Games News Bytes

This image from the game "Gears of War" was provided by its publisher, Microsoft. New Line Cinema has acquired the rights to make a movie based on the blockbuster game. (AP Photo/Microsoft)

News from the virtual world:

CONTINENTAL DRIFT: Compared with the mayhem that surrounded the PlayStation 3’s launch in the United States, the console’s arrival in Europe and Australia was relatively subdued. Hundreds, rather than thousands, of people lined up at stores across the continents, and some retailers expressed disappointment that the crowds were smaller than those who queued up for Nintendo’s Wii.

Nonetheless, some PlayStation die-hards got a lot more then they expected. At Sony’s official London launch at a Virgin Megastore, those who showed up for the PS3 also got a 46-inch Bravia high-definition TV. Phil Harrison, president of Sony Worldwide Studios, told the GamesIndustry Web site that Europe’s gamers “had to wait, and I feel really bad about that. But I’m hoping we can make it up to them with the quality of software that we’ve got coming out.”

TAKEN HOSTAGE: Take-Two Interactive, the parent company of “Grand Theft Auto” publisher Rockstar Games, has been a magnet for trouble of the last few years. While “GTA” has drawn the wrath of politicians and other game-violence watchdogs, the company has seen its stock prices plummet amid a financial scandal that led to its former CEO, Ryan Brant, pleading guilty to first-degree falsification of business records.

Take-Two’s shareholders have been threatening a revolt, leading the company to reschedule their annual meeting. Take-Two said it needed time to “evaluate alternative courses of actions,” which could include a sale of the company. Just about all of Take-Two’s competitors, from Electronic Arts to Ubisoft to Activision, have been mentioned as possible buyers.

SOFT NEWS: One candidate for a Take-Two takeover has already shot down the possibility. “We could never launch an acquisition bid at a third-party publisher,” Microsoft Game Studios Vice President Shane Kim told Meanwhile, all sorts of other rumors have been swirling around the Xbox lately.

First, Microsoft denied stories that its Xbox Live Internet service had been hacked by potential identity thieves. Later, however, the company acknowledged that some accounts may have been breached by scam artists who called Microsoft’s support center looking for personal information of Xbox Live users. Xbox Live programming director Larry Hryb said the support staff is being retrained to repel such scammers.

A more persistent rumor has involved the likelihood that Microsoft is about to announce a new version of the Xbox 360. That buzz turned out to be on the money: The sleek, black console, called the Xbox 360 Elite, will arrive next month. Its main feature is a 120-gigabyte hard drive, which will also be available separately for anyone who already owns a 360. The upgraded model will cost about $480.

SPROCKETS OF WAR: A new version of a different Microsoft product — the hugely popular “Gears of War” — looks like it could be coming out in a new version too. New Line Cinema has acquired the rights to make a movie based on the blockbuster game, with a script by “Collateral” writer Stuart Beattie. Lead game designer Cliff Bleszinski (aka Cliffy B) will serve as executive producer. “I’m not a gamer, but what blew me away about ’Gears’ was how it captures the mythology of a war mission and how high the stakes are,” producer Wyck Godfrey told Daily Variety.

NEW IN STORES: It’s a very slow week for new titles, which are led by the tie-in to Disney’s new animated movie, “Meet the Robinsons” (Disney, for most systems). Electronic Arts’ tired World War II franchise marches on with “Medal of Honor: Vanguard” (for the Wii and PlayStation 2). Casual gamers who like Electronic Arts’ Pogo Web site can take some of their favorites on the road with “Pogo Island” (for the DS). “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Double Agent,” from Ubisoft, finally sneaks onto the PlayStation 3, while Sega lobs “Virtua Tennis 3” over to the PlayStation Portable. To find the week’s most intriguing new release, you have to be an Xbox Live subscriber. It’s “The Shivering Isles,” an expansion for the Xbox 360 version of Bethesda Softworks’ “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.”

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