- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 13, 2005

In a world of ultraviolent video games, where dexterity of the thumb and index finger is infinitely more important than the flexing of the cerebrum, there must be a place for children and their parents to interact and actually learn something from that overpriced multimedia computer/gaming system. Take a deep breath and enter the ROMper Room, where learning is a four-letter word — cool.

Parents looking to spend a few dollars to expand their child’s creativity in the visual arts can empower the youngster through the Classroom Photo Publisher Deluxe.

This image-manipulation package combines a small-hands-friendly camera with software that provides more than 200 project templates to deliver a well-rounded entry-level immersion into the world of digital photography for students in third to sixth grades.

Using the Vivitar Vivicam 3785, a 3.2-megapixel camera featuring a 4x digital zoom, 1.4-inch color LCD screen, 16 MB of internal memory (with an external option using a separately purchased SD card for extra storage space), built-in flash and self-timer, the shooter first captures his masterpieces.

The entry-level camera does a fantastic job, considering the price, as long as the child keeps a steady hand when using it. The camera is more than adequate for most families to compile an album of memories to print out.

Photos then are downloaded seamlessly into the Classroom Photo Publisher via any USB port using the included cable and the import option found under the Photo Center.

The software takes a no-nonsense approach. The simple menu interface combines with help boxes and folder layouts of art elements to allow users to tackle the eight steps to perfecting a piece of functional art. Final projects can be printed out, saved or exported as a PDF or jpg or to another computer.

The drab interface allows users to select from Certificates and Awards, Newsletters, Flash Cards, Stickers, Calendars, Banners and the Photo Center.

The Photo Center handles the organization of art elements, including offering a selection of clip art and stock photos along with the newly imported digital images to use in designs.

It also contains the editing options, which include a short list of tools for cropping, red-eye reduction and rotations. A much better set of special effects is available to perform cool embellishments such as distortions, color saturations, charcoal outlines and the addition of dialogue bubbles.

Students can produce flashcards to hone number and word skills and create a calendar that affords multiple designs with the addition of reminder text, icons and photos added to individual days and months.

The single-page newsletter template can be rewarding, especially for improving literacy skills, as it offers an introduction to desktop publishing and allows the artist to write stories, size and embed photos and understand basic newspaper layout.

Most critical to the education portion of the package is the 32-page instruction booklet, which not only details ways to incorporate the art projects into learning sessions, but also lists the disciplines covered.

Budget-conscious parents not afraid to do a bit of online shopping can cut the package price by at least 25 percent by buying the camera and software separately. I found the camera priced online for about $80 at popular shopping Web sites, while APTE is running a special $39.99 price for the program purchased through its Web site (www.apte.com).

Classroom Photo Publisher Deluxe from APTE Educational Technology, $164.99, For Windows and Macintosh computer systems.

ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia “edutainment.” Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

Pair of treats

• FLIPNIC: ULTIMATE PINBALL, FROM CAPCOM FOR PLAYSTATION 2, $19.99. The fine art of silver orb manipulation is translated to the multitasking video-game world in one of the least-traditional pixel-popping pinball simulations ever created. Through a quintet of 3-D environments, players flip, bump and even bounce their way to 70 areas and work more than 100 missions.

Terrain comes loaded with flippers and controllable bumpers as pinball wizards visit locales such as the lush tropics and a 2-D bare-bones construct while finding themselves breaking ice walls, rescuing flamingos and riding the rails to collect points.

Capcom tops off the price-efficient fun with two-player minichallenges that turn tables into bumper-activated foosball, basketball and Pong courts.

• Kim Possible 3: Team Possible, from Buena Vista Games for Game Boy Advance, $29.99. The Disney Channel’s favorite crime-fighting cheerleader returns to Nintendo’s hand-held gaming system in a side-scrolling adventure that even allows a friend (with a game cartridge and link cable) to get in on the teamwork.

Players control the acrobatic Kim and her sidekick, Ron Stoppable, as they roam through a trio of large environments to squash the evil plans of Dr. Drakken and his hench-monkeys.

Action includes working through training-room challenges to hone skills; wielding weapons such as Ron’s hot sauce, which creates enemy-blasting breath; and even getting the mole rat, Rufus, involved to access hard-to-reach areas.

Players also can collect photos to view in an album and can unlock minigames, music tracks and sound effects while enjoying a very faithful version of Kim’s animated adventures.

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