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Big Guns in Electronic Fun Debut New Industry Best-Sellers

June 4, 1989

CHICAGO (AP) _ The big guns in electronic fun tried to stake claims on young hearts, displaying such gadgets as portable, hand-held video games and a microphone that lets you sound like Darth Vader or Mickey Mouse.

The collection of goodies Saturday was at the four-day Consumer Electronics Show, which runs here through Tuesday.

The toys aren’t just for kids. A number of electronics manufacturers are marketing telephones that look like bowling pins, hamburgers and fish - with your choice of large-mouth bass, chinook salmon or walleye pike.

For car buffs, Panasonic representatives are showing systems that project a map on the windshield to keep drivers eyes on the road. They also display camera-relayed rear and side vision on a screen in the dashboard.

″You can even see videotapes, like one that shows you how to change a tire,″ said Pat Griffis, a spokesman for Panasonic.

A microphone changes voice patterns to any of 16 octaves - making it easy to mimic film characters including the deep-voiced Darth Vader or a squeaky Mickey Mouse. The device was developed by Ohio Art Co., creators of Etch A Sketch, and should be in retail stores by the Christmas season with a $48 price tag.

John Weisman, president of Chicago-based ESP Corp., hopes to cash in on what he calls the ″world’s first computer sport.″ The game, called Battletech Center, is a mix of Disney-like environmental fantasy and flight simulator technology, he said.

Players sit in four cockpits, and must act as a team in a strategic video game simulating ground or air battles.

″The desire to be Tom Cruise in Top Gun or Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, to not have to live that experience vicariously, I think that’s a very common fantasy,″ Weisman said. ″I wanted to create something that kids think about and use some strategy instead of just their trigger finger.″

It took him eight years to develop the game, and he is negotiating for lease space to open a Battletech Center in Chicago by the end of the year. Players would pay $6 for a half-hour game.

″It got us hooked in two minutes,″ said Brian Bayley as he stepped out of the cockpit along with colleague Gary Bleckert. The two show attendees from a St. Louis company, Gusdorf Corp., predicted the game would ″definitely catch on.″

Only retailers, buyers, manufacturers and media representatives are allowed in the annual show at McCormick Place.

Among the new items offered by video game giants Nintendo and Atari are hand-held games that, unlike their predecessors, have more advanced television-like screens. Nintendo’s Game Boy, which has liquid crystal display, will retail for Christmas at $89.95. The Atari Advantage, which has a color screen, will sell for $140.

Nintendo is also offering new for 1989 a Soviet-developed game called Tetris, which asks a player to build a horizontal line with a series of uneven lines and shapes.

The company is spending about $4 million to market the game to an older crowd, ″from 2 to 92,″ said Bill White, Nintendo advertising manager.