Video games get smarter, good-looking

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Seven billion dollars is a prize worth fighting for. It's one that has galvanized the world of video games, where anticipation of the next generation of machines is making front-page news around the globe. Meanwhile, a furious jockeying for hearts and pocketbooks continues as each new game tries to win converts to one of the top three competitors: Sony, Sega, and Nintendo.

Here's a roundup of a few of the most notable current releases:

Nintendo for N64: Even though many of the first Pokmon fans have graduated to other fare, one of the most anticipated releases of early 2000 is the long-awaited Pokmon Stadium, a console game complete with a transfer pak that allows players to use the little monsters they've gathered in their hand-held Game Boys in the console game. It appears to deliver all the promised fun and technical advances. Players can now pit their monsters against one another on a big screen with far more visual clarity.

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Ridge Racer 64 is the latest-generation racing game and tops the list with smoother control, more satisfying resolution, and impressive graphics, bringing the driving simulation closer than ever to the real thing.

Hydro Thunder is a third-party title from Midway that has been released for both Playstation and N64. Another racing game, it features high-powered boats whizzing around waterways, showing off a level of technical achievement on a console previously only found at the arcade.

Sony Playstation: Sony's entry in the car-racing category, Colin McRae Rally, is a dazzling presentation of virtual road handling and incidental graphics.

Hot Shots Golf 2 is an update on its popular golf game. This version advances the technical capabilities of the game with spiffy new graphics. All the familiar levels for various abilities are still here, with every level enjoying the remarkably realistic swing control.

Sega for Dreamcast: Despite the recent announcement from the corporate parent that Sega's Japanese sales of its new Dreamcast machine were lagging, the American audience for the latest generation of Internet-ready game consoles is still winning converts. Crazy Taxi is the hottest new title; it takes the notion of car handling off-road, literally. Based on the arcade game, this version takes the player anywhere his imagination can take him, veering onto sidewalks and into cafes. The technical aspect of the game is impressive (it doesn't need to be said that the possibilities presented by this game should not be tried in real life!). Dreamcast's first fully networked multiplayer video game, Chu Chu Rocket, launched March 2. Players can compete in online games in real time against players across the country.

Sega has titles in the works for this spring that push the technical envelope. Seaman is a single-player interactive-strategy game in which players "raise" a half-man, half-fish from birth to maturity. Activated through vocal commands, the creature responds to the spoken voice and "remembers" information about the players. It promises a significant leap forward in consumer use of voice-recognition technology and artificial intelligence.

Even as these titles keep coming, the race for console dominance ensures many games will be left in the dust as the major competitors unleash their next-generation consoles. Sega has cast its lot with Dreamcast and is working to build its online gaming component. In early 2001, Nintendo intends to release its much-talked about Dolphin. Sony's PlayStation 2 is creating a ruckus in Japan, where stores can't keep the new console in stock.

Perhaps the biggest unknown on the video-game horizon is the impact of the announced X-Box, coming in 2001 from Microsoft. As some members of the online community have noted in fast and furious e-mails, Bill Gates may be a PC genius, but it takes a true video-game lover to understand what the gaming community wants.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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