EW answers multimedia questions -- We tackle the most pressing questions about videogames, websites, and game systems

By Bob Strauss
October 13, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Stymied by cyberspace? Baffled by the complexities of CD-ROMs and the World Wide Web? These 10 questions and answers should help light your way through the sometimes murky world of multimedia.

1. Why do so many games look so much alike?
First, it’s easier and cheaper for a programmer to mimic an established hit than to devise an original. Second, there are a limited number of ”engines,” the basic programming syntax that dictates, for example, that a game offer a first-person perspective in a mazelike setting, à la Doom.

2. Why do CD-ROMs cost so much more than music CDs?
A top-notch CD-ROM can cost up to $10 million to produce. Not to mention that CD-ROMs have a relatively small audience: In North America, 52.8 million audio CD players have been sold versus 8.5 million multimedia PCs.

3. Why is it sometimes so hard to get CD-ROMs to work?
The more than 200 brands of PCs available are assembled from a bewildering array of components that can be combined in hundreds of variations. Since software companies can’t anticipate every single configuration, a program occasionally ”hangs” during installation.

4. Why do the movie portions of CD-ROMs look so grainy?
Although CD-ROMs can store hundreds of megabytes of data, full-motion video eats up those megs at an astounding clip — necessitating various compression techniques that extend length at the expense of quality. Look for this problem to be gradually remedied.

5. What are digital videodiscs?
DVDs — five-inch CDs that can hold movies, games, and more — are the next step in the evolution of entertainment media. But evolution does not come cheap. Expect to pay at least $500 for a DVD player when the first wave hits stores late next year.

6. Why won’t a Sega Saturn disc work on my Sony PlayStation, or on my PC?
If all game discs were compatible across all platforms, there’d be no reason to buy a particular piece of hardware. Increasingly, though, more and more software companies are releasing multiple versions of high-profile titles (such as Primal Rage) for use on different systems.

7. Why are Web addresses so long?
Most websites have to rent space on university or commercial computers, resulting in an unwieldy directory/ sub-directory/sub-sub-directory nomenclature. Still, most Web addresses are shorter than street addresses.

8. Why can’t I get through to that website?
Keep trying. Each site is set up to accept only so many connections at once. Even a popular page like Showgirls can get overloaded if too many people try to log on.

9. How can I get pictures to download faster?
If you’re using a 14.4-kilobits-per-second modem, upgrade to 28.8. If that’s still too slow, be patient: Many phone companies should begin offering cheap, high-speed ISDN (integrated services digital network) connections as early as this year.

10. Hey — weren’t we all supposed to have interactive TV that would enable us to order up movies and videogames on demand by now? Unfortunately, major cable and phone companies have only begun to grasp the huge cost of wiring American households for two-way TV. As it happens, we already have a kind of interactive TV — it’s called the World Wide Web.

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