Old CD’s: Games, Encyclopedia, Apps.

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

Of Special Interest January 1996 May 27, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — gamegoldies @ 8:48 am
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Of Special Interest
January 1996

Bad Day On the Midway
Mind Of A Killer

Bad Day on the Midway

The Residents’ third CD-ROM, Bad Day, successfully combines the best features of their first two titles by creating something new in human experience – an truly interactive novel. From Freak Show comes the inspiration for setting and play-action, which encourages exploration and risk-taking above all else. From The Gingerbread Man (an experiment that never quite coalesced) comes a method of illuminating characters through jumbled, visible thought-patterns. But Bad Day on the Midway is more than the sum of its parts; it is a bold, original, and fascinating new type of work. Although the goal is nebulous, facets of Bad Day are definitely like a game – you can lose, and then the game ends. If you struggle on without losing, you’ll eventually absorb so much human misery and confusion that you may begin to regret surviving. You begin the experience as Timmy, a pre-teen boy who has sneaked into a neighboring fairground. As you explore the three-dimensional world from his perspective, text appears in the black borders around the screen; these are Timmy’s thoughts, sometimes relating to what he sees, and sometimes concerning other parts of his life. This device, an extension and perfection of what was happening in The Gingerbread Man, is one of the two crucial things the disc contains that make it so successful – for the first time a CD-ROM offers real characters with real depth, who are revealed piece-by-piece instead of all at once, and who successfully follow the writer’s credo of ‘show don’t tell’. This thought-illumination device also provides the game with a rhythm that exists alongside, but is independent of, the rhythm being set by the player – sort of like a novel’s rhythm, which exists independently of, and yet is dependent on, the speed of the reader. The other crucial innovation in the disc is the ability to jump from your current character into anybody else you happen to meet. The camera swings around, you find yourself looking at the person that you inhabited a moment ago, and suddenly the thoughts that are appearing in the margins are different – often disturbingly different. Timmy is fairly innocent, but in that regard he is unique among the characters prowling the Midway. Although the basic framework of the story is always the same, you’ll have a difficult time recreating the same adventure twice; there’s plenty here to keep players occupied, and different actions result in different unfoldings of the plot, sometimes with radical repercussions.

There’s some genius in the story, including clever plot twists and incisive character portrayals (often accomplished through surrealistic multimedia presentations). There’s also some writing that is a bit more obvious than it needs to be. Halfway between Ray Bradbury and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, the disc tends to paint characters in broad strokes, piling on the tragedies until the irony becomes forcefully clear. It’s never badly done – it’s just not always delicate. It is, however, consistently engaging, and certainly ranks as one of the best discs we’ve seen. Bad Day at the Midway will likely prove influential to an entire generation of CD-ROM authors.

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Parker Brothers/Westwood Studios

The rush to stay cutting edge has resulted in plenty of products that, to their own detriment, substitute hi-tech shenanigans for down-home fun. We found ourselves wary of digital Monopoly; it seemed, in theory, to be an unnecessary updating to a game that doesn’t need improvement. In practice, however, the CD-ROM is a pleasant surprise. The glitzy 3-D animations are nice to look at, but the real value of the disc lies in its improvements on play-action. If you didn’t think the game could get any more competitive, think again – this version should cause even more family rifts than the original. The computer handles all monetary transactions instantaneously, which means that an entire game now takes one or two hours, rather than five. The addition of an ‘auction’ feature further enhances this classic contest; if you do not have enough ready cash to purchase an available property, your opponents have the chance to snatch it out from under you. You might be driven into debt just to make them pay a reasonable price. The subtleties of the game have survived intact, with a ‘trade’ feature that allows for endless dickering, and a customization feature letting you apply your own house rules. Then, of course, there are uniquely information-highway features, like the option to play the game over a network or even across the Internet. The bottom line is: while the now old-fashioned board game is still sufficient, and the digital version does not take full advantage of CD-ROM technology, it is lots and lots of fun.

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Mind of a Killer
Cambrix Publishing

Although it’s gruesome, bizarre, and by nature somewhat opportunistic, Mind of a Killer is consistently fascinating and well worth checking out. This multimedia exploration of the serial killer starts with Jack the Ripper and doesn’t stop until a map of the world is completely covered with red spots – each spot indicating the homicidal activities of another madman (or, occasionally, a madwoman). If you think you’re too old to get scared at bedtime, check out your town on the map; you may be surprised by what you find. In addition to the map feature, the disc offers a complete encyclopedia of mass murderers, video interviews with experts Robert Ressler and Roy Hazelwood (both from the FBI), and case studies that include not only movies and text but illuminating rare audio clips. Peek inside the mind of the man who really made suits from the skin of his female victims, or take a look at the inspirations for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Everything is linked together with well-placed hotspots and a toolbar, so you can easily jump from the psychology section to the case studies to the map to the encyclopedia, and back again. At the end of the installation you are given the choice of disabling the most disquieting images, a feature that we don’t hesitate to recommend. It’s disturbing enough to see Ted Bundy leering at the camera in his courtroom, or a photograph of Jack the Ripper’s fourth victim, who was gutted like a fish. Do you really want to see his fifth, who had all her skin flayed off?

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