PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast: Mortal Kombat

Sony held a news conference in Tokyo earlier this week in which it spilled some more details about its upcoming sequel to the highly successful PlayStation game console. (Among the details: Sony's name for new PlayStation is . . . PlayStation 2!) It goes on sale in Japan next March for 39,800 yen (about $380 at current exchange rates); an arrival on this side of the Pacific isn't expected until next fall.

The big news of the day was that the DVD-ROM-equipped PlayStation 2, which will also play games designed for the original PlayStation, will indeed let consumers watch DVD movies. Whether not not Sony would enable this function on the console device had been the cause of much speculation, as this might cannibalize sales of Sony's DVD players.

Phil Harrison, Sony's vice president of research and development, talked about how he sees a different gaming experience made possible with the PlayStation 2, and predicted a day when a new breed of games may become as "emotionally satisfying as reading a good book." (Hmm: "War and Peace 2: Siberian Sun"? "Beyond Good and Resident Evil"?)

Sony's announcements seemed timed to deflate Sega's successful launch of its new Dreamcast console, which sold 372,000 units in the first four days of its release. Unfortunately, some Dreamcast software shipped with glitches, affecting copies of Sonic Adventure, Activision's Blue Stinger and the Dreamcast's own Web browser.

Dreamcast owners can return the defective games to retailers in exchange for a new disk or a refund. Consumers who find themselves with a defective Dreamcast browser can call 877/383-3291 for a replacement or send an e-mail to support@sega.com with the subject header "Dreamcast Browser Replacement." In the body of the e-mail include your name, address and phone number.

STORY UPDATES

Don't Shoot the Instant Messenger

This Tuesday, Microsoft released a Mac version of MSN Messenger, the software that lets Hotmail users communicate with one another in an instant-messaging service similar to America Online's "Buddy Lists." Where Windows users have (sporadically) been able to communicate with America Online's subscribers using this service, this function is not included with the Mac version. See http://messenger.msn.com for details.

MindStorms Front:

Lego announced its latest line of MindStorms kits. One of the hot gifts of last winter, the original Lego MindStorms line let kids--and grown-ups--build their own robots by programming a computerized Lego brick to control Lego constructions. The Robotics Discovery Set, $149, eases programming a bit, letting users input simple instructions into the master brick itself (the original required users to write programs on a computer, then download them). Another new MindStorms product, the Droid Developer Kit Droidworks, $99 (Win 95-98 required), combines two of the Fast Forward staff's childhood obsessions, allowing "Star Wars" fans to build their own R2-D2-like droid. Both sets are aimed at ages 9 and up.

Top 10 Web retailers among U.S. users for the month of August (ranked by number of buyers):

1. amazon.com 789,000

2. buy.com 314,000

3. barnesandnoble.com 289,000

4. ticketmaster.com 269,000

5. planetrx.com 256,000

6. mothernature.com 241,000

7. drugstore.com 191,000

8. gateway.com 167,000

9. cdnow.com 95,000

10. smarterkids.com 93,000

SOURCE: PC Data.

MEET US ONLINE

A reminder: Fast Forward editor Rob Pegoraro hosts a Web discussion today, from noon to 1 p.m. on Washingtonpost.com. Rob will be chatting about the new format and answering your personal-tech questions.

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