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December 1999

KidStuff for OS/2

By: Mark Dodel madodel@ptd.net

One of the biggest holes in OS/2's aging stock of applications are in the young child edutainment category. There have been a few novel entries like Soup KIDchen and Alphabet Soup (which can be found on the OS/2 Warp 4.0 Application Sampler CD). There is a review of Alphabet Soup in an early issue of OS/2 e-Zine http://www.os2ezine.com/v1n7/zoo.html and also a review of Soup KIDchen also in OS/2 e-Zine http://www.os2ezine.com/v1n9/soup.htm. I can't find Alphabet Zoo for sale anywhere anymore, and they appear to never have had a web site. Widdow Works Web site still exists but is empty (literally, if you go to http://www.widdowworks.com all you will see is an empty directory). There is also Kid AlphaPro for OS/2 (which has both English and Spanish support) is available at BMT Micro and a demo is available - http://www.bmtmicro.com/catalog/alphapro/. Soup KIDchen is available on BMT Micro and also at Mensys and can be downloaded at most OS/2 shareware sites.

Now there is KidStuff for OS/2 new from Aviar, a long time OS/2 developer of REXX applications. KidStuff for OS/2 is written in Object REXX and won't install unless Object REXX is installed and enabled. Their Order Form http://www.oops-web.com/KS/order.html states that Warp 4 is required (I assume that is because Warp 3 doesn't come with Object REXX?). The game's README1.TXT states the following requirements:

- OS/2 Warp version 4.0
- Object REXX as default REXX
- 25 Megabytes available disk space on an HPFS drive
- CD ROM Drive (but since you're reading this, you must have one already.)
- Pentium 150MHz or faster
- 64 Megabytes of RAM (or more). 128 MB is much, much better.
- Standard OS/2 Multimedia
- 800 x 600 x 65K resolution

I tested KidStuff initially on a Toshiba laptop 2545XCDT, with an AMD K6-2 366, 64Meg of RAM, Warp 4, FP12, S3 MX-5 video at 1024X768x64K colors and a track point. When I decided to get some professional assistance from my children ( Alex 2 1/2 and Katie 6 ), I switched over to an Aptiva K6-2 233, 32 Meg RAM, Warp Server ebusiness, Elsa Winner 2000/Office 8Meg at 1164x976x64K colors and a 2-button Logitech mouse. The reason for the switch was that the children couldn't work the track-point well and I also didn't want them messing with my laptop. :-)

One problem I had with Alphabet Zoo and SoupKIDchen was that they didn't seem to be quite finished. They provided a means to customize the games with your own images and sounds, but at the time I had no way to create images or sounds myself. Neither of these appeared to have gotten any updates beyond the initial release. KidStuff appears to be more polished and there is already an add on module available.


As noted above Object REXX is required. If you attempt to install KidStuff and you have no REXX support installed, or Classic REXX, you will get an error message saying to run SWITCHRX.CMD. Then You will be asked to select a drive to install it to. It must be formatted HPFS and have at least 20 MB free. You don't get the option to install it to a specific directory, which is a bummer, but it doesn't update any INI's or CONFIG.SYS so you can move the directory wherever you want. If you use the WPS to move everything then the Program Objects should get updated with the new location. I used FileStar/2 and had to change all the objects manually. If you plan to install the add on the optional PlusPak games, don't move anything until you have completed both installs. The PlusPak install will only find the base package if it is located in the assigned directory immediately off the root.

The install creates a folder on the desktop with 10 program objects. One is the Preferences object where you can customize the stories with the name of your child, a primary caregiver and a secondary caregiver. You can also select the largest number to be used for the addition/subtraction problems. You can also change the lists of 'Frown' words and 'Smile' words, which are used in the 'Warpo the Clown' episode. The Optional PlusPak1 adds four additional games.

Playing with KidStuff:

There are 9 parts to the base version of the game. A couple are customized stories, 3 are number related, 2 are music related and one is about shapes and colors.

Warpo the Clown - Warpo looks more like a snow man to me, but my 2 1/2 year old was captivated by the image, and he kept calling it 'Hippo'. This game isn't really playable by my 2 year old, since it requires some dexterity with the mouse, but he keeps being drawn to my office asking to play the 'puter'. This was the reason I had to move KidStuff/2 to a new machine in another room. He loves the crisp sounds, bright colors/images and the animations in all the games. Warpo's image is used as the background for the KidStuff folder. His module involves matching words to his facial expression. Two words are displayed and if Warpo is smiling you pick the 'Smile' word, if he is frowning you pick the 'Frown' word. These words are editable in the preferences so you can add words your child may be familiar with. As you correctly select the words, you get points and Warpo the Clown's expressions change and a pleasant tone is sounded. Get 10 right and Warpo goes through a series of face changes and a cheerful tune. Make a mistake Warpo frowns, you lose a point and a 'whoops' tone is played.

The Mystery Garden and The Big Umbrella

These are stories which incorporate the child's and adult names into the story line. As a small, but nice touch the front page and the window title also display the child's name, so it makes it feel like it is really a story about them. As you can see in the image below, you move from page to page using the tabs at the top of the page. Each page has a simple paragraph on it, usually with a button to click which either displays an image, animated image or a sound clip.

Math games:

There are three math oriented games in the base game. One game called "I know my numbers" asks the child to identify the spoken/spelled number by selecting the numeric on the screen. A correct response gets a round of pleasant music played, the numbers on the screen move around and the number spelled. Get it wrong, you get a croaking sound and told to try again. The child learns to associate the numeric with the spelling of the number.

"I Can Add" and "I can Subtract" are math games where two numbers to be added or subtracted are displayed, and three possible solutions are shown. Click on the correct solution and you get a little song and the screen counts off showing stars, flags or other images work out the problem on the screen. My 6 1/2 year old daughter is really into math now, and found the games to be fun. You can adjust the difficulty level of the math problems by setting a value in the preferences settings. This setting controls the largest number to be used in the problems.

Music Games:

There are 2 different music games included in KidStuff. "My Music Machine" is a music keyboard on the screen with 2 1/2 octaves of music keys. Select a key with the mouse and it plays a tone. It saves all the tones you play, and when you select Playback, it will play back all the notes you selected. You can also use Get Music menu item to have it play an existing midi file, or Save Music to save a tune you created yourself. I thought this didn't work until I realized that after you selected a midi file using Get Music, you had to then select Playback for it to start. I was not sure what the buttons for "XYLO", "CUTE", "SILLY" and "HARPS" did, until I read in the readme that the tones have four different "modalities". Basically they change the the sounds as they keys are selected, but these settings have no effect on PlayBack, other then playing the sound as it was recorded. that is you can't change a tune recorded in the HARP mode to play back in the XYLO mode.

The other music module is My Orchestra, which allows you to select any of 10 musical instruments which displays an animated image of the instrument and plays a short musical piece. I suppose this teaches the child to associate an instruments name with it's image and sound.

Colors and shapes:

This last game is to associate color names with the color. A color name is displayed in the center box on the window, and you have to select the correct color square for the name. Select wrong and you get a chirping and a text response saying "Sorry Katie, Try again." (Of course with the name you specified for your child in the preferences). Select the correct one and you get a screen of varied animated shapes and a pleasant tune, then the color is spelled out and spoken

Plus Pak 1:

In addition to the 9 games included with the base KidStuff for OS/2, there is also an optional Plus Pak 1 for the game. This adds 4 additional modules. Connect the Numbers, I'm Different, I can Draw and What Am I.

Connect the Numbers: This is the same Connect the Dots game that all small children seem to enjoy. You select one of 23 different puzzles, and the numbers appear in the window. You have to click on the next number in a sequence to form lines connecting points, which when done creates an image. At the end a tune is played and the line drawing is changed to a colorful image.

I'm Different: Four images are displayed and the child picks which is the different one. Starts out making it easy by having the odd image in a different colored box. As you proceed it gets a little tougher as it stops giving the colored box clue.

I Can Draw: Not quite Corel Draw, but a simple drawing application where you create lines in one of eight colors by clicking on spots of the drawing screen. You can select 3 different line widths, and whether to make a connect the line drawing, spokes of a wheel drawing(called Star mode) or filled circles. There is an Eraser function, Wipeout function, and Undo, as well as the ability to Save and Get drawings. Reminds me more of an electronic Etch-A-Sketch then a true drawing app.

What Am I?: This is the neatest module in the Plus Pak. This progam requires some basic spelling aptitude. It displays an image asking what the item is. The child then types in the word for the object. The child has to complete the spelling of the word (3, 4 or 5 letter words). When they get the correct spelling, the program goes through a colorful movement of the correctly spelled word while playing a tune. This game teaches spelling and keyboard use. this was one of my daughter's favorites.


What can I say. This software isn't for me, but for my kids, and they really like it. My 2 1/2 year old was too young to play any of the games by himself since he doesn't have the dexterity to manipulate the mouse. A touch screen would be great, though unless things have changed recently, financially impractical. Perhaps control via keyboard shortcuts would be helpful. But for a child 3 o above it should present little problem with a bit of initial supervision.

Couple of very small peeves were shutdown and replay of the numeric games. Whenever you select shutdown, most of the games go through a song and dance(well a lot of moving images). This is fascinating for children, but the wait for an adult is interminable. An option to quickly shut down a game without the theatrics would be nice. This is covered in the README2.TXT file with the following:

Due to the multi-threaded nature of these programs, the
"Shut Down" buttons need only be clicked once. If you
click more than once, it will repeat the Shut Down
procedure as many times as you click.

If you wish to exit a program in a hurry, bring up the
"Windows List" and use it to "Close" the program.

My other minor problem was that you have to select "Again" to go to the next math problem. Makes more sense that if you got the correct answer, it should move on to the next problem automatically.

Also a help screen for each app might be useful. As I pointed out I couldn't figure out what the buttons were for on the "My Music Machine" app, nor was it completely intuitive that to play a selected midi file you had to select the PlayBack button. For the most part though the games didn't require any preparation to play. The README2.TXT file was helpful, especially about customization of specific modules, and mentioned a couple of 'gottchas' like the

It would be nice if there was some sort of volume control for the game. I had to turn up the sound volume on the speakers for the game, but then my system sounds were way too loud. Twice my test machine (An Aptiva - K6-2 233, 32 Meg RAM, Crystal chipset) lost sound and my kids lost interest in the games and kept bugging me to fix the sound. This didn't happen on my laptop running Warp 4, Fixpak 12, where I initially installed KidStuff/2. Not sure if it is related to the Crystal driver on the Aptiva or the fact that there was some weird interaction between Object REXX and Warp Server ebusiness I was running on the Aptiva. The music/sounds are very creatively combined with the use of colorful graphics, and that helps to hold the kids interest. The sessions are cleanly designed, and straight-forward, without a lot of the clutter I see in other children's games. If you have kids between the ages of 3 and 7 this set of games will not only keep their interest but teach/improve some learning skills.

Finally I'd like to see the install process be loosened up to not require that the KidStuff directory be directly off the root. I for one don't like a lot of directories in a partition's root, preferring to move them to sub-directories grouped according to function(ie. KidStuff should go under E:\games). Also it should not be required that the KidStuff folder be on the Desktop for the Plus Pak objects to be built in the folder. I like a clean desktop, and move almost all objects to sub folders.

KidStuff for OS/2, $34.95 ordered by telephone/mail form on website; $37.07 from Mensys website http://shop.mensys.nl/cgi-bin/db2www/mns_art2.d2w/report?catname=KIDSTUFF&username=&i1=&o=&x=9874.435l
KidStuff for OS/2 PlusPak, $15.00 ordered by telephone/mail form on website; $15.95 http://shop.mensys.nl/cgi-bin/db2www/mns_art2.d2w/report?catname=KIDSTUFF&username=&i1=&o=&x=9874.435l
The Alphabet Zoo by: Second Story Productions, Inc. (no web page found)
Kid AlphaPro for OS/2 by: NEGC Software. $15.00 http://www.bmtmicro.com/catalog/alphapro
Soup KIDchen by: Widdow Works. $22.00 http://www.bmtmicro.com/catalog/soupkidchen/

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