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Free Games On The Web At Shockwave.com
September 7th

Gary: Well, it's finally open for business, or actually more for play.

Randy: You mean there's a new brothel in town?

Gary: Uh, no. I was speaking of Macromedia's newest effort on the web front: shockwave.com.

Randy: Oh, yeah. With the announcement of Flash 4 a month or so ago, Macromedia also announced there ambitious effort to create an on-line gaming and entertainment channel.

Gary: Our loyal readers may recall the fervor and incoherent babble Randy spouted in his predictions of how Flash 4 would transform the web into the greatest thing since telephone call girl services.

Randy: Now web-heads and gamers alike can head over to shockwave.com and check it out for themselves.

Gary: Here's the good news. There is a whole boat load of gaming content you can play with for absolutely nothing. That's right pro bono, gratis, on the house, free for the asking.

Randy: Well that's damn good news. But what's the bad news?

Gary: If you want all of the features that the Shockmachine, Macromedia's downloadable player, has to offer you gotta shell out $19.95.

Randy: A 20 spot for a slew of games? I'm down with that, if the content is good.

Gary: Well, funny you should mention that, because that's just what I was going to talk about today. Recently, we have been spending some time over at shockwave.com checking out the free games and the pay stuff that you can only see with the Shockmachine.

Randy: So here we go. First we decided to check out the free for nothing stuff at shockwave.com. The first thing we were greeted by was an auto-detect page that informed us we needed to upgrade our Flash plugin to version 4. Macromedia begins to automatically download the plugin if you click upgrade, and then installs itself. The download is a relatively small tab of about a 700k file that then begins a longer install that took about 7 minutes on a 56k modem with a less than speedy connection.

Gary: Along with the newest version of the Flash plugin you also get the new Shockwave Remote. This nifty little floating control panel is free and allows you to search for shockwave content on the web, save favorites, jump to the shockwave home page, e-mail shockwave.com and play content from shockwave.com with the built-in VCR like controls.

Randy: Pretty schweet for free.

Gary: You can even get optional skins to change the appearance of your remote.

Randy: The Shockwave remote also puts an alias in your Apple Menu Items, and control strip module into your system folder to allow you quick access to the remote. A nice touch other companies like Real Audio should have thought of a long time ago.

Gary: After our install process was complete we opened the Shockwave Remote from the control strip and then clicked the home button on the remote. Shockwave passes your name to the Shockwave server and greets you with a personalized page on your first visit. Then you are free to browse the content.

Randy: There are games, cartoons, music and animated e-cards you can personalize and send. While we did check out all the areas of shockwave.com we are only going to cover the games area.

Gary: Since we are a gaming column and all, it only seemed fair. But feel free to check it all out and let us know what you think.

Randy: The games are divided up into 6 categories: action, arcade, puzzles, sports games, adventure titles and classic games like casino and card games.

Gary: Each category has a decent number of games to try, and all of them are very well done. Mind you we are not saying you are going to be playing anything like Riven or Unreal on shockwave.com. But Gary and I did while away the hours playing games like the original Missile Command, Hellbent, a side scroller adventure that reminded me of my Sega Genesis days. And Lenny Loosejocks in Space, a delightfully funny adventure game in the style of the King's Quest series of games. There are Mario Brothers style games, sports games, racing games, card games, shooting galleries, racing games, trivia games and more.

Randy: There's a gracious amount of games to choose from, well over forty.

Gary: As for the quality of the games, we were pleasantly surprised by almost all of the titles we choose to play. Animation was very smooth on just about every game we tried. But some of the games do require you to wait while the data downloads to your machine.

Randy: Some games are only 100k or less and start almost immediately.

Gary: Other games are several hundred KB, and require a considerable amount of time to finish downloading. These games are broken into streaming chunks so you can start playing the intro to the game before the whole file is complete.

Randy: Also many games that have long download times have built in mini games that start playing while you wait for the main game. Lenny Breakout and Austin Powers trivia kept us playing for several minutes after the game we wanted had already finished downloading.

Gary: It's a simple touch that makes all the difference. Even on a 28,8 modem shockwave.com kept the multimedia streaming smoothly with only a few seconds of static screen time at the most. An amazing feat that really shows off the strengths of Flash 4 and the clever minds of the programmer's of these great games.

Randy: So for the free content on shockwave.com, I think the Idiots give it a big thumbs up. But how about that $19.95 Shockmachine? Is it worth the money?

Gary: Well, to start with, it does give you some great features. With the stand-alone Shockmachine application you can save unlimited game "cartridges" that you download into a big carousel at the bottom of the Shockmachine interface. It's like a virtual game console for your Mac.

Randy: The free Shockwave Remote in contrast, can only hold up to five of your favorite titles for instant access, and whenever we tried to save content to the free remote we always crashed our machine hard. Strangely enough after we upgraded to the full Shockmachine we were able to save without any issues.

Gary: Hmmm, coincidence, I wonder?

Randy: The full machine also allows you to play the games in full screen mode, group and categorize your saved titles and get access to the Shockmachine Exclusives that are available. These games are more advanced and require the full player to be viewed. When we downloaded the player it included Atari's Centipede.

Gary: Other games that are Shockmachine only include South Park Mecha-Smash, Real Pool 3D, Super Breakout, and King of the Hill Mini Golf. Seven titles in all, with more promised. But here's the catch. To keep your Shockmachine current for a year you have to spring an additional $19.95, to buy a year's worth of updates.

Randy: So it's 20 bucks for the full player and 20 more for a year's worth of updates. That's starting to get up there.

Gary: But there's plenty of free content to explore before you have to plunk down any money at all.

Randy: So all in all we have to say it is an impressive debut for shockwave.com. They have indeed delivered on their promise of "distraction on demand." The graphics are not as slick as today's gamers are used to, but the fun is still there.

Gary: The wide variety of games should hold something for everybody. And the fact that it's web based means that even when you are in your cube at work with no games on your work machine you can log on to shockwave.com and get busy having fun while some one pays you for it.

Randy: There's room for improvement when it comes to stability and interface options. The Shockwave remote was very unstable in our test. And the Shockmachine could use some options to allow you to hide the player interface when it interferes with game play. As the Flash technology continues to develop it will be fascinating to see how Shockwave gaming grows in sophistication.

Gary: And it will be interesting to see if Macromedia can keep the content fresh on shockwave.com to keep people coming back. There is some great stuff up there now, but can they sustain the current level of variety and quality?

Randy: So check it out for yourself. We recommend trying all the free stuff first and if you enjoy it then it's worth springing the $19.95 for the full Shockmachine. As for the $19.95 update package we are going to wait and see what they offer as an upgrade before we float another 20 smackers.

Gary: Macromedia has a great idea with shockwave.com. I don't think it will be long before we see other on-line content providers jumping into the on-line distraction business. This is the beginning of something big for the web. Be sure and experience it for yourself.

Gary Randazzo and Randy Soare are the co-founders of IWS Interactive, a New York based game developer for Macintosh. The IWS in IWS Interactive stands for Idiots With Sticks. How that came about is a long and boring story, but suffice it to say that at four in the morning, it seemed like a good idea.

The demo for IWS Interactive's upcoming mystery-adventure game, Manhattan Apartment Hunter, has recently been released to rave reviews. The Idiots have been into gaming on Apple computers even before the Mac was around. Does anyone remember Choplifter on the Apple IIe? (Boy, we know we do.) Now, they are committed to help ensure that the Mac remains the premiere gaming platform on the planet.

You can email your comment and suggestions to Randy at , and Gary at .


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