Insight: Dinosaurs logo CDTV Top Rated

Optonica show off what its Interplay system can do with this tie-in with The Natural History Museum. Tony Dillon drags himself out of the swamp.

OK, so all the hype over Jurassic Park died a long time ago, but that does not stop dinosaurs from being interesting. This is obviously something that Optonica have realised, which is why they have pieced together such an excellent package as this one. I have to admit that I have always doubted the viability of encyclopaedia on CD, but that could easily be because most of them just are not any good.

It is quite a nice surprise to come across a package like this one that has obviously been thought through properly, with a lot of time and effort being spent on it, although it is a little weak in some places.

Like any good encyclopaedia, you begin with a main menu, and from there have to find your way to whatever you want. You can do this by simply browsing through the many 'pages' in the book until you stumble across something that catches your eye, or you can go to the index and look up anything specific. The index takes the form of a scrolling list, and you can jump straight to any part of the book by clicking on the name.

The control method is as simple as it could be. Large, well drawn screens show you exactly what to expect, and all you need to do is click with the red joypad button on the option you want. If you want to return to a previous topic, or just skip the current screen, then clicking on the blue button takes you back through all your choices until you reach the main menu.

There is an absolute wealth of information on this CD, presented in a variety of different media. The bulk of the actual factual information is in easily-readable text files, but that is only part of the package. The entire thing is read by a Tom Baker soundalike, whose gravely tones are just interesting enough to keep you listening, although the script itself is enough to keep you interested anyway.

The real beauty with this package, though, are the visuals. Using a combination of photographs, artists impressions, CDXL film and model animation/rendering, Optonica have managed to create a convincing enough portrayal of what life what actually like when the dinosaurs were alive. Some of the illustrations used are quite staggering, particularly the CDXL-animation, which has to be seen.

On the whole the presentation is incredible, but there are a few points where it all gets let down. On the CD32, a lot of the CDXL animations are blown up on screen, to create an 80% window, which looks blocky and nasty. Also, most of the 2D illustrations that have been are poorly drawn and badly animated, which is a shame because they are overlaid on some spectacular backdrops. I cannot help but feel disappointed at this large glitch on what is otherwise an incredible collection of images.

There can be no doubt at all as regards the accuracy of the information on the CD, as the whole thing has been created in conjunction with the Natural History Museum in London as part of their Dinosaurs exhibition. In a way, it is their seal of approval that makes it all the more interesting.

So if you are interested in Dinosaurs at all, or would just like to spend a couple of hours educating yourself, I really cannot think of any better way to do it. What an absolutely amazing package!