December 30, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

1994 CD-Rom of the year

1 The Haldeman Diaries
Why would this be the best CD-ROM of 1994 when other discs have slicker interfaces, neater effects, or more powerful interactivity? Because The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House (Sony Imagesoft, $69.95) gives you something you just can’t get anywhere else: all 750,000 words of H.R. Haldeman’s daily journal, kept while he was White House chief of staff during the Watergate era. The printed book has less than half that text and none of the 8 mm movies — the disc has more than an hour’s worth that Haldeman took of Nixon and others. This is great history and greater drama: a day-by-day account of the erosion of one man’s and one nation’s political faith.

2. The Residents: Freak Show (Voyager, $49.95) A lot of pop stars came out with CD-ROMs in 1994 (see The Worst), but few discs matched the flat-out creativity of this creepy musical tour through an imaginary tent-show demimonde. Rock oddballs/eyeballs the Residents contribute characters, songs, and a general one-of-us philosophy, but it’s designer Jim Ludtke who makes the lonely images stick to the back of your brain.

3. Star Trek: The Next Generation Interactive Technical Manual (Simon & Schuster Interactive, $69.95) Even if you’re not a hard-breathing Trekkie, this disc is beguiling. Using a startling new software called QuickTime VR, Manual lets you dreamily whisk through the halls of the Enterprise, poking into drawers and closets and coming up with all sorts of nitty-gritty. There’s a sneaky, underhanded thrill to the experience — like snooping through your friends’ house while they’re out buying groceries.

4. Microsoft Complete NBA Basketball (Microsoft, $49.95) Maybe Bill Gates deserves to rule the known galaxy if he can keep coming up with CD-ROMs of this slam-dunk quality. Absolutely anything you would possibly want to know about professional basketball is here, in thumbnail, in depth, and (via an on- line component that lets you download the latest statistics) into the future.

5. Millennium Auction (Eidolon, $69.95) This is the one futuristic game that might be of interest to the average Joe, probably because it doesn’t require said Joe to beat robots to a pulp or solve a sci-fi noir. No, here he’s just bidding against rivals for objects deemed precious in a.d. 2011: a Degas statue, Bill Clinton’s saxophone, or salvage rights to the submerged L.A. County Museum.

6. The Complete Maus (Voyager, $49.95) First, go buy Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoon epic of the Holocaust in paperback form. After you’ve absorbed the devastating tale of his father’s survival in its proper medium, turn to this CD-ROM. The sketches, home movies, and historical references deepen the tale immeasurably. And when you hear Vladek Spiegelman’s real, halting voice, you’ll be hard-pressed not to shiver.

7. The Playboy Interview: Three Decades (IBM Multimedia, $59.95) This might be the first coffee-table CD-ROM: It contains every Playboy interview over 30 years, with snippets from some of the interview tapes. Subjects range from Presidents (Jimmy Carter) to assassins (James Earl Ray), and the Q&As are as thoughtful as you remember.

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