Things have moved fast for Rupert Tollefsen in the little more than six months since Seattle Weekly revealed the existence of Microsoft's super-secret Manchuria Project. Back in April, the Soap Lake 9-year-old was still enjoying the novelty of being the new kid on Microsoft's main campus, with silent, wired guys in black suits catering to his smallest whim, chauffeuring him to Radio Shack to pick up hardware or to McDonald's to fetch a late-night Happy Meal.
But now Rupe's 11th birthday looms, and the pressure's on. Rupe knows that sooner or later—and in the rocket-powered high-tech biz somehow it's always sooner—Microsoft is counting on him for the Next Big Thing to save its corporate lunch. Even when he takes a break for a little online electronic mayhem against opponents logging on from Thailand, Israel, and India, the Bloomberg ticker continues to scroll in a window on the screen of the 600mhz Pentium 3 machine in his suite down the hall from Chairman Bill's corner office in Building 8.
But even the Hope of the World has to take a break sometime, so amid the appetizing odors filtering from the next room where his nanny Consuela was preparing his regular Wednesday lunch of chicken fajitas with guacamole, Rupert graciously consented to give us a few tips about high-tech holiday gifts for kids, and how not to come off looking too lame when the presents are opened.
Seattle Weekly: So what's hot this Christmas, Rupe? Pokemon, huh? Your old favorite?
Rupert Tollefsen: "Old" is right.
SW: But we thought you . . .
RT: Pokemon is for little kids. It's not high-tech. It's marketing. I thought you wanted to talk high-tech?
SW: We do.
RT: Okay. So, what platform are you looking at?
RT: Cheese Lou-eese, have you done any homework? Game platform! Or are you talking PC stand-alone or multiplayer Internet? Give me some help here! Consuela, not too much picante, por favor!
SW: Maybe we should come back sometime when . . .
RT: No, let's get it over with. There are some things you have to know to even rate as clueless. Here, I'll draw you a picture. (Goes to whiteboard.) Okay, first: There's not even any point in going shopping for a game unless you know what kind of hardware it plays on. Games are developed for particular platforms; you can't get every game for every platform. So, if a game is new on Sega Dreamcast, it's not going to be available for Nintendo or Sony Playstation, at least for a long time. With me?
RT: Good. Okay, but some games are written for proprietary platforms. You know what proprietary means? All right, just asking. A lot of games are written to play on a computer, not through a TV. And some of those are stand-alone, which means all you need is to load the software and away you go. But others are designed to use the Internet, so you need a live Web connection and maybe a subscription to a site to play them. Are you getting all this? Don't bother taking notes, I'm capturing direct to disk.
SW: No, I think we're fine. So that's the outline, huh?
RT: Just the basics. Because you still need to know a bunch of other stuff. Like, do you know what "ESRB" stands for?
SW: Uhhh . . .
RT: "Entertainment Software Review Board." The ESRB rates pretty much every game you're ever going to see, whether they think the game is for babies, kids, teens, grownups, or what my Granny calls "Nelly, bar the door!" They're at www.esrb.org/parent.html.
SW: And these ratings, can we depend on them?
RT: Sure you can. Nobody who plays pays any attention to them, but if they make you happy and keep the DOJ off our backs, they've served their purpose. Okay, now: games. What kind of games? You got your shooters, you got your simulations, your sports, your puzzles, your racers, your flight simulators . . .
SW: Slow down, could you?
RT: (friendly) You don't usually write about this kind of thing, do you?
SW: No. Not usually.
RT: Look, why don't you just buy whoever it is a gift certificate and let them . . .
SW: (stubbornly) But gift certificates are so impersonal!
RT: Impersonal maybe, but not lame. OK, here's a compromise. Picking out a game is like buying shoes: There's no way you can do it for someone else. But there's lots of other stuff you could get that anyone would like. Like carrying cases for all the big platforms, storage cases, accelerator cards, sound cards, joysticks—there are some great new force-feedback models this season. There's magazines and books and cheat-sheets and . . . oh, I don't know. Just go someplace where they really know what they're talking about, like Electronics Boutique, and tell the guy who you're shopping for and how old and how much you want to spend and they'll fix you up. Because basically, there's a pretty steep learning curve here, and for the $50 or $100 you're probably planning to spend, there's not much margin in either you or me getting in that deep. Okay?
SW: Okay. Well, so long. Thanks.
RT: So long. Unless you want a fajita? There's plenty.
Roger Downey is a senior editor at 'Seattle Weekly.'
Dungeon Keeper 2
You're the landlord of some prime subterranean real estate, but ghouls and monsters can be pretty picky tenants—particularly if you let your property get infested by heroes (ick)! To the torture chamber with them!
GT Interactive, $45.95
for Sony Playstation and PC
Almost perfect: You're actually an undercover cop, but to keep your criminal boss from getting suspicious, you have to drive his getaway car like a maniac. Only bad thing: You can't run over civilians. Garbage cans and telephone poles, however, are fair game.
Age of Empires II
The objective is to take over the world by building villages, cities, temples, and empires faster than your opponent. Keeps you busier 'n' a bird-dog, I can tell you.
House of the Dead 2
Sega Dreamcast, $59.95
The home version of the spectacularly gruesome arcade hit about a crumbling mansion teeming with undead enemies protecting an evil secret. And you get to blow them all away. Sort of like Super Mario with splatter.
Team up with other players (real or computer-generated) and take on a world full of battle, blood, and booty. Or go it alone and get your butt in a sling. Your choice.
Prices listed on www.shoplet.com.