software presents Xmas 1996
The best news this Xmas is that the computer has present shopping sorted. There is now a CD-Rom to suit every interest from astronomy to genealogy and from gardening to games. There is no excuse for giving socks anymore. Looking at it another way, if you have a hobby as well as a computer, you can guess what you ought to be getting for Xmas.
If you’re fascinated by UFO’s, you might get ‘The Unexplained’ – where monster sightings and ghost stories are told with spooky film clips. If you’re growing family trees, Family Gathering offers a way of organising the detail. If you’re madly into Michelangelo or bonkers about Botticelli, these two CD-Roms you just might get these.
But hey, this is the time for giving and occupying the kids well. So as a first shot try something creative, such as ‘Microsoft Greetings Workshop’, where they can make cards, signs, banners, and invitations in great variety. This good quality, good value title is aimed at beginners, and begs for a colour printer. Never mind the money it will save on cards, this is avoids family embarrassment all through the year.
Sesame Street Art Workshop is in the same genre and it prints stickers, masks and fingers puppets that children can colour and cut-out. Again, this is easy, well aimed at those who can just steer a mouse. For the harder stuff, the software that can do parents’ newsletters and school flyers, computer dealers have plenty to choose from.
If board games are top sellers at Xmas, it is no surprise that they are now on CD-Rom. In the new Monopoly, you can not only play alone, but by using the Internet, you could spend Xmas playing with family abroad. Shame that the computer plays banker so well there is none of that family fun from raiding the bank and hiding money down the sofa.
There is more: Trivial Pursuit on CD has film newsreel clips to brighten up the questions, Yatsee, helps keep score in a classic dice game but a favourite could be Othello (or Reversi). Here you can play against a mocking Einstein or an impatient Leonardo and watch them wince as you make your move. It has games to finish and tips which help turn luck into strategy. And that irreverent Leonardo ensures you don’t think too long, by yawning or sighting with his thumbs and fingers.
For the kids there is ‘Toy Story Animated StoryBook’, based on Disney’s enjoyable film where jealousy between toys leads to one of them literally being ‘bumped off’. The story is retold here in words and pictures, and like the movie the animation and humour is excellent. Each scene has things to click on and surprises where even Buzz, the solemn lead character dances a jig.
Two animated adventures in the excellent bracket are Broderbund’s ‘Darby the Dragon’ and ‘Gregory and the Hot Air Balloon’. In Darby, children gather magic ingredients to undo the spell that shrunk his big sister. The graphics here are lovely, the characters are all sweetness, and they help young ones to collect the things they need to solve a puzzle. Like ‘Gregory’, which is set in a fairground, both develop reasoning and counting skills, but they are mostly fun and engaging.
When you think about what pirates do for a living, you wonder why Fisher Price glorify them in ‘Pirate Ship’, a CD-Rom based on the toy. But this too will be liked: children find the pieces to make treasure maps, they sing along with pirate songs, print pictures to colour in and fire all sorts of animals from the ships cannon. Hmm, still it’s compulsive play so you get your money’s worth.
As you explore the computer shops, you soon realise that CD-Roms, like Xmas happens at home. Just a few titles, such as the story books from Living Books find a comfortable place in school. Many others just scrape in. So nurseries and after school clubs might consider ‘Elmo’s Pre-school’ where the enchanting Sesame Street muppet guides children through activities on numbers and letters. It is design, or is it clever, that there is no text to throw non-readers, the screen buttons are big and obvious, and that high pitched Elmo’s encourages all the way through. If you want more the rest of the series, covering Letters, Numbers and Words, shows the same thoughtful design.
For my friend from Birmingham, who can’t stand American accents, I’d suggest a serious look at ‘Jump Ahead’, another series of CD’s for toddlers upwards. It has songs and number activities – nothing unusual here except that there’s a rare display of computer intelligence as each game adapts to the child and pushes them onto a harder level as necessary. More than this, they have been so well versioned for the UK that infants departments ought to give them a look.
The other last piece of good news this year is that CD prices are falling. So publisher, Dorling Kindersley now sells many of its previously £50 titles for around £20. But if for some people, and you can’t like everyone, that is still too much to spend, never mind, I think it’s back to socks.
AutoRoute Express – get from A to B. For PC and Mac (Microsoft)
Lotus Organizer – for PC (Lotus)
Quicken home accounts – for PC (Intuit)
Music Central – (Microsoft)
Jump Ahead series for PC / Mac From £19.99 (Random House)
Toy Story Animated Storybook PC / Mac £39.99 (Disney).
Sesame Street series: Elmo’s Pre School, PC / Mac. Numbers, Letters, Words, Art Workshop PC £29.99. (Creative Wonders)
Fisher Price ‘Pirate Ship’ PC / Mac for Â£29.99. (Ablac Tel: 01626 332233)
Darby the Dragon, Gregory and the Hot Air Balloon. PC / Mac for £19.99. (Broderbund).
Greetings Workshop PC £22.99 (Microsoft)
Software as presents (1996 list)
Story book titles
Dr Seuss’ ABC for age 3 to 9. PC and Mac (Living Books)
Just Grandma and Me. PC and Mac for age 3 to 5 (Living Books)
Harry and the Haunted House for age 3 to 9. PC and Mac (Living Books)
The Tortoise and the Hare for age 3 to 9. PC and Mac (Living Books)
Little Monster at School for age 3 to 9. PC and Mac (Living Books)
The Lion King for age 4 to 9. PC and Mac (Disney)
How the Leopard Got his Spots for age 6-10 – PC (Microsoft)
Kiyeko and the Lost Night for age 4-9 – PC and Mac (Ubisoft)
My Most Incredible Amazing Dictionary for age 4 to 7. PC and Mac (Dorling Kindersley)
The DK Children’s Dictionary for age 7 to 12. PC and Mac (Dorling Kindersley)
The Way Things Work for age 10 plus. PC and Mac (Dorling Kindersley)