COMPUTERS WIN BIG!
Report From The Winter Consumer Electronics Show
Keith Ferrell, Features Editor
It was quite a show! The Winter Consumer Electronics Show this past January marked an important turning point for the computer/software industry. There were more consumer products than ever before—so many that we couldn't mention all of them in this article—and the products reflected a new spirit of adventure and growth, exemplars of an industry that is becoming a full-fledged member of both consumer electronics and the media establishment. After a couple of slow seasons, home computing is back with a vengeance—and this time, many feel, it's here to stay.
Computer owners emerged as big winners in Las Vegas this past January, judging by the products on display at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show.
On both the hardware and software fronts, increasing sophistication and user friendliness were much in evidence. It is clear that a third generation of microcomputer hardware, with software to match, is being unleashed. Hardware power continues to climb. Consumer software is truly coming of age, demonstrating heightened playability on the entertainment side, vastly increased performance on the productivity side, innovation on all sides.
Computerized Hot Spot
While some of the traditional areas of consumer electronic strength—VCRs, for example—showed signs of slippage and saturation ("How," one dealer was overheard saying, "do you sell that third VCR into a household?"), computers and software remained a CES hot spot. More than a few observers expressed confidence that the emergence of a large home computer market is just beginning to take place.
Consumer software publishers and compatibles manufacturers are going after that market in a big way, enthusiastic despite a resurgent videogame industry and the possibility of economic downturn.
There was a sense of a vast, as yet untapped, market on the brink of waking up. It's a new market (the millions of first-time computer buyers), but one increasingly comfortable with computers. From VCRs to automobiles to kitchen appliances, consumers are accustomed to programmable appliances, electronic displays.
It's a market whose children have lived with microcomputers all their lives, for whom a computer is something that's not in the house yet, not something that never will be. The home computer industry is ready to break out, bringing new products, new prices, and new directions. Here's an overview of some of the products on display at CES.
The overwhelming majority of machines on display were IBM compatibles. Commodore and Atari passed on appearing at CES, while IBM and Apple have never been present at the show.
That left the field open to the compatibles manufacturers, most of whom stressed the growing size and importance of the home office market, although an increased awareness of the consumer market was also evident.
Amstrad continued to press its menu of configurations, offering consumers their choice of bundled software. Purchasers may choose either Migent's Ability, an integrated package, or Amstrad's proprietary Discover Kit, developed by Learning Technologies, which includes applications software as well as product samples from leading software publishers. The software bundles accompany the PC 1512, Amstrad's desktop computer, or the company's new entry, the PPC 512, a portable computer. The PPC 512 can be run on AC, an automobile cigarette lighter, or regular "C" batteries. The 512K portable is available for $949 (single 3½-inch drive) or $1,049 (dual 3½-inch drives).
Blue Chip president John Rossi sponsored a press breakfast featuring a speech by Julian Cohen, head of the American Home Business Association. Cohen stressed the size and untapped market potential of the home office market, citing figures that show more than 13 million home offices, with an average annual income of over $50,000. Blue Chip is addressing that market aggressively with an expanded IBM-compatible product line including an AT (the pcPopular AT, 640K RAM, one 1.2-megabyte floppy disk drive, priced at $1,499) and an XT (the pcPopular XT, 512K RAM, one floppy disk drive, and a 20-megabyte hard disk, priced at $1,199). For mobile users, Blue Chip introduced the MasterPC Portable, a 19-pound portable AT offering 1MB of memory, a supertwist backlit screen, and an 80286 central processor.
Vendex continued and extended its HeadStart campaign, proclaiming its PC, with bundled software and DOS tutorial/interface, the easiest of all for the first-time buyer, with features appreciated by power users. Much present was Vendex spokesman, wrestler King Kong Bundy. Confident that first-time buyers will quickly become power users, Vendex used CES as a showplace for its line of "Easy Does It" peripherals, including a 21-megabyte hard disk ($599) and a Memory Upgrade kit ($99.95), which lets users boost RAM from 512K to 748K. Also making its debut at CES was the Head-Start Mouse, produced for Vendex by Logitech and priced at $99.95. It comes bundled with Logitech's Paint Show graphics package.
Laser (Video Technologies) used CES to remind attendees that not all the compatibles manufacturers were restricted to the IBM market. At CES, the company introduced a variety of machines in its successful line of both Apple and IBM compatibles. On the Apple front, Laser showed its new Laser 128 EX ($579.95), boasting faster processing speed than the Apple II, memory expansion to over 1MB on an AppleWorks-compatible RAM board, built-in disk drive and peripherals interfaces. On the IBM compatibles side of the line, the company showed its Laser Compact XTE ($599), with 512K RAM (expandable to 640K), multiple video mode support, and built-in disk drive. The Laser Compact XTE ($699) delivers 640K RAM, built-in expanded memory standard, and EGA graphics support. Coming later in the year from Laser are a IIGS compatible, tentatively priced at under $600, and an IBM AT compatible for under $800.
Productivity and applications software is available, by now, for every machine and every budget. The new products on display in Las Vegas sported enhanced capabilities, easy-to-use interfaces, and competitive prices.
Timeworks tackled the desktop publishing market across the board with Publish It! (MS-DOS, $149.95; Apple II series, $99.95;) and Desktop Publisher ST (ST, $129.95;64/128 version to be introduced later this year). For the MS-DOS market, the company debuted The Executive Word Writer PC ($149.95), a full-featured word and outline processor, with built-in spelling and style checkers. To manage taxes, there was Sylvia Porter's SwifTax (MS-DOS, Apple II, $69.95).
PaperClip Publisher ($49.95) from Electronic Arts brings an Amiga-style interface to the 64/128 desktop publishing environment.
Having created a strong market with its 64/128 GEOS series of packages, Berkeley Softworks let audiences at CES know that the operating system would be ported to the Apple environment. Berkeley also showed geoProgrammer (64/128, $69.95).
The marriage of microcomputers and education is entering its second decade, with educational software publishers seeing dramatic growth in the home market for their products.
Davidson showed Read 'N Roll (Apple II, $49.95; MS-DOS to come later in 1988), which allows teachers and parents to tailor reading exercises aimed at helping students better understand the contexts and inferences of words, as well as their meanings.
"Know Thyself" might be the advice followed by Three-Sixty with Bridges (MS-DOS, Macintosh), a psychological profile/motivational package developed by psychologist and NASA consultant Dr. Taibi Kahler.
With Sesame Street Print Kit (MS-DOS, Apple II, 64/128, Atari 8-bit, $14.95), from Hi Tech Expressions, students can put familiar characters from the popular PBS program to work in banners, greeting cards, and other printed materials. Also announced was Sesame Street Learning Library (MS-DOS, 64/128, $24.95) a three-volume bundle of activity software. Older students (ages 7–12) can visit The Computer Clubhouse (MS-DOS, Apple II, $14.95) an integrated package of application and utility software developed with kids in mind, including word processor, calculator, name and address file, and a cartoon program called "Sideshow," which can be viewed while other applications are running.
For children wishing to create their own books, Compu-Teach debuted Once Upon A Time (MS-DOS, Apple II, $39.95), an interactive desktop publishing program that comes with a variety of graphics images. The package is aimed at children ages 6–12.
Weekly Reader's emphasis was on two new products. Vocabulary Development (MS-DOS, Apple II, $39.95), designed for grades 3–6, aims at aiding in mastering skills such as synonyms, antonyms, prefixes, suffixes, and other aspects of vocabulary. The program allows teachers and parents to design and print their own exercises. Reading Comprehension (MS-DOS, Apple II, $39.95) for grades 4–6, stresses reading skills including distinguishing between main idea and details, cause and effect; the package contains 30 stories, and allows for teacher or parent customization, and tailoring to individual children.
More and more software publishers are providing materials to help computer users use their computers more efficiently.
Spinnaker introduced Running Start (MS-DOS, $39.95), which includes instruction in DOS operation, typing, and word processing.
Design Software (distributed by Electronic Arts) unveiled a variety of utilities, including DS Backup (MS-DOS, $79.95), a backup/restore program, and DS Tutor (MS-DOS, $39.95), an instructional package, as well as several other utility packages.
Publishing International continues to extend its line of Byte Size products. Aggressively priced at under $20, new additions to the list include Telecommunications, Gift List, and Coupon Finder.
Targeting telecommunications for the Apple IIGS is Activision, with Teleworks Plus ($99.95; available for $50 in exchange for page 1 of the user's current communications manual).
Activision displayed Paintworks Gold (Apple IIGS with minimum 1.25MB RAM, $99.95) which offers color masking, page switching, transparent colors, and other features.
Photon Paint (Amiga, $99.95) from Microillusions (distributed by Activision) is a hold-and-modify paint program able to bring more than 4,000 colors to the screen at once.
IBM artists were addressed by Spinnaker with Splash (price not set), which takes full advantage of VGA's 256,000 colors and provides tools to work with them. MS-DOS painters were also addressed by Electronic Arts, which announced the translation of DeluxePaint II ($149.95) to the MS-DOS environment.
Desktop video, unheard of a couple of years ago, is a category experiencing sharp growth. EA showed DeluxeProductions (Amiga, $199.95), a hi-res graphics animation package aimed at the computer presentation market. A companion product DeluxePhotoLab (Amiga, $99.95) offers photographic-quality image manipulation.
Also entering the desktop video market is Epyx, with Home Video Producer (MS-DOS, 64/128, Apple II, $49.95), a package that adds text, graphics, and special effects to camcorder videos. Microillusions announced Cell Animator (Amiga, $149.95), which permits manipulation of image and sound.
The computer wing at CES struck some industry insiders as a remembrance of CESs past: Videogame cartridge manufacturers came close to dominating the floor. Nintendo and Sega, riding high on the best videogame year in years, mounted huge exhibits, touting the increased sophistication of their videogames, many of which are translations of established software hits.
Software publishers are aware that dedicated videogame machine sales may represent lost computer sales, but they're also confident of their ability to produce games that are more exciting, more playable, and more attractive than those currently on cartridges.
Besides which, one of the most obvious entertainment software trends at CES was the software industry's determination to beat the cartridge manufacturers at, as it were, their own games.
Responding to the Nintendo/Sega surge, as well taking advantage of increased machine capability and programming skill, software publishers rolled out perhaps more arcade action software than at any show in years, pumping energy into the revitalization of a classic software form.
At Activision and Arcadia (an Electronic Arts affiliate), monsters wreak havoc in Rampage (from Activision for the 64 and Apple II series, $34.95; MS-DOS, $37.95) and Aaargh (from Arcadia for the Amiga, $39.95). Both games are translations of established coin arcade hits. For MS-DOS arcade fans, Arcadia has Rockford (MS-DOS, $39.99), a sequel to Boulderdash.
Epyx announced an array of arcade games including Impossible Mission II (64/128, ST, Apple II series, MS-DOS, $39.95), the sequel to Impossible Mission, marking the return of evil genius Elvin; Metrocross (64/128, ST, $24.95 through the company's new U.S. Gold line), in which players race a clock through an obstacle-filled urban setting; and Street Cat (64/128, MS-DOS, ST, Amiga, $24.95, also from U.S. Gold), which offers feline competition to determine the town's toughest cat.
Translating coin-op games to home computers is something of a specialty at Data East, whose 1988 list includes such arcade favorites as the off-road action of Speed Buggy (64/128, $29.95; ST, $44.95), the ninja maneuvers of Kid Niki (64/128, $29.95; Apple II, $34.95), and the commandos of Ikari Warriors (Apple II, $34.95, MS-DOS, $39.95).
Arcade addicts can customize their own games with Brøderbund's Arcade Construction Kit (64/128, $29.95). The package includes seven complete games and provides tools by which players can build their own arcade games, setting different levels of animation, sound, and design.
Arcade elements mingle with strategy and tactics in a variety of packages.
Accolade lets players take the role of French resistance fighters in The Train: Escape to Normandy (64/128, $29.95), and must seize, hold, and run a locomotive through Nazi lines; in Power at Sea (64/128, $29.95), players must coordinate operations during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
In Datasoft's BattleDroidz (64/128, $24.95; ST and Amiga, $34.95) players attempt to conquer alien enemies. Also from the EA affiliate is The Rubicon Alliance (64/128, $19.95), whose players face an alien enemy.
Ebonstar, (Amiga, MS-DOS, 64/128, Apple IIGS, $39.95) from Microillusions, (distributed by Activision) involves a search for rogue black holes. Cosmic conquest is the theme of the company's Galactic Invasion (Amiga, 64/128, Apple IIGS, MS-DOS, $24.95).
The Topic Is Topical
Global hot spots came to life on computer screens throughout CES as publishers introduced products aimed at putting players in charge of tough tactical decisions.
Strike Fleet (64/128, $29.95), from Lucasfilm Games (distributed by EA), gives players command of modern fleets, weapons systems, and strategies, with emphasis upon accuracy of detail and opponents including the Soviet Navy and Ayatollah-inspired fanatics.
Red Storm Rising
Microprose brought out its big guns with bestseller Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising (64/128, $39.95). The adaptation preserves much of the novel's narrative, leaving the results of global confrontation to the player.
Another Clancy bestseller makes its appearance from Datasoft, with The Hunt for Red October (ST, Amiga, IBM, $49.95; 64/128, $39.95; to be released in mid-1988 are Atari 8-bit and Apple II versions, $39.95, and a Macintosh version, $49.95).
Cosmi gives players a shot at navigating at the deadly Straits of Hormuz in NAVCOM 6: The Gulf Defense (64/128, $24.95), with players in the control center of a modern warship charged with protecting oil tankers negotiating the straits of Hormuz. The company also brings the dangers of international terrorism home in The President Is Missing (64/128, $24.95; MS-DOS, $29.95), which comes with an audio tape containing the terrorists' demands, as well as possible clues. Financial terrorists, of a sort, get the home computer treatment in Cosmi's Corporate Raider (MS-DOS, $24.95).
Harpoon (MS-DOS, Macintosh, $49.95), from Three-Sixty, is based upon Larry Bond's board game, which influenced, among others, Tom Clancy. The computer version gives players command of allied forces during a showdown in the North Atlantic, uses actual Navy icons, and operates in realtime.
Finally, for those who seek transcendence over world tensions, there's Global Commander (Atari 8-bit, 64/128, Apple II, $29.95; MS-DOS, Amiga, ST, $39.95), in which you must monitor the status of 16 separate nations, allocating food, raw materials, and weapons without upsetting the world's balance.
Strategy And Tactics
Historical—and futuristic—strategy and tactics weren't overlooked, either.
SSI harks back to the earliest days of our nation in Sons of Liberty (64/128, $34.95; Apple II, MS-DOS, Atari 8-bit, $39.95), which recreates several of the major battles of the Revolutionary War. A more recent simulation can be found in Panzer Strike! (64/128, $44.95; Apple II, $49.95) a World War II simulation that includes most of the ground weapons employed during several campaigns.
Dan Bunten's Sport of War (64/128, $34.95) from Electronic Arts is a modem wargame that allows players to pit their strategic skills against other gamers, including those playing on Apple IIs or MS-DOS machines. Also from EA, Interceptor (Amiga, $49.95) gives players the choice of flying an F-18 Hornet or F-16 Falcon in defense of San Francisco Bay.
SSG (distributed by EA) introduced Decisive Battles of the American Civil War, Volume 1 (Apple II, 64/128, $39.95), which includes the battles of First and Second Bull Run, Shiloh, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.
Interstel (through EA) displayed two additions to Starfleet: Empire (MS-DOS, Amiga, ST, $49.95), a planetary conquest game, and Starfleet II: Krellan Commander (MS-DOS, $54.95).
Epyx's Dive Bomber (Apple II, 64/128, MS-DOS, ST, and Amiga, $39.95) challenges players to fly a carrier-launched torpedo bomber against a variety of German aircraft, mine fields, and ships, including the Bismarck.
Citadel (Macintosh 512K, $49.95) from Mindscape is a fantasy role-playing game in which players create characters from the moment of birth, developing their personalities throughout the game.
Questron II (64/128, $39.95; MS-DOS, Apple II, $44.95; ST, Amiga, $49.95) from SSI is a sequel, in which players must journey back in time to prevent the Evil Book from ever coming into existence.
Death Sword (64/128, Apple II, ST, MS-DOS, $24.95) from Epyx is an animated fantasy contest in which players must use their sword skills in an attempt to win freedom for a captive princess.
Land of Legends (Amiga, $49.95; 64/128, IIGS, MS-DOS versions to follow)) is an animated fantasy role-playing game from Micro-illusions.
Electronic Arts goes boldly into both science fiction and fantasy with Futuremagic (MS-DOS, no price set), which mingles magic with science in an animated adventure.
Paragon (distributed by EA), fresh from the success of the graphics adventure Master Ninja, moved into a new form with Twilight's Ransom (MS-DOS, $34.95; translations for other machines to follow) which combines text with graphics in a race against time to solve a mystery.
Commando Cody, rocket-packed airman of World War II returns in Cinemaware's Rocket Ranger (64/128, $34.95; MS-DOS, $44.95; Amiga, Apple IIGS, ST, $49.95). It's up to you, your rocket pack, and your dukes to save the world from Nazi domination, time travel, and Zombie Women of the Moon.
Epyx's "Masters Collection" line gets another addition with L.A. Crackdown (64/128, Apple II, MS-DOS, $39.95), in which players attempt to crack a major drug smuggling ring.
Sierra gives a glimpse of a grim future in Manhunter (MS-DOS, $49.95), set against the backdrop of a conquered earth, with players attempting to crack an underground (literally) resistance movement. The company moves back in time with Gold Rush (MS-DOS, price not set).
The suspense and majesty of James Clavell comes to computers in Thunder Mountain's Tai Pan (64/128, ST, $14.95). The Mindscape division is also introducing Murder by the Dozen (64/128, Apple II, Macintosh, MS-DOS, $9.95), a mystery game for up to three players.
On a lighter criminal note, Carmen San Diego is on the loose again in Broderbund's Where in Europe Is Carmen San Diego? (Apple II, MS-DOS, $44.95; 64/128, $39.95). The latest in the popular series includes a Crimestopper's notebook, an onscreen map of Europe, and an online database filled with European information.
Here Come The Comics
Not all of the entertainment software was games. Infocom displayed its first nontext product, Infocomics (Apple II, MS-DOS, 64/128, $12), developed by Tom Snyder Productions, which are comic books on disk.
Viewers can page through the comic-book stories at the touch of a key; a keystroke likewise allows for a shift in the point-of-view from which the stories are told. Using line graphics, Infocomics delivers cinema-style effects, including pans, zooms, and wipes. The first Infocomics: Lane Mastodon vs. the Blubbermen, a spoof of 1930's science fiction; Gamma Force in Pit of a Thousand Screams, a superhero action/adventure; and Zorkquest: Assault on Egreth Castle, a fantasy. Each Infocomic provides four to five hours of viewing.
Gamma Force in Pit of a Thousand Screams
Comic effects of a different sort are on display in Cinemaware's The Three Stooges (64/128, $34.95; MS-DOS, $44.95; Amiga, Apple IIGS, ST, $49.95), an interactive movie in which the player maneuvers Larry, Moe, and Curly through a series of (mis)adventures as they try to save an orphanage from foreclosure.
John Madden Football (Apple II, $44.95) from Electronic Arts is a football game that distills the former coach's experience, giving players an on-disk playbook, as well as the chance to design their own plays.
EA's latest sports offerings also included World Tour Golf (Amiga, $39.95) and Ferrari Formula One (Amiga, $49.95).
Boxing fans are invited to ring-side in Gamestar's Star Rank Boxing II (64/128, $29.95; Apple II, $34.95; MS-DOS, $42.95), which challenges players not only to perform well in the ring, but also to train and workout for a fight.
Epyx announced Street Sports Soccer (64/128, Apple II, MS-DOS, $39.95). Soccer continues the series's urban playground motif, with players selected from neighborhood kids, and games taking place in city parks or on streets. Endorsed by The Sporting News, Epyx's Sporting News Baseball (64/128, MS-DOS, Apple II, $39.95) lets players assemble teams whose performance is affected by their statistical history. With 4X4 Offroad Racing (64/128, Amiga, MS-DOS, $39.95), players can configure their own vehicle for rough country.
4 × 4 Offroad Racing
The Games—Winter Edition (64/128, Apple II, MS-DOS, $39.95) sports a setting in the mountains above Calgary and includes competition events such as Oval-track Speed Skating, Luge, Slalom, Downhill Skiing, and others.
Sedentary types can play three types of poker with Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Margaret Thatcher in Accolade's Card Sharks (64/128, $29.95), or players may enjoy a fast game of Hearts or Blackjack with those or other characters included in the game.
For more information on the products mentioned in this article, please contact the appropriate company from the list below.
20813 Stevens Creek Blvd.
Cupertino, CA 95014
2350 Bayshore Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
1915 Westridge Dr.
Irving, TX 75038
(distributed by Electronic Arts)
2150 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94704
Blue Chip Electronics
7305 W. Boston St.
Chandler, AZ 85226
17 Paul Dr.
San Rafael, CA 94903-2101
4165 Thousand Oaks Blvd.
Westlake Village, CA 91362
78 Olive St.
New Haven, CT 06511
415 N. Figueroa St.
Wilmington, CA 90744
470 Needles Dr.
San Jose, CA 95112
(distributed by Electronic Arts)
19808 Nordhoff Place
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Davidson & Associates
3135 Kashiwa St.
Torrance, CA 90505
(distributed by Electronic Arts)
1275 W. Roosevelt Rd., Suite 104
West Chicago, IL 60185
1820 Gateway Dr.
San Mateo, CA 94404
600 Galveston Dr.
Redwood City, CA 94063
(distributed by Activision)
Hi Tech Expressions
1700 N.W. 65th Ave., Suite 9
Plantation, FL 33313
125 Cambridge Park Dr.
Cambridge, MA 02140
(distributed by Electronic Arts)
P.O. Box 57825
Webster, TX 77598
P.O. Box 2009
San Rafael, CA 94912
(distributed by Activision)
17408 Chatsworth St.
Granada Hills, CA. 91344
120 Lakefront Dr.
Hunt Valley, MD 21030
3444 Dundee Rd.
Northbrook, IL 60062
(distributed by Electronic Arts)
600 Rugh St.
Greensburg, PA 15601
1209 W. Knickerbocker Dr.
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
P.O. Box 485
Coarsegold, CA 93614
One Kendall Square
Cambridge, MA 02139
(distributed by Electronic Arts)
1046 N. Rengstorff Ave.
Mountain View, CA 94043
2105 S. Bascom Ave., Suite 290
Campbell, CA 95008
(distributed by Mindscape)
444 Lake Cook Rd.
Deerfield, IL 60015
40 Cutter Mill Rd.
Great Neck, NY 11021
400 Anthony Trail
Northbrook, IL 60062-2536
Weekly Reader Software
10 Station PI.
Norfolk, CT 06058
[Ed. Note: Most of the products described in this article are scheduled for release during the first half of 1988. Space limitations precluded us from listing release dates for specific products.]