- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

The computer and entertainment console have never been so warmly welcomed into the U.S. home. More than 145 million Americans age 6 and older. 60 percent of the population routinely play video and computer games, according to the Interactive Digital Software Association. Variety and state-of-the-art graphics have led to 215 million titles flying off store shelves last year alone.

Here's a look at a smidgen of the mind-boggling software treats available for gift givers this holiday season.

Barbie Magic Genie Bottle

What is it? A toy that interacts with a computer software program compatible with a Windows 95/98 PC system.

Price: $39.99

Gift group: Girls ages 5 and older.

Santa's scoop: Female game enthusiasts lead the legendary Barbie on adventures through five exotic locations in search of power gems stolen from her necklace by an evil sultan. During the adventure, players rub the magic bottle, lift the lid and watch it light up as they see Barbie pop onto the computer screen. With the help of the bottle and their new friend, children save the kingdom while solving puzzles, interacting with colorful characters and feeling completely part of a slick gaming experience.

10,000 Home Plans

What is it? A six-CD-ROM multimedia encyclopedia program compatible with a Windows 95/98 PC system.

Price: $29.95

Gift group: Anyone shopping for a new home or those who would prefer to build an architectural masterpiece.

Santa's scoop: HomeStyles.com, the largest provider of home designs in North America, enables users to browse a massive multimedia collection of innovative home plans by leading designers and architects through a six-disk software suite. Users first select from such criteria as style, square footage, number of bedrooms, baths and specialty items such as fireplaces and porches. Then a search engine pulls up potential plans that include the front view of the home, rear view, detailed floor plans and specifications.

More than 50 "virtual reality" tours of award-winning homes also are available. Once a final design has been selected, the software utilizes powerful calculators to plan for building expenses and estimate mortgage payments and related costs.

Matchbox Caterpillar Adventures in Time

What is it? A single-player software program that works with a computer peripheral compatible with a Windows 95/98 PC system.

Price: $19.99 ($24.99 for keyboard layover)

Gift group: Young builders, age 4 and older, who dream of maneuvering a 50-ton vehicle.

Santa's scoop: Mattel Interactive takes children on a 3-D, heroic adventure throughout time and around the world. Gamers operate 10 powerful CAT machines and reconstruct famous landmarks in five civilizations, including China, Rome, legendary Camelot and a futuristic moon colony.

Educational opportunities abound as tikes uncover secret levels, learn about foreign lands and build 3-D printable models by finding hidden clues.

Parents will be wise to drop the additionally cash for the CAT Controller, which offers a dynamic hands-on play experience. This keyboard layover gives the feel of actually driving a vehicle with shifters and big buttons.

Madden NFL 2001

What is it? A football event for up to eight players requiring the Sony PlayStation2.

Price: $49.95

Gift group: The gridiron gamer who loves the sound of two immense bodies colliding over the pigskin.

Santa's scoop: John Madden has done three amazing things in his lifetime: won a Super Bowl coaching the Oakland Raiders, worked as a brilliant color commentator for the NFL and lent his expertise to the best football simulation ever developed. Of course the features in this game are endless hundreds of present and past players to create teams with, pinpoint defensive and offensive controls, free-agent acquisitions, create-a-player mode, hundreds of plays from which to choose and a realistic physics engine to mimic players' movements. A new element allows the gamer to complete Madden Challenges to collect tokens. The tokens are used to buy digital football cards that can be exchanged for cheat codes and secret extras.

The crowning jewel of game, however, is its availability for the PlayStation2, which offers stunning graphics down to the bumps on the ball and detailed wrist bands. Madden 2001 gives gamers so lifelike an experience they can almost order a hot dog from the stands.

Toy Story Collector's Edition

What is it? A three-disk DVD ode to cutting-edge animation.

Price: $69.99

Gift group: Families enthralled with Pixar Studios' ability to bring classic toys to life.

Santa's scoop: The digital video disk format has given Hollywood the unprecedented opportunity to completely immerse film fans in every nook and cranny of the movie-making experience.

This special edition offers the original, 1995 "Toy Story;" last year's sequel, "Toy Story 2"; and a supplemental disk containing everything anyone would ever want to know about Buzz Lightyear, Woody and their computer-animated friends. The extra disk dazzles with character designs, storyboard-to-film comparisons, a guide to hidden jokes in the films, early animation tests, music videos and even 3-D fly-around tours of 11 sets from the film. Anyone with a DVD player will appreciate what director John Lasseter has accomplished with his "ultimate toy box."

Samba de Amigo

What is it? A frenzied music game with optional noisemakers requiring a Sega Dreamcast system.

Price: $49.95 (optional maracas controllers for $79.99)

Gift group: Families in desperate need to shake their bootie.

Santa's scoop: Ay caramba, the creators of SONIC the Hedgehog have Latin rhythms in their pants and have created some wacky characters that need to dance. One or two players enter a world blasting familiar tunes such as "La Bamba," "Tequila" and "Macarena" while training their humorous animal counterparts to keep the beat within psychedelic environments and cartoonish imagery. The complete silliness of this addictive game is only rivaled by the fun of watching players stand in front of a television shaking maracas.

Generations: Liberty Edition

What is it? Twenty-one CD-ROMs compatible with a Windows 95/98 PC system.

Price: $69.95

Gift group: The genealogist trying to trace the family history.

Santa's scoop: SierraHome entices the 165 million Americans interested in tracing their roots with a fantastic collection of research tools and heritage information. Folks can now explore their ancestry to America from places throughout the world with 19th-century immigration data from Asia, Canada, Caribbean, Western Europe, East Germany and Poland, West Germany, Latin America, Middle Eastern Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, Mediterranean and Great Britain. The software package includes access to 1.5 billion names, Civil War muster rolls, Social Security death index, versatile charting tools, photo-enhancement options, detailed Internet searching and 3-D charting capabilities to create a multimedia family tree.

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