CD-Rom -- ''Xplora 1, Peter Gabriel's Secret World''

"Xplora 1, Peter Gabriel's Secret World" Interplay Productions (800) 869-GAME Mac $59.95

"Xplora 1, Peter Gabriel's Secret World" may or may not amount to an artistic breakthrough, but it does provide an opportunity to think aloud about how CD-ROMs fit into and challenge our mental models of entertainment, audio and computer games. I wonder whether Gabriel's effort contains as much as it needs to be genuinely successful.

"Secret World" is rich and many-dimensioned, but also somewhat bumpy and unpredictable. It is a combination of graphic elements, text, video clips and color stills, interwoven with audio tracks.

In it Gabriel, a musician and former member of the rock and roll band Genesis, attempts to take advantage of a CD-ROM's relatively large storage capacity (more than 600 megabytes) in combination with the high-level display and sound reproduction capabilities that today's desktop computers can offer.

"Secret World" includes excerpts from all 11 songs from Gabriel's "US" album, which can be heard on your computer's speakers. It is also more than music videos shoveled onto a CD-ROM. It is videos, portions of videos, and text, carefully choreographed. You are free to click your way interactively through the labyrinth or be a couch potato recipient of a "guided tour."

"Secret World" contains subworlds that you can poke around in indefinitely. In one, you can select and listen to unusual musical instruments from the world over. In another, you can hear and combine the music of a variety of musicians, and in a third you can create (and save) your own custom "re-mixes" of bass, drums, guitar and Gabriel's voice for one of the CD-ROM's tunes. There's even stuff from Gabriel's childhood.

This effort seems to be about the best one can do with the present state of multimedia.

But "Secret World," for all its innovation, lies in an uncomfortable middle ground, along with some other CD-ROM products: home shopping, interactive news disks and the like. I wonder who, in the longer term, will find it both beneficial and advantageous.