. For one, with the original Xbox, going online required buying a subscription. Going online with the Xbox 360 is free with the Silver level. The other thing to consider is that Microsoft specifically targeted the heavy online user and promoted Xbox Live as a key feature of the Xbox 360. Considering these factors, having 50% of the bleeding edge early adopter consumer go online is not that impressive. Furthermore, it is not really a figure that can be extrapolated out into the world at large.

DFC Intelligence also tries to account for game genres and consumer type in its forecast. Under this analysis we argue that subscription and digital distribution business models provide some of the biggest benefits for the consumers and games that are going online via console systems. The benefit of advertising is still somewhat unclear in our mind.

The console gamers that are going online in these still relatively early days tend to be significantly more weighted towards what we call "hard-core gamers." These are gamers that spend much more time and money on games than the average user. Advertising is all about collecting a whole bunch of eyeballs in a certain demographic and being able to target them with the appropriate message. Much of the focus on future advertising in video games is clearly looking at the mass market video game consumer. However, the reality of who will be online to receive advertising in the near term is much different. The opportunity in the next few years for console systems is more likely to be the hard-core or enthusiast gamer that has a very different profile than the market as a whole.

Of course, advertising to an enthusiast audience can be very profitable. This is especially true when you have an enthusiast audience as large as the hard-core video game population. However, there are some issues specific to advertising in games that will need to be addressed. First and foremost is that, for a hard-core gamer, advertising can be very intrusive. As famed industry game developer David Perry said in a recent interview in the DFC Dossier, when his company did a survey of gamers to ask if there was a way they could turn off advertising in games would they do so, the answer was 100% yes.

The big concern is that advertising is generally a way to subsidize a product for consumers. Television and radio are obviously the best examples. The game industry has been one of the few products to not be supported by advertising. However, the general media trend is having advertising support the mass market while the enthusiast user pays to avoid advertising. A big attraction of pay cable and satellite radio services like XM is, by paying a subscription, users can avoid advertising. Among the PC game services there is a similar trend where heavy users can pay a monthly subscription fee and play their games free of advertising.

That brings us to our final point. When looking at the opportunity for console online game advertising it is critical to look at the already established advertising business model for PC games. Advertising has supposed many free PC games. However, most of these have tended to be casual games, not the expensive massively multiplayer and first-person shooter games that attract an enthusiast user. Sites like Electronic Arts' have established user bases numbering in the tens of millions. This is more than the entire universe of video game systems connected online. However, in recent years, EA has talked less about the growth of advertising revenue. In terms of online growth opportunities, EA's fiscal 2007 10k talks mainly about MMOGs, subscriptions to online casual games, micro-transactions and the ability to sell digital content online. When it comes to advertising the statement in the 10k is limited to "we derive revenue from advertising in our games and on our websites."

Online advertising revenue from and other EA sites is no longer reported separately, but instead included as a line item as part of "Licensing, Advertising and Other" in EA's financials. For fiscal 2007, Electronic Arts reported that revenue from Licensing, Advertising and Other was down 6% to $57 million.

These are some of the reasons that DFC Intelligence has been much more bullish on the growth for subscription revenue and digital distribution revenue than we have on advertising revenue. However, we also stress that we do think advertising revenue will grow. Products like PlayStation Home provide a potentially attractive environment for advertising. It is just that many of these products are simply what the PC business has been doing for years. Advertising is in large part a numbers game and there seems to be no way that console systems will have the aggregate numbers of the PC in the next five years."

BEIRUT -- Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas have launched a video game that invites players to relive their successes in last year's war against Israel, and shoot down "the myth of an invincible army."

The game called "Special Force 2," is based on fighting that actually took place, one of its creators, Ali Ahmed, said.

"The player is involved as a resistance fighter, and relives the high points of the destruction of the Israeli military machine," he added.

The game was created in order to "reaffirm the destruction of the myth of an invincible army," he said. Each day there is a "martyr" from among a list of Hezbollah fighters killed during the war.

The six-step game starts with the capture of two Israeli soldiers on the Israeli-Lebanese border, which triggered the July 12, 2006 conflict that ended just over a month later August 14.

It involves pinpointing a patrol, launching the attack, destroying Israeli vehicles, blowing up a security enclosure, and capturing the soldiers.

"The [simulated] battles take place day and night," Ahmed said.

Every player, whether alone or in a group, is guided by the "resistance command center," and chooses his level, whether beginner, intermediate, or professional, he added.

Missions also include destroying an Israeli Saar-5 class gunship off the coast of Beirut, as happened during the first days of the fighting, as well as destroying dozens of Merkava tanks and launching missiles on northern Israel.

"This game stimulates thinking, because it involves fighting the Israeli enemy not only with weapons, but also with tactics and planning," Ahmed said.

The game, in Arabic, which will soon have French and English versions, sells for "$10 because the goal is not for profit," he said.

In 2001, Hezbollah launched a first game called "Special Force 1," based on operations against the Israeli army in Southern Lebanon before its retreat in the year 2000.

No one sets out to make a bad video game, right? Even the worst games start off with fairly lofty expectations, only to be undermined by lack of money, lack of time or lack of talent.
Still, some games are so atrocious that you can't help thinking their awfulness was deliberate. Take the Nintendo DS version of "Deal or No Deal," a hideous tie-in that doesn't even deliver the basic mechanics of the simplistic TV show that spawned it. And it costs $30!

Then again, any savvy gamer probably has the common sense to avoid "Deal or No Deal." More often, bad games come in deceptive packages. And typically, a bad game has the germ of a good idea, even if it's obscured by incompetent design and programming.

These games sounded promising when they were announced, but something went terribly wrong on the way to store shelves.


0 out of four stars

Publisher: Eidos.

System: Wii.

Price: $30.

Rating: Mature; blood, violence.

The title sounds like something out of "Mystery Science Theater 3000." If only it was as much fun. The premise is classic B-movie, involving three dopes who decide to explore an island filled with giant insects. Unfortunately, only one of the characters (not the one you control) thought to bring a weapon, so you're forced to fight the monsters with -- get this -- a stick. You use the Wii remote to poke the bugs, but the on-screen actions are always a few seconds behind your physical movements, making it hard to get any momentum going. Still, the bugs aren't particularly hard to kill, even though they're human size. You also can kill a giant gorilla by throwing rocks at it. With its stiff controls, drab graphics, annoying characters and inane plot, "Escape from Bug Island!" is the Wii's worst game yet.


0 out of four stars

Publisher: Microsoft.

System: Xbox 360.

Price: $60.

Rating: Mature; blood and gore, intense violence.

Here's another not-bad idea: combining a stealth-action game such as "Splinter Cell" with survival horror à la "Resident Evil." You play a special-forces operative whose mission is to infiltrate a city filled with "nightwalkers" and -- well, I'm not entirely sure what you're supposed to do to them. You can't kill them; a head shot just gets a vampire's attention, and before you know it, he's tearing out your jugular vein. So the high-tech weaponry you're assigned is pretty much useless. All you can do is sneak past them -- which isn't particularly difficult, but there's usually only one safe way through a level, so there's a lot of trial and error. After you've been slaughtered a few dozen times by sloppily animated bloodsuckers, you might start to wonder if "Vampire Rain" is worth all the agita. It isn't.


0 out of four stars

Publisher: Midway.

System: Xbox 360.

Price: $60.

Rating: Teen; mild language, violence.

The one emotion that comes across in "Hour of Victory" is boredom -- not just your own, but the evident boredom felt by the programmers who were assigned to this cynically conceived project. Midway promises a journey through the war's "pivotal" battles, but you won't recognize anything from the History Channel. If it weren't for the swastikas worn by the bad guys, you could very well be playing on Mars. And if the Nazis were as stupid as this game makes them out to be -- enemies will often stand still while you walk up to them shooting -- World War II would have been over in a week. And any game in which it's more effective to punch a guy than to shoot him is seriously broken.

A Pac-Man-like computer game that delivered electric shocks to gamers has been used to shed light on how the brain reacts to imminent danger.
Scans showed the different regions of the brain used by volunteers as the level of threat in the game increased.

The scans showed that activity switched from the front of the brain to the middle as anxiety turned to panic.

Writing in the journal Science, the researchers said the change was crucial for an animal's survival.

"Without fear, animals would not react to threats," said Dr Dean Mobbs of University College London and one of the authors of the paper.

"This is a poor survival strategy and makes it more likely that the animal will be eaten and not pass on its genes."

Fight or flee

The team asked volunteers to play a computer game in which they had to move a blue triangle through a 2D maze while avoiding a red dot "predator". If the predator caught the triangle, the volunteer received an electric shock.

The closer a threat gets, the more impulsive your response

Dean Mobbs

As the volunteers played the game, Dr Mobbs used an MRI scanner to monitor their brain activity. The scanner showed which regions of the brain were receiving the highest flow of blood.

The higher the blood flow to an area of the brain, the more active that area is, explained Dr Mobbs.

As long as the predator was some distance away, blood flowed most strongly to the prefrontal cortex in the forebrain, Dr Mobbs found.

The forebrain is active during periods of anxiety, and helps coordinate escape strategies to avoid the threat, he said.

But when the computer game predator moved nearer, blood flow switched to the midbrain.

The midbrain is a primitive area of the brain, and it controls gut-level reflexes such as the decision to fight or flee, said Dr Mobbs.

"When a fast response is needed, the midbrain may inhibit the prefrontal cortex," he said.

"The closer a threat gets, the more impulsive your response - in effect, the less free will you have," he added.

The prefrontal cortex is much larger in modern humans than it was in our ancestors, and so we may have evolved to be more adept at avoiding threatening situations, thinks Dr Mobbs.

"We are probably better survival machines now," he said.

The makers of Penny Arcade, the Web comic strip spoofing the video-game industry, will host their annual video-game convention Friday through Sunday ... at which they'll preview their own new video game.

The fourth annual Penny Arcade Expo — PAX for short — moves from Bellevue's Meydenbauer Center to the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, where organizers expect 30,000 sun-deprived attendees with refined and highly specialized reflexes confined mostly to their thumbs — up from 19,000 last year.

The zippily-titled new game from artist Mike Krahulik and writer Jerry Holkins (aka Gabe and Tycho): "Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One." Robert Khoo, their director of business development, says the adventure title set in an alternate "steam-punk" reality is currently in development.

"You are trying to solve a mystery in the game of what giant robot destroyed your home while at the same time finding affordable housing."

About 3.5 million readers devour the Seattle duo's Web comic at (which features language a little salty for kids). But Khoo says the festival "has grown into something much more than the comic itself. Some people don't even know about Gabe and Tycho."

One reason for the growth is that the industry's monster event, E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo), scaled down to professionals only this year, leaving fans out in the cold. So, because E3 imploded under its own weight, the two upstarts who began their careers by mocking the industry in 1999 are now hosts to its largest consumer-level show in America. More circularity.

Khoo says they didn't intend to take up E3's mantle, but they took its flaws to heart. The result is less Felliniesque: no scantily-clad booth babes, no double-decker booths from exhibitors trying to outdo each other with spectacle. "We're all about the consumer," he says. In addition to the first look at the Penny Arcade game, the 55 exhibitors will preview numerous hotly anticipated titles due for release in the fall or early 2008.

A few of them: Bungie confirms a look at "Halo 3." "Mass Effect," Microsoft's science-fiction action RPG for the Xbox 360. "Project Gotham Racing 4" from Microsoft. Nintendo's latest "Metroid" and "Zelda" titles. The PlayStation 3 action-adventure "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune."

Other PAX highlights:

• A keynote speech from Wil Wheaton, also known as Wesley Crusher on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

• Live music at night in the "PAX Nerdcore Concert Series."

• Panel discussions on topics from breaking into the industry to the role of women in it.

• "Pitch Your Game Idea!" You get 45 seconds to pitch a concept to industry evaluators, and the top three get prizes.

• Game-themed "Geek Movies," such as "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children."

• "Omegathon." A three-day elimination tournament with 20 "Omeganauts" selected from those who preordered event passes. The championship takes place onstage during closing ceremonies, and last year's prize was a pimped-out new car — which included LCD screens and an Xbox 360.

Is it circular to play a driving game like "Project Gotham 4" in a car — or just hazardous?

Sandia National Laboratories scientists are developing a lifelike video game that helps first responders experience the drama and adrenaline of a disaster.

Sandia, along with the University of Southern California's GamePipe Laboratory, is one year into a three-year project to develop the game, called "Ground Truth." It's meant to supplement or even substitute for the tabletop exercise, the classic but sometimes cumbersome means of exercising for disasters.

The simulation opens with a mock newscast describing an emergency. In the current version, a simulated collision between a speeding car and a tanker truck that results in a cloud of chlorine being released in the middle of a city.

Then a lifelike aerial view of the hypothetical city appears, with a green cloud looming over the scene. It's up to the players to direct the response using the police and fire departments, hazardous materials crews, medical personnel and road barricades.

While the players scramble to dispatch the crews, a ticker tracks the death toll in the upper right corner and tense music plays in the background. The goal is to save as many people as possible.

"It has a little bit of a gaming adrenaline rush to it," said Jim Morrissey, terrorist preparedness coordinator for Alameda County Emergency Medical Services. "I think it has the potential to be a great tool for all multi-disciplined emergency responders," he said.

"They'll be more experienced than they otherwise would have been because they've played it, albeit virtually, but it's better than nothing," said computer scientist Donna Djordjevich, leader of the project at Sandia's Livermore campus.

Other virtual emergencies and twists will be added as the game is developed.

"I'm tending to focus on these weapons of mass destruction, large-scale events," Djordjevich said.

She also plans to explore emotional aspects of the game. For example, responders who lose a colleague may become distraught and less effective or begin questioning the player's authority.

TOKYO - Lose a game of chess to a computer, and you could bruise your ego. Lose an arm-wrestling match to a Japanese arcade machine, and you could break your arm.

Distributor Atlus Co. said Tuesday it will remove all 150 "Arm Spirit" arm wrestling machines from Japanese arcades after three players broke their arms grappling with the machine's mechanized appendage.

"The machine isn't that strong, much less so than a muscular man. Even women should be able to beat it," said Atlus spokeswoman Ayano Sakiyama, calling the recall "a precaution."

"We think that maybe some players get overexcited and twist their arms in an unnatural way," she said. The company was investigating the incidents and checking the machines for any signs of malfunction.

Players of "Arm Spirit" advance through 10 levels, battling a French maid, drunken martial arts master and a Chihuahua before reaching the final showdown with a professional wrestler.

The arcade machine is not distributed overseas.