Video Game Thoughts: Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Cross Sections: Stowaway!

Stephen Biesty’s Incredible Cross Sections: Stowaway! was a 1995 educational game by Dorling Kindersley for the Macintosh. As its name implies, it featured the illustrations of Stephen Biesty, famous for his accurate and life-like cross sections. I had seen a few of these cross section books at the library and bookstores, but it wasn’t until Christmas one year that I got to play this game based on cross sections. Stowaway! was a Christmas gift for the family from my aunt and uncle. I was excited to have some new Macintosh software to try out. Our computer was mostly a novelty at the time. Occasionally, we typed papers on it, but it wasn’t all that useful then.

The subject of the cross sections in Stowaway! was an 18th-century warship. It was made up of several “pages” similar to the books. Each page was another slice of the ship. Slice by slice the user could see the jail, the galley, the captain’s room, and more. On each page users could zoom in on the little sections of the cross section. Each section would show some cool scene with short animations. People might be firing cannons or even more crude things like using the privy. I remember one scene was pretty graphic, showing a surgeon amputating a man’s leg that had become infected. Sections also had several text boxes to explain how people lived on this warship.

The exploration aspect of Stowaway! was great fun. This was the educational part. The “game” part was finding the stowaway. The game was totally optional, and it wasn’t that involved anyways. The player could read a wanted poster of the stowaway with a picture and ten empty slots. The goal was to search each section for the stowaway, like a Where’s Waldo game. Once found, the stowaway could be clicked to catch him. It would show a little animation of him escaping. One of the slots would fill in on the wanted poster. After catching him in ten different places of the ship, he was finally caught. A little pop-up would show the stowaway boy in the brig, sadly waiting for a more permanent jail when the ship made landfall.

Although it was educational, Stowaway! gave me a lot of fun. The little animations had a lot of character. It showed what really happened on a warship in those days. It wasn’t a fun place to be. Even outside of combat, people died from disease and infection. After playing this game, I continually looked for new games in this series, but I never saw any. It must not have sold all that well. I wonder if Stephen Biesty made all the animations. Drawing cross sections was one thing, but all the animations for each area would have taken hundreds of hours. Maybe he wasn’t interested in that much time investment. Maybe because of the huge volume of work and the amount he would charge, future projects were just too expensive for the publisher to make a profit.

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