- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 12, 2007

Each week, the Browser features some pop-culture places on the World Wide Web offering the coolest in free interactive sounds and action.

Won a Webby?

The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences has released the winners of its 11th annual Webby Awards (www.webby awards.com), which honor the best of the online world.

Of the sites judged best by members and surfers within 69 categories, a couple with some of the slickest multimedia interactivity for the end user really caught my eye.

Let’s start with the winner in the food-and-beverage category. The breath freshener in a tin, Altoids, and its peppy cyber-stop (www.altoids.com) bring the charm and atmosphere of a 19th-century carnival and vaudeville show into the modern cyber-world through streaming imagery and photo-realistic designs.

Built to amuse, engage and cleverly spread the word about the Altoids product line, the site offers multiple levels of challenges and bizarre presentations.

Just from the opening screen, visitors will want to create a Singing Love Telegram incorporating the name of the lucky e-mail recipient into a humorous song performed by a male or female actor in period garb.

Also easily accessible from the first page is the great and sometimes powerful genie Sour-O, who is available to dazzle visitors with his complex telepathic abilities and prestidigitation.

The floating head with the attitude of Carnac the Magnificent first has the audience member mentally choose a card as he tries to guess the visitor’s thoughts. Once he gets it wrong, he offers a selection of five tarotlike cards that highlight his abilities and lead to more tricks and some games.

Following various paths based on the cards chosen and the mystic’s inability to read minds, visitors might play a tug of war with a scarf stuffed in Sour-O’s nose, challenge him to a game of Ping (think Pong in a three-dimensional realm) or allow him to escape and roam around the visitor’s desktop.

The Arcade is another fun place to stop and presents 10 games that mix classic challenges, including an impressive billiards simulation and pinball, with more time-consuming fare.

Some of the more difficult games include the Great Flying Mintini, in which the player guides a human cannonball to grab Altoids tins and land safely, or Altoids 3, which involves a player making, delivering and distributing peppermint candies in side-scrolling and/or driving action.

Most impressive is Curiously Strong All Night Long, which places the visitor in a mini role-playing saga as he controls world-class loser Big Bad Al on his quest to meet up with his date, Sheena Gothskull. Lots of talking to characters and inventory management lead to success in the cartoony story.

The winner for best games site for the second year in a row is the Myst-ifying world of Samorost 2 (www.samorost. net/samorost2/). Created by Jakub Dvorsky of Amanita Design (www.amanitadesign.com), the beautiful exploration game sports exotic, photo-realistically rendered backgrounds, animation and odd creatures, and rudimentary Rube Goldberg-style puzzles.

The player must click and hunt his way around an oddly shaped planet to help a gnomelike human in white pajamas rescue his dog from aliens. He travels to the aliens’ home world via a literal tin can of a ship. In pure marketing genius, the game stops at a cliffhanger and requires players to drop $6.90 to finish the adventure — small change for such a slick concept.

The original and complete Samorost is available for free on the site, however, and has the little fellow on an adventure to single-handedly stop a land mass from crashing into his world.

Have a cool site for the online multimedia masses? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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