Delightful programs make your PC a Jurassic jungle COMPUTERS


June 21, 1993|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

You can hardly turn on a TV screen anywhere this summer without having a tyrannosaur poke his head out and flash his teeth at you.

The release of Jurassic Park in movie houses has turned America dinosaur happy. And if you thought you were safe in front of a computer screen, think again. There are plenty of programs out there to turn your computer into a Jurassic jungle. Here are a few to warm the hearts of lizard lovers, young and old.

If your kids want to learn about dinosaurs, look no further than Dinosaur Adventure, a delightful interactive learning program from Knowledge Adventure.

Available for IBM-compatibles on disk or CD-ROM, Dinosaur Adventure combines spectacular VGA images with text, sound and video animations in a format that invites children and adults to explore the world of the giant beasts.

I tested the CD-ROM version, which is unusual today in that it runs under DOS instead of Microsoft Windows. The absence of Windows overhead probably accounts for its surprising speed on the low-end CD-ROM drive attached to my kids' computer.

When the program starts up, you'll see a screen consisting of a large picture window, a map of the world, a text box and a variety of function buttons. The easiest way to learn how to use the program is to grab your mouse, move the pointer to something and click.

For example, clicking on a dinosaur function button may bring up a list of dinosaurs. Click on the name of a dinosaur and up pops a picture, or in some cases an animation, along with a text entry that describes the animal and its habitat. If you have a sound card, a voice reads the text, although you can turn that feature off.

Clicking on the picture brings up a new screen linked to the first, which makes it easy and inviting to move from subject to subject. Click on the time line at the bottom of the screen and up pops a picture of a dinosaur from that period.

Clicking on the world map zooms in on one particular area, with crosses showing where dinosaur remains have been found. Click on a cross and up pops a picture and text relating to that find.

There are dozens of ways to get information, and all of them are fun. While the full-motion animations in the CD-ROM version (including a grudge match between a tyrannosaur and a triceratops), won't impress anyone who's just spent a couple of hours in a movie house being scared to death by Steven Spielberg's computerized dinosaurs, they're entertaining and undoubtedly less threatening for younger children.

Dinosaur Adventure is a example of multimedia interactive learning at its best. Your kids will love it. For information, contact Knowledge Adventure, 4502 Dyer St., LaCrescenta, Calif. 91214.

If drawing dinosaurs is your thing, check out Jurassic Art, from Computer Support Corp. In this package, CSC has bundled a copy of Scenerio, a basic version of its excellent Windows graphic composition software, a collection of well-rendered dinosaur images and other clip art that you can manipulate to your heart's content.

Want a picture of a tyrannosaur chomping a Volvo under the Leaning Tower of Pisa while it dodges bullets from a P-51? How about a screen full of dancing velociraptors, or jogging pachycephalosauri? No problem.

Because this is a vector-based drawing program, all the images can be resized without losing quality. Many of the pictures are in what CSC calls "flex-art" format. This means, for example, that a dinosaur's head, jaws, feet and forelegs are movable objects, so your options for illustration are virtually unlimited .

The detailed dinosaur drawings, with their delicate shading and detail, are far superior to the clip art I've seen with most other illustration programs. In fact, they're so complex that you'll need a fast 80386 or a 80486 computer to render them at a reasonable speed.

In fact, it's hard to say whether this package is aimed at kids or professional illustrators. For youngsters, the program comes with short but well-written and illustrated booklet called The Age of Dinosaurs, and an on-line Dinosaur Database chock full of facts and explanations.

For grown-ups who want to illustrate fliers, brochures or advertisements with dinosaur images, the program will export its images in a variety of formats -- including encapsulated PostScript files -- that are compatible with most Windows desktop publishing and word processing programs.

Users of other CSC illustration programs, including the Arts & Letters Graphics Editor, Picture Wizard and Apprentice, can order Jurassic Art packages designed for their software. If you don't already have a drawing program, the $44.95 price tag for Scenerio alone would be a bargain. For information, contact Computer Support Corp., 15926 Midway Road, Dallas, Texas 75244.

For youngsters who think they can manage a dinosaur park better than the buffoons who set up Jurassic Park, DinoPark Tycoon from MECC will test their mettle.

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