7 April 2003
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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When it comes to buddy movies, I think of Hope and Crosby, Butch and Sundance, the Lethal Weapon guys, and one-offs such as The Man Who Would Be King, with Sean Connery and Michael Caine. But in the game arena, the protagonist is usually a lone eagle. If anything, you typically get a stoic action hero accompanied by a sidekick who cracks wise, but doesn't really do much in the game. Breaking the mold now is the new PlayStation2 game Primal, created by Sony's Cambridge, England-based development house.
In Primal, a waitress named Jen loses her boyfriend in an encounter with a horrible monster, and going, off to find him, instead finds herself enmeshed in a plot that involves, without going into details, a dire threat to the world we know by an incredibly evil entity (no, not Saddam). Sound familiar? Of course, there are only so many stories in fiction, but Primal does well by this old chestnut, principally by virtue of its characterization, especially in the interaction between Jen and her companion. They quibble, advise each other, and cooperate with expert voice acting and convincing body language (character animation).
This is an action-adventure, though, so it's how they work together that forms the essence of the gameplay. Soon after entering the game's fantasy world, the feisty, appealing Jen encounters Scree, a diminutive, animated gargoyle who is to serve as her guide through the story. Together they explore four different worlds: two land-based in roughly medieval milieus; one mostly underwater, and another in a volcano interior. Each of these large, continuous levels is populated by a number of vicious monsters, plus a large boss. The underlings are fairly uniform and simply require beating up, while each of the bosses poses a puzzle that involves a combination of fighting and other actions.
The two principals play highly complementary roles in the game: Jen fights, but Scree doesn't; Scree can climb certain stone surfaces, while Jen must find another way to progress; and, most importantly, Scree can heal Jen, but Jen can't heal herself. The latter activity can take place only when they're in close proximity, and only if Scree has enough yellow energy, which he derives from vanquished enemies as well as various pick-ups scattered randomly about the levels. Another important distinction is that Jen can shape-shift to the form native to realms she's visited. Each demon form has unique features, such as the ability to jump higher or exist underwater, and each requires a separate reserve of essential energy. You can switch freely between Jen and Scree in most parts of the game, but unless they're close to each other, you'll have to endure a fun-killing pause for loading.
In each level, the action involves mostly traveling through to the end boss while fending off underlings and solving puzzles. These puzzles range in difficulty from the obvious to the slightly fiendish, but are mostly relatively simplistic. For example, early in the game, Jen is unarmed, so she can't enter a monster-ridden cave. To resolve this, you switch to Scree, who, being made of stone, doesn't interest the monsters, and find something to scare them off. The real enjoyment comes from admiring the design, modeling, and texturing that went into creation of these levels. Not to mention special effects, such as rain striking the camera lens. Primal is among the best-looking games I've seen on any platform, and one that should be studied by game artists and aspirants for an example of true excellence in art direction.
In fact, one wishes the designers had put as much bandwidth into fine-tuning gameplay and debugging the game as into designing the graphics. For example, since you control only one character at a time, the other is supposed to follow, but it sometimes just stops instead. This means you have to switch over and retrace your steps. Also, the difficulty of the battles increases a great deal mid-game, to the point that I had to repeat the first battle in the third section about six times before being able to win without losing a life (extra lives aren't easy to come by in Primal). The fact that you can't break away and escape mid-battle for some healing makes things needlessly difficult. I also encountered some bizarre anomalies, such as losing control of Scree for a minute at one point as he walked about at random.
Other things I like about Primal include the ability to save anywhere (imagine that!), and the bonuses you get by completing levels, such as a look behind the scenes at the game's development. The gameplay could've used some balancing, and the overall flakiness does detract a bit from the pleasures of Primal. But I definitely recommend the game for the story, characterization, voice acting, and particularly the art direction.
ArtToday.com Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of IMSI, last week launched FlashComponents.com. The subscription site is the result of a partnership between ArtToday and Flash veterans J. Scott Hamlin and Scott Balay. Hamlin and Balay are the authors of 40 Photoshop Power Effects, and Hamlin has co-authored Flash MX ActionScript: The Designer's Edge, as well as Flash 5 Magic.
The site provides a number of Flash interface elements for subscribers. Currently, more than 100 complete site templates are available, as well as 150 animations, 150 buttons and 100 audio loops. All of the Flash items can be customized, and many have been created specifically as Flash components. While not yet well known, components unlock much of the real power of Flash. Almost anything that can be created in Flash can be turned into a Flash component and given its own interface to enable modifying it. Recent FlashComponents.com components include a popup calendar, slide show, clocks, menus, text effects, buttons, animations, and complete interfaces. All are customizable, and a tutorial is available for novices.
Pricing is $29.95 per month, or $79.95 per year.
FLARB Development and Wordware Publishing Inc. have released Wireless Game Programming in C/C++ With BREW (ISBN 1556229054), a book by Ralph Barbagallo is targeted at game developers and mobile application programmers looking to enter the wireless gaming market.
The book contains chapters and example programs covering Qualcomm's BREW SDK (software development kit), including graphics, sound, input, optimizations and the intricacies of getting code to run on a BREW-enabled phone. An example of a complete working game is also used to tie all the material together. The book also discusses how to bring mobile games to market, including understanding the process of getting a game through the TRUE BREW testing process. Companion files are included for the reader's reference.
New from face2face animation inc. is a facial animation plug-in for Apple's QuickTime 6 player. Based on the face2face player , a real-time streaming MPEG-4 authoring technology, the QuickTime plug-in lets QuickTime 6 developers and users create and distribute 30-fps facial characters with lip-sync in a streaming file at less than 14.4 kilobits per second (kb/s).
face2face animation says it will also extend its QuickTime plug-in support to its partnership with Kaydara, which markets the Kaydara FBX file interchange format.
Using the face2face MPEG-4 authoring tools, face models can be animated "semi-automatically" from digital video capture, and created from a single still image of a face. Users can extract from digital video into the face2face MPEG-4 facial motion capture system, without markers or expensive animation software, and render into the new face2face player.
The player is a special real-time, animated, textured mesh that is designed to be driven by MPEG-4 Facial Animation Parameters (FAPs).
face2face’s player is driven by Facial Animation Parameter (FAP) data, as specified by the MPEG-4 standard. Facial expressions, lip movements and head motion information are transferred to a face model that can be driven by speech, singing, and any other facial motion, automatically.
Face models can currently be developed with the face2face plug-in for Softimage, 3ds max, Maya, or the face2face software for a textured fixed mesh.
Expected this June from Ulead Systems, Inc. is StudioQuartet, a digital media production suite. The $895 product, a collection of Ulead's digital media software on a DVD, includes tools for image editing, graphics creation, 3D text and object animation, and real-time video editing, including rotoscoping and CG tools. It also includes DVD authoring and support for a range of traditional and emerging format types including MicroMV and DVD-VR. Introductory pricing will be $795 for the first 90 days.
Montréal-based ballet troupe La La La Human Steps used Kaydara Online, a real-time 3D production system, to animate 3D dancers in Amelia, its latest contemporary ballet production. Kaydara worked in collaboration with La La La Human Steps artistic director and choreographer Édouard Lock to integrate 3D ballet dancers, movement, music, lighting and graphics into a visual backdrop that is used throughout "Amelia."
With Lock's new ballet "Amelia," the Montréal choreographer continues his exploration of human gesture through the interplay of speed and extremes. Reinforcement and modification of the primary form of the body, perceptual disorientation, exploration of the cinematic images as well as partial isolation of moment through lighting, are the key elements of this work.
Amelia begins with a 3D ballerina rendered live in Kaydara Online and projected onto a 14-foot screen suspended above the stage. The audience's attention is drawn to the ballerina suspended against a black background; 3D camera work and lighting done on the scene alternate light and shadow across her face as she begins to dance. The actual ballerina (on whom the model was based) then moves on stage, and the live part of the show begins. At several points throughout the production, the screen re-appears, with one of five different ballerina models dancing and floating in the background.
InSpeck, a scanning technology company located in Montréal, created the ballerina models by digitizing their bodies with one of its 3D full-body systems. The heads and hands of all five ballerinas were captured with InSpeck's head and hand systems. InSpeck then used EM, its 3D editing and modeling software, to put the pieces together to create five 3D ballerina models. Approximately 10 minutes of animation for the piece was captured directly from the actual ballerinas using a Vicon motion capture system and Immersion Systems gloves. This data was assembled into Kaydara Online, which includes a suite of interactive animation and rendering tools that enabled the show technical directors to control both animation and playback in real-time.
Realities, 3D animators from Montréal, also collaborated on the creative process for the virtual ballerinas.
Boris FX, a developer of integrated effects technology for video and film production, announced last week a new version of Boris RED, its 3D-compositing, titling, and effects application. In addition to support for OpenGL, the new release offers over 30 new filters, tools, and technologies.
New features include:
Boris RED 3GL offers three kinds of plug-in integration for Vegas 4.0: transitions, filters, and a media generator to create multi-layer composites on a single layer on the Vegas timeline. Among the many features that Boris RED can add to NLEs such as Vegas are four-point motion tracking, vector paint, rotoscoping, 3D compositing, and 2D and 3D title creation and animation.
Researchers at Iridas, a developer of uncompressed digital playback technology for the film and broadcast industry, have developed a PC-based system that plays uncompressed film-resolution sequences at full speed, directly from 8, 10 or 16bit formats, without converting to special high-speed formats. The process reportedly lets users maintain optimal image quality while providing immediate access to sequences of any length at 2K or higher resolution. Eliminating the need for special file formats also speeds up workflow and saves hard-drive storage space.
The advance was enabled by developments to Iridas' Intelligent Look-Ahead Playback (ILAP) system, a RAM-buffering technology that pre-loads upcoming frames in the background while a sequence is playing. ILAP2 augments that process so that while frames are loading, they are simultaneously being decoded.
IRIDAS introduced its ILAP2-powered FrameCycler DDS Infinite software at NAB2003 in conjunction with a DVI-to-HD downconverter developed by Miranda Technologies.
The Game Developers Conference Europe 2003 Call for Submissions is now open. Deadline: 25 April 2003
Join interactive entertainment industry members to share knowledge with the European game development community at the Game Developers Conference Europe 2003, 26-29 August in London, UK.
To submit a speaking proposal, visit http://www.gdc-europe.com/abstract.
ACM Siggraph announced last week the content for the Educators Program for Siggraph 2003, the 30th International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques, being held July 27-31, 2003 at the San Diego Convention Center. The Educators Program explores the interdisciplinary use of computer graphics across numerous content areas and presents the content in four different presentation formats.
"Themed 'Building Bridges,' the program content explores the interdisciplinary use of computer graphics, computer graphics applications and the teaching of computer graphics," said John Finnegan, Educators Program chair from Purdue University. "We have content from art, art history, museum exhibitions, theater design, interior design as well as the mathematics and computer science discipline."
The Siggraph 2003 Educators Program content is presented in traditional paper and panel formats. There are nine papers and eight panels. In addition, the forum presentations started at Siggraph 2001 continue. A forum is an interactive discussion where moderator and attendees discuss relevant issues. There are seven forums scheduled.
New for 2003 are eight QuickTakes. These are a pedagogical (learning about teaching) 10-minute presentations. The concept is for presenters to put ideas in front of other attendees to get feedback and ideas for further research or improve teaching techniques.
Below are highlights from SIGGRAPH 2003 Educators Program content:
Computer Simulation Technology and Teaching and Learning Interior Lighting Design, Jin Feng, Purdue University: This paper shares the author's experience of using computer simulation technology in an interior lighting design class to improve the teaching and learning environment. The focus of discussion is on how the simulation technology can change teaching and learning, enrich and expand the course contents, and access unlimited resources beyond physical and fiscal limitations.
Polynomiography and Applications in Art, Education, and Science, Bahman Kalantari, Rutgers University: Polynomiography is the art and science of visualization in approximation of zeros of polynomials. Informally, polynomiography allows one to take colorful pictures of polynomials and subsequently re-color them using one's own creativity and artistry. Polynomiography has applications in art, education, and science. From the artistic point of view, one can learn to produce exquisite, complex, and diverse set of images. From the educational point of view, it can be used in high school or college courses to teach mathematical concepts: the algebra and geometry of complex numbers, the notions of limit and continuity, algorithms for polynomial root-finding and iteration functions such as Newton's method, geometric constructs such as Voronoi regions, and fractal sets. From the scientific point of view, polynomiography is a tool for viewing polynomials and for discovering new properties of these fundamental objects of science.
Animating Art History: Building a Bridge Between Disciplines, Kelli Butz, Stevie Gardiner, Shaun Jennings, Bruce Massey, LiQin Tan, Roberta K. Tarbell, Robert Wuilfe, Rutgers University: This interdisciplinary project challenges traditional educational methodologies, embraces the possibilities of new technology, and uses 3D animation to create tools for classroom use. The course presents difficult concepts in art history to students within the framework of an animation segment. Through plot, humor, and visual exaggeration, the animation captures student imaginations and facilitates learning. This panel discusses the effectiveness of collaboration between the disciplines of art history and animation and engages the audience in a discussion of computer animation's potential for transforming other fields of study. The presentation demonstrates that computer animation offers educators everywhere a new way to engage the interest of students and create enthusiasm for knowledge.
Moving Clocks and Bending Space: A Learning/Interactive Museum Environment (LIME), Geralyn Abinader, Richard Guy, Molly Lenore, Joseph Stein, Gretchen Walker, American Museum of Natural History: The process of creating a successful exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History involves a dialogue between those who write the content and those who create the content's presentation. This panel explores creation and evaluation of two non-traditional exhibits (Moving Clocks and You Bend Space-Time) from the current Einstein exhibition. It describes the scientific and philosophical ideas that fueled their conception, explains the design and technological choices, and examines how educational media experiences are evaluated.
Producing a Real-World Student Group Project, Kat Curry and Pam Hogarth, Gnomon School of Visual Effects, Craig Sylvester, Independent, and Gil Zimmerman, DreamWorks SKG: Many digital media/animation departments include student group projects as an important component of their curricula. At the Gnomon School of Visual Effects the latest effort created the visual effects for Roger Corman's feature film "Demon Slayer." This panel features presentations by the visual effects supervisor, the visual effects producer, the CG supervisor, and students. Topics include the history of "Demon Slayer," pluses and problems, working with professionals, setting realistic expectations, and suggestions for finding projects.
Game Development & Design: Curricular Challenges and Opportunities, John Buchanon, Electronic Arts and Jason Della Rocca, International Game Developers Association: As more schools provide game-based curricula, are the needs of the industry, the students, and the institutions being met? What are the challenges that face schools who have implemented, or are in the process of implementing, curriculum that focuses on game design, development, and study? This session provides a forum for academics and developers to discuss these challenges and subsequent opportunities.
The Process of Effective Critiques, Jana Whittington, Purdue University Calumet and William Joel, Western Correctional State University: Students must acquire technical, business, and aesthetic vocabulary skills to communicate effectively with peers, superiors, clients, and the public. A well-executed critique process designed to address specific objectives helps the student learn communication processes that are essential for success, and it gives the instructor a quantitative assessment process to evaluate each course and assignment. This forum is designed for novice instructors, instructors new to teaching technology and graphic design, and instructors interested in exploring assessment methods to conduct critiques.
The Siggraph 2003 Educators Program will be held Wednesday, July 30, and Thursday, July 31. For a complete list of all sessions, session abstracts, times, etc., see www.siggraph.org/s2003/conference/edu/index.html.
RSS is found everywhere on the Web, connecting Weblogs and providing news feeds. Originally developed by Netscape in 1999, RSS--which can stand for RDF Site Summary, Rich Site Summary, or Really Simple Syndication--is an XML-based format that allows Web developers to describe and syndicate Web site content. Using RSS files allows developers to create a data feed that supplies headlines, links, and article summaries from a Web site. Other sites can then incorporate them into their pages automatically. Although RSS is in widespread use, people struggle with its confusing and sometimes conflicting documentation and versions. "Content Syndication with RSS" by Ben Hammersley (O'Reilly, US $29.95) provides a reference to the specifications and the tools that make syndication possible.
"RSS is just on the tipping point of mass adoption," says Hammersley. "There are nearly a million feeds available on the open Internet, and over 30 different clients. It's right there in the center of the rise of blogging, mobile devices, semantic Web technology, and decentralization. Pretty much every new cool thing in IT this year is being driven by, or facilitated with, RSS."
The book begins with an introduction to content syndication on the Internet: its purpose, limitations, and traditions, and answers the question of why would you consider "giving your content away" like this? Next, it delves into the architecture of content syndication with an overview of the entire system, from content author to end user on another site. Readers will follow the flow of data: content, referral data, publish-and-subscribe calls, with a detailed look at the protocols and standards possible at each step.
Chapter 4, "RSS 0.91, 0.92, and 2.0 Really Simple Syndication," is available free online at http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/consynrss/chapter/index.html
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) has released the Online Games white paper, available for download at no charge at http://www.igda.org/online/online_whitepaper.php.
Industry analysts are predicting online game revenues will be in the billions by 2007. The Online Games white paper aims to help developers and publishers take advantage of this market by providing market statistics, business model descriptions, technology summaries, publisher listings, case studies of online games and reference resources.
The IGDA tasked the Online Games Committee to address the needs of game developers concerning online games, which resulted in the white paper. The following members led the committee:
Video game publisher Ubi Soft will upgrade existing licenses as part of its game development program to utilize Discreet 3ds max software throughout its European development studios, which encompasses over 200 animation-software licenses. The agreement between Ubi Soft and Discreet represents the biggest European 3D software partnership to date, and follows the recent decision from Ubi Soft Canada to also purchase licenses for its Montreal-based development studio.
The Khronos Group announced at NAB that Falanx; MEI/Panasonic, Neomagic, Sanshin and Swell Software have joined as contributing members. Khronos Members agree to work together to develop the authoring and deployment of the rich media that represents both sides of the graphics API equation. Each member participates in either one or both Khronos Work Groups in the development of OpenGL ES and OpenML; royalty-free, open standard APIs that enable authoring and playback of dynamic media on a range of platforms and devices.
The group invites firms to get involved, as the vision of widely deployed, rich 3D media will become a reality later this year with the public release of the OpenGL ES 1.0 Specification. According to Khronos, this will create new classes of content-hungry platforms, each with millions of potential new users. The OpenML 1.0 SDK, scheduled for release later this year, will enable developers to capitalize on this emerging market opportunity and integrate video, audio and graphics capabilities into their application suites, making these applications portable over multiple operating systems, CPU architectures and add-in hardware devices. The OpenML 1.0 specification was completed in 2001 and can be used, royalty free, by any adopting company that desires to integrate OpenML functionality into hardware or software products. The next-generation OpenML 1.1 specification will incorporate new features and services to further enhance dynamic media authoring. More information about OpenML and the 1.0 spec is at www.khronos.org/openml.
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- David Duberman
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