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High tech H’w’d; news peg jolts CD-ROM title

SHAKE, RATTLE & ROLL: Depending on how you look at it, Sony Electronic Publishing and ABC News Interactive, together with multimedia developer Haukom Associates, have either the best timing or the worst.

The three companies have teamed up and are just about to release the multimedia title, “Earthquake,” which will feature more than 40 minutes of video and thousands of photographs, maps, charts, diagrams and graphs providing in-depth coverage on all significant quakes that have occurred in the 20th century, including Anchorage, Mexico City, Loma Prieta and, of course, Northridge, which was a late addition to the CD-ROM.

“We were pretty far along with the project,” said ABC News Interactive producer Lewis Strauss, who notes that “Earthquake” had been in development since last fall. “Fortunately we weren’t so far along that we were locked in. After the earthquake, we determined what we needed and what was available and just decided what we wanted to include.”

Much of what will be included on the CD-ROM, which also features text from one of the definitive books on quakes, “Terra Non Firma,” is footage shot by KABC-TV and ABC News after the earthquake. Strauss said that about 12 minutes of video from the Northridge quake made it onto the CD-ROM.

In addition to the footage, in which Ted Koppel acts as moderator, “Earthquake” features survival tips and how to deal with the emotional stress of a quake.

So now all you need to survive the Big One are two gallons of water, a flashlight and a computer equipped with CD-ROM player. You’d better pack some extra batteries too.

SEGA’S NO-SHOW: One of the biggest surprises to come out of the upcoming Summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago in June is the announcement by Sega that for the first time, one of the leaders in the game industry will not have their usual presence at the heavily attended event.

While this is no doubt disappointing to fans of Sonic the Hedgehog, don’t be surprised if other companies follow suit sometime down the road, opting instead to haul out the heavy ammo at Winter CES in Las Vegas.

“A lot of people have felt that the CES Show in June is too late to do any kind of business for the fall season,” said one rival company executive. “A lot of software developers have really considered pulling out.”

Part of the problem is that many of the new products being developed by the multimedia game companies need not only a much longer lead time for development and production, but for sales, as well. In other words, the Winter CES, which is attracting more and more interest from Hollywood, appears to be the place to show high-tech product.

And though this summer Sega will not have the giant area that dominated Winter CES, the company says it will have a press room complete with small product displays and several press reps.

That’s fine, but where does it leave poor Sonic?

CLONING JFK: While Hollywood and its “collective unconscious” have long been known for developing — and even producing — movies with similar plots and storylines at the same time, it looks like that practice has now spilled over into the world of CD-ROM.

Hot on the heels of Medio Multimedia’s “The JFK Assassination: A Visual Investigation,” comes word that Dallas-based ZCI Publishing is releasing its own “Encyclopedia of the JFK Assassination,” authored by well-known researchers Bob Harris and Jane Rusconi, who was director of research on Oliver Stone’s “JFK.”

Both products contain some of the same material, including the Warren Commission report and the famous Zapruder film. But while Medio’s version contains the actual full-motion, full-screen video clip of the Zapruder film, ZCI’s version contains only Zapruder stills.

The Medio title, which makes up in flash what it lacks in dense information, also features three other digitized versions of films shot during the assassination, in addition to the complete text of Jim Marrs’ best-selling book, “Crossfire,” while the ZCI encyclopedia features the revealing House Select Committee on Assassinations Report.

But more importantly, what the dueling JFK CD-ROMs point up in terms of multimedia and interactivity is perhaps that content developers — many of them from Hollywood — are going to be taking license to decide whether they want to make something educational or entertaining and showy. As these two titles point out, there are two completely different approaches that can be taken when it comes to selling product.

And while there are more than a few similarities between the two products, there are also differences. For one thing, Medio claims that its product takes no point of view on the subject, while researcher Rusconi admits that their encyclopedia is slanted more toward the coverup conspiracy theory taken by Oliver Stone in his film.

“You don’t have to believe in a conspiracy to believe that the government hasn’t told the truth or let out all the documents,” Rusconi said. “But this electronic era will help make more of this information available. As a researcher, I would believe there is more we can find out.”

(Andy Marx can be reached on PAGE and CompuServe. His CompuServe number is 70324,3424.)

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