Have a little fun this year when selecting a gift for the computer user on your list

HOME COMPUTING

December 07, 1992|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

Looking for a holiday gift for your favorite computer user?

Check out the shelves at your local software dealer. You're sure to find something to please. But please, nothing serious. Don't unload a spreadsheet on your beloved on Christmas Day so he can start work on the taxes Dec. 26. Treat your computer like the wonderful toy it is and have some fun with it.

Herewith, in no particular order, are a few examples -- some old, some new:

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STUNT ISLAND from Walt Disney Software.

My older boy, Ike, has been screening computer games for me for 10 of his 13 years, so he's pretty jaded by now. But this new release got his coveted "totally awesome" rating, and for good reason.

Stunt Island combines flight simulation with movie-making (remember where it came from) in an incredibly rich and entertaining package that will keep you up late into many nights.

You're the movie company's pilot, and your job is to fly as many hair-raising stunts as you can in any one of 45 (count 'em) different aircraft, ranging from a hang glider to the space shuttle.

Fly under the Golden Gate Bridge, chase a bunch of MiGs through a city full of skyscrapers, land on a moving train, fly through a tunnel, guide a deadly meteor to a crash landing, or pluck an escapee from the top of a prison tower.

There are 40 pre-defined stunts and 34 different sets, which should keep you busy for awhile. But if you get bored with those, you can enter the second level of the program -- the set editor -- which lets you modify existing sets or create your own from scratch to design your own stunts. You can set up buildings, trucks, cars, landmarks, animals and other objects, and tell them what to do. It gets pretty complex, but the tools are all available.

Once you're happy with the stunt (that is, if you haven't crashed and found yourself in the hands of a mad doctor who tells you you have a broken neck, ruptured spleen and a bad haircut), it's time to edit the stunt into its final form.

You can replay the stunt frame-by-frame, selecting from a half dozen different views, then add credits, titles and fades. If you have a sound board, you can add sound effects, music and even voice-over and dialogue.

All of this requires considerable horsepower -- an 80386 computer with at least 2 megabytes of RAM, a color VGA monitor, and (gasp) 13 megabytes of hard disk space. You'll enjoy it a lot more if you have a sound board, too. It's a terrific piece of entertainment software.

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JUST JOKING from WordStar International.

Your word processor probably has a spell checker, thesaurus and maybe even a grammar checker. But what happens when you're writing a speech or diatribe and need a lawyer joke?

Pop up Just Joking, a memory resident program that will give you instant access almost 3,000 jokes, quips and one-liners, which you can search by subject, author or word. It's available in both DOS and Microsoft Windows versions.

It isn't fancy, but if you want to bash a shyster, you'll find this one from Jay Leno: "A man in Orlando, Florida, was hit by eight cars in a row and only one of them stopped. The first seven drivers thought he was a lawyer. The eight was a lawyer."

Maybe the world doesn't really need Henny Youngman on a disk, but Just Joking is great fun. And it comes with a pair of glasses with a funny nose and fake mustache.

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HEADLINE HARRY AND THE GREAT PAPER RACE from Davidson & Associates.

If your kids are getting too old for Carmen Sandiego, this history ++ and geography game, available for both IBM-compatible and Macintosh computers will keep them entertained and teach them something about events they aren't likely to study in history class.

As the player, you're Headline Harry, ace reporter for the U.S. Daily Star, and you're in a race with the slimy Diabolical Daily to bring back stories about important events in American history from 1950 to 1990.

You have to discover the who, what, when, where and why for each event. The problem is that you'll encounter false leads, lying news sources, dirty tricks and other skulduggery as you travel across space and time. The plotting is clever and the graphics are entertaining. A good buy in the edu-tainment genre.

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Kid Desk from Edmark. If your preschooler likes to play with your computer, you'll appreciate this simple menu program, which makes it easy for him to find his own software without trashing yours.

If you have an IBM-compatible, Kid Desk's simple desktop, with icons representing your child's programs, a calendar, a clock and a calculator will shield him from memorizing arcane DOS commands. If you have a Macintosh, which is sometimes too easy to use, you won't have to worry about your youngster playing games by picking things up on the screen and putting them in the Mac's famous trash can. In other words, erasing your files.

You'll have to set Kid Desk up to run the proper programs when your youngster selects a picture from the desktop, but it's not hard, and the peace of mind you'll gain is well worth the small effort and expense.

(Michael J. Himowitz is a columnist for The Baltimore Sun.)

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