FOR THE RECORD (October 28, 1995): Correction: Zack Hathaway attends North Central High School. His name and school were wrong in a story Monday.
Christmas is still months away, but mortal combat has already erupted inside many home entertainment centers.
The warriors: moms and dads like Kelly and Jim Robison, going hand to hand against their Sega- or Nintendo-crazed video-playing kids.
The young Robisons, 10-year-old Jeff and 7-year-old Jeremy, argue it’s time to jump to wilder, more colorful game systems where the action resembles arcade-level intensity.
Their parents look at the $300-$350 price and pull out the “not-this-year” trump card, telling them that even niftier systems will arrive in 1996.
“If Nintendo will release something bigger and better next year, I won’t give the kids a new system this Christmas,” Kelly Robison said.
As the Christmas buying season nears, the $7 billion-a-year video-game industry is pushing several new game systems with glitzy TV commercials and flashy magazine ads.
But owners of the 70 million video-game systems in the country - or those considering buying one - are not biting yet.
Though the new systems make games like Doom and Mortal Kombat 3 glow with near-thermonuclear energy, shoppers aren’t sure they have to buy them.
One recent afternoon, Kelly Robison roamed the aisles of the North Division Toys “R” Us, looking at displays of video systems and eyeballing hundreds of games lining the shelves.
“Yeah, my son Jeff wants that one,” she said, pointing to the $169 Virtual Boy, a game system introduced by industry giant Nintendo.
At the end of the aisle are two other contenders, the Sony PlayStation and the Sega Saturn, both priced around $300 for a console that must be connected to a TV screen.
“Trouble is, Jeff wants everything that’s new,” she said.
The PlayStation and the Sega Saturn are improvements over popular systems like Super Nintendo or the Sega Genesis - the gamers’ favorites for speed, color and in-your-face graphics.
While Sony and Sega’s new games are fancier versions of existing systems, Virtual Boy is something new.
The system’s key feature is a plastic visor that envelopes the player’s eyes. Looking through it, the user gets images with a heightened sense of space and motion.
“The game is not virtual reality and we don’t say it offers that,” said Nintendo spokeswoman Perrin Kaplan.
“It immerses a person in the game, and people find that interesting,” she added.
All three new consoles use 32-bit operating systems - doubling the typical 16-bit flow of data.
The result for gamers is faster-moving, more dynamic kickboxers, louder demons from hell or more vibrant gorillas dashing across the screen.
But even the makers of these new systems are already at work on the next generation of fancier, 64-bit machines.
That’s what Nintendo - which has 54 percent of the U.S. video game market - plans to do next April, with its launch of Ultra 64.
As a result, many video game buyers are cautious, said Chris Gore, a video game producer for California-based Digital Pictures.
“A lot of parents are tired of buying a new system every couple of years,” said Gore.
After testing the new systems, Gore has formed some observations that parents or kids can use to make their case for or against a new purchase.
His comments refer to the Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation and Panasonic 3D0 systems only. He’s no fan of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy: “I don’t think anyone’s impressed by it,” he said. “It seems aimed only at 7- to 12-year-olds.”
Here’s ammunition kids can use to acquire a new game system:
Big-time realism. Say goodbye to little two-dimensional Mario figures. The new systems make marked improvements in video quality, sound, game control and animation.
“What’s neat is getting up to 32 different channels of sound,” said thirtysomething game-player Dan Stevens. He likes the game Black Fire on Sega’s Saturn, in which a jet approaches from a distance.
As it nears, the jet’s whine gradually builds, ending in a thunderous roar as it zips past.
Simultaneous multiple players. Having up to eight people playing Doom appealed to Zack Hardaway, a Rogers High School freshman.
Hardaway sold two older game systems to buy a PlayStation. “It’s cool and also plays audio CDs,” he said.
Game consoles don’t require a computer. Many families are opting for computers with CD-ROM players so kids can play games but also do homework at the same screen.
“But a dedicated game machine is designed just for that,” producing higher play quality and no software-hardware problems, Gore said.
Gore said the following are reasons not to buy the new systems:
Fewer choices. Right now PlayStation and Sega Saturn offer only 15 games apiece, and Virtual Boy has just five. The 16-bit Sega Genesis has 500 titles.
That will change. Next year, the Sega and 3D0 systems will also offer some X-rated games to broaden the appeal.
“They want systems to appeal to the whole family, from junior playing Donkey Kong, to dad enjoying his adult-rated games,” Gore said.
High cost. New systems always cost more when first released. “I’d buy a PlayStation if it dropped by $50,” said Gonzaga University student Greg Braileanu.
Newer doesn’t mean better - yet. Just as people are declaring the 16-bit systems dead, great games for them keep coming out.
“I’ve tried all the new systems, and right now I’m playing some new 16-bit games,” Gore said. “One I really like is Yoshi’s Island. Man, it’s fun.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Video games battle back against PCs
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: On the Web Samples of new games and features can be found on the World Wide Web at: http://www.nintendo.com or http://www.segaoa.com