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Xplora CD-ROM: The Secret World of Peter Gabriel

This month the SOS team checks out the game-cum-documentary of Xplora.
Published July 1994

CD‑ROM adventures don't normally make it into the pages of SOS, but then Xplora is no ordinary CD‑ROM. If you have a Mac with a CD‑ROM drive and you also happen to have an interest in Peter Gabriel's music, then Xplora is a fun way to get behind the scenes to see how it is made, but if you're a a dedicated fan, then Xplora is an absolute must.

So, what is Xplora? It isn't a documentary and it isn't a game, but it contains elements of both. Unlike, say, a CD‑ROM that's designed to let you explore a zoo, Xplora doesn't let you go directly to where you want to go, but instead insists you go through a process of discovery and exploration, though if you prefer a non‑interactive approach, you can select the 'Watch' option, which takes you on a tour of the man's music. The 'Interact' option is more fun, but is frustrated by the painfully slow rate at which current CD‑ROM systems operate, though if you have one of the faster 040 Macs, things are rather better.

After correctly assembling an identikit picture of PG's face, the animated face of the man himself appears at the top of the screen and thanks you before letting you move on. He also crops up at various other points in the proceedings to comment on your progress or to tell you that you can't come in without a pass! After assembling the face, you can decide whether to explore the music, the album artwork, Real World studios and so on, though some parts of the disk can't be accessed unless you've picked up certain objects along the way and stashed them in your virtual briefcase — which is where the game element comes in. The studio visit is quite impressive; a Quicktime movie shows your field of view and changes as you wander around the complex. When you arrive at certain doors, they open and a member of staff welcomes you in to see a recording session or to lwt you set up your own mix (four tracks) of 'Digging in the Dirt', one of the songs from the latest album. And for the more adventurous, you can even spend some time as one of Peter's dogs and see the world from a dog's eye view.

You get to explore world music, try out various ethnic instruments, and even set up world music jam sessions. There's also the full SP on Amnesty International, which enjoys Peter's support; exposure for this cause is, I suspect, one of the prime reasons for creating Xplora.

To run the program, you'll need a Mac with at least 3Mb of spare RAM, and the faster the Mac, the smoother the animation. In addition to the disk, you get an Xplora book.

Though not a hard‑core PG fan, I found Xplora both entertaining and informative, the only niggle being the fact that you can't go straight to locations of interest without having to humour the game writers. Verdict? Well worth having unless you hate Peter Gabriel's music!