Blast those bloody games, anyway

Steve Homer experiences an overwhelming sense of Doom at the European Computer Trade Show
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The uninspiringly named European Computer Trade Show (ECTS) is one of the noisiest shindigs to fill Olympia. It is like stepping into video arcade heaven (or hell, depending on your perspective), with your senses assailed from all sides as spotty urchins send aliens to their untimely deaths.

But then, parts of ECTS, Europe's largest computer entertainment show, are stunningly uninspiring. You cannot help but notice that a lot of things just look the same. There are just so many imitations of the hugely successful shoot-'em-up Doom that if imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, Doom should be blushing all the way home.

But ECTS does suffer from a certain amount of prejudice and if you look below the surface things are changing - slowly. The urchins are now much older, many wear suits and they seem to spend more time racing cars rather than fighting aliens. The computer entertainment trade is, some might say sadly, growing up. Most of the blood and gore is gone. Much of the tasteless sexism has been calmed and it seems as if as much space was given over to worthy space exploration titles and encyclopedias as to titles that involved the much more important business of blowing space- faring aliens to kingdom come. Add to that the fact that the biggest force in business computing, Microsoft, is trying to cloth itself in gaming colours and you have to ask: has the computer entertainment fraternity lost its (evil) soul?

But ECTS this year had as much to do with what was not there as what was. Nintendo was lurking in the wings. The games market today is dominated by the PC and two 32-bit-dedicated games consoles: the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation. Nintendo, the leading manufacturer of games consoles, is supposed to have launched its 64-bit machine in the UK by now but during the show announced that it will delay its launch until March. Cue rejoicing in the Sega and Sony camps.

The buzz on the first days of the show was that Sega would sell its system for pounds 199 this Christmas but that Sony might go lower, to perhaps pounds 149. However, with Nintendo delaying the N64's launch, Sony may well decide to hold to its existing pounds 199 price level- bad news for parents.

But what none of the console manufacturers can do is protect themselves from the relentless progress of the PC as a complete home entertainment machine. A PC might set you back more than five times as much as a games console, but punters are realising in their thousands that, for such an investment, they are buying five times as much fun. Microsoft, never a company to allow a market segment to develop without trying to take it over, had a major presence at the show with not only nine games of its own but major tie-ups with games developers (including Sega) to launch titles for its Windows 95 operating system.

Come back in a couple of years and there will be grey-haired coves in their thousands wandering around ECTS driving the industry forward. Come back spotty urchins, all is forgiven.

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