In an age of the ever-proliferating Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, not to mention Game Boy and Game Gear, it takes a special kind of hubris to create a video-game technology so arcane that it can only be experienced on yet another new system-in this case a $699 CD device boasting pumped-up sound and animation-quality graphics. In October, Panasonic unveiled the first such system, the modestly named FZ-1 REAL 3DO Interactive Multiplayer. To date, 3DO (pronounced three-dee-oh) technology has been licensed to more than 500 software makers. What's more, the 3DO Co., which developed the technology, is being backed financially by such corporate giants as Time Warner, MCA, and AT& T.
So, is 3DO likely to be the entertainment standard of the future-or just an expensive blip on the time line of faddish consumer electronics? As always, it will surely be the software-not the systems it's played on-that makes or breaks the hardware. Accordingly, here's a sampling of the first 3DO games.
For 3- to 8-year-olds there are Putt-Putt Joins the Parade and Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise. These point-and-click games will be familiar to anyone who owns a personal computer with a mouse. Using a control pad, players drag a fat arrow across the screen, either causing something very silly to happen (in Fatty Bear, for example, a pile of laundry hurls itself into a washing machine) or furthering the plot (in Putt- Putt, you have to change a traffic light from red to green to cross the street). With literally hundreds of ''click-points,'' these delightful diversions will keep kids busy for hours-and maybe teach them something (how to bake a cake, how to earn money by mowing lawns) between giggles.
Far less engaging is Shelley Duvall's It's A Bird's Life, an overly earnest effort that will have those same kids reaching for their Game Boys. While there are plenty of activities-an on-screen storybook, sing-alongs, connect-the-dots puzzles-the animation is primitive, the button- pushing can get awkward, and there are enough disc-access delays (blank screens to you and me) to shatter the attention span of even the most devoted bird fancier.
Of course, 3DO wouldn't be viable if it didn't have something for older kids and teens. Included with the basic system is Crash 'N BURN, a postapocalyptic racing game that's great fun if you excuse two basic flaws: You can't crash, and you rarely burn. Still, crisp video clips of your insane opponents (who look like extras from a Mad Max movie), dazzling scenery, and a high degree of challenge make this one a natural for the pre- driver's ed set.
Similar in spirit, though not in execution, is Stellar 7: Draxon's Revenge, a space combat game that doesn't quite live up to its overblown opening narration (by Michael Dorn, Lieut. Worf on Star Trek: The Next Generation). Although its graphics and sound effects are impressive, Stellar 7 is hampered by a crucial control bug: It's nearly impossible to accelerate your ship and steer it at the same time, making you star chow for the relentless alien hordes.
Finally, there's John Madden Football. This game's on-screen players are huge, the generous video clips are broadcast-TV quality, and there are enough obscure play options to satisfy Monday- and Tuesday- morning quarterbacks. But anyone willing to learn the difference between a quick slant I formation and a single-back halfback sweep is going to want more incisive commentary from Madden than, ''Now that was great defense!'' Putt-Putt: A- Fatty Bear: A- Shelley Duvall: C- Crash 'N Burn: B+ Stellar 7: B- John Madden: B