CD-ROM: Illusion

Simon & Schuster Interactive/Byron Preiss Multimedia

I t's hard to launch a CD-ROM these days and count on it catching an audience--unless, of course, it offers alien-blasting or kiddie-learning romps. The format just isn't the computer equivalent of a CD boxed set or a hardcover novel at this point. Yet Illusion has a definite cache: It's a genuinely grown-up set of science experiments, blessed by Scientific American and offering cool stuff to do in the service of enlightening the lay audience.

The central theme is perception--how it is served and how it can be fooled, and how "real" seeing and delusion often go hand in hand. The program focuses on form, color, motion, space, etc., and invites real-world visionaries (an experimental animator, a designer of VR art) to explain how they use the basic principles. There are two full texts to read (excerpt by excerpt) and some games to play. For example, we know the retina inverts the images received from the physical world--but what if it didn't? This occasions a jigsaw puzzle where eye-hand coordination are thrown out of whack.

The design is unnecessarily abstract at times (looking like a museum gallery during a tornado), and the color schemes are moodier than the topics require. And while you can read lots of text, you can't download or print it. But the generally reliable and gee-whiz-with-a-footnote nature of Scientific American makes this Illusion worth exploring. It functions like an amazing PBS special--except that, by sticking around, it stretches out the leisurely learning.

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