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Enchanting guardians of the forest

GUARDIANS OF THE GREENWOOD. CD-Rom for the Acorn A-series and PCs. Pounds 49.50 plus VAT 4Mation,14 Castle Park Road, Barnstaple, Devon EX32 8PA

Over 10 years ago Mike Matson's Granny's Garden took educational computing to new heights and now Guardians of the Greenwood is set to become a classic of its time. It is, in my opinion, the most imaginatively executed CD-Rom on any computer platform to date and certainly represents a first for Acorn machines.

The CD itself runs on either a PC or an A-series machine. The only noticeable differences appear with the reproduction of the music. The scenario involves environmental issues in what Mike Matson calls an "eco-fantasy".

Industrial developments by Hawk Enterprises continue to threaten the Greenwood and its inhabitants. Crinkle, the ageless heroine, sets out to save the wood from destruction with the assistance of the forest folk and a little magic. There are many parallels with environmental issues today: air-and-water pollution, destruction of habitats, soil erosion, lowering of water tables, deforestation etc. The program is in two parts: in South Greenwood, there is a linear sequence of situations objects must be collected and used at appropriate moments. In North Greenwood, however, you are on your own to discover what must be done to save the Greenwood.

The skilful blend of photographic backgrounds and animated cartoon-style images sets this interactive fiction apart from its contemporaries. The woodland folk, each with its own personality and charm, are truly delightful. I have to confess to being won over completely by the Kristla and the Dogga Log.

Characters and objects move adroitly and smoothly in and about the background photographic images. All written conversation, descriptions and comments can be spoken in more than 30,000 words of recorded speech. There is even a talking dictionary.

Mike Matson's sense of humour permeates throughout and this, combined with the variety of accents and voices, creates a truly atmospheric adventure program. The only problem I found was the amount of time needed to accomplish the tasks. Fortunately, there is an "adults only" book which describes all the required movements and tasks. Even with this assistance there's still a lot of map work to undertake and some lovely gems to reveal.

I have seen a lot of CD-Roms from across the Atlantic, and they appear vastly superior to UK products in terms of graphic art, animation, presentation and cost, but most leave a lot to be desired in educational content, inventiveness and language. Guardians demonstrates that it can be done.

The marriage of sound, clever visual effects, and stimulating use of English combined with an excellent plot conveys an educational experience par excellence. No teams of graphic artists here just two years of development by Mike Matson, leading to an affordable program of truly high artistic and technical merit with superior educational content.

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