Games reach for indie crowd; Midway breaks down

By Lou Kesten

Real news from the virtual world:

– NEW AUDIENCES: When the 12th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards are handed out in Las Vegas this week, there will be a new guest: the Independent Film Channel, which is taping the ceremony for airing in April.

“IFC looks at games as the next frontier of creative expression,” said Joseph Olin, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. “IFC watchers want to know more about the process of making games.”

As developers gather at this week’s D.I.C.E. (Design, Innovate, Communicate, Entertain) Summit, the top award nominees – like “Fable II” and “Fallout 3” – show a growing maturity, he said.

“Even ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’ show game makers putting character development in the forefront,” Olin said. “And games like ‘BioShock’ and ‘Uncharted’ delivered strong narrative power through environment. As game makers mature, they become more comfortable telling stories.”

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    Still, the industry is aware that Nintendo’s Wii has brought aboard more “casual” gamers who may not be seeking such thought-provoking fare. “And that’s OK,” said Olin, citing clever Wii titles like “Boom Blox” and “De Blob.” ”Not every game should be deep. Sometimes a game is just a game.”

    – TROPHY CASE: After the Interactive Achievement Awards, there’s still one more set of kudos to go: the Game Developers Choice Awards, which will be announced March 25 at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

    Sony’s “LittleBigPlanet” leads the GDC pack with seven nominations, including game of the year. Other candidates for the top prize are Microsoft’s “Fable II,” Bethesda’s “Fallout 3,” Valve’s “Left 4 Dead” and Rockstar’s “Grand Theft Auto IV.”

    – LOST MIDWAY: Midway Games, which was struggling long before the economic meltdown, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. But we haven’t seen the last of the “Mortal Kombat” publishers; chief executive Matt Booty said the filing will “provide us time for an orderly exploration of our strategic alternatives.”

    Midway isn’t likely to jettison “Mortal Kombat” or its other big franchises like “Game Party” and “TNA Impact.” But the company’s announcement didn’t mention two high-profile debuts, “The Wheelman” and “This Is Vegas,” that were due this spring. It’s a safe bet that at least one game will end up at another publisher.

    There are other deals going down in the industry: Square Enix has offered to buy Eidos Interactive, owner of the “Tomb Raider” series, and Namco Bandai said it wants to acquire D3 Publisher, home of “Puzzle Quest.”

    – NEW IN STORES: Capcom’s arcade smash “Street Fighter IV” comes home at last (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3). … DS players get a pair of epics, Nintendo’s “Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon” and Square Enix’s “Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride.” … For motorsports addicts, there’s Atari’s “RacePro” sim (360). … NIS’ lovable exploding penguins take center stage in “Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?” (PlayStation Portable).