Billed as an interactive guide to the seas, Our Living Oceans comes in a box adorned with the badge of the National Museum Of Natural History, and there’s the Dorling Kindersley logo on there too. There’s little doubt that this is aimed at the educational market, and the fairly low price point may persuade some parents to fork out for it.
But there are problems here, and they all come down to the age of the program. For in spite of being originally released in 1999, Our Living Oceans – which unsurprisingly supports all versions of Windows from 98 upwards – is proudly on sale with Vista support listed on the box. Yet it’s blatantly a product out of its time.
The installation, for instance, brings Quicktime 7 with it, and in that subtle way that software tends to do, a pop-up window immediately leaps up offering to upgrade you. Then the program itself completes its installation, and the old Quicktime-based educational software hallmarks kick in. There’s video in a small square in the middle of the screen, which lacks the quality and definition that more modern video compression techniques afford us, and the computer-generated graphics are also showing their age.
Navigation is like stepping back in time, too. The product sub-divides its content into set areas, and you move between screens as if playing an old game of Myst, by clicking on arrows. Cutting edge this certainly isn’t.
And yet, in spite of all of this, there’s still some merit to Our Living Oceans, and it’s where it ultimately counts: the content itself. For while the presentation is crying out for an overhaul, the material is at times fascinating and compelling, and at the worst is worthy of a browse.
The product covers the deep seas, life in open waters, the coast and the tides, and it mixes in video, voiceovers, text, hyperlinks and Web links to get its information across. Aimed at 12 year-olds and above, there’s a lot on the disc to digest, even though it’s unlikely to be a 100 percent match with the National Curriculum.
The problem is that to get to it, you need to do battle with an interface that does the program no favours, and you need to tolerate a drop in multimedia quality over what you’d get even on a half-decent Web site. Perhaps the fatal blow, though, is the £10 price tag: at half the price you could perhaps overlook many of the shortcomings, but £10 puts it against some far more impressive educational titles.
And that means that – in spite of the content hidden within – Our Living Oceans is best left on the shelf.
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