Facemaker - Golden Edition (Software Review)

Facemaker - Golden Edition

Spinnaker Software

Early childhood software. (Ages 3 to 8).

Runs on any 64K Apple II or compatible.

Psychologists in the past 20 years have come to recognize creativity as an important facet of intelligence. This enlightened new view of creativity significantly expands the classical view of intelligence, which emphasized computational and analytical skills as the hallmark of intellectual development.

The new thinking on creativity also goes beyond the age-worn dictum that creativity is a gift, handed out in tidy packages at birth. The modern view is that creativity can be learned, just as any other cognitive skill can be learned. And, once learned, creativity can be one of the most powerful tools in our cognitive arsenal.

To "learn" creativity, children must be given ample opportunities to exercise their creative powers, where each of their individual choices is celebrated as a product of their rich imaginations. With positive re-inforcement at an early age, children come to appreciate the awesome creative powers of their rich imaginations. In later years they can tap into these powers of the imaginative mind when solving the everyday problems they face at home and at work.

Microcomputers can play an important role in helping children learn about the delights of the imaginative mind. At a young age children can learn to create and manipulate objects and icons on a computer screen. They can print out their creations, with all the fanfare of a dot-matrix printer; or save them to disk, to be re-incarnated at a later time. Not only do these activities help children gain a sense of mastery over their environment; they intoxicate the imaginative mind with its own astonishing powers.

Even pre-schoolers can partake of the feeling of being a Homo Fabricus: a human being who makes. A builder. An artisan. An engineer. A craftsperson.

Several software programs serve to foster this area of the mind. Print Shop, by Broderbund, is a classic creativity tool, giving both children and adults a powerful tool for self-expression. Another program that delights and tickles the imaginative mind is Facemaker, by Spinnaker.

Using no more than the space bar key, and the return key, children construct fanciful faces from a palette of ears, noses, mouths, eyes, and hair. (New versions of the program also allow a small body to be appended below the neck.) The idea here is similar to that of Mr. Potato Head (tm), the plastic childhood toy found in homes across the land. But Facemaker goes further than Mr. Potato Head. Much further.

Because once a face is finished being constructed, then the fun really begins. The program gives you the option of animating the face, or playing an involving "Simon Says" memory game with the face.

You'll probably want to play with animating the face before you jump into playing the memory game. Knowledge of how the face and looks and sounds when animated is an important pre-requisite to fully enjoying the memory game.

Animating the face is as simple as pressing the letter corresponding to the appropriate command. Here are the animating commands and their corresponding letters:

W - wink

C - cry

x - cross eyes

s - smile

f - frown

t - tongue

e - ear wiggle

d - dance

Each animation lasts a few seconds, and is accompanied by a unique short jingle. For example, the "cry" animation is accompanied by a sad sounding jingle, and the "smile" command is accompanied by a short happy-sounding jingle. The dance command has the longest and most musical jingle.

The funnest part about building and animating a face is the joy of experimenting with different combinations of body parts and commands. You can easily mix and match ears, eyes, and noses to arrive at a variety of different creatures.

Younger children enjoy making the face as fierce as possible. It's easy to make the face look pretty wacky, but not so fierce as to cause nightmares. If you have a color monitor, some of the hair combinations are rather vivid: blue, neatly combed hair is one option; multi-colored, spiked hair is another option. Kids shriek with laughter upon seeing some of these.

The best and easiest place to start experimenting is with the different bodies that go underneath the face. Here's a list of the eight choices: 1) ballet dancer, 2) man with dog, 3) jack-in-a-box, 4) baby, 5) swordfighter, 6) grandmother in rocking chair, 7) astronaut, 8) robot.

Each body dances differently with the "dance" animation command. Some of the dance sequences are simply delightful: the swordfighter does a Soviet-style sort of dance; the grandmother dances by rocking in her chair; the little dog dances in the man-with-the-dog body.

But wait, there's still more. You can still put on "extras" onto your face, such as a masquerade mask, a pair of glasses, ear-rings, bow-tie, hat, and mustache. Children adore adorning the face with socially inappropriate extras. First they'll put a mustache on the ballet dancer, and then ear-rings on the swordfighter. Then they'll put glasses on the robot, and a masquerade mask on the astronaut.

Note: these "extras" are lots of fun, but you may want to remove them when you get to playing the memory game later on. Sometimes the "extras" cover up the animation, making it difficult to see what's happening on the face.

Younger children enjoy the building of the face as the best part of the program. Older children, however, should be urged to try out the memory game. It's a tough game that requires a great deal of concentration. The first few times you ought to play along with the child to help them gain confidence and technique.

The memory game is played in the same way as the popular, hand-held Simon (tm) game (popular back in the early 1980's). The object is to remember and repeat an ever-growing random sequence. However, in the Facemaker game, instead of repeating colors and tones, you repeat the letters of the animation commands.

Here's an important tip, though. All the letters for the animation commands are clustered together at the left-hand side of the keyboard. Even a pre-schooler can find the appropriate letters, once he or she has had a little practice.

The longest sequence of animations is sixteen segments long. This makes it a difficult, but not impossible challenge. By playing the game together with a friend, it's possible to pool your concentration skills to reach the longest sequence.

The final activity on Facemaker is the printing of the face. You can print the face on the Apple Scribe, Imagewriter I, and Imagewriter II printers. Unfortunately you cannot print the face on a non-Apple printer. Also, the face is always printed in black-and-white, even if you have a color ribbon in your Imagewriter II.

These limitations notwithstanding, the face prints out quite nicely on the Imagewriter printers. Before printing the face, children have the option of typing in a short description to be printed alongside the face. Younger children can dictate such a description to you. Older children will enjoy typing in the description themselves.

Facemaker is a classic in the field of educational computers. Yet, it has a few minor flaws worth mentioning. First, the documentation is a bit skimpy. The entire documentation is contained on a small, four-paged flyer. While there is much to be said for brevity in this world, it sure would have been nice to see fuller instructions. The best educational programs give suggestions for supporting activities away from the computer, and explain in more detail the educational benefits of the program.

In other words, the documentation gives the bare instructions for using the program, but could go a lot further in explaining all the subtle nuances in using the program.

One other small flaw in Facemaker is that the program automatically goes into a demonstration mode after the start-up screen. To get to the main menu, you have to forcibly hold down the return key. The cryptic message, "Press return to skip demo," is unlikely to be intelligible to the uninitiated. And young children don't like the idea of having to "skip" anything, even if the anything is a non-participatory demonstration of the program.

Truth is, no child (or adult) has the patience to sit thru a demonstration of how Facemaker works. The great appeal of the program is in participating in the making of a face. Parents and teachers can quickly give children a demonstration of how to build a face. From then on you literally have to pry the kids away from the computer an hour or two later.

One final pointer. Older versions of Facemaker (pre-1986) have much inferior graphics to the current version. Make sure if you buy a second-hand copy of Facemaker to get the current "Golden Edition."

Facemaker runs on any 64K Apple II, including the Apple II+, IIe, IIc, IIGS, and IIc+. It also runs on the Laser 128 series, and the Franklin Ace 2000. A color monitor is not required. An IBM version of Facemaker Golden Edition is available, too. No Macintosh version of this program was ever published.

Phil Shapiro

(This software review may be reprinted and redistributed in any form for noncommercial purposes. Commercial republishing available by arrangement with the author. The author can be reached at: pshapiro@his.com)

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