KENILWORTH, N.J. (AP) _ In the world of new-wave cops and robbers, the good guys can still wear white hats if they want, along with the battery packs and light-beam shooting pistols, but the bad guys might be computers.

Welcome to Photon, the futuristic space game.

''The interactive, high-technology nature of this thing is probably going to be the way things go in the future,'' George Carter III, the creator, said Monday. ''You can really be part of the game rather than sitting and watching.''

Photon players don helmets, chest pads and battery packs, pick up those pistols that shoot the light beams, and put their names into a computer that keeps score.

They enter a two-story air-conditioned, carpeted playing area with caves, mazes, artificial fog, flashing lights and space sound effects. The mission, if they choose to accept it: Seek out and destroy each other.

Games last 61/2 minutes, with up to 20 players divided into two groups trying to zap members of the opposing team with the light beams to capture the other team's home base.

''It's a classic game that all of us played as children - cops and robbers,'' said Carter, president of Photon Marketing Ltd. of Dallas, which says it has sold more than 70 franchises in Canada and the United States at $75,000 apiece.

''It's a very pure, simple game of electronic capture the flag and hide- and-seek,'' said Dan Allen, Photon Marketing vice president. ''This is a basic game of strategy.''

''It's a whole different concept in amusements,'' said Carter. ''The old- style ride, like the roller coaster and things of a passive nature, is really not the future.''

Officials of Technologically Supported Pastimes, which owns the inaugural franchise here, joined representatives of Photon Marketing and franchise owners from Garden City, N.Y., Baltimore and Toronto to demonstrate the game.

The operation in Kenilworth, just west of New York, begins today, but a prototype has been operating in Dallas since April 1984.

John Macchiaverna, owner of Technologically Supported Pastimes, said, ''Photon is today. It is an idea whose time has come.''

He said he plans to open at least seven other Photon games in New Jersey.

Guy VanNoy, who played the game for the first time Monday, said, ''If you like to participate in things, this has got to be the best type of amusement you can find.''

''You really fall in love with it once you play and you realize people will definitely return and play again,'' said VanNoy, who will work as a manager at the Garden City franchise. ''A lot of us, we left other jobs. We have a great deal of confidence in it.''

Macciaverna is charging his customers a one-time registration fee of $6.50 and $3.50 a game. But officials say prices will vary from franchise to franchise.

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