When McGraw-Hill Director of Interactive Media, Cesare DelVaglio, invited John to enter McGraw-Hills' 1993 Multimedia Design Contest, John had just the project to build for a winning entry: INUIT - The Arctic Survival Game that would include authentic INUIT video. McGraw-Hill was exploring the new market for multimedia and invited the best in the world to show their wares. Here is how John won the contest...

Hunter College anthropology professor, Dr. Thomas McGovern, had written the original text-based (MS-DOS) teaching game “INUIT” between 1986-1991. The game had been used in cultural ecology and paleoecology courses and gained notoriety among Anthropology majors as a great way to role-play (“think like an Eskimo”) for summer excavations in Greenland. For the 1993 contest, John and illustrator Dennis Kendrick collaborated with Dr. McGovern and his Hunter College collegue, Tom Amorosi, to create a fully visual multimedia version of the game. Tom was able to make a significant contribution to the project with the inclusion of many gorgeous INUIT illustrations from his father who had worked as a staff illustrator with the American Museum of Natural History (1956-1988). In addition to the authentic looking illustrations and full color computer animations, the highlight of the game was its interactive video. John had successfully licensed the 1922 film “Nanook of the North” from the Flaherty Foundation which literally brought the game to life (see the walrus hunting segment from the original film below). Short clips were included throughout the game.

Nanook of the North (1921) - The World's First Documentary

THE CONTEST: March 17, 1993

Knowing that the competition would be formidable with many leading Fortune 500 technology firms, John strategically decided to invite NYU Professor Walter Reinhold of Cultural Resources, Inc. to demo his Interactive Guide to Western Civilization called “Culture 1.0.” In 1990, John had served as Creative Director of the project and designed the visual interface and graphics for Culture 1.0. Upon its launch, the product received immediate critical acclaim from NY Times editor, Peter Lewis, who called it “a model for the future of educational software.” Walter was a multi-disciplinary genius and one of the favorite professors at NYU! His educational tour-de-force is still available today in its fourth generation on CD-ROM: Culture 4.0.

So, as this story goes, on the day of the contest, John's strategy paid off. Around 100 multimedia pioneers were demonstrating their software in a mini-trade show exhibit at McGraw-Hills' Corporate Headquarters (Ave. of Americas and 49th Street). Despite very compelling computer entries from the likes of IBM, Sony, and Apple, it was the real-world combination of an Anthropology professor from Hunter College and a Humanities professor from NYU that won John's team first place and the top $100,000 prize. What was unfortunate for the winning party was that McGraw-Hill never wrote a $100,000 check for John to share with the professors, but instead awarded a $100,000 contract to John and Dennis to develop a CD-ROM version of their best-selling SRA Photo Library program.


While a cash prize would have been more appealing to all involved, being paid the same amount to produce the SRA English Literacy project was not the end of the world. Like many corporations, McGraw-Hill definitely took advantage of their position to get the biggest bang for their buck. Take it or leave it were the only options.

Below is the simple and elegant interface John designed with Dennis to include audio playback in multiple languages for the 630 photos organized into fifteen categories. It was really good for learning English.

Nearly 20 years and many incarnations later, the CD-ROM comes bundled with all the print materials and continues to be a successful source of income for McGraw-Hill's Education division.

Product Description: The PHOTO LIBRARY CD-ROM uses visuals to teach vocabulary and oral language development. It helps visual learners build strong vocabulary and oral language skills with these exciting collections of original photographs!

Each full-color Photo Card is identified with 10 key translations that include Spanish, Vietnamese, Hmong, Cantonese, Korean, Haitian Creole, Arabic, Russian, Tagalog, amd Khmer. The Photo Library includes 630 original photographs and is organized into fifteen categories. The categories are Animals, Colors and Shapes, Earth, Human Body, Plants, Clothing, Food, Recreations, School, Toys, Equipment, Home, Occupations, Structures, and Transportation. The CD-ROM provides interactive access to the Photo Index, Flashcards, Dictionary, Electric Games, and Sound Effects