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Program Travels Through Time, Space

LAWRENCE J. MAGID <i> is a Silicon Valley-based computer analyst and writer</i>

Imagine being able to travel through time and space. Go anywhere in the galaxy from 10 billion years ago to the year 2000. It costs $79 or less for as many trips as you care to take. And the only vehicle you’ll need is a PC with an EGA or VGA display, about 6 megabytes of free hard disk space and a copy of Knowledge Adventure. Knowledge Adventure is a new exploration game from the company of the same name.

You can navigate through space by using your mouse or keyboard to select a location on the globe. You travel through time by selecting a year from a timeline at the bottom of the screen.

The largest window on the screen shows an illustration or photograph of a person, place, object or scene from the time and place you’ve selected. Another window displays text with details. Text can be read on the screen and printed. You can’t print graphics.

Some scenes have a brief audio track that you play by selecting a loudspeaker icon. You get primitive sounds from the PC’s internal speaker or more robust sound if your PC is equipped with an optional sound device such as the Disney Sound Source or the SoundBlaster card.

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The program allows you to explore topics related to art, science, literature, architecture, music and nature. You can browse through all topics, or you can use your mouse or keyboard to select an icon to represent any of the topic areas.

Although you can use the program’s library feature to look up specific people, places, things or events, its main value is that it allows you to freely explore--jumping from topic to topic. That’s the program’s strength and its weakness. While it’s easy to explore, it’s also very easy to become sidetracked. But that’s true in real life too. Fortunately, you can click on an icon to bring you back to a previous screen should you wish to return to a topic.

When you first start the program, you see a picture of astronaut Neil Armstrong planting the American flag on the moon. If you click on the flag, you’re whisked back to 1770, where you see Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag. That’s accompanied by a few paragraphs of text on the question, “Did Betsy make the flag?”

If, instead of the flag, you click on Armstrong’s lunar lander module, you’re taken to a 1981 photo of space shuttle Columbia’s maiden voyage. A bird is flying in the background. Click on the bird and you’re whisked to a picture of penguins, with a discussion of their habits. What do penguins have to do with Neil Armstrong? Not much. But, like all discoveries, one turn leads to another, which, eventually, will lead you anywhere or everywhere.

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The program is designed for EGA graphics, so the graphics are not as detailed as what many of today’s VGA screens can display. Nevertheless, the photos are clear and realistic.

The programmers, according to Knowledge Adventure President Bill Gross, made extensive use of dithering, a process that simulates additional colors from available colors of the display system.

In addition to its exploration, the program provides several learning games. You can select beginning, intermediate or difficult games. For each game, you are given a question and required to use the program’s navigational tools to find the answers.

Knowledge Adventure is an example of the new generation of multimedia software. The term multimedia implies a mixture of graphics, photos, sound and, in some cases, animation or video.

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While this program lacks moving images, it does have about 20 short sounds and 300 photos and illustrations. Most multimedia software comes on CD-ROM discs, which store up to 600 megabytes, allowing for far more images and sounds.

Trouble is, CD-ROM drives start at about $600 and most PCs aren’t equipped with them.

This program takes up substantially less space, which limits the amount of information it can contain. However, it can run on any PC with a hard disk and a graphics display.

The company plans to develop future products that take advantage of CD-ROM and other emerging technologies.

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Knowledge Adventure has a suggested retail price of $79. The company is located at 4502 Dyer Street, La Crescenta, Calif. 91214. Phone (800) 542-4240 or (818) 542-4200.

Computer File welcomes readers’ comments but regrets that the authors cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Lawrence J. Magid, P.O. Box 620477, Woodside, Calif. 94062, or contact the L. Magid account on the MCI electronic mail system.


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