Slave to the Game

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LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Imagine a video game in which characters evolve from primordial ooze, acquiring speed, claws, wings or other traits needed to survive.

Picture a "Glass Cutter" murder mystery game in which a hero gleans psychic clues from graffiti etched into subway windows, barroom tumblers, taxi mirrors or other depicted glass surfaces.

Envision defending their "colonies" by spreading or checking weaponized diseases.

Two dozen aspiring game makers hoping for fast lanes to success pitched those ideas and more to a panel of industry experts at the E for All video game exposition in Los Angeles on Friday.

"What is really fun about this stuff is you can never tell what the hell people are going to say," said US video game consulting company chief executive David Perry, who was on the judging panel.

"What I've found is that there is always somebody cool in the room."

Christopher Gough sees a game set in a world in which people are dying from kindness.

People are so generous they give away everything they need to live and an overabundance of goodness has the sun shining 24 hours each day, searing plants to death and causing drought.

The objective of Gough's game is to save with a healing balm of evil and darkness.

"People think it is all about being good but sometimes you flat out have to be evil to survive," Gough told the judges, prompting knowing laughter from the audience in the auditorium.

"It's all about bringing balance to the world."

As players manipulate townspeople into being nasty, daylight hours grow shorter and rain returns to the world, according to Gough.

Another proposed game is set play in a world ruled by China and rife with slaughter. Rebel fighters capable of taking on animal powers fight to liberate the land.

A suggested game based on swapping societal power roles of blacks and whites in the United States met with a warning from judges that the original idea would be a tough sell because "it would probably offend everyone."

Game ideas involving online group play won praise from judges for tapping into a hot trend in the industry.

"The market for those kinds of games is booming," said GameSpy executive editor David Kosak, who was among the judges.

By the end of 2007, an estimated 14 million gamers in North America will be playing online, according to technology intelligence firm IDC.

"The increase in revenue from the online use of game consoles, including subscriptions, downloadable content, and advertising represents the largest growth in the console software sector," said IDC program manager Billy Pidgeon.

Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii consoles each have online capabilities. IDC projects that the number of Internet-ready gaming consoles in North America will tally 37 million by next year.

In North America online console revenue will triple from 133 million dollars in 2006 to 583 million dollars this year, according to IDC.

While the "console wars" get considerable attention, the market for games on handheld devices is "smoking hot" with Nintendo's DS "ruling the roost," Kosak told aspiring game makers.

Some game ideas were variations on cliched themes such as puzzle solving or humans battling alien races.

In one proposed game a player begins as a speck of dust in outer space and gains mass by eating everything it collides into.

An ethical component to the game would be to have players decide whether to devour peaceful living things for the sake of getting bigger.

The lone woman to pitch an idea pictures a Canoe Trek game letting people use the motion-sensing controllers of Nintendo's Wii to play fishing, hunting and paddling games.

"Originally I was going to pitch a survival horror game but I'm doing a complete 180 and pitching a cartoon game," said Tim Hayes, whose idea included people superimposing their heads on characters.

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