August 2004

Cyber News and Reviews is a monthly column published for parents, teachers & business owners featuring kids educational software reviews, business software reviews (small business & home business), games and entertainment articles, a free resource since 1995.


The Hobbit, The Prelude to The Lord of the Rings from Vivendi Universal and Sierra Entertainment, Flix Pro 4.0 and The Frogs, The Musical on Broadway with Nathan Lane, reviewed by Becky Berenbon*

By Howard Berenbon

The Hobbit, The Prelude to The Lord of the Rings from Vivendi Universal and Sierra Entertainment

If you’re a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, the brilliant author of the Lord of the Rings, and his prequel, The Hobbit, then you will love this new 3D adventure game of the same name.   In the Hobbit, you’ll meet Gandolf the Wizard and his 13 dwarf friends at Bilbo Baggin’s Hobbit hole for a day of feasting and talk.  They will try to enlist Bilbo’s services in an adventure to take their treasure back from the Dragon Smaug, who resides in The Lonely Mountain, once the heart of Dwarf Kingdom.  Bilbo says “no” to their first offer, but then after waking from a dream state, he decides it would be an exciting adventure and says “yes.”  This very exciting book has been magically transformed into a great 3D adventure game with the scenes and sounds Tolkien put to paper for all to enjoy. You’ll find excellent 3D graphics, realistic sound effects and music to set the mood while you lead Bilbo and company on an adventure to the Lonely Mountain in search of Smaug and the treasure.

After a quick installation from a single CD, you’ll find yourself in Middle-earth, the world of Tolkien and his Hobbits.  The game begins with a video overview of the book including scenes of Bilbo finding the one ring, which eventually leads you into the main menu.  To begin, you’ll select “new game” from the menu and a narrated story in picture book format will be displayed.  The storybook transforms into a video and 3D animation, with Gandolf and the 13 dwarves seated in Bilbo’s home around a fireplace asking to hire him as a burglar in their quest. At one point, Bilbo faints and then the game begins.  You enter into part one, called the Dream World, with Bilbo in the middle of a battle with Orcs.  You’ll attack with Bilbo’s sword, Sting, by pressing the left ALT key or by clicking on the left mouse button, and jump by pressing the spacebar.  You can move Bilbo either with the keyboard arrow keys or the mouse.   You’ll quickly learn the controls so you can go on to the next level (they call chapters).  After eliminating a dozen or two Orcs in the dream sequence, you’ll find yourself alone with Gandolf in Bag End.  You must find your staff, and then hurry to meet the dwarves at The Green Dragon Inn to begin your adventure, named  An Unexpected Party.  As you approach and item or area of interest, an exclamation mark will appear.  To take an item or hear information, move Bilbo directly in front of the object, and press the Enter key.  Here’s an important hint: you’ll find his staff in the chest.  To exit his hobbit hole, stand Bilbo at the front door, and press the Enter key, and you’ll find yourself on the streets of Hobbiton.  First, you’ll need to collect coins (his silver pennies) scattered throughout Hobbiton, and then head to The Green Dragon.  You’ll also pick up courage points as you move Bilbo through his home town.  This may take some time because some of the coins are not easy to access, and you need to maneuver Bilbo by jumping and climbing to the right spots.  Throughout the game you’ll be picking up objects, solving puzzles, buying potions, fighting Orcs, and of course, using your ring to become invisible, and more.

Needless to say, if you’re a fan of Tolkien, you’ll love this adventure game.  It will allow you to re-live the book and interact with your favorite Tolkien characters.   I spent at least an hour just getting through the dream sequence and then moving through Hobbiton collecting Bilbo’s coins and needed courage points.  You will definitely spend days of fun traveling Middle-earth to complete this great 3D adventure.  I highly recommend it, and especially at that bargain price of only $9.99 from 

The Hobbit, The Prelude to the Lord of the Rings sells for $9.99 and will run on any multimedia PC, Pentium III 450 MHz or faster processor, 32 MB RAM with Windows 98/ME/2000/XP and a Quad Speed CD-ROM drive.  DirectX 8.1 with a compatible 3D video and sound card.

Flix Pro 4.0 from Wildform, Inc.

If you’re a Website designer and want the latest and greatest tool for designing videos for clients, than you must consider Flix Pro 4.0, a new release from Wildform, Inc. that helps you easily create videos in a number of popular formats.  Flix Pro 4.0 (a very catchy name) allows you to edit, crop, encode and publish your Flash video in just minutes.  It converts video and audio and image files (present on your hard drive) into the very popular Macromedia Flash format (SWF).  Just choose your file (see available formats below), select a preset, which defines the application’s use (say a 56K modem video, a 300K broadband video or maybe a 1000K CD video) and click the Encode button and you’re done.

Flix Pro 4.0 Video, Audio and Image File Formats

Video: avi, .dv, .mov/.qt, .mpeg, .mp4, .3gp, .asf/.wmv (Win only)
Audio: .mp3, .wav, .wma (Win only)
Image: jpg, .gif, .png, .bmp, .psd, .tif, .pic, .tga

And Flix is versatile because the encoded video works without a streaming server on all platforms and browsers and even plays though firewalls. It also works with a variety of free video and audio applications including QuickTime Player 6+ (, Windows Media Player 9+ (, Flash Player 7+ ( and Direct X 8 or later (downloadable from Microsoft).  You can also easily export your Flash video in HTML format required for use in a Website or e-mail by clicking the Export HMTL box.

Now, Flix Pro does not import raw video files into our computer.  You’ll need your own video capture card and software to make the conversion.  But, once you do, it’s a snap to get that converted video into any number of usable Flash formats.

The software includes a detailed tutorial and complete online documentation through their help file function, if you need it, and also includes a very thorough FAQs section.  Of course, most Web designers will skip the manual until they really need help, but it’s just one click away.

Flix Pro 4.0 sells for $149 and will run on any multimedia PC or Mac, Pentium II 233MHz or faster with 64 MB RAM, Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Mac OS 9.x/10.x requiring Internet Explorer 4.0 or higher.

The Frogs, The Musical

A Review by Becky Berenbon*

Written by Aristophanes Adapted by Burt Shevelove

The Frogs, a new musical on Broadway, is a clever and witty comedy. The Frogs is a Greek myth with a chorus of athletic and jumpy frogs. The Frogs is based on the story Aristophanes wrote a long time ago, and then Burt Shevelove adapted it and added humorous jokes galore.

Dionysos (Nathan Lane), the god of drama and wine, embarks on a journey to Hades to get a famous playwright and bring him to Earth, with the help of Xanthias (Roger Bart). Dionysos first goes to Herakles (Burke Moses) and obtains some lion skin to wear so he can pretend to Herakles, a strong and powerful hero. Dionysos and Xanthias then go on the boat to Hades, where they meet the elderly man named Charen (John Byner), the sailor in the boat to Hades. Ariadne passed away, and Dionysos misses her badly. He sees Ariadne in Hades. The only thing Dionysos is afraid of is slimy, green frogs. Dionysos and Xanthias must make sure no frogs come and turn one of them into a frog. Dionysos meets Pluto (Peter Barlett) in Hades, and makes a deal with him to receive one playwright to help better the Earth.

The chorus of frogs is very athletic and talented. Overall, The Frogs is a great musical, except for one scene where Shaw and Shakespeare battle with words, so Dionysos can bring one home to Earth. It drags in that scene, but picks up right away. I absolutely adored The Frogs, and I think everybody should see it!

new york the frogs

broadway the frogs

* Becky is my 9-year-old daughter (appearing on the far right) now entering the 5th grade. Sarah, center, now 13, also loves Broadway shows. We saw The Frogs on Broadway at The Vivian Beaumont Theater on July 21, in previews 1 day before opening night.  It was great!  HB

Software Companies Mentioned

Vivendi Universal Games, Inc.
4247 S. Minnewawa Ave.
Fresno, CA 93725
Phone: 1-866-341-0879

Wildform, Inc.
1501 Main Street, #202
Venice, CA 90291
Phone: 310-396-2025
Fax: 310-396-2065