Highway 61 Interactive

Mark Giordano

The multimedia CDROM I chose to explore has a Bob Dylan theme and seems to be geared toward true fanatics of his music and life rather than toward casual fans of multimedia in general. Although most of the disc is occupied by the video portion, it does include one track of pure audio readable by a conventional CD player, a rare electric version of a famous folk song, unavailable elsewhere.

The exterior box includes skeletal descriptions of the seven "fully interactive environments" as a selling point to give the user some idea of the contents without giving everything away. At startup the user is presented with a still image, a collage of various three dimensional icons representing different aspects of the performerís history and career. Clicking on any of these seven indicators then takes the user into that environment and encourages exploration.

There are almost NO text clues to guide one through the environments. Placement of the cursor atop various elements of the visual scene changes its shape to indicate what, if anything, will occur if the user chooses that particular direction, a guitar icon producing the miniature videos. These feature interviews with associates of Dylan during his early years and mini-films of performances by other folksinger contemporaries. Occasionally clicking on a certain image opens a facsimile of a concert poster, handwritten note, or typed correspondence pertaining to Dylan during his folksinging days. For these vignettes and anecdotes, the "Greenwich Village coffeehouse" environment was the most entertaining and educational.

The CDROM also includes the only collection of all of the lyrics to Dylanís entire body of work, a great selling point for fans like myself who have searched for such a collection in book form (or any other) without success. I also manage to accidentally unearth a collection of still images of all of Dylanís album covers (literally; they were hiding in a cellar). The song title/album/lyric database is relational and hyperlinked; thus from a song title, one can reach the words, the album on which it appears, the cover art, etc.

The CDROM is quite navigable and does give a sort of primitive illusion of moving through 3D rooms and hallways in the manner of a (very slow) adventure game like Doom. Although I never got "lost" in the maze of environments, it was occasionally hard to gauge distance between steps or make u-turns. There was an emergency escape built in: at any time the user can press one key ("M") to return to the main menu.

There is another coded-in bonus to maximizing one's exploring of all the environments: visiting certain select areas earns one torn "scraps" of a ticket to a Dylan performance. Only by accumulating all the correct visits can one piece together a ticket to this show.

A few minor bugs blotted the overall performance of the interactive multimedia CD. The audio portion of the interviews and "music videos" came and went without warning and didn't seem to be controlled from the keyboard as advertised. There was supposed to be a way of "recording" one's progress to save from one session to the next, but this produced a fatal error and shut down the program. Some of these problems may have been related to the CDROM's being written and released in 1995 before my particular machine and processor had been introduced.

However, any one of the "informational content" components of the CDROM would be itself worth the investment in Highway 61 Interactive for the serious aficionado of Dylanís music and the "culture" surrounding it. Because of the separation of the environments and the bookmarking capability, the user can pick and choose the most interesting parts, and need not retread areas already experienced. It will no doubt continue to provide hours of diversion from boredom during breaks in using the computer for real work.