CD-ROM good for coffee table

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 December, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 December, 1995, 12:00am

BEYOND the Nine Dragons is a multi-platform CD-ROM that calls itself a Documentary on Disc. Indeed, it has the look and feel of a certain kind of American documentary but because it is a CD-ROM, the user is able to direct the navigation to places that are of interest to him or her.

As a documentary, this CD-ROM takes you on a journey of over 4,000 kilometres along the Mekong through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is certainly a beautiful journey and the photography is stunning. There is a mix of old prints and drawings with photographs by Allen Hopkins. It is a lovely combination and makes you want to go there rather than just sit clicking the mouse. And therein lies the problem with such CD-ROMs.

How can one make a CD-ROM different from a coffee table book? That is a question the makers of all such CD-ROM titles as this must ask themselves. One can, of course, add voice, video and navigation to take advantage of the multimedia but does one not end up with what can only be called a coffee table CD-ROM (if such a creature could exist)? The design and the visuals of the Nine Dragons are excellent. The text and voice over are another thing entirely. One must realise, of course, that the intended market for this product is America and therefore the speaking voice is American which, in itself, does not necessarily make it bad. The voice chosen for this CD-ROM, however, does have a tendency to drone on a bit and - as with so many American narrations - tends to the condescending. This is perhaps due to the fact that the makers are aiming the product at a high school market.

Some of the points made in the text are very odd as well. There is a long-winded ramble about the American soldiers supposedly missing in action during the Vietnam War.

For those who remember the historical background to this subject, this makes the CD-ROM look a lot more political than its creators may have wanted. On the other hand, that may be exactly what they did want.

Despite this curious lapse, the CD-ROM is certainly quite beautiful, and would do well as a coffee-table 'ROM (there's an image for you: leave your computer on the coffee table with the CD-ROM running so people can 'click' through it).

When Disaster Strikes is another CD-ROM from the same people and is, if anything, even more of a curiosity than the Nine Dragons.

This is a CD-ROM of Asian disasters, both natural and man made. The way the software is put together and packaged, it almost creates the impression that Asia is more prone to disasters than any other part of the world.

Quite what the point of this CD-ROM is, I cannot say. Is it meant to appeal to those who get a vicarious thrill out of looking at human suffering? This is also, as one would imagine, sadly lacking in interactivity. What can you do with a bunch of video clips of earthquakes and air crashes? Most of it is simply clicking on text or image and then sitting back to watch a single photograph and listen to that same condescending voice tell you how terrible things are.

The difference between a CD-ROM and a coffee-table book or documentary film is that you can interact with it. Neither of these CD-ROMs from the Black Box seems to be designed for this. The visuals are indeed quite well done but the sound, the voice-over and the interactivity are less than ideal.

The Nine Dragons could have been a pretty book, and the Disaster CD-ROM . . . well, the title says it all, doesn't it? Both titles run on Macintosh and Windows machines. The Windows version has to be installed. The Macintosh version is double-clickable right off the CD-ROM.