For video gamers, a delightful dilemma

The Master Chief is back in Xbox's "Halo 2."
The Master Chief is back in Xbox's "Halo 2."Microsoft
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Every day, tens of thousands of fanatical video game fans log on to message boards and chat rooms to trade the latest news and rumors about long-awaited sequels: "Doom 3" will be out next month. No, the month after that. "Half-Life 2" is going to suck. No, it's awesome. And when is it coming out, again?

Finally, after enduring years of fuzzy screenshots, rampant speculation, information blackouts and disappointing setbacks, the second half of 2004 is turning into a gamer's nirvana. The past three months alone have seen the releases of big name follow-ups "Doom 3" and "The Sims 2" for PC and "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" for Playstation 2.

The next few weeks will make even the last few months seem like a drought. In movie terms, it's as if "Lord of the Rings," "Harry Potter," "Shrek" and "Spider-Man" sequels were all set to hit theatres the same weekend. But a blockbuster movie consumes only a few hours of a viewer's time. Some of the games due out this month take weeks to play.

"There isn't enough time in the week to play 'EverQuest,' let alone any of the others," said Toronto software developer Philip Lysons.

Rich Woods, a Seattle area software engineer agrees. "I've stopped reading up on most of the games except the biggest and most anticipated, so that I won't be tempted to buy a game I won't have time to play."

Others seem unconcerned. "I'll find time to play them all," said Ontario software engineer Jamie Parent.

"It’s feast or famine and we are currently feasting," added Seattle area software tester Jennifer Waters. "Having to choose between great games is a dilemma I like to be in," she said.

The financial cost is a factor, as well. Most of these games cost around $50 -- and some of them come in online versions that add another $15 a month. That's great news for the game makers -- Microsoft's "Halo 2" has already presold 1.5 million copies -- but not exactly pocket change to the average game player.

(MSNBC is a joint Microsoft - NBC venture.)

Some players take advantage of presales. "I have already pre-paid for 'Half-Life 2' and 'EverQuest II.' Being able to pay months in advance does allow the financial burden to be spread out," said Gilles Gagnon, a CAD specialist in Toronto.

For others ... well, that's what friends are for. Assuming the friends will put down their controllers long enough to answer the phone, that is.

So many games, so little time
Listed by release date, here are the most hotly awaited new games coming out this month:

Nov. 9
Halo 2 (Xbox) - In 2001, many console players were introduced to Microsoft's Xbox through the adventures of the Master Chief as he fought the forces of the alien Covenant on a distant world. Now three years later, the aliens have found Earth, and the Master Chief is called upon to defend the home planet.


The Urbz: Sims in the City (multiple platforms) - The latest in the successful "Sims" series takes your digital persona out of suburbia and into urban life. Although there hasn't been a lot of pre-release buzz on this title, the popularity of previous versions all but guarantees a decent-sized audience for this incarnation.

Nov. 16
Half-Life 2 (PC) - The game world was turned on its ear in 1998 when research scientist Gordon Freeman found himself battling otherworldly creatures in a secret government lab. Now, the aliens have spread and, once again, Freeman must save the world.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Playstation 2) - Stealth action first came on the scene in the 1998 Playstation release Metal Gear Solid. Since then, millions have followed the adventures of government agent Solid Snake as he infiltrated enemy bases and uncovered secret plots. This latest incarnation takes place in the 1960s, not the near future.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (PC) - Based on the popular pen-and-paper role-playing game, this title follows the adventures of a clan of vampires in modern day Los Angeles. This is the second game based on the pen-and-paper license. "Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption" came out in 2000, but was made by a different developer.

Nov. 23
World of Warcraft (PC, Mac) - Hot on the heels of "EverQuest II" comes Blizzard Entertainment's entry into the massively multiplayer online role-playing field. Players in the form of orcs, humans, dwarves, trolls and other characters will interact in ways never before seen in the Warcraft universe, introduced in 1994 with the release of "Warcraft: Orcs and Humans."