Prism. (storydisk-puzzle) (evaluation) Brian J. Murphy.
If you think that $19.95 is a reasonable amount to invest in a chance to win a prize valued at $15,000, then Prism, a Storydisk released by International Marketing, is worth a look. If, on the other hand, you are looking for sheer entertainment for your children, then Prism is not for you.
This new disk, created by a team of programmers and editors at ISM, attempts to fulfill two purposes. One, quite reasonably, is to make money by offering Apple owners the opportunity to decipher a puzzle that will lead to the discovery of three solid gold, gemencrusted keys which ISM has hidden in three secret locations in the continental United States. The reasoning is that people will come to the conclusion that $19.95 is not much to wager against a chance of winning $15,000.
The other purpose of the disk appears to be to tell a children's story, using text and hi-res pictures. The program tells a story, but it fails in the attempt to make it interesting or readable.
The Storydisk is a new concept in software--a program that allows the user to remain almost completely passive. All the user need do is to hit the arrow key to turn the pages back or forwards. As you "leaf' through the story, the screen fills with either text or hi-res art. The pictures, which are the best part of the program, were created by Mike Sullivan. His pictures are detailed and elegantly drawn; some feature a limited amount of animation. There are also some special effects thrown in which enhance the rather thin story line.
The story is about a little boy named Hubert who goes out one day to discover the world being drained of color. A magical figure appears and takes him to the place where the Prism is kept. The three keys of the Prism have been stolen, Hubert is told, and he has been given the task of going to Yolvsa, the land of monsters, to bring color back to the world.
Hubert goes to Yolvsa and is captured in fairly short order by Grane, the head honcho of the monsters, whose dialogue is faintly reminiscent of Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz ("Resign yourself, whelp. Although you are an insignificant figure, you may yet furnish an interesting tidbit for my extremely large fangkat. Come my lovely . . .').
Hubert, who is carrying the Prism, uses its magic powers to snatch the keys away from Grane and to escape. At the last instant before departing Yolvsa, Hubert hurls the keys away to keep them safe from a threatening monster. Hubert soon arrives home, where it has been all a dream, and it remains for us to find the keys.
The major problem with the disk is the thinness of the story line and the overwritten quality of the text. It is a story which I doubt would appeal to children. The writing is unprofessional. Had the children's story been better written, in crisper, less cluttered style, the program would have had the valuable extra dimension of literary merit.
The Storydisk format has real potential which is, unfortunately, not realized in Prism. Used creatively, as a vehicle for good children's writing, the Storydisk could become a valuable and powerful tool for promoting literacy with the computer. Prism, with its poor writing and lack of user involvement, has no value as a story. It's a good thing that the disk doesn't depend on the story, but on the puzzle.
The idea for the puzzle comes from the British children's book, Masquerade by Kit Williams. For those who solved the riddles posed in his book there was the promise of finding a solid gold rabbit which Williams had buried "somewhere in Britain' (incidentally, the rabbit was found and the puzzle has been solved, leaving only Prism's golden prizes remaining to be found).
Aside from borrowing this idea from Masquerade, Prism also borrows some of the form of the book, if not the content, framing the illustrations with inscriptions. These inscriptions are used in both works to further illustrate the story and to provide clues to the big riddle.
On to the clues! ISM says that the clues could be anywhere on the disk, in the text, the pictures, or the inscriptions. The inscriptions are found to have, at irregular intervals, certain letters drawn in different colors from the majority. For example, in the inscription framing picture number one, "Up north lines meet, down south fates greet,' the letters I, M, P, S, R are in orange. Unjumbled, they spell Prism.
Picture number ten is framed by the words, "Excavation excites extreme exhaustion.' The letters I, V, X, X, X are colored orange. They don't appear to spell a word, but they could be combined to make two Roman numbers, XXXIV which is 34 and XXXVI which is 36. A clue?
Some of the inscriptions seem to offer number puzzles, again along the lines of Williams's Masquerade. For example, in Masquerade, there was the riddle, "One of six to eight' in one of the inscriptions. It referred to one of Henry the Eighth's six wives. Get it? Now let's look at the inscription around Prism's picture number five: "Two of one one of two colors red white and blue.' What is the clue?
How about the inscription around picture number nine: "In at 7 out at 4 forwards eight and slightly more.' What does this mean? Then look at picture four's inscription: "Many are my pretty facets 1 thru 3 of eight.' What have we here?
In the pictures, what is the meaning of the trigrams and the hexagram from the Chinese book of prophecy and philosophy, the I Ching? In three locations we see the trigram Ken, which symbolizes an arch, a mountain, a path, little stones, or openings, depending on your interpretation. In one picture there is the hexagram number 30, called by the I Ching "The Clinging Fire.' The hexagram symbolizes resting on something the way plants rest on the soil. Is that a clue, or is the number of the hexagram, 30, more significant?
There are some rather off-beat names in the text. For example, Hubert's dog is named Vanna. As in Savannah, Georgia? What about Grane, the monster king and Yolvsa, the land of monsters? Are these names anagrams? What does the inscription, framing picture eight, mean: "Not a roc, never hot, not fruit, never locked.'
If the storyline is thin, the puzzle is far from it. There are clues galore to follow. Some, I suspect, will lead you in the wrong direction. You may also find yourself mistaking parts of inscriptions, text and illustration for clues when they are, in fact, not riddles to be solved at all. That's the charm and challenge of this kind of puzzle, having to sort out the real clues from the superfluous information.
I was unable to wrest any hints from ISM. Are the keys more than one hundred miles apart? Five hundred? No comment. Are the clues in the pictures only, in the pictures and inscriptions, or in the text, pictures and inscriptions? No comment. The only help I got, which I pass on to you, is that the keys are in the 48 contiguous states . . . somewhere.
If you find them, they will be worth, at this writing, about $15,000 on the basis of their gold and gemstone content. ISM predicts that as works of art and collector's items the keys will be worth from $30,000 to $40,000 and that makes a puzzle worth solving.
Products: International Software Marketing Prism (video game)