Like Ring, the Wagnerian adventure game featured in Technofile last week, Dancer DNA (Notting Hill, Windows, pounds 15) is one of those ventures in electronic media that represents either a dead end or a step towards a new digital genre. It first appeared a couple of years ago as a feature in Notting Hill's The Evolution of Life, fronted by Richard Dawkins. Now it has been repackaged as a stand-alone product, and repositioned from the science shelves to its natural habitat, the club scene. In entertainment products, the most successful application of artificial life technologies has been the development of simulated animals which act as virtual pets. Dancer DNA is simpler, and funkier. It offers the user a suite of graphic forms, such as "Alien's Brain", whose favourite music is said to be jungle, and "Psycho Psybat", which by all accounts prefers trip-hop.
You choose a form, then watch it dancing to the CD of your choice, playing through the CD-ROM drive on your computer. It gradually mutates, generating new forms from which you can select those which please you best. This is automatic graphic art locked to a beat, offering a new degree of integration between dance sound and vision. It could be the prototype for a new rhythm instrument, playing in light instead of sound. The technology could be used to drive different kinds of image, from animated figures to abstract colour fields. And if it catches on, it could be to thousands what scratching was to so many in the Eighties. In the meantime,it would be interesting to see what Dancer DNA can do in the hands of artists, who should have an eye for a promising mutation.
Automatic rhythmic images could also have a place in the home. Dancer DNA might appeal to flat-dwellers who have to keep their computers in the living-room, for instance, as a means of getting ugly equipment to do something aesthetically pleasing. Its chances of inspiring affection would be increased, however, if the interface were less like an office application. I had to fiddle with the settings for quite a long time in order to get satisfactory results, and the dull Windows boxes made it feel like work. The interface is also far too complicated for anybody on drugs, which cuts out a sizeable portion of Dancer DNA's natural market.
When it comes to gravitas, Macmillan has assets to make other serious publishers turn green with envy in the form of its definitive reference section. To make a millennial splash, it is floating these assets on-line in a series of tranches. The first in the fleet, The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, has now been launched, with subscriptions starting at pounds 275 a year. Next will come The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, due later this year; the second edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is scheduled for 2000, and The Encyclopedia of Life Sciences in 2001.
Anybody with an interest in cognitive science - a broad field that is fairly buzzing with action - should be grateful to the editors of The MIT Encyclopedia of Cognitive Sciences for making it available on- line. The major themes are language, culture, neuroscience, computation, psychology and philosophy; there are links between pieces, and the whole collection can be searched by key word. Not only is the Web version nearly the whole text - the Encyclopedia is a work in progress which has yet to appear in print - but it's completely free. Altruism is indeed a higher mental function.
When I overhauled the Technofile Web pages using NetObjects Fusion 3.0, the software struck me as particularly suitable for small businesses that would like presentable websites, but don't have the budget to pay designers. NetObjects evidently does too, and has launched eFuse, a service aimed at businesspeople who would like guidance on how to make their sites work well. Although geared to promoting NetOjects Fusion, the eFuse website should be useful to anyone who wants an introduction to Web design or a refresher course. It contains sound, conservative advice about graphics, fonts and the other nuts and bolts of Web design. You won't end up with a gee-whiz site, but you'll have one that does its job. There's also a free newsletter to bring you fresh tips.
FALCON 4.0 BULLET POINTS
Genre: combat flight sim
New in this version: APG-68 radar and HARM targeting system
Graphics: the washed-out hues look like the view from a plane - just as they should, since they're based on aerial photos of Korea - but achieve realism at the expense of drama
Sound: big, chunky, bad-news explosions. Chatter of war from pilots and ground-controllers gives vivid impression of mayhem
Complexity: makes Microsoft Office look underfeatured
Learning curve: steep - there are 28 training missions
Ideology: nuanced militarism. Three scenarios for war between North and South Korea, all reasonably plausible. The most interesting has South Korea talking of "reunification" in the wake of its successful counter- attack, causing dismay at the UN. Includes Chinese interventionl Bottom line: Microprose, Windows, 32MB, pounds 40Reuse content