Why is it that so many of the rock artists associated with CD-ROM have been older, well-established...er, dinosaurs? Is it because they've got the proven track record to attract corporate multimedia types? Or is it that folks like David Bowie, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, Yes, Heart, and Bob Dylan are beating the techno-bushes in search of a vanishing audience? The advent of the enhanced CD the hybrid disc you can play in an audio player or a computer promises to level the playing field somewhat and bring in younger, scrappier acts. But CD-ROM is still taking the Precambrian high road, if the season's most high-profile release, Sting's All This Time, is any indication.
With his melody-rich mix of pop, soft jazz, and world music, Sting is now a class act, and All This Time looks to be one as well. Using a lush, 3-D medieval landscape as a starting point, the two-disc set allows you to hear new compositions, listen to demos and acoustic versions of classics such as ''Message in a Bottle,'' and check out concert footage and relative rarities like Sting's appearances on Saturday Night Live. There's an on-screen theater in which the sometime actor discusses his film career, a jam session in his ''personal music room,'' and this we like random tarot cards scattered about the place: Collect 'em all and a cyber-Sting gives you a reading.
There's one catch. Since All This Time is produced by Starwave, the multimedia company started by Paul Allen the guy who dreamed up Microsoft who's not Bill Gates is it a coincidence that it's available only for Windows 95? If you have an older version of Windows or, heaven forfend, a Mac it appears you won't get Sting. You'll get stung. Ty Burr
The 11th Hour: The Sequel to the 7th Guest Since the ghoulishly clever 7th Guest has been up there with Myst in popularity, can you blame the creators of this long-delayed follow-up for making sure every byte's in place? Once again, players will get to poke around the cobwebbed rooms of Henry Stauf's mansion trying to solve a series of murders. We just hope they carry over that cool ''throbbing brain'' icon. Ty Burr
Rolling Stones: Voodoo Lounge The surface conceit: The Rolling Stones are hosting a party at a bayou home peopled by hangers-on and voudou deities. The real conceit: The Stones can blast through their corporate nasty-boy image to create a ROMscape as rebellious and compelling as their music once was. Ty Burr
The Dig If this were a movie, it would be a blockbuster: a sci-fi project created by Steven Spielberg, produced by George Lucas. Instead, it's a game in which you lead a team of stranded astronauts. Albert Kim
McKenzie & Co. The first release from a label devoted to young women, McKenzie & Co. is a Baby-sitters Club meets Beverly Hills, 90210 ''social adventure.'' Players hang out with friends, talk about boys, shop, and attempt to balance family, work, and school, all without angst and untimely breakouts. Erin Richter
Forrest Gump The Music, Artists and Times For those who can't get enough of America's most successful simpleton, this disc offers a behind-the-scenes journey through the songs that shaped the movie with the soundtrack's artists discussing how the times inspired their music and lives. Erin Richter
The more things change, the more they stay the same and this rule has never been better illustrated than by the coming videogame season, in which 32-bit platforms PlayStation, Saturn, and 3DO are displacing 16-bit warhorses Super NES and Genesis with souped-up variants of the same old games. Since half the attraction of the new breed of software is its pumped-up graphics, sound, and speed, more of the same isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Aerial-combat shooters have always been a good indicator of the state of game technology, and judging by Star Fighter (Studio 3DO, for 3DO), Warhawk (Sony, for PlayStation), and Total Eclipse Turbo (Crystal Dynamics, for PlayStation), TV jockeys will have a grand old time aiming at enemy targets. You can also expect lots of head-to-head fighting games, including Virtua Fighter 2 (Sega, for Saturn) and Primal Rage (Time Warner Interactive, for Saturn, PlayStation, 3DO, and Jaguar). In the most innovative brawler, Twisted Metal (Sony, for PlayStation), cars yes, cars battle to the death. Sports games will also loom large as stocking stuffers. The most notable entries: Foes Of Ali (EA Sports, for 3DO), a boxing game that includes the digitized mug of Joe Frazier, and Quarterback Attack with Mike Ditka (Digital Pictures, for Saturn and 3DO). There's also a trackful of racing titles, including Sega Rally Championship (Sega, for Saturn) and Wipeout (Psygnosis, for PlayStation) to fulfill those Indy dreams. Bob Strauss
'You Don't Know Jack'
Most CD-ROM trivia games seem to move at the speed of a pocket calculator with one coprocessor tied behind its back. You Don't Know Jack moves like a supercomputer on Jolt cola. From the snarky title on, this project from the company that put flying toasters on computer monitors is obnoxious, ingenious, and addictive. It's not just the categories (''Greek Mythology at the Mall'') and questions (''Which one of the following Sesame Street characters might have been painted by Pablo Picasso during his 1901-1904 period?'') that are funny; the whole production is a wise-guy daydream, from the asides by the jaded host to the Firesign Theatre-esque background babble. Call it Jeopardy! for the attitudinally impaired. Ty Burr