Multi-media review

Steven Mark
LIS 296A


After talking to a friend who has seen many of the new CD-ROMs, I decided to go to Blockbuster and rent Peter Gabriel's interactive CD-ROM, XPLORA 1. When I went to view this disc at the Computer Lab in South Hall, I learned there were no CD-ROM-equipt Macintoshes, so I went across to the Bib. Lab, and loaded it up there. The first thing which came onto the monitor was a message which read, "Xplora 1 will run better if you install Sound Manager 3.0 or later." Instead of quitting the application and locating the latest version of Sound Manager (which I imagine exists in Cornucopia, online), I clicked "Later" and began the disc. It was clear that which ever earlier version of Sound Manager this Mac II was running was not sufficient for this CD-ROM. The audio faded in and out, and at times, the voices were almost inaudible. Determined, I pushed on... The next window I received was a bomb message which read, "Sorry a system error has occurred-- Hypercard Player Bus Error." At this point I had to restart the Mac, and begin over. Five minutes later, I got yet another error message, this one read something along the lines of 'insufficient memory'. Again I was forced to quit and restart. I was finally able to boot up XPLORA and get it to run smoothly, (with the exception of the poor audio). Although I was able to successfully navigate through the disc, it seemed to run quite slowly and there was a wait-time in between windows. It became clear to me that the Mac II which I was using lacked sufficient RAM and audio capabilities to meet the demands of this CD-ROM.

Last weekend I attended the BMUG Macfest on campus, one of the dealers had a multi-media Macintosh displayed which was playing Peter Gabriel's CD-ROM. They were obviously utilizing the latest, most technologically advanced hardware because it ran quickly, smoothly, and the sound was fantastic-- I could feel the bass from across the room! So, I realize that my problems were in no related to Peter Gabriel's disc. Instead, I can blame the U.C. regents for not providing me with access to a powerful, multi media Macintosh. :)

Although I didn't get to enjoy the full interactive experience, I did have the opportunity to explore the disc for several hours. The main page had four choices: Explore, Watch, Resume, and Quit. If none of the options were selected, a short video clip of Peter emerged in the upper left hand corner of the screen, and he explained the different options. I of course, chose Explore. The next screen was an 'empty face' you could click on a series of eyes, noses, and mouths in different combinations until you had successfully created Peter's face. Then, the monitor displayed the same three features (eyes, nose and mouth) plus one ear, which act as buttons for the entire disc-- each color coded, this color code was consistent throughout the entire CD-ROM. I clicked on the mouth, this brought me to a menu of songs from Peter's latest CD, you could select a song by clicking on its icon. As the song played, a small ' Mtv-style video played on the left, and the lyrics scrolled down the screen on the right.

There was even an option in this section where you could mix your own 'custom' version of the song. You could adjust bass, drums, guitar, and vocals using your mouse, when done, you could even save this custom re-mix to a disc. At any point during the song you could click on an icon of Peter, the song would pause and he would talk about the song, and what it meant to him. I left this area and explored some of his earlier works, icons of his last 10 CDs were displayed on a screen, and by clicking on one the screen changed providing information about it. A different area of the disc displayed instruments from all around the world. By clicking on one, a new screen appeared which displayed that particular instrument's origin and history while playing a short audio clip. The disc even allowed you to play the instrument by clicking your mouse on the picture of the instrument. Another area of the disc displayed a sort of electronic scrapbook. By clicking on any still image, that image became a short video clip, still framed in the book. Another area focused on the Womad Festival, a video brought you through the entire event from the purchasing of tickets, to the final live performance on stage. Another area in the disc brought you on a guided tour of Peter Gabrial's Real World Studio in Europe, this tour was interactive because it allowed you to direct the tour by pointing your mouse in the direction you want to go.

There were several other areas on the disc which I explored, such as Peter Gabriel's rehearsal at the Grammies, which contained a behind the scenes look at his stage show. One 'unique' feature this CD-ROM offered was a 'suitcase' in which you could acquire certain items from the disc. For example, the CD-ROM would deny you backstage access unless you had acquired a backstage pass (which was hidden in an earlier screen in the program).

Although this was my first experience with an interactive CD-ROM, I thought Peter Gabriel's XPLORA 1 was excellent. The user interface was simple enough for a beginner, yet it contained many 'special features' which required some exploring and experience. Another nice feature of this CD-ROM was the fact that each section of the disc was different. This variety in the different screens and interface helped to eliminate some of the monotony which I saw in Christine Tamlin's interactive CD-ROM. It was obviously a 'big-budget' project which pushed the limits of this medium. XPLORA 1 contained over 100 minutes of video, 30 minutes of audio, more tan a book's worth of text and over a hundred still images. The video clips were exciting to watch, the still images were interesting, and the music, of course, was the focus of the project and superb. Peter Gabriel is known for utilizing new technologies in his live performances as well as in his 'made for television' music videos. I think interactive CD-ROM was a natural 'next step' for him as an artist.

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