Old CD’s: Games, Encyclopedia, Apps.

Reviews About Old Software on CD-ROM from the 1990’s

Of Special Interest August 1996 January 10, 2009

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Of Special Interest
August 1996

Kai’s Power Goo
Our Secret Century
Sheila Rae, the Brave

Sheila Rae, the Brave
Living Books

Sheila Rae, the protagonist of Kevin Henkes’ Sheila Rae, the Brave (ages 3-6) – now a CD-ROM – is not afraid of lightning, thunder, the monster in the closet, doing tricks on her bicycle, kissing spiders, or walking home a different way than usual. Her little sister is more sensible – or more cowardly, depending on how you look at it. Their adventure is simple and brief (it fills a dozen pages, and could even have been trimmed a little shorter) but, in true Living Books tradition, these twelve pages are packed full of songs, animations, adorable voices, and extra touches. There’s also a 3D maze/scavenger hunt and a gallery where all the songs have been assembled for sing-along purposes. Like the Dr. Seuss CD-ROM, Sheila Rae is full of intelligent clickable animations that actually add to the narrative. Everything will react when clicked upon, and every animation proceeds to some logical conclusion, instead of suddenly reverting to window-dressing when the program has run its course. The story is charming without being too severely moralistic (Sheila learns a lesson, but so does her sister; the lessons are very nearly opposite, so the ultimate point seems to be moderation in all things), and aesthetically it is beyond reproach. We hate to sound like a broken record, but the only thing lacking here is Terraglyph’s trick of making animations that can fire simultaneously. The Terraglyph engine coupled with some Living Books content would be a true children’s software lover’s dream. In the meantime, Sheila Rae comes close enough.

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Kai’s Power Goo
MetaTools

Users of Photoshop might recognize the name Kai, producer of some creative add-ons over the years – and they might want to keep the secret to themselves. The rest of us will be grateful for Kai’s Power Goo, an extremely powerful program that doesn’t require the user to know Photoshop, Quark, Adobe Illustrator, or even how to count to ten. Any idiot can plug a photo into Power Goo and create disturbing, hilarious, mind-bending images and movies in a matter of seconds. Once you get a photo (or any image) into your computer, you call up a simple menu of options including Smear, Grow/Shrink, Smudge, Nudge, Move, and more. Then “goo” nuts (their own, overused, pun) – a single swipe of the mouse will distort the image to your liking, making your little sister’s mouth as big as God intended it to be, or changing the Mona Lisa’s smile to a voracious grin. There’s no reason to contain yourself to a photo’s mouth, however. In a matter of moments you can make a person’s head swell and explode, or swap their hair with their beard. Use UnGoo and Smooth commands to make your changes a bit less dramatic; combine two pictures however you like, then make the computer integrate the images seamlessly; order your experiments sequentially and let the program automatically morph them into a movie (but make sure you have plenty of memory before trying to save it). This level of power has never been available to the average Joe Dipswitch before, and the impact of Kai’s Power Goo should be seen in everything from Christmas cards to student films. The disc retails for $49.95, so now even average people should be able to “Just Goo It”.

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Our Secret Century
The Voyager Co.

The first four volumes of Our Secret Century are hitting stores now, with eight more to follow. The titles port industrial films from Rick Prelinger’s archives onto CD-ROM, then add a video introduction by Mr. Prelinger, a few text blurbs about each film, and occasional context. Context, in this case, might be a newspaper article about the product being sold, or an interview with an actress who took part in the film. “Industrial films” were the infomercials of developing America, and Mr. Prelinger thinks that they have a great deal to teach us. By watching the glamorous commercials of the ’50s, for example, you are meant to realize 1) some telling things about America’s priorities back then, and 2) that real life was nothing like the life represented in these films. If there was stronger supporting material for these films, Mr. Prelinger might have a point; as the CD-ROMs stand, there’s a lot of watching to be done, and not much else. The fact that the films are initially amusing and, when looked at the right way, quite revealing, do nothing to make them more watchable. You’ll have a hard time sitting through too many of these white-bread dreams, which run (on average) about ten minutes. You might, therefore, start looking for something else on these discs. You’ll be disappointed to realize that the scant choices offered on the sidebar during each film are pretty much all there is in terms of supplementary material. Old movies ported onto CD-ROM with scanty additions are the house specialty at The Voyager Company and, with Our Secret Century, they’ve lived up to their standards. In spades.

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