Nightingale/Conant's DreamVenture CD ROM
Brian D. Hardy
October 17 1996
I decided to review DreamVenture, an "interactive"
CD ROM featuring the expertise of Brian Tracy, a popular personal
achievement coach and author. The CD was produced by Nightingale/Conant
publishers, which prints and distributes thousands of titles by
hundreds of authors on self-enhancement. This, their first attempt
at a CD ROM product, was made available on a free, thirty-day
trial basis, so a friend and I obliged.
Many of the most common and popular CD ROM titles are simply visual
and audio tours de force. Terminator, Encarta, and other popular
multimedia titles place the user in interesting and elaborate,
albeit impersonal worlds. It seems a potentially powerful, yet
currently uncultivated niche could be CDS with personality. The
idea of capturing the wisdom of interesting and successful people
and skilled educators in a format that allows dynamic interaction
with the user is alluring. At first glance, DreamVenture seemed
to be a prototype of the new breed.
DreamVenture arrived on a single CD ROM with a thin instruction
booklet. The installation guides were straightforward and trouble-free,
taking about five minutes to complete. The program's first screen
is of the front door of a high-tech office building. You enter
and are greeted by a female narrator's voice, welcoming you to
DreamVenture. Brian Tracy, your personal coach, appears in a
floating orb before you, then fades out.
The screens in DreamVenture were visually stunning and generally
flawless. Many rooms had glass panes with panoramic views of
lush, verdant forests (although we couldn't go outside, which
was a little bit frustrating). Others had convincing, high-tech
devices and fluid animation.
Before starting the adventure, you are asked to list your personal
goals and describe what you hope to learn from the process. We
also had to complete several exercises before proceding, including
dividing a series of tasks we were given into "important,
do now", "less important, do soon,", "do later,"
and "don't do at all" categories. This exercise delayed
us about five minutes before allowing us to proceed.
After the orientation, we entered the self-actualization realm.
Backing out of the orientation room, a door to its left opened,
allowing us to enter level one. Once we entered the realm, we
were met with obstacles and annoyances at every turn. The computer
had a strange woman walk up to us, tell us there was an emergency,
and ask for help. Given three choices, "ignore," "help
later," and "help now," we chose to help her then,
for which the computer buzzed us and fined us several points.
We were never told what answer we were supposed to give or why.
The woman simply dissappeared with our points.
Our second problem was our Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) which
appeared as an option at the top of the screen. Once we selected
it, we had problems figuring out what it was supposed to do and
how to switch between screens. The PDA screen had a very colorful
display of all of the rooms in the building, but none could be
selected and the only feature that worked was this boring "game"
that gave us a series of tasks, like "shop for groceries,"
"pay bills," etc., which we had to categories into four
groups based on their importance. We were "buzzed"
whenever items were in the wrong order. After a few futile efforts
to find a use for the PDA, we gave up, and pushed the "close"
button. It wouldn't close. We tried again. Still no response.
After pushing "Esc", "Del", "Enter",
and everything we could imagine, we pushed "restart"
and rebooted the computer. We were having too much fun.
We rebooted and reran the program, which did not allow us to skip
any steps, lectures, or exercises we had already completed. It
took us fifteen minutes to go through all of the introductory
stages and return to where we were before our fateful use of the
PDA. We did not try it again, but instead focused on the realm
rendered about us. There was a computer monitor in front of us,
and a hallway beyond it with eight doors, four on each side.
We touched the computer screen and the title logo for DreamVenture
appeared and a mans voice started talking to us about setting
goals. Then the voice stopped and the screen faded,. That was
it. Then, we walked down the hall, trying the first few doors.
None opened. Then we checked the rest of the eight doors. None
opened. We looked for a help screen. There was no help button,
although we remembered a help button on the PDA, which like most
PDA features, did not work. Stumped by the program, we moved
to the end of the hall of locked doors. There stood a broad,
tall window, looking out on a deep forest. We stood there for
a few seconds, pondering escape. We turned the computer off.
The possibilities introduced by the DreamVenture concept are sparkling. In the future, as the technology evolves and is tested further, this kind of technology could be applied to many tasks: from teaching subject-based classes to guiding people through home-improvement, cooking, and other skill-driven activities (imagine Julia Childs talking you step-by-step through cake baking).
The software could stand refinement on many points.
The way the CD ROM presents information is even more linear than
the books it seeks to replace. Not only does it move mechanically
from stage-to-stage, as does a book, it is inferior to books,
in that we cannot alter the way it proceeds, cannot skip uninteresting
sections, cannot change our pace, or focus only on materials that
interest us. Every user must proceed in an identical fashion.
Although the graphics and sounds used in DreamVenture were
impressive, they were not sufficient enough to make the program
truly interactive. Few things in the software respond to user
input. At the beginning of the program, we were asked to list
our personal goals. We never saw these goals again.
The software is touted as a "personal trainer", yet
it lacks personality. Brian Tracy, in whose name the software
was developed, appeared only once, and his voice droned on at
other times, generally unresponsive to user selections. There
was no sense that Tracy responded personally to our interests
Similarly, we found the voice instruction very annoying. Almost
all instructions are given in a digitized voice that talks very
slowly. Since we cannot skip sections or speed them up, we spent
much time listening to instructions explaining what we had already
been told repeatedly. We spent more time listening to instructions
than we did making choices or otherwise interacting with the computer.
Although technology can certainly have powerful uses in changing
how people think, in DreamVenture the potential is incompletely
developed. It seems the software developers started with
technology-a series of technological tools and screens-and tried
to fit Brian Tracy's knowledge and personality into an
existing framework. It might be more useful if future projects
first spend time generously studying personality traits, philosophies,
and knowledge, then develop an application around these things.
With emerging technologies, such as the DVD, which will allow
an hour and fifteen minutes of sound and video to be stored on
a single CD ROM, the added capacity might be well invested not
in longer presentations, but rather in richer ones,
with many layers of possibility, broader options, and more traits
giving software more personality.
I see a tremendous market and tremendous social value for more
dynamic and interactive software. Imagine presidents sending interactive
campaign CDS, allowing users to personally ask them questions.
Imagine interactive biographies with interesting personalities,
where the user can elicit various information at each stage of
the "discussion." Imagine theater, movies, and comedy
programs on CD ROM with thousands of different available scenarios.
After seeing DreamVenture, I can only imagine.