- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

Here's a look at some hardware and software that's available:

Elder Scroll III: Morrowind by Bethesda Softworks, for Xbox, rated Rated T: content suitable for ages 13 and older, $49.99. Any game that has a 369-page help guide can only be trouble for a guy with barely enough time to eat.

Such is the case with a demanding epic boasting hundreds of hours of action that can completely absorb the life of an unsuspecting player. A role-playing extravaganza, this title demands an ability to control the virtual life of a character, worrying about every activity, from sleeping to repairing weapons, while trying to survive in a mystical medieval setting.

Following up on its award-winning Elder Scrolls franchise, Bethesda Softworks, a local developer, has created a dandy simulation that places a single player on Morrowind with an open-ended story staring him in the face.

Presented primarily from the first-person perspective (although players can toggle the controller to see themselves), action begins with creating a life form (480 billion combinations are possible) to take into the adventure.

This process involves first selecting a race (from the likes of the jaguarlike Khajiit to the reptilian Argonians) and answering 10 morally ambiguous questions to determine class (with proficiency in combat, stealth or magic at stake). Or players can just wing it and spend a day developing a unique being.

I began my journey in the Seyda Neen region of Morrowind as the dark elf Zad, a sorcerer born under the Moonshadow sign. I quickly was asked whether I could deliver some papers to Caius Cosades to the north in Balmora. The grumpy immigration official who made the request also told me to find Arille's Tradehouse and barter for some weapons and protection.

With 87 pieces of gold, all I could buy was an ax and a leather shield, but as I was stumbling up to the second floor of the trade house, I met an entrepreneur who offered me a chance to dabble in crime. If I did not wish to take on his mission, plenty more became available as I walked around the village.

The game has a story line, but it does not have to be followed. The path to becoming a hero or villain rests on whom a player will work with and how much trouble he gets into. With more than 3,244 characters roaming around, that could get overwhelming.

Talkative folks abound, filling one's head with an incredible amount of information (six novels' worth) throughout the adventure. Characters do not vocalize during conversation, but a stream of text appears in an on-screen box once a player initiates a conversation.

Morrowind also contains a familiar inventory system so a player knows the strength of his abilities and can use or see how much stuff he is carrying, enchant objects, cast spells, review a map and use a handy journal for reference. This journal becomes crucial as it keeps track of information culled from conversations and lists specific objectives.

The landscapes look gorgeous and enormous, and a sweeping musical score always embellishes it. From villages by the sea to an inland town with rivers and temples, environments which have varied weather and change from day to night pop out from the screen.

Combat involves real-time attacks but are based on underlying damage points assigned to the weapons used and contributing factors such as a character's fatigue or opponent's powers.

The player should be aware that causing trouble, even sleeping in someone else's bed, can put a bounty on his head, which could land him in jail or terminate his life.

My advice is to save early and often. It can be quite easy to get lulled to sleep with the lack of action and constant investigation, but in the blink of an eye, I grabbed an egg to munch on and was killed by an ugly creature who accused me of stealing. It figures that my first death would occur because of food.

Overall, Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind offers a lifetime of role-playing.


The Incredible Human Body by Warner Home Video, for DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers, $24.98. The National Geographic Society has spent more than a century capturing the world on film, including at the microscopic level.

Its latest digital-video-disc release highlights the most amazing aspect of humans the body itself. The DVD offers a look at humans' internal systems and three modern miracles that demonstrate the advances of medical technology.

After an omniscient observer, Dr. Donald Coffey, pipes in with his admiration for the complicated cell, viewers watch how one couple uses in-vitro fertilization to get pregnant. The segment chronicles how sperm can be united with egg in a laboratory setting, and technicians explain how the strongest blastocytes are identified to be put back into the woman's uterus. Viewers also get a small lesson on the human genome from Craig Venter.

Next up, a man battles a brain tumor and, with the help of some fantastic 3-D computer imaging techniques, a surgeon pinpoints the mass and removes 90 percent of it with no effect on the patient.

Finally, London cab drivers get the spotlight as scientists marvel at the cabbies' ability to retain an incredible amount of geographic information. Viewers learn it is no fluke, as a taxed brain will actually grow where necessary, in this case the hippocampus, to house the data.

Unfortunately, the paltry 60-minute presentation, originally presented on PBS, looks like a "48 Hours" episode and does not spend anywhere near enough time, in this science geek's opinion, to explore the magic of the human machine. This fact, combined with the lack of bonus material, makes for an evening better spent watching the Discovery Channel.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC, 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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