Inside Move: Click and awe?

Vidgamers walk thin line with war scenarios

“Shock and Awe” turned into embarrassment and backpedaling last week for Sony, which yanked its application to trademark the phrase.

The company had planned to use it as title for a planned PlayStation 2 vidgame based on the Iraq invasion. But some U.S. media criticized it as war profiteering.

Sony’s retreat highlights one of the challenges for game publishers looking to create titles based on what some have called the biggest vidgame ever. But it doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of Iraq war-related games .

Wargames are filling sales charts now, and Electronic Arts, for example, says players have used scenario-creating tools built into its “Command & Conquer Generals” and “Battlefield 1942” to generate hundreds of Iraq wargame situations.

They’ve created modified levels with units and situations similar to the real war that are then posted online for others to play free.

Designing balanced, entertaining commercial titles based on the real war may be an even larger challenge, says Flint Dille, a partner in the entertainment company Bureau of Film and Games.

“You need two scenarios,” says Dille, who also designs wargames for the Defense Dept., “a realistic scenario and a playable one.”

The playable one might largely mirror what U.S. forces pulled off, with “very low (coalition) casualties, very low civilian casualties and very low damage to the oil infrastructure.”

Count on the ghostly Special Forces, which performed secret missions behind Iraqi lines, to provide endless source material for the next versions of stealth fighter franchises such as Ubi Soft’s many Tom Clancy titles, or Konami’s Metal Gear Solid series.

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