I tried. I really did try. And after several lengthy sessions at the PC wrestling with Jean-Michel Cousteau's first CD-Rom The Sacred Mirror of Kofun, I felt I was getting the hang of it.
I had been wandering like a ghost around the fully rendered 360* explorable environment that was his futuristic craft Antares for what seemed like weeks before solving enough clues to do some actual diving. It was a bit like getting to the end of BSAC Novice theory sessions.
But every time I set off around the Micronesian shipwreck in search of clues I ended up getting bent, and would be whisked back to my virtual cabin while the supercilious robot E.D.W.A.R.D. gave me a piece of its mind.
I would be confined there for five days at a time, on a diet of virtual pizza and orange juice. This would have been quite pleasant had the beautiful female scientists I kept seeing on QuickTime video clips been allowed to join me, but they stayed resolutely in their own cabins throughout our voyage, presumably disgusted at my incompetence.
Diver recently slated a CD-Rom for being little more than a book transferred to disk. The other side of the coin is this, a CD-Rom so relentlessly interactive that unless you are spending a week off sick in bed you may never find time to master it.
Which is a pity, because this is an ambitious and in many ways admirable multi-media product that blends adventure-gaming with education. It contains an interesting marine life encyclopaedia and searchable database, and some stunning 3D graphics.
With two hours of video footage and 80 hours of gameplay, you should feel youve had your £34.99s worth by the time you crack it. Whether you would go through it all again is another matter.
The premise is that your undersea exploratory mission in the Pacific with Cousteau and a handful of reclusive scientists is cut short by the disappearance of one John Braddy, who is trying to locate the Sacred Mirror of Kofun. This, we are told, is a Japanese artifact of power and protection that brings peril to all who oppose it.
I never got close to finding it, let alone opposing it. But then, Jean-Michel is aiming at a more youthful market (although a 10- and a 13-year-old admitted to being frustrated by the product: Why so long to get to the diving).
I asked Jean-Michel about the investment required for a project on this scale. It cost somewhere around 8 million francs, he replied - which means that he needs to sell some 23,000 copies at UK prices to break even.
Apart from the financial side my goal is to reach as many people as possible. I feel that with interactivity we are allowing young people to become active again, not just encouraging them to watch life go by as TV does, but to get involved.
Best-known as a film-maker, Jean-Michel is clearly excited by the possibilities of CD-Rom, although conscious of the current technical drawbacks. With the video clips the number of frames per second remains a problem, though the biggest limitation is the size of the images, he says. But I believe the breakthrough will come within a year and a half, and I look forward to having full-screen video images.
The underwater footage for The Sacred Mirror of Kofun was shot around the islands of Truk and Palau. For a documentary-maker, wasnt combining fact with fiction quite a challenge I had to let go of the traditional academic approach and allow a little fun into proceedings.
I couldnt help mentioning that on the promotional video of the making of the CD-Rom, Jean-Michel and his dive team had not appeared to be having much fun - on the contrary, they had looked decidedly moody.
We spent seven days on Truk and 14 in Palau. We had to be extremely careful as some of our dives were quite deep, up to 50m, but we were working very quickly, says Jean-Michel. I could have done with another week - there are other wrecks I would have liked to dive, but we had to be very focused.
The underwater team also had a run-in with a live torpedo on one of the WW2 wrecks. That was scary. The head did not explode, but the compressed air container that formed the propulsion system had rusted away. It exploded while we were down and was spectacular.
Jean-Michel had found some initial difficulty in adapting to the demands of the CD-Rom medium. I had no idea of the formidable task such a collection would involve. A one-hour film special for TV has a beginning, a middle and an end, and I decide the pace. But with CD-Rom you have to tackle it from so many different angles.
It took a little while to find out how things worked; I asked a lot of questions, looked at other games.
The process of designing the Antares, which he did with the help of his naval architect, took on a special significance. The graphical depiction of the ship was very exciting to me, because the Antares might actually take shape in the future. The difference between fiction and reality is very slim!
I had assumed the sacred mirror of the CD-Roms title to be the product of his fertile imagination, too. No, it is based on a real story. The mirror does exist. A young Japanese sailor stole it from a museum.
Jean-Michel is now exploring the possibilities for cyber-action afforded by the freshwater caves of Yucatan and the Blue Holes of Belize. It could be a very intriguing adventure, he says, adding that he has plans for several other themes. It depends on whether we get backing. It will help if this CD-Rom is successful!
Steve Weinman

The Sacred Mirror of Kofun by Jean-Michel Cousteau, 3-disk CD-Rom, Emme Interactive, Paris (tel. 33 1 45 615430; e-mail www.emme.com) £34.99

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