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CO 78.3 [Spring 2001], pp. 120-122: 2001 Software Directory for the Classics; Queue's Voyage in Greece, Myths of Ancient Greece, Theseus; On the Akropolis: When Democracy Was Born; Sierra's Zeus, Dreamcatcher's Odyssey.
Updating the Software Directory
By the time you read this, you should also be able to read
the newly updated 2001 Software Directory for the Classics,
either in its full print version (available from the ACL-TMRC)
or its abbreviated online version (www.centaursystems.com/soft_dir.html).
There are now several free online Latin exercises and a number
of new multimedia CDs listed. Please take a look at one of its
manifestations, and let me know if you have any unlisted materials
that should be added. The online version is updated constantly,
but the print version contains all of the detailed reviews and
descriptions, many of which appear in this column when they are
While canvassing the field to see what I've missed to-date, I found several more multimedia CDs from Europe, following on those in my last column, as well as a few more entries from the US. I'm going to concentrate on those dealing with Greece in this column, and then cover the ones on Rome next time.
Take a Virtual Voyage in Greece
Voyage in Greece provides a good introductory overview
of Greece, mainly in history and geography, but it does not go
very deep (fig. 1). A long build-up at the start and the general
style throughout is more that of a travelogue (as the title should
suggest) than a serious reference work or teaching tool. All
of the material is presented with visuals and narration (no text),
so it would be most appropriate to use at home or with headphones.
The interface makes heavy use of photos for navigation, with small captions appearing in a top icon bar. Simple icons for help, exit, glossary, next, previous, and main menu are on the screen at all times. The variations in layout for the interface can be confusing, however, as each section seems to have its own style. One uses thumbnail photos against a collage of subtopics, another uses a binocular view of small photos before enlarging them on request, and a third uses a control panel for small slide shows.
The four main sections are unevenly divided, too. "Athens" and "Nature & Mythology" have the bulk of the material, while "Styles" (architectural) and "Crete and the Islands" are much smaller. Even the mythology section takes an unconventional approach by being organized geographically (within Greece), instead of topically. A token effort is made to represent modern Greece with sections on poetry, art, and dance; but, ironically, most of the Modern section (in Athens) presents ancient art in modern museums and modern archaeological projects at ancient sites. A few short videos show a variety of regional dance forms, and traditional (modern) Greek music plays in the background whenever the narrator is not speaking.
The program has great ambitions to cover most of Greek history and culture, so it is inevitable that this is done in a mostly cursory manner. However, the photos themselves are excellent in quality, and the program could prove quite useful as a tempting taste of Greece for the uninitiated and those who plan a visit for the first time. It is available only in a Windows format (8MB RAM, 5MB HD) at $59.95 for a single-user CD or $179.85 for a lab pack (5). Developed by the French multimedia publisher, EMME, the English version is distributed by Queue, 338 Commerce Dr., Fairfield CT 06432; tel. 800-232-2224; web: www.queueinc.com.
Myths of Ancient Greece for Middle School
Another Queue publication, Myths of Ancient Greece,
uses the stories gathered by Ovid, Bulfinch, and Tatlock to introduce
the user to a broad range of myths with Greek origins (fig. 2).
Ten illustrated and narrated stories form the heart of the program:
Arachne & Athene, Atalanta, Echo & Narcissus, Heracles'
Twelve Labors, Jason & the Argonauts, the Judgement of Paris,
Persephone, Perseus & Medusa, Prometheus & the Gift of
Fire, and Theseus & the Minotaur.
The illustrations are colorful, hand-done watercolors, accompanied by text captions below, as well as narration. A control panel runs down the right side of the screen, offering options such as help, main menu, forward, back, sound control, and a reference "gallery" of artwork and photos containing mythological allusions, organized by character or god.
Besides the stories and gallery, there are extended text references from both Bulfinch's and Tatlock's publications on mythology. The interface is simple and easy to use. The narration and sound are optional, so the program could be used in a library or classroom setting. The stories are told in simple language, probably appropriate to a middle or early high school level. The narrative approach makes the myths easier to follow and absorb than some of the reference-style CDs.
This program is published on a hybrid CD (both Mac and Windows versions--4MB RAM, 0 MB HD), but it seems to have a difficult time running on some newer machines of both types. Fortunately, Queue provides a 30-day preview period for testing. The single-user CD is $49.95, and a 5-CD labpack runs $149.85. For more info, see the contact listing above.
A Very Close Look at the Myth of Theseus
Theseus is the only classical story in the 'Heroic
Tales' series by Westwind Media (fig. 3). The series is a beautifully
illustrated set of multimedia storybooks aimed toward students
at the middle school level. Each story is developed in great
detail and discusses a multitude of ethical and psychological
aspects of their hero's adventures and decisions, but in a manner
comprehensible to the target age group. There are several chapters
covering the entirety of the hero's life, and the details are
contained more in the text than the pictures.
Each chapter contains 30-40 pages of text and illustrations which can be either listened to with narration, sound effects, and character voices, or read independently without sound. All proper names and unique words are linked to a glossary, and links to the main menu and help page are available at all times. It is a very simple program to operate, and there are no quizzes, but it provides a wealth of detail in one place for all aspects of Theseus' life and other myths connected to him.
This program also happens to be published by Queue, in either Windows or Mac formats (2MB RAM, 0 MB HD), but only as a single-user CD for $49.95. For more info, refer to their contact info above.
On the Akropolis: When Democracy Was Born
On the Akropolis is a CD developed in Athens and devoted
to the context for the development of democracy there (fig. 4).
It provides a wealth of material on the sites and the texts from
Athens that were involved in this fascinating process. The program's
interface takes a little getting used to, but it does provide
access to a wide range of resources.
A menubar across the top makes it easy to move throughout the program, and a set of small red icons down the right side allow you to step forward and backward through each section, turn sound on and off, and show or hide the menubar. The sound usually consists of a simple instrumental background, with narration sometimes speaking over it. Illustrations are either photos, graphic drawings, or watercolor sketches, which add a nice artistic aspect to the stories. There are five topics to investigate on the menubar: History, Akropolis, Democracy, Statesmen, and Context. Each area includes 8-12 subtopics. There are also a set of Utilities and an ever-present Exit option.
In fact, in its attempt to explain the complete development of democracy, this CD manages to cover much of the history of Greece and particularly the period of 5th century Athens. The most unique aspect of the program is a set of four "personally" guided tours on various aspects of the main topic: "Timeos on the history of Democracy and Athens," "Kleofos on the Akropolis monuments," "Alkimachos on Democracy," and "Perikleitos on the Statesman." Some of these tours include a nominal touch of virtual reality, in which the speaker and companions are shown vaguely walking among monuments.
The program is published as a Windows only, single-user CD, and it is most easily acquired through J-PROGS, 81 High St., Pitsford NN6 9AD, UK; tel. 44-1604-880119; web: www.j-progs.com. The cost is 20 GBP (approx. $32).
Two New Video Games at the Mall
While picking up some new printer cartridges and blank CDs
at the local computer superstore, I ran across two new "mass-market"
games with classical origins: Zeus and Odyssey.
It's both encouraging and intriguing to see how our good ol'
ancient myths get perennially reborn in new media.
Zeus is, in many ways, a Greek variation on the Caesar series, brought to us by the same people at Impressions Games and Sierra Studios. (Classics students who love this genre might be curious about two other similar titles of theirs: Pharoah and Cleopatra.) It is a community management simulation, like the popular SimCity series, in which the user attempts to create and sustain a thriving, new city-state by deciding how to acquire, develop, and distribute resources, while maintaining friendly relations with your neighbors or being forced to defend yourself against unfriendly ones. In Caesar, there is much more dependence on the army and territorial expansion (historically appropriate, right?), whereas Zeus actually relies more on interaction with the Olympian gods and encourages you to roleplay one of the famous mythical heroes.
Odyssey, on the other hand, is a narrative fiction simulation, like SPQR, in which the user roleplays an ancient investigator chosen by Penelope to find Odysseus (fig. 5). By following clues along the way, you are led through many of the same trials that Odysseus had to face, until you catch up with him. This Dreamcatcher publication is much fancier and more appealing than a mid-1980s monochrome Apple II version by the same title, ironically published by Sierra (above). Both of these programs are available only in Windows versions and can be found in many of the national electronics superstores. But be forewarned: they both require a great deal of memory (32-64 MB RAM, 400-600 MB HD). For more info on Zeus (cost: $9.99), contact Sierra Studios, PO Box 85006, Bellevue WA 98015; tel. 1-800-757-7707; web: www.sierrastudios.com; and for Odyssey (cost: $34.95), contact Dreamcatcher Interactive, 1658 N. Milwaukee Ave. Ste. 450, Chicago IL 60647; tel. 1-888-611-9999; web: www.dreamcatchergames.com.
If you come to the ACL Institute this summer in San Antonio,
be sure to stop by the "Computer Corner" to give these
and other programs a try, while you check your email and the latest
classical offerings on the Web. I'll see you there!
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