Multimedia Exploration Journal: December 14, 2003

I just can't get enough of this cheap CD-ROM entertainment. This time, the subject is 3 different 4-packs of kid-oriented CD-ROMs: Games for Boys, Games for Girls, and a collection of educational titles for very young children, published by Simon & Schuster.

Simon & Schuster Educational 4-pack

This collection assures the buyer that it is "Award Winning", so it better be good...

Cheerios Play Time

Cheerios Play Time Logo
Title screen: I have the worst time understanding how that bee can fly with a Cheerio glued to its wing; is that the best mascot they could come up with?
That's right-- A Cheerios(R) cereal branded educational CD-ROM, a "wholesome CD-ROM! for ages 3-5". I am at a loss to know what do to with the CD-ROM as the CD-ROM root contains one directory called "CHEERIOS? PLAY TIME/" which contains 2 files:
-r-xr-xr-x    1 root     root     33077616 Oct  9  2001 INSTALLER
-r-xr-xr-x    1 root     root            0 Oct  1  2001 INSTALL_CHK
Maybe it installs better under the officially supported Windows and Mac operating systems. No matter. I was not too pumped about playing it. Though the package also included a bonus CD-ROM that looks identical to the first but with the words "BONUS CD-ROM" emblazoned on the front. Maybe the bonus is that it actually works.
It is interesting to note that these discs are (c) 2003 (i.e., very recent) and also have an 'EC' rating-- early childhood. I have never encountered that ESRB rating before. The bonus disc (which appears to actually work) contains lots of BMP and WAV files, as well as .anm files which seem to have instructions describing which BMP and WAV files go together. Scanning through the BMP images with an image viewer, it is apparent that they are supposed to be strung together to give the appearance of FMV. Somewhat inefficient. However, it looks like many of these BMP have transparency information and are supposed to be displayed on top of static backgrounds. So the developers may have had some reason for doing things this way. Though it still seems like they could have concatenated the BMP images in AVI files while retaining the transparency data.

Under Wine, InstallShield fails to initialize correctly.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

The Multimedia Players That's Multimedia Players Present Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, to be precise. With a distinction like "Multimedia Players", there is bound to be some kind of FMV. The game is (c) 1995, runs on Win95, Win3.1, and Mac. It also has a winvideo/ installation directory which is promising.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is apparently based on a song written by the CD-ROM's producers exclusively for this CD-ROM. Judging from the lyrics, it has a lot to do with the English alphabet.

There are 100+ AVI files encoded with Indeo 3.2. It turns out that the Multimedia Players are a group of 5 multicultural children with no notion of shame, but a gleeful song and dance for each letter of the alphabet. The letter songs all take the same form:
"<letter>: My name is <name starting with letter> and my friend's name is <another name starting with letter>. We come from <location starting with letter> and we love <something starting with letter>."
I was curious to know what they would do for the letter 'X'. As best as I could make out, it went like this:
"X: My name is Xavier and my friend's name is Xylon. We come from X-land and we love X-rays."
No joke, or at least that's what I could discern.
Xavier From X-Land
Xavier, originally from X-Land

Beyond that, there are plenty of things to do on the CD-ROM, from reading stories to recording your own songs (microphone not included). Installation under Wine proceeds smoothly enough but runs into some runtime errors and DLL conflicts.

I can't get past the idea that these are probably the earliest gigs in any of these young actors' careers. One or more of them may become famous somewhere down the road. And this CD-ROM is going to end up on one of those "Look how they started out" TV shows or websites.

Curious George Learns Phonics

Full title: Curious Geoge Learns Phonics for Kindergarten-1st Grade. I vaguely recall Curious George as some kind of monkey popular with young children. Another CD-ROM for Windows and Macintosh. This one is published recently enough that it knows what an iMac is. But it only contains 11 megabytes of data and no sign of FMV.

Installation proceeds perfectly with Wine. And it turns out that I spoke too soon about the multimedia-- The game actually does container a number of smallish Smacker files as well as the 16- and 32-bit Windows decoding DLLs. Attempting to run the game under Wine results in a failure to find various game files which are clearly present

[Link: Smacker samples]

Richard Scarry's Busytown

"Give your child a sense of accomplishment as they learn." A 1999 title that teaches all kinds of basic skills. According to the CD-ROM copy, it complies with the stringent standards set forth by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The group really does exist, or at least has some kind of web presence even though its name sounds suspiciously similar to one of those weird, euphemistic special interest organizations thrown together to lobby for a specific cause during election time, like "Concerned Citizens Helping To Shape a Better Tomorrow" or "Association Opposed To Destroying The Entire Planet".

The disc has a data directory with several types of multimedia files. Among them are MIDIs, PCM WAVs and odd QT files. What makes the QT files odd is that they are very small (7k -> 30k) and only contain a mdat chunk. Where is the moov chunk? Anyway, the largest files in this directory are the .btf files which is a mystery format right now.

The game installs more or less smoothly under Wine, and also seems to run. However, much of sound comes out as loud static. Not to say that the game cannot still be fun, goodness, no. To the left is a picture of my cat joyriding through town in his pickup truck and seeking a little offroad action-- right into where a hippo and his pig friend are trying to enjoy a sandwich outside a cafe. Wouldn't you know, the cops show up, but I got off with a slap on the wrist-- repeatedly. Pulled Over
Pulled over by The Man, err, Dog

Games For Boys

A 4-pack of CD-ROMs that the instructions guarantee are "Games Just For Boys(TM)". Assembly be Encore Software. I think it is curious that boys would care about Chase Platinum MasterCard or checks from Checks Unlimited, but the package includes marketing literature for both.


This appears to be the same as the title I covered in a previous entry.

Matchbox Emergency Patrol (MobyGames entry)

A computer game to capitalize on those little cars. Multimedia is delegated to Smacker files. Installation under Wine proceeds rather smoothly until the end when there is an unhandled exception. Running the game is problematic without DirectX 7 installed.

[Link: Smacker samples]

Tonka Construction (MobyGames entry)

Ah good, a Quicktime logo on this game based on the timeless Tonka line of construction vehicles. Alas, the QT files are a bit sparse on the CD-ROM, save for in a SAMPLER/ directory that pushes some of the company's other educational titles. The primary game has a DATA/ directory that only has one file that is obviously a FMV file (MOVIE1.MVE, ~4 MB). Nothing inside looks familiar except for a 'MVE4' marker at the start, a sample rate, and some 8-bit, unsigned PCM audio.

The installer does a good job under Wine. When run, Wine does a good job of explaining to the program what it is supposed to think about my computer when it uses its "System Analyzer". The game wants 256-color mode before it is run, though.

Crayola Vehicle Voyages

Why purchase Crayola Crayons and draw when you can purchase a much more expensive computer and this CD-ROM title? A title that chooses to use Smacker files for its FMV. Installation under Wine, as usual, goes quite smoothly and then there is the unhandled exception during play.

[Link: Smacker samples]

Games For Girls

At least the analogous Games For Girls package comes with an AOL CD, not completely unexpected.

Rugrats: Totally Angelica Boredom Buster (MobyGames entry)

I know this has something to do with a certain Nickelodeon franchise, and it also bears the QT symbol. This is a little odd since, at first glance, there do not appear to be any QT files on the disc-- only Smacker and WAV files. Installing the game might help reveal some QT files, but the game fails installation under Wine.

[Link: Smacker samples]

Lego Friends (MobyGames entry)

The Girls of Loose Chippin's The first thing I do with this disc is scan for familiar media files. There is a directory called "Loose Chippin's". Inside, there are two Cinepak-encoded Quicktime files: One is a music video for a song called "Inspiration" by a group called-- what else?-- Loose Chippin's, and the other is an interview with the Loose Chippin's members. A Google search for the group turns up a bunch of pages for this particular software title. The sites insist that the group is an all-new British girl band pop sensation.

I hesitate to criticise anything about the group, the song or the video, simply because it looks like they are really trying hard, really putting forth their very best effort, even if they come across as sort of an off-brand girl group. And I would hate to say anything negative and then have to admit that I sort of dig the song.

Anyway, no other multimedia files jump out at me. Installation under Wine runs smoothly enough until I receive a "Severe" dialog box advising that the setup program could not find the working directory. Too bad. I really did want to see what this 'game' was all about. According to the literature from various websites, the CD-ROM simulates various activities such as composing songs and rehearsing dance routines all in preparation for your own girl band to compete in a band battle.

Crayola Magic Princess Paper Doll Maker

I expect about as much success from this game as I did from its Games For Boys counterpart. As for media, the disc contains many AIFF audio files and DXR (Macromedia?) files. The game installs under Wine perfectly but expects a 256-color mode to run.

Madeline: Rainy Day Activities

Nothing about this title or disc stands out at me, except for the fact that the disc has the DiC logo, an animation studio responsible for a childhood favorite-- Inspector Gadget (the original cartoon, not the live-action movie series). The setup.exe silently fails when run under Wine, thus bringing investigation on this title to a screeching halt.

by Mike Melanson (mike at

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