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Interactive television guide for hotels gets another try

With much fanfare, Bell Atlantic Corp. launched a new service in seven Washington-area hotels recently called InfoTravel _ an advertiser-driven "electronic yellow pages" to help visitors choose restaurants, find nightclubs or plan tours through their hotel room TVs.

The idea has been tried before _ and bombed. After a two-year trial in San Francisco and an eight-month test in Orlando, a similar system launched by Denver-based US West Inc. is being dismantled next month. The company says interactivity for tourists is an idea that's ahead of its time.

"The problem is, it's next to impossible to sign up enough hotels to make the service profitable to advertisers," said Robin Baca, a spokeswoman for US West Marketing Resources, which charged $200 to $1,000 a month for video ads _ about the same amount Bell Atlantic is charging. In San Francisco, US West signed up 15 hotels, representing 5,700 rooms.

Tom Pelletreau, Bell Atlantic's director of new business development, believes his company's system is more advanced than others. "All I can say is that we've done our homework. We've got tighter, shorter ads than US West did. I'm confident the rollout is going to go well," he said.

Pac-Man munches again

Video games are only 24 years old, but already there's a big demand for games from the industry's ancient past _ Pong (1972), Space Invaders (1978), Asteroids (1979), Pac-Man (1980) and Donkey Kong (1981), to name a few.

Across the country, people are buying, selling, trading and downloading old video games with all the fervor of Pac-Men running amok.

Not only have the old coin-operated machines, with their colorful cabinets and futuristic sound effects, emerged as collectibles, bringing prices from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, but they are also now available on computer discs.

Microsoft was the first to recognize this niche market. Two years ago, it seduced former players and newcomers with Microsoft Arcade, a collection of classic video games (Asteroids, Battle Zone, Tempest, Centipede, Missile Command).

Microsoft sold 250,000 units, which prompted other companies to follow suit. Actavision, for example, recently released a CD-ROM that includes every 2600-series cartridge from Atari's golden age.

And Nintendo will offer eight classic video games for its popular Game Boy format this year.

Aging mall rats will be pleased to know that in December the long-awaited sequel to Microsoft Arcade _ Microsoft Return of Arcade _ will be available.

It will include such lost gems as Dig Dug, Pole Position, Galaxian and the beloved Pac-Man.

Censorship of gay sites decried

Software that blocks sexually explicit information on the Internet raised hackles in the gay community recently when people learned the program censored a dozen sites apparently because they described themselves with terms like "gay" or "lesbian."

The software, introduced in May, has been marketed to parents who want to prevent their children from reading or viewing online pornography. When installed on a personal computer connected to the Internet, the software blocks access to any site on a list of those deemed off-limits.

The company that publishes the software, Surfwatch Software of Los Altos, Calif., changed its list within 24 hours after receiving complaints.

_ Compiled from Times wires by staff writer Dave Gussow.

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