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Copyright © 2005, TDPI

Video games have reached mainstream

By Mike Antonucci
Jan. 21, 2005

Mercury News

Now is as good a time as any for the video game industry to declare itself indisputably credible. The era of having to justify itself socially is over.

Some important 2004 sales figures -- released this week -- are telltale: The game business is remaining impressively strong during a period when it is primarily relying on aging and less exciting technology.

That's because games are turning the corner in their battle for consumer respect. They're still the object of some drive-by derision, such as ``Ebert & Roeper'' references to bad movies being like video games. But in general, games are on the ascension, and their influence on a much broader audience is conspicuous.

In recent weeks, game publicists have been crowing about prestigious tie-ins with the worlds of film, literature and art. A few examples:

  • Some companies, including Ubisoft and Vivendi Universal, are showcasing games at the Sundance Film Festival, which got under way this week.

  • Atari announced that author Dale Brown will write the story for a ``geopolitical techno-thriller'' PC game titled ``Act of War: Direct Action.'' The game also will incorporate live-action, cinematic footage produced by SWAT Films.

  • Locally, full details were released this week for plans by Symphony Silicon Valley to play music from the ``Final Fantasy'' game series at a March 7 concert in San Francisco. There will be a lot of buzz about the large video screens that make the event a multimedia experience, but the sophistication of the music is the prime attraction.
  • The underlying theme of all this activity is, ``Look at us. Look at the big-time entertainment partners we have.''

    Well, no need to feel so earnest. The big winners, in fact, may be those partners, who are soaking up some of the hip cachet that permeates video games, which represented a $10 billion industry last year without adding in sales for PC games.

    The top-selling console and hand-held games of 2004 cover an extraordinary range of material, including ``Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas'' (more than 5.1 million copies sold), the PlayStation 2 versions of the ``Madden'' and ``ESPN'' football titles (more than 4.7 million combined) and the PS2 version of ``Spider-Man 2'' (more than 1.1 million). There are also two Pokémon games in the top 11 -- six years after the start of what many people thought would be a short-lived fad.

    This tells us that video games are seeping deep into the mindset of Americans of almost all ages and tastes, positioning the industry for amazing growth as it rolls out cool new game machines over the next few years. In the meantime, games are infiltrating more households in some subtly influential ways.

    The recent wave of budget-oriented ``plug-and-play'' devices, which feature retro games and hook up in seconds to TV sets' video and audio inputs, is inevitably going to break down the sense of intimidation created by the price and complexity of up-to-date games.

    The ``Madden '95'' game revived in a plug-and-play from the JAKKS Pacific company is a good example. In addition to tapping into the market for anything nostalgic, it's likely to draw in football fans who aren't ready for a PlayStation 2 or Xbox but are curious about video games.

    Some of them are going to evolve into buyers for the next-generation PlayStation and Xbox consoles that have yet to emerge from the Sony and Microsoft laboratories. Eventually, the only thing the game business may have to be defensive about is its runaway success.

    Click here for more on Plan Of Attack!

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    Plan Of Attack (MAY 2004)

    The unthinkable is about to happen in this high-flying novel of adventure and suspense.

    In Air Battle Force, Dale Brown introduced U.S. Air Force aerial warfare expert Major General Patrick McLanahan and his air combat unit of the future. Armed with a force of these robotic planes, the general and a handful of commandos were secretly deployed to the oil-rich nation of Turkmenistan to stop a Taliban invasion. And though the Americans won the battle, the war is far from over....

    To punish McLanahan and his fleet of robot warplanes for their audacity, Russian president General Anatoliy Gryzlov decides to do the unthinkable: a sneak attack on America-unlike anything ever believed possible-that devastates her strategic air forces.

    McLanahan has collected information that not only foretold the Russians' daring plan, but also gave him the data he needs to plan a counterstrike that could stop the Russian war machine dead in its tracks. But Patrick is no longer in charge of Air Battle Force, and the Russian sneak attack has left the embattled U.S. president with few options: retaliate with every weapon in his arsenal, even if it triggers a global thermonuclear war, or to a cease fire on Russia's terms...

    ...or listen to a disgraced and discredited young bomber commander's long-shot plan of attack.

    "The novels of Dale Brown brim with violent action, detailed descriptions of sophisticated weaponry and political intrigue... His ability to bring technical weaponry to life is amazing."
    --San Francisco Chronicle

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