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Video games - Hot for the holidays?

November 20, 2005|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

Virtual dogs, gigantic apes, and a giant mythical creature are just a few of the personalities headlining the 2005 holiday shopping season for the video game industry, which is notably devoid of a "Grand Theft Auto"-type standout this year.

"There's a lot of great games out, don't get me wrong, there's just not one game that will sell more than any other," said Jeff Martin, shift leader at Game Crazy on Wesel Boulevard in Hagerstown.

"It's the interactivity, it's better than movies now as a form of entertainment," he said.

According to industry estimates, "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" generated $100 million in sales last October, when the game was released.

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From $662.8 million last October, video game, component and accessory sales fell 16 percent to $556.1 million last month, according to market research firm NPD Group. According to NPD, the gaming industry generates about half of its revenues during the holiday quarter.

Martin said the industry can be its own worst enemy at times, waiting until the fall to release the bulk of its new games and flooding the market in doing so.

He said games like "The Matrix: Path of Neo," released Nov. 7, may have come out too early and could be overshadowed by others like "Star Wars Battlefront II," "Shadow of the Colossus," and the video game version of Peter Jackson's "King Kong," a project on which Jackson worked closely with game developers.

"This'll probably be the best game based on a movie ever made," Martin said of "King Kong." "They put some stuff in it to make it more interesting as a video game."

The game allows its users to interact with their environments - including picking up things from the ground like sticks to use as weapons - and lets its players use their minds to create diversionary tactics to ward off creatures such as giant dinosaurs.

In one scene that Martin demonstrated, his on-screen character shot down an airborne pterodactyl to divert the attention of a tyrannosaurus rex bearing down on him.

The amount of technology that goes into video games these days has advanced far beyond early systems and they are as much about storylines and plot development as they are about advanced graphics.

Martin said Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360 gaming system, scheduled to be released during the week of Thanksgiving, is designed specifically for use on high-definition television, further advancing the movie-quality aspect of games.

"It looks like 'Toy Story' or any DVD-quality movie," Martin said.

The Xbox 360 is expected to be the strongest-selling game system this season, and retail stores across the country have been taking orders for reserved copies for months, Martin said.

The premium version of the system, complete with its own PC-style central processing unit, is expected to be in short supply on the shelves of most stores across the county, but Martin said shoppers can expect to find a moderately more abundant supply of the system's basic model.

Kelly Cullen, spokeswoman for Toys "R" Us, said the company recently opened up its reserve list for the game system, but supplies may be limited by Microsoft and demand has been slowly building in advance of its Nov. 22 scheduled release.

"It really all depends," she said. "They're going to be in limited quantity across the board."

There also are a variety of new mini-game systems out this season, including Nintendo's DS unit.

Those familiar with the Tamagotchi virtual-pet craze a few years back may experience a touch of nostalgia in one of the unit's games, "Nintendogs," which allows users to name their electronic dogs, feed them, and care for them.

As usual, there are a handful of games out this season not recommended for younger children, including the "Star Wars" game and a western-style "Grand Theft Auto"-type game called "Gun."

The games come with a rating system, and those recommended for older users are marked with an "M," for mature, rating.

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