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Software Review


By Eugene Koh

Since September, this column has endeavored every week to inform and educate the reader about some facet of the world of technology. Admittedly, we could just as well have named the column "On the 'Net," since our coverage has revolved so much around networkingrelated issues.

We're trying an experiment this week: a shift of focus to critical reviews of products that might be of interest to Harvard students.

With the drudgery of midterm season rolling around, I thought it might be appropriate to begin this occasional series on a light note by reviewing a good, old-fashioned video game.

To supply the fodder for discussion, editors at The Crimson searched far and wide for a video game that might suitably reflect the needs of the typical Harvard student.

What they found was the Viacom New Media release, Club Dead. It's a CD-ROM adventure game for IBM PC and compatibles, and, according to its publishers, it's the first CD-ROM that "truly delivers on the sensibility of MTV."

They ain't kiddin.'

Club Dead opens with a cinematic sequence that is unmistakably MTV. A harddriving, Stone Temple Pilots-like sound loop accompanies digitized video whose grainy and flickering characteristics are quite apropos against the violent, brash animation--way to go for MTV to turn technological limitation into chic art.

This is a game whose outward appearance is striking throughout. With a play options screen that includes buttons shaped like guitar picks, users will be constantly reminded that they are not just playing a normal game--they are playing with MTV.

But MTV represents something more than just artistic sensibility. Above all, MTV represents immediate gratification. And it's surprising that the designers of Club Dead have not realized this fact in developing their game.

Make no qualms about it--Harvard students need mindless video games. Doom is mindless. Raiden is mindless. Pinball is mindless. Club Dead requires thought. This is a bad thing.

Club Dead is essentially a role-playing game in the context of a who-done-it mystery. The setting is the year 2024; the main character is Sam Frost, a convict addicted to "V," an illegal form of virtual reality. Sam is hired to investigate a series of mysterious deaths at a posh resort where the rich and famous come for illicit "V" experiences. Sam is given four days to solve the mystery.

Pretty simple storyline, or so it seems. One of our Crimson testers generously labeled the game "aggravating." I'd go so far to say that you need to be a real adventure game nut in order to appreciate Club Dead.

If you have the time and the inclination, however, the game promises to be worth it. Over 90 minutes of live-action video add spice, and the interface is visually appealing, once you remember what all the icons mean. The on-line help system includes recorded audio descriptions of most object encountered in the course of the game, so you may never need to refer to the manual.

One technical caveat to be aware of: unless you have a double-speed CD-ROM player, stay away from this game. While the manual states that the game works with single-speed CD-ROM players, the cinematic sequences are completely ruined by the short pauses every few seconds as data is loaded from the CD-ROM.

Club Dead is certainly not the game that you'll want to pass the time with when you should be studying for midterms, unless you thrive on aggravation. But if you've just unpacked your new multimedia system and are eager to find software that will put the machine through its paces, consider Club Dead. If you like MTV, you'll certainly appreciate this game's campy veneer.

Eugene Koh '96-'97 is Remote Staff Manager, Media Services, at America Online, Inc. He also composes soundtracks for CD-ROMs and may be reached online as ""

Koh's ramblings will return to this space in two weeks, on Wednesday, March 22,1995.

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