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The Ever-Expanding E3 (Does that make it E5?)

Who said games weren't booming? Joseph Szadkowski recounts the parties, bustle and new CD-ROM releases from the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

szadkowskie301a.gifszadkowskie301b.gif The showroom floor at the 1997 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Atlanta. szadkowskie302.gif Screenshot from Activision's Apocalypse.

It's easy to blame the heat on meteorological twists, but I'm betting part of June's temperature soar was caused by the 1997 Electronic Entertainment Exposition (E3) where the best of the best CD-ROM and electronic platform developers spent three days sweltering in Southern hospitality.

The event packed over 37,000 individuals into the Georgia World Congress Center and Georgia Dome. The Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) claimed that 486 exhibiting companies filled a space equivalent to 35 football fields with over 1,500 new titles.

Extravagant Parties

An exciting industry, E3 extends beyond the convention center as gaming companies opened up their wallets to throw celebrity packed parties. Bruce Willis of the animated cartoon series Bruno the Kid invited a sea of humanity to his favorite restaurant, Planet Hollywood, to promote the release of Activision's new platform title, Apocalypse, starring the great man himself with rock-diva turned villain Poe.

Not to be outdone, Sony PlayStation teased retailers and some of us fortunate press folks with giant character cutouts surrounding a party which took place under a full Georgia moon that even outshone the phenomenal fireworks display. Entertainment that evening was provided by Soul Asylum.

Amazing Games

Party antics aside, we were there for the games and we did not leave disappointed. Here's a quick peek at some of the titles guaranteed to have animation fans taking out loans on their limited edition Looney Tunes chess sets.

Developer Titus avoids DC Comics current costume mishap, working instead with the Warner Bros. cartoon folks on Superman for Game Boy, Nintendo 64 and PlayStation. Players become the man of steel in order to stop Lex Luthor from using the LexoSkel 5000 to take over the world. Featuring stunning 3D environments, various fight levels and rescue operations this is a game to look for later this year.

Disney Interactive was all of a titter over the success of their latest character to hit the big money, Hercules. Joining the Hercules Print Activity Center, The Hercules Animated Storybook teaches children reading and vocabulary skills. Each of these titles is for Windows/Macintosh play and retails around $20. If they haven't had enough of the big guy, young players can take on the role of Hercules while defeating monsters, defending Mount Olympus from the Titans and beating the heck out of Hades in the Hercules action game. Containing video game-style action with 10 levels of game play, three different worlds, hidden areas and secret power-ups, this program is for ages 8 and older at a retail of $39.95.

Virgin Interactive is also capitalizing on the success of Disney's Hercules. Available for the Sony PlayStation, players can jump into 10 levels of action, sophisticated side-scrolling and 3D technologies. Now when Herc cuts off the Hydra's heads, you'll even get sprayed by the green blood!

In early October, a new breed of super hero takes flight for PlayStation when Sony combines forces with the demented wit and voice of Phil Hartman in presenting Blasto. Blasto combines 3D game play, constantly streaming environments and plenty of wise cracks. Looks like Earthworm Jim has finally met his match.

Everyone loves an anti-hero and this Christmas Sony and Todd McFarlane form an unholy alliance with the release of Spawn: The Eternal. This single player, third person action fighting game takes our hero from hell to three different time periods. Along the way, players must fight familiar faces from the comic book, new animated series and film. Players will also be challenged with a series of puzzle situations that will lead to their meeting and defeating the mighty Malebolgia.

Popeye's our favorite sailor man and this fall Brilliant Digital Entertainment gives him and the gang a Multipath Movies line of 3D interactive cinema. For PC play, Popeye and the Quest for the Woolly Mammoth is the first in a series of three animated features targeted for viewers five to twelve years old. Multipath Movies are digitally animated stories, each containing hundreds of plot alternatives leading to multiple and distinct conclusions. Interactive decisions are requested every 30 to 45 seconds and because users can choose the mood of Popeye, Olive Oyl, Brutus, Swee' Pea or others the experience becomes more like watching a cartoon than playing a game.

Fox Interactive's previous first-person shooter games are the antithesis of Anastasia: The Adventures of Pooka and Bartok. Releasing in November to coincide with the movie release, it is for children 6 through 10. The program uses a variety of exploration, problem-solving and testing skills.

Fox Toons enters the market for the very young with value priced programs for children 3 to 8. The Baby Felix Creativity Center will help children with basic reading, math, art and music while the Hello Kitty Creativity Center focuses on reading, counting and math skills.

Baby Felix Creativity Center is one of the first titles in Fox Interactive's FoxToons line of games.

For the anime connoisseur, in early October, THQ is shipping Ghost in the Shell for the Sony PlayStation. Based on the super successful Japanese sci-fi film, players must take-on evil high-tech forces by maneuvering one man tanks called Fukochimas. Featuring 12 missions and 10 minutes of original animation from the same team that did the film and a separate training mode, Ghost in the Shell could be the surprise hit much like the film was.

A New Scope

This relatively new industry is now stretching its arms to encompass an ever-widening scope of interests. No longer the domain of adolescence alone, everyone can now find something on the shiny plastic discs that allow us to travel, play, learn, create and explore our world and our interests.

Opponents of computer CD-ROMs have been warily watching the industry. Over the last three years, the annual E3 convention has increased in size and the breadth of products that it represents, rebuking earlier prophecies of failure. As a vehicle for the promotion of art, graphics and animation, the CD-ROM has benefited greatly from technological advancements, opening new doors for program development to the benefit of creators and users alike.

Joseph Szadkowski writes on various aspects of popular culture and is a columnist for The Washington Times.