Kai's Power Goo promises fun for some children of all ages

Personal Computers

July 29, 1996|By Stephen Manes

KAI KRAUSE has been hailed as a "demo god" for his stunning public demonstrations of his powerful professional graphic arts programs. Kai's Power Goo (from Metatools Inc., for PTC Windows 95 and Macintosh, at about $50), his latest design, is his first aimed at a more mainstream audience, including children. Although it received wild applause at early public showings, Goo demonstrates that there is more to software than the way it looks in demonstrations.

There is nothing else quite like Goo. A strange marriage of sophisticated computer graphics and fingerpainting, it basically gives your computer a collection of precise tools that you use like fun-house mirrors to distort and manipulate images in ways even caricaturists might find bizarre. To get you started, the disk offers 144 pictures of apparently normal people and 32 more of cars, animals and politicians.

The unusual interface is intended to be simple but often manages to be confusing. A tricky concept to grasp at first is that two apparently similar palettes of effects work entirely differently. With the first group, you select the effect you are after and drag the cursor around the area you want to change. The second group applies an effect to the whole picture; after you choose one, you adjust it by dragging a separate slider control.

With the grow/shrink effect, for example, you can turn a politician into a pinhead by dragging the mouse in circles across his noggin. Then there are Goovies, which let you play back the process like movies, and watch that politician's nose grow like Pinocchio's.

"Fusion" lets you blend two still pictures into one, painting over one picture with the colors and textures of another. Although you can give that politician the forehead of an ape, you cannot make a Goovie of the morphing effect. But you can then use Goo on the resulting image and give it another digital pummeling.

Compared with professional programs that do similar things, Goo is far easier to use. But some rookie mistakes in designing a product for a nontechnical audience are maddening. Neither the manuals nor the program itself will tell you that Goo is meant to be run at a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels and at least 65,000 colors. Some instructions that are not labeled as being solely for Macintosh users are likely to baffle Windows 95 users.

The interface makes it far too easy to lose your creations. A single accidental click on either of two Reset buttons can instantly make your painstaking efforts disappear forever. And when you quit the program, it asks if you really want to, but does not bother asking if you want to save your unsaved work. The developers parade their egos by putting the credits a single click away from anywhere, but the lone help screen requires multiple clicks to get to and includes only suggestions about reaching the publishers by e-mail or an online forum. Buried on the CD-ROM in a file inaccessible from the program is the real help file, incomplete and formatted in a typeface that looks dreadful at the standard resolution. The printed manual is a large poster that jumps from attempts at humor to technical gobbledygook in successive sentences.

For me the joy faded fast, but children of all ages may find Goo at least as much fun as painting mustaches on portraits; adults may find it can liven up a dull party; and professionals who understand such things as resolution and rasterization may want to try it for serious work.

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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