Multimedia Review:
From Alice to Ocean: Alone Across the Outback

Karen Holmes
LIS 296A
Howard Besser - Instructor
3/25/94

NOTICE

"This CD is a demonstration of an exciting new form of publishing which combines narration, photographs, video and music in an interactive story."

- From the "Read Me Alice" Document Included with the Disc

Narration, photographs, video and music - yes; interaction may be putting it strongly. This well-designed CD is entertaining, interesting, educational and beautiful to look at. However, here the much hyped "interactivity" of multimedia is more of a promise than a fact. All in all, though, I found this CD fun and would recommend it to those interested in exploring interactive CDs. Here are some of the highs and lows I experienced in my "multimedia journey across the outback."

Interface Design

This is one of the strong points of Alice. There is a pleasant use of typeface and color. In fact, the inherent fuzziness of color images on the computer monitor actually seems to work well with the muted desert tones in so many of the photographs used. Icons such as the coffee cup and camera were amusing, and their function easy to understand. I also enjoyed the use of photos fading in, as well as images (such as camels or people) appearing over and disappearing from a background shot.

There was a nice juxtaposition of still and moving images, and the Quicktime clips were not especially grating or annoying, as they were (intentionally?) in Christine Tamblyn's piece.

Navigation

With any interface, it often seems that not only can navigation be easy or difficult, it can also give the illusion of more content than there actually is. In the case of Alice, I found this latter point to be true. There were several ways to get to the story, including clicking on the "start" button, clicking on numbered sections of the Main Map, or holding down "shift" at the beginning of each new leg of the journey in order to get the "navigation palette." This navigation palette allowed you to get to certain sections of that particular leg, access Photo Tips sprinkled throughout the piece, or get to the Sidebar Index which led you to six interesting topics for further exploration. From this menu you could also get Help, get back to the Main Map, or quit the program.

Though these various ways of moving through the story enable you to traverse the piece fairly easily, it also gives the impression of experiencing a lot of different things, when in fact you are experiencing the same thing over and over again. Also, it was initially confusing to me. I wondered why there were so many ways to get to the same place. However, icons and buttons were fairly self-explanatory, and led me through without too much difficulty.

Interactivity

I think of interactivity as the reciprocal action or influence of two people and/or things upon each other. When something is truly interactive, you don't know what is going to happen next. The result of the interaction is unplanned and unpredictable. Something new is created as a result of the interaction.

Alice to Ocean has a finite amount of information to experience. After playing with it for several hours, the viewer knows most of its tricks. Nothing is unexpected anymore. You can decide where you want to go, and what you want to see and hear - but you can't truly change it or create something new. It does not make the same use of multimedia potentials as did the interactive theatre pieces shown by Larry Friedlander, where the viewer can clothe, pose and stage characters as they wish.

Content/Learning

I found Alice to Ocean to have an interesting premise from the start. The story was good, the dialog well-written, and the photos absolutely beautiful. I did learn quite a lot about Australia's geography, people, flora and fauna - as well as about the nature of the trip itself. The use of the Sidebars and Photo Tips helped in this respect quite a bit. I actually think that these areas could have been expanded even more. Perhaps the viewer could have arranged photo elements to create their own outback composition - or facts about flowers, animals and native people from a certain area could be compiled by the viewer to create a personalized reference work.

Help was obtainable from the "Read Me Alice" document, and from the navigation palette. It seemed to be satisfactory.

Sound

This was one of the more disappointing features of Alice. The sound was consistently fuzzy, and often faded in and out. A passing fellow student noted that perhaps one of the stereo channels wasn't working. Whatever the cause, I had difficulty hearing the audio, and on top of the Australian accent of the narrator, it was a tiring experience. It also seemed that there should have been a way to control the volume from inside the program. Instead you had to adjust the sound in the Macintosh Control Panel before beginning the CD. In Alice's favor, there was a nice mix of dialog, music and sound effects (camels snorting, rain, etc.)

Problems

In addition to the problems with sound, I experienced difficulties with some of the Quicktime clips.

The kangaroos in the "Outback Wildlife" loop became stuck, and would stop jumping for a split second. The loop didn't stop on its own as did the other Sidebars, and I had to manually continue the story. Also, the audio in the last clip of Rick Smolan started quite a bit before his animated picture started moving.

Also of some annoyance was the fact that I sometimes found it difficult to locate the arrow on the screen to click on the coffee cup or camera icons quickly enough. The arrow would simply be absent from the screen, and by the time I moved the mouse around enough to locate it, the story would have continued and the icons disappeared. Other times a hand or arrow icon would appear during a regular story interlude, though there seemed to be no reason for it. Finally, the program sometimes seemed slow in responding to clicks on icons and buttons.

In short, despite its technical problems and lack of true interactivity, I thought Alice to Ocean was fun, educational and visually stimulating.


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