- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2008

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

The Minnesota Zoo (www.mnzoo.org), International Wolf Center (www.wolf.org) and Eduweb (www.eduweb.com) turn surfers into wolves through the free downloadable simulation WolfQuest: Amethyst Mountain (www.wolfquest.org).

A roughly 84-megabyte download compatible with either PC (Windows XP Service Pack 2 or higher) or Mac (OSX 10.3.9 or higher) begins the educational adventure, which enables the player to create and customize a wolf avatar.

The creature can be made in various sizes and of either sex, with choices of coat patterns and colors, and initial strength, speed and stamina levels.

Once a wolf is created, it is placed in Yellowstone National Park, where it can explore more than 988 acres of alpine wilderness.

The player’s goal is to survive by using keyboard commands to hunt, socialize, start a family and raise the pups to keep a pack thriving.

The good news is that the simulation looks fantastic, loads easily and provides plenty of options to get into the action. The wolf can be made to walk, run, lunge, bite and even howl with a simple keystroke. A slick “first wolf” perspective option gives an infrared type of view to follow multicolored scents and stalk creatures.

A map also helps identify areas to roam and pinpoints places where prey, such as herds of elk, hang out.

The bad news is that hunting, especially when trying to take down a hare, is tricky business when using a keyboard. Players initially will have to run almost blindly into the path of a rabbit and take a bite to have any chance of catching it.

My first kill required me to back the hare into an out-of-bounds area so it ran into a virtual wall before I was able to have lunch.

Wolf-to-wolf encounters also are very important to success in the game (it’s the only way to meet a mate), and each session is accomplished via a turn-based system and requires choosing a response such as “run away” or “wait and see.”

Up to four more players can join in for an online pack experience with even a controlled message function to chat.

More episodes are expected to be released this year, with new areas of Yellowstone to explore and to mark territory for an even more complete look at the life of a wolf.

Although Wolf Quest won’t attract the hard-core gamer, considering the price, it has a calming beauty within a focused experience to engage the tween who is not upset by animals hunting and feeding.

I was hoping to get a better learning experience out of the deal. Thankfully, the Web site does not disappoint; the section Wolf Info offers plenty of nuggets and videos about the stars of the simulation. Visitors get extended encyclopedic entries on the five subspecies of gray wolves and the red wolf and a chart comparing wolves and dogs.

Multimedia tidbits include six YouTube segments about wolf behavior from research scientist L. David Mech and wildlife biologist Dan MacNulty, along with 20 downloadable classroom activities.

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, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail to jszadkowski @washingtontimes.com).

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