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Playing With Progress : The latest generation of games screams its way to a crescendo. Soon the focus may move to storytelling.

November 18, 1994|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Play It Loud!" the Super Nintendo ads read.

That means more than just volume. The new generation of games moves more quickly and burns brighter than its predecessors.

The video game technoparty that has seen innovations on an almost yearly basis should reach a screaming crescendo in 1995. By fall, Nintendo promises to introduce the Ultra 64, with its 64-bit processor for smoother and more colorful play. Sony should hit the market with its much-anticipated multimedia machine. The Sega Channel--a cable service allowing subscribers to play on their television sets--will begin to join cable systems nationwide.

All of which means more and better game playing.

"Spectacular graphics. Great sound," said Mike Sobetzko, manager of the Game Dude shop in North Hollywood. "And that doesn't even include the computer games. I think PC games are really going to be where it's at."

The industry has come a long way from Pong, that monochrome, two-dimensional dinosaur of the disco era. Computer hardware and the eight-bit processor fueled the first big surge in video games during the 1980s. The early 1990s brought 16-bit technology with its enhanced ability to process graphic and sound information.

Suddenly, games offered 3-D scenery and realistic characters that moved with fluid grace. But this advance, industry experts say, is already ancient history.

"This will be the last Christmas for 16-bit," said David Winding, of Diehard GameFan magazine. "The demand for virtual reality is becoming greater and greater."

With more powerful processors, game systems of 1995 will take one step closer to the vaunted "full-motion video," technology that will allow players to direct live-action characters through scenes of motion-picture quality.

Video game manufacturers are scrambling toward this goal by way of the silicon cartridge, the compact disc and the peripheral hardware that has turned multimedia personal computers into arcade-quality machines.

Perhaps the only thing lacking in this splashy high-tech race is content. Perhaps that is where the real excitement lies. "The technology is getting about as good as it will get for the next five to 10 years," Winding said. "Once you've got the tools, now spend money on depth of story."

The magazine editor compares the history of video games to that of filmmaking. After the switch from silents to talkies, from black-and-white to color, movies reached something of a technological plateau. He insists that this leveling focused more attention on the art of storytelling. Winding foresees the same dynamic with video games. And Hollywood seems eager to share its experience.

Disney artists drew the characters for the Aladdin video game. Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes shot "blue-screen" scenes to be included in a game that follows their film "Demolition Man."

"There are also games like Tie Fighter, which uses voice-overs by people like James Earl Jones," said Terry Coleman, an assistant editor of Computer Gaming World magazine. "They've spent millions of dollars to get the top names. Now it will be interesting to see how well these games do."

The early amalgamations of film and game are choppy at best. Live-action sequences, for the most part, have been used as transitions between computer-generated playing fields. But the rapidly expanding technology has given gamers hope for a growing romance between microchip wizardry and Hollywood magic.

"Give us an environment that has some texture to the characters," Winding said. "Give us some believability."

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