This Ship's Cool

Virtual Voyages on RMS Titanic

A Night to Remember

CD-ROM for Mac/Windows

Titanic: Adventure Out of Time

CD-ROM for Mac/Windows

Okay, so the Devil meets this capitalist on the crossroads one night and says he's got a helluva deal: Name your new state-of-the-art ocean liner the Titanic, and on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic it will hit an iceberg. The ship will sink in about three hours, and out of 2,200 passengers, 1,500 will drown. It'll become one of the most famous disasters in history, inspiring movies, plays, books, multimedia, web sites, the works. The capitalist thinks it over for a second and says, "So what's the down side?"

Eighty-five years after her fateful rendezvous with an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland on the calm, clear night of April 14, 1912, the Titanic tragedy remains one of the biggest media events of all time. The story is often remembered for many of the things that it wasn't: It wasn't the end of an era. It didn't happen because people thought the ship was unsinkable. The Titanic was neither the fastest nor the most luxurious ocean liner of her time. At the time she sailed, the Titanic was the biggest ship in the world, but she would have held this title for only one month; German passenger lines had already launched several larger vessels.

What the Titanic did accomplish was the creation of the biggest media event of its type in modern history. It seized our imagination and became a modern multimedia event, popularized in print, music and art. Every new form of media has breathed additional life into the legend, spawning hundreds of books, numerous plays, songs, movies, TV shows, documentaries, and, at last count, at least 70 websites. It seems that every medium, old and new, loves the Titanic, including CD-ROM.

Voyager specializes in publishing classy and literate CD-ROMs (previous titles include Our Secret Century, The Beat Experience, and Who Built America, to name a few). Their new Titanic title, A Night to Remember, follows that tradition.

The two-disc package contains the entire 1958 British feature film, A Night to Remember, produced by William MacQuitty and adapted from Walter Lord's excellent, true account of the tragedy. As of this writing, A Night to Remember is still the best of many feature films and television versions of the story. You can watch the film in quarter or half-screen, or switch on the scene-by-scene commentary by Titanic experts Don Lynch and Ken Marschall. Strangely enough, as the ship sinks and the passengers cling to lifeboats or drown and the experts comment on everything from the credibility of the actors to whether or not the film accurately depicts the amount of bubbles the ship made on its way to the bottom, you get the eerie feeling that you're watching a real documentary film of the tragedy. There's also a time line, and a blueprint of the ship with links to scenes from the film (this is a cool feature). And then there's a bonus disk, with a documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with producer William MacQuitty and author Walter Lord.

Instead of exploring the history of the Titanic by revisiting previously told versions, CyberFlix has completely reimagined the story for its Titanic: Adventure Out of Time, by creating a digital 3-D version of the ship and an interactive adventure game in which the player, as a British secret agent, has the opportunity to alter the course of history. The high-resolution graphics are often stunning and historically accurate, from the classic grand staircase right down to the china patterns and wallpaper. The story is complex and requires quite a bit of determination and brain power to puzzle out (keeping a notepad handy for jotting down all the names of potential co-conspirators and their cabin numbers, plus coded messages and other spy stuff, doesn't hurt).

There are numerous ways to get around the ship: You can take the elevator from the forward grand staircase (and the punky elevator operator is always good for clues and information), wander about the hallways and promenades, or jump decks by clicking on linked locations on the blueprint. And, if you're not in a gaming mood, you can just take the virtual tour of the ship. Hints and clues come from coded messages, intercepted telegrams, and various "talking-head" characters -- not all of whom are to be trusted.

With this game, CyberFlix has taken some of the approach used in last year's Dust: A Tale of the Wired West -- character development, character interaction, and a complicated story line -- a few steps further. The idea of character development is relative here, of course, and the characters' costuming and dialogue could definitely stand an upgrade, but overall, Titanic has a great sense of atmosphere, incredible attention to detail, and -- dare I say it? -- a real sense of destiny.

The idea of going on a virtual cruise aboard the RMS Titanic has a lot of synchronicities going for it. Mammoth ocean liners were among the crowning achievements of the Industrial Revolution; not only were they the playthings of the idle rich, but they served as vehicles of empowerment for millions of poor immigrants by bringing them to America, the land of opportunity, for extremely low fares. Now we're marching in the Information Revolution, and the hypemeisters tell us computers are supposed to be doing a lot of that democratizing stuff for us. And did you buy a top-of-the-line (unsinkable) Mac or PC (ocean liner) last year and watch it become hopelessly obsolete (sink) while you were still paying off the interest on your charge card (in the middle of the Atlantic)?

In the end, though, those things don't really matter. What matters is that the Titanic is a story that bears re-telling and re-examining, and the current state of multimedia technology can help us do those things in new and entertaining ways...

without fear of icebergs, pirates, or those nasty U-boats.

Jesse Sublett is a critically acclaimed mystery novelist and screenwriter. He has scripted more than 25 documentary films, including The Oceanliners for the series Great Ships and Nimitz and Yamamoto: High Noon on the Pacific for the series Combat at Sea (both series can be seen on The History Channel).

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