A Game Kids Could Play Into Infinity


I am lost inside a vast, somewhat garishly adorned castle. That is only one of my problems. I also have the head of a dolphin perched upon a torso consisting of a single mattress spring.

I'm kinda lonely.

Suddenly, from a chute perched above me, someone new drops into the scene. Her name is Mango and her head is made out of a fishbowl. I am very glad to see her.

Mango confidently sizes up the situation. We have to avoid the monsters, she advises, and take caution not to fall into the dreaded giant gears that pop up unexpectedly on the castle's catwalks and passageways.

We also, she tells me, must find two additional folks to help us operate a mini-submarine that takes a minimum crew of four to run. In no time at all, she has recruited two more beings--a paper airplane head and paper bag head--and organized our expedition into the unknown.

But then all progress comes to an unexpected stop. It's dinner time in a small town in Oregon, where the animated Mango's alter ego, an 11-year-old girl, lives, and she has to go.

The adventure in which we were partaking existed only on the Internet at an exceedingly clever site called Castle Infinity. It's a kind of digital playhouse where kids and the occasional adult can gather to slay animated monsters, visit exotic cartoon locales and chat about their real lives.

Unlike other chat room environments on the World Wide Web--which mostly feature painfully slow-rendering graphics and stilted movement--Castle Infinity takes place in a fully realized cartoon setting where characters can move quickly and smoothly as they interact.

The trick to Castle Infinity is that all its settings and animation exist on a CD-ROM that runs inside a user's home computer. If the user has Internet access, including that offered via America Online and CompuServe, he can explore the castle with other visitors (who also have to have the CD-ROM).

The CD-ROM costs about $40 and can be bought in stores or via the Web at http://www.castleinfinity.com.

Learning how to move around the castle takes practice, but once you become agile, you can collect various goodies, including magic objects that help you battle monsters or find secret enclaves.

The animated monsters are fairly tame, and your character cannot die in Castle Infinity. The worst that can happen is that you'll be sent back to begin all over again. The fun truly starts when you run into other characters, such as Mango. As you type in messages, they appear on the computer screen in a bubble above your head, as in a comic strip.

The intricacies of Castle Infinity would take many, many hours to learn. I'm not sure I could come close to grasping them all, based on my failure in following Mango's instructions on how to use a magic hat.

I felt bad until Monkeyboy (the paper bag head) came on the scene. He confided that he, too, was an adult and furthermore worked for Starwave, the company that produced Castle Infinity. He was there to help people who were lost or had questions, but admitted that he often fell into the gears. And he flubbed the use of the magic cap too.

"I'll never get that sub going," complained Mango.

Not if she has to rely on adults for help.

* Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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