News from the virtual world:
-NAME THAT ZUNE: It sure is hot out, but at least we gamers have our PlayStation Portables and Nintendo DSes to distract us from the miserable weather. And soon, Microsoft will be joining the portable entertainment parade with a device called Zune. Alas, Zune isn't the dedicated game machine a lot of us were hoping for. Instead, it's an attempt to compete with Apple's iPod by building a digital music player that will tie into the Xbox, Windows and Microsoft's Media Center software. The Xbox Live online game service is one model for the Zune's network capabilities; Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices group, said the company hopes to create a similar sense of community with Zune, allowing users to share playlists and videos or find band information such as tour dates. "We're not just introducing Zune to do the same thing that other people do," Bach said. He also said he hopes Microsoft's Xbox business will become profitable in the company's next fiscal year, which begins in July 2007. Maybe then we'll finally see a portable Xbox.
-HIT ME: Microsoft's absence from the portable game console competition gives Sony a chance to draw more people to the struggling PSP. At long last Sony has cut the price of some of the most popular PSP games, launching a new "Greatest Hits" series for the handheld. The first batch of $19.99 titles includes "Ape Escape: On the Loose," "ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin' Trails," "Hot Shots Golf: Open Tee," "Twisted Metal: Head On" and "Wipeout Pure." (That's a whole lotta colons.) The real gem comes later this year when "Lumines" joins the "Greatest Hits" club, along with "Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition," "Star Wars Battlefront II," "Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix," and "Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade."
-FALL CLASSICS: Nintendo, meanwhile, is holding off on its big DS push until Oct. 9, after which it will publish at least one new game a week for six weeks. The lineup includes some pretty high-profile titles, including "Pokemon Ranger," "Children of Mana," "Yoshi's Island 2" and a new "Nintendogs," now featuring Dalmatians. Interestingly, the campaign wraps up in mid-November - right about when Nintendo is expected to launch its new Wii console. If you can't wait until then to get a look at the Wii, you might want to reserve a ticket for the Nintendo Fusion Tour, which begins Sept. 27 in Columbus, Ohio, and stops at 34 more cities through Nov. 11.
-MOST DANGEROUS GAME: The reddest of red-state sports has found unlikely popularity in some of the most liberal places in America, thanks to a coin-operated game called "Big Buck Hunter Pro." The arcade game, created by Play Mechanix Inc., lets the player grab a shotgun and stalk deer, elk, antelope, bighorn sheep and moose. It's become a big moneymaker in arcades and bars, thanks largely to urban players who don't get the chance to handle big weapons very often. "It makes perfect sense," New Yorker Alexandra Broseus told the AP. "It's the whole thing of going out and hunting in the city."
-LOVECRAFT: Where can a spellcasting gnome meet a nice dwarf paladin these days? There's no shortage of such creatures among the more than 6 million subscribers to "World of Warcraft," but they might need an icebreaker to meet each other outside the game. Enter World of Datecraft, a Web site meant to facilitate real-life meetings between players of the world's most popular online fantasy. The setup is similar to more conventional dating sites like Match.com, but women have a huge advantage; last time we checked, the site had five times as many male members as female.