Old CD’s: Games, Encyclopedia, Apps.

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

Of Special Interest May 1996 April 17, 2009

Of Special Interest
May 1996

Spycraft: The Great Game
Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Harbinger
Treasure Quest

Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Harbinger
Viacom New Media

Technology still has not successfully produced that tantalizing, elusive prospect called the “Interactive Novel,” although people have been trying for quite some time. Bad Day At The Midway accomplished true interactive character development, but at the price of a cohesive plot; adventure games that are strong on plot, like Phantasmagoria, usually require a very specific sequence of actions on the players’ part, and so sacrifice true interactivity.

Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Harbinger takes a big step toward reconciling these problems. All of the characters (except you the user) are taken from the television series, so have solid characterizations already worked out. Your character, Envoy Bannig, is developed quite skillfully as the game progresses. You start as a lowly diplomat; soon you’ll reach the designation of Ambassador, albeit an Ambassador who’s good with a phaser. The other characters react with pleased surprise as you reveal each unforeseen talent, and your (Bannig’s) confidence grows proportionately.

More impressive than the cogent characterizations, however, is its pacing, which is more like a book’s than any other CD-ROM we’ve seen. This is a game in which the mystery starts right away, becomes progressively more complex, and then segues into an action sequence just when things threaten to get bogged down. You still have to follow a correct order, but there’s some leeway; you won’t be punished for taking time to explore, and you might even be rewarded. When the game wants to shock, it shocks – two of our full-grown reviewers jumped out their seats at one point. When it wants to impress or amuse, it does that too, mostly through interaction with Deep Space Nine’s crew. When it wants to dazzle, it unrolls some spectacular animation of space battles. What the disc does best, however, is develop steadily, surprisingly, and with genuine suspense. A keeper.

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Treasure Quest
Sirius Publishing

Terry Farrell, who plays Dax on Deep Space Nine (and reprises her role on the disc), is also featured on another upcoming CD-ROM, Treasure Quest.This one offers a one million dollar prize to the first person who solves the mystery. We weren’t able to obtain a review copy – the exact time of the disc’s release was a subject much ballyhooed among the PR people (10:07 P.M. on Wednesday, April 10th). We were, however, treated to a demonstration by Ms. Farrell herself.

The gimmick is this: a rich man has died, and you must decode ten puzzles in his mansion to become his sole beneficiary. There are 320 rooms on the disc, so it’s not going to be easy. It promises, in fact, to be extremely difficult (understandable when you considers what’s at stake). Cerise Casper, the inventor of the game, has a Master’s Degree in Ancient Semitic Languages, and languages are just one of the things you’ll need to learn in order to win. Treasure Quest demands substantive research, lots of teamwork (if you can fight down your greediness), and unimaginable patience. Ms. Farrell plays your “spiritual guide,” appearing in ten different roles to toss out hints and model different outfits. Were it not for her participation and the prize money, the game would attract little attention; it’s simply too difficult to be much fun. As it stands, Sirius is shipping a quarter million of them. Interestingly, the MacIntosh version ships two weeks after the PC version. When asked about this discrepancy, Sirius replied, seriously, “We assume people who have Macs are smarter.”

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Spycraft: The Great Game

When we first heard about Spycraft: The Great Game, we were curious. The CD-ROM was created with the input of William Colby, ex-Director of the CIA, and Oleg Kalugin, former Major General of the KGB. To say these men worked on opposite sides of the fence is, obviously, an understatement; to speculate that they have been indirectly responsible for the murders of each other’s employees is probably not extravagant. How, then, would the disc balance their consultations? Would we see a non-patriotic spy game, where both sides are equally in the right? Or would the creators of the game not concern themselves with such lofty matters, and instead use behind-the-scenes insights and the oh-so-saleable names of their consultants as ends in themselves?

It doesn’t take long to see that Activision is not concerned with presenting a politically correct, or politically balanced, portrait of the spy game. The first clue comes when your (decidedly American) trainers instruct you, on the grounds at Langley, that the enemy is always faceless, and that one bullet to the chest may not be enough. You should also, to be safe, put one in the head, or possibly in the throat. Later, when receiving your assignment, you watch a video in which the Soviet presidential candidate is assassinated, and no less than half of his head blows off in a medically accurate spray of blood, brain, and bone. You begin to wonder exactly what insights Mr. Kalugin has provided.

This is not to criticize the game; on the contrary, Spycraft is an excellent updating of an old-fashioned contest. Whether the game is “Cowboys and Indians” or “Better Dead Than Red,” you’ve got to admit that American kids of all ages have been playing it for years. Now they can play it with all the glitziest new gimmicks. Use a satellite with an infrared filter to monitor your enemy; gain access to phone conversations or plant a lookout on 24-hour surveillance; use a 3D computer simulation of a political rally to reconstruct the bullet’s trajectory and pinpoint your assassin. All this comes in the first hour, along with the aforementioned training course at Langley, which requires some quick shooting. Politically correct? Not in the least. Fun, challenging, and technically dazzling? In spades.

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