Wars fought in a different world

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The Independent Online
THERE was a war going on in west London last week. Actually, there were a couple of wars, a number of inter-galactic skirmishes and more than one epic struggle between beasts of the dinosaur age.

For all the guns fired and punches thrown, however, casualties were thin on the ground - this was the ECTS Spring 1995 trade fair, taking place at Olympia, where the world's interactive entertainment industry had congregated to unveil the kind of fun and computer games due to hit the shops over the next six months.

It was a largely macho affair, the hall reverberating to the near deafening sounds of roaring monsters, screeching tyres and blazing machine guns.

Many exhibitors' stands reflected the fantasy aspirations of potential customers. Virgin Interactive Entertainment, for example, surrounded its imminent products with props that looked as though they had escaped from Alien. At the entrance to the stand stood glass jars containing pickled creatures from outer space.

Michael Legg, senior programmer at Westwood Studios, based in Las Vegas, agreed that the fantasy element drove his market. His new game, Lords of Lore II, on the Virgin stand, sends the player into a high-definition "other-world", where monsters attempt to tear heads off. Does it have to be quite so violent? Mr Legg thought this was a silly question: "There's no doubt that people love to escape and we help them do just that. But that doesn't mean they're going to go out afterwards and waste some guy."

Across the hall, Sony was showing off its PlayStation, the company's new "super-console", due in the shops in September. This system has had one of the biggest build-ups in the history of computer games, which is why every screen on Sony's gigantic stand had a permanent queue.

A more cerebral fantasy game is Seattle-based HyperBole Studio's interactive movie The Vortex, part of the company's "virtual cinema" concept. Developed by former actor, director and author Greg Roach, The Vortex is due for release in May. Using a combination of real actors and computer-generated scenes, the player assumes the role of the film's central character to follow any one of a number of plot "pathways" to one of its 90 possible endings.

Judith Schecter, director of HyperBole Europe, said that the studio was the first to reach an agreement with the Screenwriters Guild in the US on the use of live actors in the fledgeling "interactive cinema'' market.