Review of Romans

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This CD is an educational adventure set in the provincial town of Sapientum, in the second century A.D. The user has made his/her way to Sapientum and the aim is to settle in the town. The town of Sapientum is based on the Roman town of Caistor St. Edmund just outside modern day Norwich. Caistor is one of only a few Roman towns in Britain that have not been damaged or hidden by later buildings. The monument and surrounding fields are in the care of the Norfolk Archaeological Trust.

Using archaeological evidence from the site, a firm of architects was commissioned to build a 3D computer model of the town. From this model each scene was individually created. Evidence from other remains throughout the Roman world were used to create the interiors of the buildings. For example, the textures of walls were created from photographs of buildings in Pompeii and Ostia as well as example wall paintings. The user will not know this information, unless the accompanying activity sheets are read before using the CD.

The user is to explore Sapientum to seek out objects and information. The CD begins with the user landing in a boat on the wharf near the city, where an interactive wharf official describes where the user is, and what needs to be done. The user must register with the town authorities and get a job within a certain number of days. From there, the user is on his/her own.

An introductory screen appears with a character and the interior of a building. The user clicks on various things illustrated on this screen, and the product explains what to do and how to navigate through the town. A wall painting leads the user to a large collage of pictures and symbols, which has a number of explanatory options. There is a map of the city, resembling a map done in late antiquity, where the user can point and click to where he/she wants to go. There is a set of maps of the Roman Empire showing its rise and fall on a map of the Mediterranean and European landscape. There is an interesting help screen icon showing a figure similar to "The Scream" expressionistic painting. An eye icon is the Status button, which displays the user's name, how long he/she has been in the town, where he/she is in the town, what job has been chosen, and how many objects have been collected. A sun icon is a navigational device through the town, and its rays the directions of travel. A satchel icon will display how many items the user has collected thus far, and a moneybag icon shows the user how much money he/she has in aureii, sestertii, and denarii (the user starts with five aureii). A scriptum icon and audio icon allow the user to display text being spoken, or to turn off and on the background sounds of Sapientum. A mosaic button allows the user to obtain a modern perspective of life in a Roman town, as opposed to that of a Roman citizen of the second century.

Once the user can get past these introductory screens and icons (which can take some time without help), he/she can explore the town and interact with the citizens. The CD comes with a set of eighteen activity sheets divided into fourteen activities. It is highly recommended that these activity sheets be consulted before and during use of this product. A map of Sapientum is included in the sheets, as well as the position of everything in the town. Exploring the city without these aids is very frustrating and complicated. Numerous times I lost my way as I tried to find buildings, and a number of times a large hand would appear in my path, which meant that I was not allowed to go in that direction any further (supposedly, this hand disappears once certain levels and objects have been collected). In any case, it took me quite a while to find the town magistrate and register. Clicking on images of people will activate a speech about what they do and who they are and then move the user to a set of 3-4 questions that can be asked of that person. Sometimes these people can assist in finding objects and information about the Roman world, their places in it, and their opinions and complaints about life and living in a Roman town in late antiquity. The activity sheets also describe the characters in the town, and give some history about entertainment, theatre, language, mosaics, Boudicca's Revolt, and costumes in Roman Britain.

Overall, I was frustrated by the lack of help and assistance from the product as I tried to figure out where to go and what to do as I walked through Sapientum. Once I found the magistrate and registered, I was able to pick an occupation (physician) and attempt to collect a number of items to help me in my new occupation. I found the resident physician, who gave me this information, and then I was on my own. At the same time, I had to find a place to stay in the town, and then return to the magistrate with this information. After about 2 hours of doing this, and not finding a place to stay, I gave up.

While the CD itself is interesting to walk through and is archaeologically and historically accurate, I would recommend that a teacher who has already practiced using the CD be available to users in the elementary and middle school range, as self-guided use by students in this age range would be both frustrating and annoying for them. For those who use this CD without assistance for the first time, make sure to consult the activity sheets first, and give yourself plenty of time to explore. I had to come back a number of times, for an hour or two each, and still had problems attempting to accomplish the objectives established in the CD.

In spite of these shortcomings, this CD is still an interesting and perhaps unique resource on Roman late antiquity, and is a good first leap into educating today's students and public on the life and customs of a second century A.D. city in Late Roman antiquity.

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