Knowledge Adventure

by Alan Zisman (c) 1992. Originally published in Our Computer Player, December 18, 1992

The subtitle on the Knowledge Adventure box says "The most exciting journey of all", and along the bottom, it claims "For Ages 7 to to!". So what is it? It may be easier to say what it's not.

Knowledge Adventure (and its companion programs Sports Adventure and Science Adventure) isn't a game. It isn't an encyclopedia. It isn't CD-ROM-based multi-media. It isn't a Windows program. It's not Hypercard on the Mac.

It does, however, share some qualities with all these categories. When you start up one of these programs, you'll see a collection of windows and icons on screen. There's a large window with a full colour picture, enclosed in a gilt-frame, with a title on a brass plaque. Underneath, there's a time-line, with dates ranging from 10 billion BC to 2000 AD.

Along the left, there's a scrollable text window, describing the picture. Above that, there's a small globe. You can make the Earth rotate, and you can zoom in and out, from 100 miles to 100,000 light years.

On top are two sets of icons. On set controls the categories. In Knowledge Adventure, these are areas of knowledge: Art, Science, Literature, Architecture, Music, and Nature. In Sports Adventure, these represent the big sports (at least from an American perspective): Baseball, Football, Basketball, of course, but surprisingly, Hockey rates an icon of its own, along with Tennis-Golf, Boxing, and the Olympics. The Science Adventure categories are a fairly predictable range of sciences.

Finally, there's another set of icons for help, backing up, printing, listening to a sound, and quitting the program.

Like some of the best software for pre-schoolers (Broderbund's The Playhouse comes to mind), you can explore with the mouse. Clicking almost anywhere makes something happen. And that's a big part of the adventure. You can jump through time and space by playing with the time line and the globe. You can range from the Big Bang, to the French Revolution, to the Moon landings and beyond. You can explore in an organized way--- what was happening in China in the 1700's in art? Or you can wander through the program's not necessarily obvious hyper-links.

You may have come to a picture of the Venus-de-Milo, complete with description. Click on the statue, however, and you jump to a scene from the Solar System. What's the connection? Oh-- it's the planet Venus. From the foyer of the Louvre, you click on a painting hanging there and jump to its subject -- the French Revolution.

Maybe "Interactive Books" would be the best description. The text is readable and informative, appealing to a range of reading levels, while managing the difficult task of being both accurate and enjoyable. (The Science Adventure text is credited to noted writer Isaac Asimov, and was, in fact, his last 'book' before his recent death).

I tested these programs on my two children, 11 year-old Kate, and 8 year-old Joey. They both enjoyed them, using them in different ways. Kate spent more time wandering through time, space, and categories, looking for something to make her want to learn more. Joey, still an awkward reader, just enjoyed the range of pictures. For me, these programs are a welcome relief from arcade-style games. My kids were learning without the stigma of "education"... without drill and
practice. Instead, they were exploring -- sort of the computer equivalent of a chemistry set, but without the stink bomb, and covering a far wider range of knowledge.

A few things of note: these programs require EGA or VGA, and 7-9 megs of free hard-drive space for each program. There are lots of full colour graphics in each, and even with a proprietary compression scheme, these take up a lot of space. Because the graphics are compressed, however, using a disk-compression program like Stacker won't help; it can't compress the graphics any more than they already are. You'll need that much REAL free hard drive territory.

The graphics are very good in all three programs, but those in Science Adventure are exceptional. That program is the first out in VGA (there's an optional, lower quality EGA version), and the improvement over the older programs is dramatic. The company has released a VGA upgrade for Knowledge Adventure but Sports Adventure is (at least for now), stuck in lower resolution EGA. The sound quality through the standard PC-speaker is marginal: another program crying out for
a good sound card.

Finally, each program supports a few 'games'--- like see how few clicks it will take to find a particular frame. These games were of marginal interest to my test-panel of children; luckily, the programs stand up on their own without them.

Even 8 megs or so of program on your hard drive can't have the depth of information or multi-media bells and whistles that you'd find in a 500 meg CD-ROM program. But for those of us lacking a CD-ROM, These packages promise multi-media for the rest of us. And they deliver on that promise.

(By the way... if you're intrigued with the Knowldege Adventure interface, if you can imagine using it produce computer-based catalogues, tutorials, magazines, or what-have-you... the company is planning to release the "Knowledge Adventure Author". This promises to provide authors, teachers, or other interested users with the power to customize this interface themselves. It's promised for sometime real soon).

Knowledge Adventure
4502 Dyer Street
La Crescenta, CA.
91214 USA
(818)542-4200, Fax (818)542-4205

List price $79.95 (US), each package

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1992, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from  fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan