Review - Star Trek: The Next Generation Interactive Technical Manual (Windows 3.x, 1994)

For seven seasons, the NCC-1701D has been traveling the universe, boldly going where no one has gone before. Strangely enough, one of those untraveled places is the USS Enterprise itself. The unit that we think of as the Enterprise was in fact a series of now dismantled sets at Paramount studios. Even the actors themselves can never really claim to have been aboard the Enterprise the way it appears on television, with all the rooms connecting and the sounds of the computers. But now, thanks to CD-ROM technology, Simon & Schuster is bringing that singular experience to the public at large. Star Trek: The Next Generation Interactive Technical Manual gives the viewer a chance to stroll the virtual decks of everyone's favorite Galaxy class starship.

Before Paramount put the wraps on those famous sets, they let the Simon & Schuster crew take tons of pictures with their digital cameras, including recurring props like tricorders, phasers and communicator badges. These pieces were assembled into what is, in theory, a seamless Enterprise experience.

The volume of information on this CD is staggering. The only problem we encountered was that the enclosed version of Quick Time VR, 1.9. is quite sluggish in responding. Not quite coincidentally, there is a coupon included with the package for version 2.0, which probably makes a considerable difference in this program. It's hard to suspend disbelief about 24th century technology while faced with the limitations of the 20th.

With that said, the design is excellent. The interface is modeled after the LCARS computer that runs the Enterprise, as though you were accessing the information from a ship terminal or a PADD (the 24th century descendant of the laptop). Anyone familiar with the show will feel right at home with the familiar hum of the warp engines and the occasional beep from LCARS, voiced by Majel Barrett Roddenberry.

You can choose to wander the ship freely, or take a guided tour with First Officer William Riker, voiced by Jonathan Frakes. The tour is quite well done, and features subtle references to episodes past and Riker's perspective on certain aspects of the ship. If you get tired of the tour, or see something you'd like to examine closely, you can break it off at any time. Don't worry, there's a lot to attract your attention. Did you ever notice the statue in Lieutenant Worf's quarters of two wrestling Klingons? Ever wonder who they are?

All the major locations from the show are featured, including recreational areas like Ten Forward and the holodeck. In each room, you can choose from a number of different vantage points, and then enjoy a 360 degree shifting perspective by moving your mouse. As you travel from room to room, you can choose a simple jump or a Quick Time Movie showing you point A and point B and then taking you there via hallways and turbolifts.

There are numerous familiar objects to examine and buttons to push. If you want to know what it's like to be a tactical officer, run the photon torpedo simulation. You can even wander around in the Jeffries Tubes that service the antimatter drive.

In addition to providing this virtual tour, the CD is, at its roots, an update of the best-selling Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual by Rick Sternbach and Michael Okuda. The entirety of that book is reproduced here, so there are numerous detailed text articles explaining things like exactly how the food replicator creates everything with transporter technology. These will doubtless provide hours of giggles for physics majors, but the appeal of Next Generation is hardly based on the accuracy of its science.

If you find the tour metaphor to be distracting, you can avoid it altogether and use the alphabetical index to track down information. But I warn you, you will miss a lot of cool stuff that way. This product is meant to be browsed. As you look around the rooms, you will doubtless notice numerous walls that you've never seen before. Certain perspectives are used over and over again in the television program and some walls are removed to make room for the cameras, but you can see them here in all their glory.

So, if you're a Neo-Trekker who's waiting to hear the lowdown on this product before picking it up, wait no longer. The package is very entertaining, the chance to explore the Enterprise is unique, there's a ton of "technical" information on the ship's operations, and the sound effects will cure any homesickness angst you may be feeling over the television show's untimely end.