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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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It’s Time To Play! The Future Of Fun Is Now At Seattle’s Gameworks, A High-Tech Entertainment Center For All Ages

Did you see me on MTV the other night?

I was standing right next to Beck. The monosyllabic-monikered Grammy winner and I exchanged pleasantries.

Beck was only one of the big stars I orbited during the celebrity-crammed grand opening gala at the premiere of GameWorks in Seattle on Saturday. This sprawling video game arcade is being hyped as the wave of the future.

“We don’t like to call it a video arcade. It’s really more of an entertainment center,” said one of the many GameWorks attendants circulating throughout the event.

As a member of the working press, I was waved through the barricades to the VIP valet parking area - my ‘86 Honda pulling up alongside stretch limos and the like. On my right were dozens of cameras recording the arrival of the Hollywood bigwigs. Across the street behind barricades were hundreds of spectators who had braved a Seattle storm for the chance to spot some high-voltage stars.

Walking toward the front door, I noticed people looking at me and waving. Wow. They thought I was somebody famous.

Nah. I just happened to be walking next to Will Smith, star of “Independence Day,” and Richard Karn, the guy who plays Al on “Home Improvement.”

As more celebs arrived, they spit out perfect 10-second sound bites for the media.

Someone apologized to Weird Al Yankovic for the weather. He quipped: “I love it. I’m going to settle down and raise a family right here on the sidewalk.”

MTV Veejay Simon Rex enthused: “This is a great thing. A whole place dedicated to video games. What could be better?”

Rapper Coolio appeared and laid his trademark “Whaaz zup?” on the cheering crowd. Then he said: “I’m gonna go pop it in the machine and play.”

When “X-Files” star Gillian Anderson arrived, she was greeted by the throngs chanting her name. She smiled and waved. They screamed for more.

Inside, invited guests experienced a full-on sensory assault. The place has a warehouse chic feel with exposed pipes and banks of TVs playing non-stop videos suspended from the two-story high ceilings. A driving techno-beat thumped incessantly over the sound system. Smoke from dry ice circled around a bank of machines. A reader board churned out such witticisms as “Liver flukes and onions” and “Pop Goes Your Spleen.”

This is the wave of the future or a sign that the apocalypse is near?

GameWorks is the brainchild of Steven Speilberg and company at DreamWorks as well as the folks at Sega. The Seattle spot is the first in the nation, the beginning of what owners hope will be a chain as prolific as that burger place with the Golden Arches. (The Seattle GameWorks is right around the corner from Planet Hollywood and NikeTown, at Seventh and Pike.)

Along with a myriad of video games, guests can sink into the overstuffed chairs in the Internet Lounge or munch on wood-fired oven pizzas and sip suds made in the on-premise brewpub.

While the high-tech games such as Vertical Reality - a eardrum-rattling shoot-‘em up on which participants rise up to 25 feet in the air on a seat and then free-fall if the bad guy blows them away - drew the longest lines, some folks got nostalgic about a bank of classic quarter-eaters.

“I haven’t played Centipede in years,” someone said.

There also was Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Moon Patrol and Frogger. Ah, for the good old days when I finally gobbled up those nasty ghosts on Pac-Man.

Players won’t be using coins to operate the games here. Instead, participants will be issued a smart card that keeps track of the games played. You pay the cashier on the way out. Most games cost between $1 and $5.

The place was thoughtfully laid out on two levels. The upper level has a big selection of sports games, such as Title Fight, NBA Jam, Hang Time, Air Hockey and a batting cage where you swing against a video pitcher who has better stuff than the entire starting lineup of the Seattle Mariners. There were also hoop shoots and the old-fashioned Skee Ball, which wasn’t getting much attention during the grand-opening gala.

Some serious killing and maiming was going on in a nearby section where games included Gunblade, Soul Edge, House of the Dead and Toyko Wars.

In yet another room, people in headsets readied for the “live” broadcast on MTV featuring performances by Beck and Coolio. (It was broadcast live on the East Coast and tape-delayed for our time zone.) No one over 30 was allowed in the cordoned-off section near the small stage. When I tried to waltz in, a GameWorks attendant barked: “You’re not credentialed to come in here.”

So, I watched Beck shake his groove thing from the sidelines but not before there was a dramatic breach in security. A woman was wrestled out the door after she tried to crash the stage area. As she was forcibly removed, she screamed out: “Norm, what’s going on here? Help me, Norm.”

Seattle Mayor Norm Rice was standing on the balcony of a VIP area. He didn’t look too concerned. The audience applauded, and someone standing next to me said: “Man, that was really fresh.”

The show went off without a hitch, with Beck performing his latest hit, “The New Pollution,” and “Where It’s At,” from his Grammy-winning “Odelay” release.

Shortly after he left the stage, Beck hopped in a pseudo race car alongside Will Smith; Dreamworks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg; the world’s richest man, Bill Gates; Weird Al; Karns; and Vince Vaughn, star of “Swingers,” for an Indy 500 race. Talk about some serious horsepower.

Gates, by the way, was not a particularly imposing figure in person. While the crowds parted for him wherever he strolled, he was having a bad hair day. You’d think a guy with that much money could get a decent haircut.

As the MTV broadcast faded out with Coolio instructing everyone: “Gotta gotta get up to get down,” celebs gathered for a final photo op. That’s when I got a chance to say hello to Beck.

He replied: “Hi, how you doing?” and looked like he wanted to chat some more, but his handlers rushed him toward his next assignment. Probably challenging Gillian Anderson on the slopes of the very cool Alpine Racer game.

When I left and the valet pulled up in my beat-up Honda next to sleek limos, I couldn’t resist asking: “Was this the ugliest car you parked all night?”

Yeah, it was, he said, smiling.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Sega GameWorks Seattle, 1511 Seventh St., Seattle. Phone: (206)283-4263 E-mail: gameworksseattle.com Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. All ages admitted. No cover.

This sidebar appeared with the story: Sega GameWorks Seattle, 1511 Seventh St., Seattle. Phone: (206)283-4263 E-mail: gameworksseattle.com Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. All ages admitted. No cover.

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