Presidents Corner

Multimedia - An Advance Look
By Ken Williams

In many recent magazine and newspaper articles, a new word has begun to appear, Multimedia. Although, in the past this word has been used to apply to any form of presentation which used multiple media, such as a slide show with accompanying music, it seems to have taken on a new meaning within consumer electronics.

The term Multimedia, as it is now being used, means a computer attached to a Compact Disc player. Philips Corporation, the company that brought us the Compact Disc for music listening, will introduce a new electronic device that represents a major milestone for the personal consumer electronics industry next year. This device, alled Compact Disc Interactive (CDI), will be marketed as a high-end stereo component with video capabilities; but it is atually a very powerful microcomputer. It will most likely be just the first of many Multimedia computers to be introduced over the next 18 months.

CDI players will play all your favorite stereo CDs; however, there is much more inside of a CDI player than just a CD player. Hidden away in there is the same powerful 32-bit processor that drives the Macintosh computer, and a full megabyte of RAM. Attached to the CDI player will be something equivalent to a mouse, except that it works by infrared remote control.

Does this mean that a CDI player, theoretically, has the same computational abilities as a Macintosh? Well, yes and no… First I'll discuss its limitations and then I'll cover its tremendous advantages.

Computers have two important things a CDI player doesn't. Foremost is a keyboard. Philips says that keyboards will be available for a slight extra charge and that a mouse-based, on-screen keyboard will always be available. Obviously, this is not a machine which will see its primary usage as a word processor or for balancing checkbooks. Secondly, CDI players only READ compact discs. They don't have a floppy disk drive, much less a hard disk. If you wanted to keep a mailing list of the six kids in your child's Cub Scout troop, you wouldn't be able to do it. CDI players are read-only, they have no ability to remember much of anything once you turn them off.

Now, for the good news. We are all used to thinking of Compact Discs (CDs) as being a great replacement for cassette tapes or records. Start thinking of them as someday replacing the floppy disk. CDs are tough, accurate and reliable. Even better yet, they hold a remarkable amount of information. One CD holds the same amount of data as 1,500 floppy disks — or over 30 full hard disks! And, even your five-year-old will have to get up especially early to figure out how to destroy one.

You may have noticed a pattern emerging with your Sierra products. King's Quest I occupied only one diskette. King's Quest II grew to three diskettes. King's Quest IV originally shipped with nine diskettes, but was later reduced to only eight diskettes through several layers of very complex compression algorithms. Why have our games been getting so much bigger when they seem to take just about the same amount of time to play, you might wonder. The answer is that graphics and sound are extremely data-intensive. The musical score alone in King's Quest IV fills an entire floppy disk. My guess is that just the animation cels used for the character, Rosella, fills another entire disk. King's Quest I, on the other hand, had virtually no music and King Graham's animation was very jerky and limited.

At Sierra, our goal is to someday fulfill our dream of making true interactive films. WIth each game we do, we attempt to come closer to this goal. That's why our games are getting bigger. Of course, as we improve our animation and add more music, there goes another disk in the box.

To some extent, we really can't do a whole lot to make our games more filmlike without some major technical advance in the capacity of the media we ship our products on. For those of you without hard disks, having a game span multiple disks can detract from your enjoyment — what with having to swap disks in the middle of play. Our accountants frown when they watch us using shoe horns to pack disks into boxes. Everyone, please don't let them know how many disks are involved when you starting buying your King's Quest Vs next Christmas. I want to keep it our little secret for as long as I possibly can.

And, when I Say that someday we want to make interactive films, I mean it! Don't be surprised if someday Hollywood's top actors are performing in Sierra products.

CDI brings us very close to having the perfect platform for producing interactive films. We really only need to be able to do two things we can't do now; speech and television-quality graphics. Both of these are currently possible and you may have heard or seen these things already in current computer products. However, they use so much disk space that their use in a product of the breadth of Sierra's just isn't practical. In fact, did you know that just four-and-a-half seconds of CD quality speech would fit on a diskette; or that just one television-quality picture would fill a diskette?

At Phillips, I was fortunate enough to be given a brief glimpse of what the future will look like. I watched a Philips representative place an ordinary-appearing CD into a device, the CDI player, which looked like a conventional CD player. The CDI player was attached to an ordinary television set and home stereo. But that's where adjectives like conventional and ordinary dropped completely out of my vocabulary. Because, what came on screen next was something I had never seen before!

The first demonstration was of a golf game. Were I watching a golf tournament on television, the screen might have looked typical. But it wasn't. It was a game. The golfer I was controlling was a real person; the scenery was an actual photographed golf course, and the surrounding sound came from a real golf course. Once I struck the ball, the camera followed the ball onto the fairway. Had I blown the shot, a golf pro would have come onscreen to give me tips for better play.


The next demonstration was a tour of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. Using the mouse to guide yourself, you wander through the Smithsonian. Those who have attached video disc players to their TV's are already familiar with the superb visual quality to be had. What makes this disc the next best thing to being at the Smithsonian and light years ahead of a video tape is the feeling of being in control. YOU decide what exhibits you want to to look at. YOU decide how long to spend at each exhibit and which buttons you want to press. Accompanying you on your journey is a narrator who, with one of those wonderful voices we remember from the documentaries back in grade school, gives us as much, or as little information as we'd like about each exhibit.

My favorite demonstration of a CDI disc was something they were just tinkering around with and which I'm not even sure was ever meantto be a real product. Do you remember the Fisher-Price crib toys that hang on the side of a crib and are loaded with dozens of things to do: a mirror, something fun to spin, a rattle, etc.? What they had done was to photograph one of these plastic toys, and then animate it. In the mirror was a real little girl's reflection. Using the mouse, you control a full size little girl's hand which can be used to manipulate the various playthings. The child's face in the mirror watches the hand as it moves around and giggles as you play. All of the various toys are completely functional.


That's the demonstration that really woke me up. Because I was watching one of the first computer games so simple any preschooler could have fun. The great thing about having television-quality graphics and sound in computer products is that we can open computer usage to a much broader group of people. To be honest, computers are awfully hard to use for a great many people. In fact, an alarming percentage of our population doesn't even read very well. These future products will allow even the confirmed couch potato to use a computer, as never before.

As with any new consumer technology, CDI may or may not be a success. The players are awefully expensive at a projected price of $1,000, although this can be expected to come down rapidly over time. We believe CDI to be a clear indicator of the direction the wind is blowing.

At Sierra, we have started experimenting with what our games will look like with speech and television-quality graphics. We're delighted by this next evolutionary advance for the industry and hope that you will enjoy the experiences it allows us to bring you.

Thank You,


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