News from the virtual world:
JAMMIN': "Guitar Hero" became one of this decade's most surprising smashes by giving just about anyone the chance to rediscover their inner Hendrix. Fans have been wondering what "GH" developer Harmonix Music Systems would do next, and now we know: "Rock Band," which promises to revive the faded dreams of millions of erstwhile garage bands.
"Rock Band" takes the simple premise of "Guitar Hero" -- pick up an instrument and jam along with classic tunes -- and multiplies it by four, adding a bass guitar, drums and a microphone. That could cost a lot of money if you buy all the peripherals, but Harmonix says the "GH" controller will be usable in the new game. The developers are also promising "deep online connectivity," so if you just want to play drums you can hook up with two guitarists and a singer online.
Thanks to its new owner, MTV, Harmonix has been able to line up music rights from some of the industry' biggest labels and publishers. Electronic Arts will start distributing the game, for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, during this year's holiday season.
HERO'S QUEST: If you're already looking for a second "Guitar Hero" controller, stroll over to eBay for the "Rock, Paint, Bid" charity auction. "GH" publisher Activision got celebrities to design and personalize 30 of the guitar game's controllers, and they're being auctioned off to raise money for MusiCares, which provides financial assistance to music industry veterans during times of need.
The bands that redesigned the guitars include My Chemical Romance, Hot Hot Heat and Tenacious D. Go to www.ebay.com/guitarhero.2 if you want to bid on one of the instruments, but make it quick; the auction ends Friday.
PRICE CLUB: When Sony introduced the PlayStation Portable in 2005, it was intended to challenge Nintendo's long-held dominance in handheld gaming. Instead, Nintendo's DS has been so popular that it has not only outsold the PSP, it's outsold every home console, including Nintendo's own Wii.
For a while now, analysts and retailers have been advising Sony to cut the PSP's price. The company has finally gotten with the program, cutting the price of the core PSP system from $200 to $170. That's still $40 more than Nintendo's DS Lite, but Sony doesn't want us to forget that the PSP also plays music and movies and stores photos.
"We have recently seen a steady rise in the number of teens adopting PSP as their primary handheld entertainment system, and we expect the new price will accelerate that trend," said Jack Tretton, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America.
DARK WATER: Prosecutors in Sacramento, Calif., decided not to file charges against the radio personalities involved in the death of Jennifer Strange, who drank nearly two gallons of water before dying of water intoxication. Strange was trying to win a Nintendo Wii by outlasting other listeners in a contest to see who could drink the most water without going to the bathroom.
The district attorney's office said the behavior of the KDND-FM employees, 10 of whom were fired after the stunt gone wrong, did not rise to the level of criminal activity. The station still faces a wrongful death suit filed by Strange's family.
HESTER'S PEARL: In this year's Super Bowl, Chicago Bears cornerback Devin Hester took the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown. He set an NFL record with six touchdown returns during the regular season. But he may be receiving the ultimate honor when "Madden NFL 08" comes out: He's the first player awarded a perfect 100 speed rating.
Hester's 100 elevates him above such legendary speedsters as Deion Sanders and Randy Moss. "That's just about the best thing you could have told me," he told ESPN.com. "It's an honor."
NEW IN STORES: There's only one major release this week, but it's a doozy: "Super Paper Mario," the latest installment of Nintendo's role-playing/platform hybrid, arrives on the Wii. ... Native American lore livens up SouthPeak Games' "Brave: The Search for Spirit Dancer," for the PlayStation 2.