Video game companies are convinced that the next big thing on the Information Superhighway will be playing video games over the phone. But so far, the technology for doing so is fairly primitive. Virtual Universe Corp. in Calgary, Alta., hopes to change that, however, with a system that would let as many as 96 people play a game displayed on their TV sets or computers while talking with their teammates and opponents.

The prototype Parallel Universe system can work on standard phone lines, because players are sent only what's relevant to them--that is, within their game character's line of sight. For added realism, the voices of other players get louder or softer as their on-screen characters move toward or away from your character. Any kind of game could be adapted for it. Virtual Universe is looking for a partner to develop the system. Sega of America Inc.'s manager of developer relations, Stewart E. Kosoy, says Sega engineers were "very impressed" by a demonstration.

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