Subject: ObliqueWare Review
From: (Ldaedalus)
Date: 8 Jan 1995 05:45:21 -0500
With the great proliferation of non-intentionality software currently flooding the Alternative Urban Contemporary market, it was with some trepidation that I downloaded the latest two efforts in the burgeoning Oblique Strategies HyperDeck domain. Most of their predecessors fell so short of the needs of the true nonintentionalist that I panned the whole lot in my most recent review on the subject (see Tiger Mountain High,Issue #801, June 1, 1994 - article entitled "Over 100 Worthless Dilemmas: A Direct Attack on Some Oh So Bleak Strategies"). Nevertheless, I must admit I was truly impressed by these two refreshing programs.

The first program, Oblique Strategies: The Stack (32K, $79.95 from Cetacean Enterprises), features a very simple and attractive interface. It is straightforward, elegant, and unified in function and style. The program's randomness, too, seems entirely adequate to any reasonable user's needs. I found no identifiable "tendencies", and noted that my creativity was palpably heightened through the use of the stack.

In a pre-release interview Rod Hearne, who programmed the stack, stated that he had just solved a glitch by which the first card chosen was always the same. Needless to say, I am heartened by Mr. Hearne's eager andefficient problem-solving. He also assured me that Cetacean will definitely continue to support Oblique Strategies: The Stack in the coming years. In fact, they are working closely with the ICOOS for international standardizations in the Obliqueware domain. Also, Cetacean has an excellent tech support/consultancy record. Their customer service department is in fact even larger than the programming department.

Oblique Strategies: The Stack is a bit spartan, as this kind of softwaregoes. The look is elegant enough, the feel smooth, but one can't help wishing for a few more features, like a deck memory that allows you to "set aside" the cards you've picked. Frills, I know, but at $79.95 I would have expected Cetacean to deliver just a tad more performance. Also, and more importantly, the omission of the familiar Eno/Schmidt ObliqueStrategies "mission statement" ("These cards evolved from...") represents a serious oversight. It's enough for me to caution new, unfamiliar users. Nevertheless I can recommend Oblique Strategies: The Stack with only a few reservations


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The other new release comes out of a wild upstart little company inSeattle called The Planet Roos. The Planet Roos is notorious for such crossover hits as "52-Card Pickup" and "Who Loves Ya Baby: TheScreensaver". TPR's offering, obliqueBoy, features an oddly minimalistic note-pad look. At first glance the interface is less snazzy perhaps than that of the Cetacean stack, but definitely functional, and with the inclusion of the "mission statement" so glaringly omitted from Cetacean'sprogram, obliqueBoy is a good buy at $62.50. A closer look, however, reveals some very unique and intriguing features.

I admit that at first I was hesitant about the two additional buttons at the bottom: "shuffle cards", and "look at top card". But I soon warmed up. Unlike Oblique Strategies: The Stack which stores the deck in a formless void as it were, obliqueBoy treats the deck like a real one with an actual card order. Select "look at top card" and an Oblique Strategy appears (along with the right and left arrow buttons I mentioned earlier). Now click on, say, the right-arrow button, and you'll get a new card.Click on the left-arrow and you'll see the first card again. It's like thumbing through the cards in a real deck one by one. Of course, at anytime you can press "shuffle cards" and the deck will shuffle, giving you a new order to thumb through. You may also select a random card at any time without disturbing the integrity of the deck's current order. The PlanetRoos calls their proprietary system RealiDeck Linear Nagivation(TM) and itreally does work.

The look and feel may be a bit ascetic for some. I know I missed the card-shaped graphic used by Cetacean (and DogsBody Software, amongothers), and I really didn't appreciate the big clumsy quit button on the home page. Also, the so-called RealiDeck Linear Navigation system could beconfusing for new users. Besides which I'm sure there are plenty of purists out there who would argue for a more basic stack, though I personally am sold on it. I think that the sense it gives of a material, ordered, and shufflable deck heightens the experience. It provides a meatiness the other programs lack, as well as a valuable contextual interplay between cards. But RDLN isn't flawless. With an actual deck, the act of picking a card randomly actually changes the deck's order. The folks at The Planet Roos ought to look into a re-randomizer that replaces any randomly chosen card at a new random place in the deck.

Also, users on a tight storage budget may want to think twice before buying TPR's obliqueBoy. At a whopping 56K, obliqueBoy hogs 75% more memory than Cetacean's 32K offering. Still, with the $17 you save on TPR'sproduct, you could probably go out and get yourself a nice 40K hard drive to make up for it.

Both obliqueBoy and Oblique Strategies: The Stack are good products, far better than anything to come before. OSTS costs a bit more, but is a smaller, more efficient program. obliqueBoy may be a bit less elegant, but I really like the RealiDeck Linear Nagivation protocol, and I can't wait to see version 2.0! Both programs lack any kind of deck memory that lets you set aside cards, not to mention extras such as samples of Eno's music or graphics (see BroderBasket's ObliqueJam 2000 for a good use ofthe Before and After Science cover art).

As far as product support goes, you can't go wrong with Cetacean, and frankly The Planet Roos just doesn't have enough of a track record to judge by. My suggestion is to go with Cetacean if you need something that's definitely reliable, conservative, and coffee-table ready. But if you want a bit of adventure - a bit of the old VR, even - go forobliqueBoy with that racy RealiDeck Linear Nagivationx. I have a feeling we're going to be seeing a lot more out of The Planet Roos, and that they're going to come through on the customer service end of things.

As of now, both programs are available only for Macintosh. Apparently Microsoft is soon to release VagueNotions based on an heuristic retranslation of a Russian semaphore interpretation of the original Oblique Strategies. I haven't tried it, but word is that the program - all 68 megs of it - is plagued by numerous bugs.

There are rumors of a Cetacean/The Planet Roos collaboration on the next Oblique Strategies hyperdeck. The new product, alledgedly under the working title "Stupid Carl", could be available as soon as February of1995. In the meantime, "Keep Looking Forward!"


Leo Daedalus is the regular software correspondent for Tiger Mountain High. He has also written two books on virtual reality called "Pie Are Squared" and "Hey Miss Muffet: The Life of a Cybergrocer". He lives inSeattle with his two cats Mrkgkk and Stuffins and a Mexican tarantula named Jerry. Naturally, you shouldn't believe a word he writes. ; )