Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

11 April 2005
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)

--Web Crossing Releases New Content Blob Management Plug-In

--O'Reilly Releases "Firefox Hacks"

--Autodesk Updates Combustion Desktop Compositing Software
--Bauhaus Software Ships Animator's Toolbar
--Eovia Updates Vector Plug-in for Carrara 4
--Bionatics Updates Plant-sim Software for Maya
--Iridas Announces Shake Integration for FrameCycler Professional 3.5
--Instant Effects Expands Product Family
--Autodesk Launches Toxik Software for Visual Effects
--Toon Boom Harmony Released in Japan
--Luxology Announces modo Evaluation Version

--IGDA Forms Dedicated Group for Mobile Game Developers
--O'Reilly, Safari Launch Online Platform for Educators
--Discreet Re-brands as Autodesk Media and Entertainment

--Corel, Toon Boom Offer Animator Discounts

--DreamCatcher Releases Obscure for PC, Consoles
--Sony Launches PSP
--Lego Star Wars Video Game Ships

--Game Trust Announces Casual Game Development Contest Finalists, Winner

--O'Reilly ETech Wrap-up

--About Spectrum



Web Crossing Releases New Content Blob Management Plug-In

Web Crossing, Inc. today announced a new Content Blob Management plug-in, designed to make site content management much more accessible to non-technical administrators.

Administrators can create access-controlled "blobs" of content that drop into Theme cells within the standard Web Crossing Theme manager. The new plug-in facilitates site-content management and organization, and installs in a few clicks directly from the "Shop For Plug-ins" link on an administrator's Control Panel. Free for a limited time, additional information and the new Content Blob Management plug-in are available from http://www.Webcrossing.com/blobs/.

The plug-in requires no knowledge of HTML for elemental text-based content blobs. Creation is also straightforward for blobs that contain images and other elements. Once blobs are created, placing them on a page simply involves choosing the correct blob from a popup menu.

Content blobs can also include Web Crossing Template Language (WCTL) scripting for dynamic content. Optional "blob boxes," which include titles and location-specific layout elements, ensure that repositioned blobs consistently look appropriate to their location. Blobs automatically inherit into subfolders, or can be individually set to never inherit into a subfolder. Complete access control, including host access controls, balance usability and control of the blobs.



O'Reilly Releases "Firefox Hacks"

From popup blocking and tabbed browsing to first-class security and privacy protection, the reasons listed under the heading "Why Use Firefox?" on Mozilla.org might lead you to ask, "Why use anything else?" Imagine a world with no more spyware, vastly reduced spam, built-in search, RSS integration, hassle-free downloading, and amazing customization possibilities. It's a novel idea--a browser you can like and enjoy using.

"Firefox is the Web browser that upholds the highest principles of the World Wide Web," says Nigel McFarlane, author of "Firefox Hacks" (O'Reilly, US $24.95). "It supports and defines the Web as a good place to be--a place where all people can freely and safely participate, without having to tip their hat to anyone." And he adds, "Those are fighting words."

In the battle for browser usage, Firefox's victories have been swift, bloodless, and impressive. McFarlane calls it "the equivalent of D-Day for open source on the Windows desktop." The browser is an open source software product made by the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation. With nearly 40 million downloads, Firefox has achieved significant inroads on the consumer desktop. "Its next battle is to make itself known on desktops in organizations," notes McFarlane. "A fair amount of 'Firefox Hacks' is aimed at helping IT people come to grips with the technology."

Casual users or IT professionals will find all the user-friendly tips, tools, and tricks they'll need to make a productive switch to the popular browser. "Don't expect a traditional Web development book or a book on searching the Web," McFarlane cautions. "This is quite a technical book about how Firefox is held together as a product. Like all books in the Hacks series, the more inquisitive or technically minded you are, the more you'll get out of it."

"Firefox Hacks" explains how to customize Firefox's deployment, appearance, features, and functionality--delivering techniques, tools, and strategies for making the most out of Firefox's flexibility. Readers will learn how to:

Several sample hacks, including "Fix Web Servers to Support Firefox Content," "Take Firefox with You," and "Waste Time with Toys and Games," are available online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/firefoxhks/chapter/index.html



Autodesk Updates Combustion Desktop Compositing Software

New from Autodesk, Inc. is Combustion 4 software for Windows, with tools for visual effects creation, including vector paint, particles, effects, animation, and 3D compositing. Version 4 provides motion graphics and compositing artists new creative capabilities, interface improvements, new paint tools and enhanced interoperability with third-party applications.

New features in Combustion 4 include:

Autodesk Combustion 4 software for Windows is available now for US $995; upgrade pricing from Combustion 3 to Combustion 4 software is US $249.00. Combustion 4 software for Mac is expected to ship May 2005. For more information, visit www.autodesk.com or call 1-800-869-3504.


Bauhaus Software Ships Animator's Toolbar

Just out from Bauhaus Software is Animator's Toolbar, a new suite of 2D animation automation tools for Mirage Studio 1.5, Bauhaus's flagship paperless 2D animation, paint and effects system.

Developed in conjunction with animators, new features include:

Animator's Toolbar is available now from Bauhaus Software. It currently supports Mirage Studio 1.5 for Windows and sells for a suggested retail price of USD $149, with a special introductory price of USD $99. Animator's Toolbar will be available for Mac OS X in Q2 2005.



Eovia Updates Vector Plug-in for Carrara 4

Eovia, a developer and publisher of 3D software, recently released the Eovia VectorStyle 2 plug-in. VectorStyle 2 lets Eovia Carrara 4 users render 3D scenes as scaleable, low-bandwidth vector animations for use in print, the Web, etc. New features include improved rendering including shadows from multiple light sources, reflections, transparency and much more.

VectorStyle 2, driven by Eovia's new EoVEC Technology, can be combined with Carrara 4 Pro or Standard to produce images and motion files in output formats including Macromedia Flash (SWF), Encapsulated PostScript (EPS), Adobe Illustrator (AI) and Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG).

The VectorStyle 2 plug-in is compatible with Carrara 4 Standard and Pro versions and is available as an electronic download through the Eovia Webstore (www.eovia.com/purchase/Webstore.asp ). Eovia VectorStyle 2 is priced at $129 USD for the full version, upgrade for $39 USD. A full description of VectorStyle 2 and examples of output can be viewed on the VectorStyle 2 product page of the Eovia Website at: http://www.eovia.com/products/carrara_addons/vectorstyle.asp .


Bionatics Updates Plant-sim Software for Maya

New from developer Bionatics is natFX 3 for Maya. Following the release of the demo version, the full release version is now available. natFX 3.0 has been fully re-architected with a new interface. Specifically designed for Maya 6.5, natFX reportedly handles polygon-heavy models, large scenes and important animation data.

For generation of photo-realistic static trees or animated vegetation scenes, natFX 3 provides native objects. Artists will be able to generate and design large quantities of models. natFX also generates embedded animation skeletons for those who would like to generate custom animation.

Videogame developers can use the plug-in's ability to provide native objects and generate automatic LODs, allowing them to avoid the risky integration of an outsourced SDK, as with other plant modelers. natFX-generated vegetation integrates into the graphic workflow, and thus into any 3D engine or game engine compatible with Maya.

Among the key features, natFX 3 allows to handle heavy vegetation datasets and normal mapping on bark textures. natFX 3 includes a multiple Level of Detail (LOD) generator allowing fast creation of LODs from a high resolution tree. Trees can also be fine tuned based on constraints such as: frame-rate, size, distance display, texture memory, etc.

While natFX 2 had only 150 virtual specie seeds, natFX 3 will be released with 220 specie seeds and will be enriched within the next quarter with 80 more seeds.



Iridas Announces Shake Integration for FrameCycler Professional 3.5

Iridas, a developer of resolution-independent playback technologies, recently announced integration of FrameCycler Professional 3.5 with Apple's Shake 3.5 compositing application. Shake users can activate a simple script allowing them to launch FrameCycler from within Shake, replacing the Shake flipbook with FrameCycler's playback engine and image-analysis tools.

To learn more about the Shake script for integrating FrameCycler visit http://www.iridas.com/support/techtips/shake/, contact Iridas at +49 (89) 330 40 982, or visit Iridas at NAB, April 18 - 21, 2005


Instant Effects Expands Product Family

Instant Effects, Inc. recently announced new products for creating 3D PowerPoint presentations. Instant Effects unveiled a new version of its flagship product OfficeFX, for use by consumers, educators and business presenters, and also unveiled OfficeFX Professional. The latter was developed for event-production firms and specialty-graphics houses for including 3D media and video in their presentation projects without having to shift from the design and authoring tools they currently use.

OfficeFX is a general productivity application that enables mainstream computer users to use DirectX 9 and modern graphics hardware for creating presentations. In conjunction with the latest graphics processing unit (GPU) offerings from ATI and Nvidia, OfficeFX replaces the 2D of traditional PowerPoint with the 3D look of a network broadcast, combined with the non-linear and interactive behaviors of a contemporary computer game.

New to market, OfficeFX Professional lets users integrate streaming and live video directly within the 3D elements of a presentation.



Autodesk Launches Toxik Software for Visual Effects

Autodesk Inc. recently announced Autodesk Toxik, collaborative compositing software for the creation of digital visual effects. In essence, a visual effects film pipeline is a finely tuned assembly line in which teams of specialized artists create individual elements that are amassed into the final scene. Toxik's collaborative engine promises a way to manage this complexity and automate time-consuming data management tasks.

Toxik's image-processing capabilities are built around its Ultra-High Resolution Interaction and High Dynamic Range Imagery (HDRI) core, which reportedly let users work interactively and intuitively with virtually any visual media, regardless of bit-depth or image size. Toxik also features: Reaction, Autodesk's next-generation 3D environment for interactive compositing; Suave, a software renderer; and a new user interface (UI) paradigm called “Touch UI.”

Features in Toxik include:

Toxik works on Intel-based workstations and the Nvidia Quadro FX series of graphics cards for Windows-based operating systems. North American pricing for one Toxik seat with supporting collaboration infrastructure is $9,000 USD. Toxik 1.0 begins shipping worldwide in mid-April 2005 (at NAB).



Toon Boom Harmony Released in Japan

Toon Boom Animation recently released Toon Boom Harmony in Japan, during the Tokyo International Anime Fair. The animation software includes such features as morphing, basic inverse kinematics and "glue." Harmony also includes a global template library that facilitates the reuse of assets, set up in an integrated pipeline.



Luxology Announces modo Evaluation Version

New from Luxology LLC, a developer of 3D content-creation tools is a free production evaluation version of modo, its new subdivision surface and polygonal modeling platform. The version is fully functional and unrestricted, with no disabled features or other limitations.

modo is an advanced subdivision surface modeling environment designed for 3D artists working on games, films, TV, print, architecture and Web productions. Features include a combination of toolset with pipeline integration and advanced software ergonomics.

modo ships on a single disc supporting both Mac OS X and Windows, and sells for a suggested retail price of USD $895, with a limited-time introductory price of USD $695.




IGDA Forms Dedicated Group for Mobile Game Developers

In response to industry growth and attention, the Mobile Game Development Special Interest Group (Mobile-SIG) has formed within the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) to offer a knowledge source for developers.

The Mobile-SIG will serve as an objective voice for developers, publishers, researchers and aggregators of mobile games, offering a shared ground for industry-wide views, collaboration and experimentation on development, limitations and opportunities in the mobile games sector.

Mobile games and entertainment are a rapidly evolving part of the game industry, from the successful introduction of mobile consoles to the expanding opportunities seen in the wireless industry.

In the next few months, the Mobile-SIG plans to issue a new online e-zine focusing on successful game launches, marketing of games and opportunities and challenges observed in current projects. SIG work is already in motion on a series of whitepapers on new technologies, value chain relationships and the differences in fixed and mobile development studios. Karthik Swaminathan, Mobile-SIG advisory board member and executive producer at Screentoons will oversee the coordination of these publications.

Visit the Mobile-SIG Website at www.igda.org/mobile for more details.


O'Reilly, Safari Launch Online Platform for Educators

O'Reilly Media and Safari Books Online recently announced SafariU, a new service that lets computer technology educators and trainers create online and print materials. Safari Books Online is a joint venture of O'Reilly and the Pearson Technology Group (PTG).

With SafariU, says O'Reilly, instructors can compile a custom book from various information resources, and deliver it to students at a lower cost than a traditional textbook. The custom book is professionally printed and delivered in as little as two weeks. In addition to print books, SafariU offers an online subscription to a syllabus that links to the complete content of up to 10 of the books used in the custom book, plus any supplementary information the instructor chooses, including audio, video, additional reading material, exercises, and links to outside resources. SafariU also provides a peer network where instructors can share learning objects and other teaching resources.

There is no cost to educators for SafariU. A SafariU textbook costs 16 cents per page, including the cover and binding, so the price of an average book of 200 pages is $32, plus the bookstore markup. A course subscription to SafariU's online resources is less than $10 per month per student. More information about SafariU is available at http://safariu.oreilly.com.


Discreet Re-brands as Autodesk Media and Entertainment

Autodesk, Inc. recently announced Autodesk Media and Entertainment division (MED). Formerly known as Discreet, the division will continue to provide products and services for the film, video, gaming, and related media and entertainment markets. Additionally, Autodesk Consulting is extending its organization by adding a dedicated Media and Entertainment practice.

“The media and entertainment industries are at an inflection point, where creativity and productivity must meet. From the 4K digital intermediate process for film making to uncompressed HD programming and next generation game consoles, our customers are expecting us to innovate and solve the most complex of production requirements,” said Martin Vann, vice president of Autodesk Media and Entertainment. “By integrating and unifying our brand with Autodesk, we position ourselves to become a more closely aligned division of a billion dollar plus company. Autodesk Media and Entertainment will not only provide a broader and more strategic presence for Autodesk, but a better platform for us to compete within our core markets of film, television, gaming and design visualization”.

Autodesk Media and Entertainment will demonstrate the benefits of this integration at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention (NAB) in Las Vegas, April 18-21, 2005. At this leading industry convention, Autodesk Media and Entertainment will unveil new, state-of-the-art offerings as well as significant enhancements to existing products and solutions.

Autodesk Media and Entertainment Division will be headquartered in Montreal, Canada, where Discreet has been based since Autodesk acquired Discreet Logic in 1999.




Corel, Toon Boom Offer Animator Discounts

Toon Boom Animation Inc. and Corel Corporation are offering special pricing to customers who purchase both Corel Painter IX and Toon Boom Studio v2.5. Together, the two programs let artists create hand-drawn animations. Starting in Corel Painter IX, artists create hand-painted digital art. Using Painter IX animation features such as onion-skinning and frame-rate control, they can preview animations directly within the application. Once the art is completed in Painter IX, it can be saved as individual bitmaps or compiled into QuickTime movies that are brought into Toon Boom Studio for advanced animation production.

Until May 31, 2005, Corel and Toon Boom are providing these special offers to Toon Boom Studio and Corel Painter IX customers.

When purchasing from Corel at www.corel.com/toonboom, Toon Boom Studio customers will receive a significant savings off the suggested retail price (SRP) of Corel Painter IX. Pricing details for Toon Boom Studio customers are as follows:
* United States - Purchase Corel Painter IX for $329 US full or $179 US upgrade.
* Canada - Purchase Corel Painter IX for $479 CAN full or $259 CAN upgrade.
* United Kingdom - Purchase Corel Painter IX for £199 full or £74 upgrade.
* European Union - Purchase Corel Painter IX for €354 full or €164 upgrade.

When purchasing from Toon Boom at www.toonboom.com/corel, Corel Painter IX customers will receive $95 US off the full SRP of Toon Boom Studio v2.5 and $45 US off the full SRP of Toon Boom Studio Express.



DreamCatcher Games Releases Obscure for PC, Consoles

DreamCatcher Games recently shipped Obscure for the PlayStation2, Xbox, and Windows. In the vein of Hollywood's horror movie genre, Obscure tracks a group of five high school students who discover the halls they walk each day are anything but safe. A string of mysterious disappearances and unexplained events set the stage for a night more horrifying than any trip to detention.

Obscure offers a range of gameplay options to see gamers through their night of terror. Players customize their action experience, interchanging between any characters at any time, utilizing the unique skills and abilities of each student. Controlled AI settings of defense, attack and help, allow characters to assist each other during combat and while solving puzzles.

The game also offers single or team play, with a second player able to enter or exit the game at any time. Obscure also includes a full cooperative mode: a second player can take control of another student and work together to fight monsters and resolve puzzles.

Stress runs high as players are constantly vulnerable to attack, even when they least expect it. Monsters also face their share of vulnerability when players combine conventional weapons with natural and artificial light, exploiting their weak spots. A “black aura” feature intensifies stress, making dangerous elements visible on screen through real-time graphic effects. To keep the player fully immersed in virtual panic, dynamic camera settings allow for freedom of movement, making it possible to shoot and move simultaneously.

Developed by Hydravision, Obscure is rated of 'M' for Mature. For more information, or to download the demo, visit http://www.dreamcatchergames.com/dci/obscure/.


Sony Launches PSP

Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. recently released the PSP (PlayStation Portable) in North America. The integrated portable entertainment system plays games, music, and movies, displays photos, and supports communication and wireless networking. Out of the one million PSP Value Pack units available in retail outlets for the March 24 launch, 600,000 sold the first two days, ringing up $150 million in sales. The SRP $250 value pack contains the following:
* PSP (PlayStation Portable)
* AC Adaptor
* Battery Pack
* Memory Stick Duo (32 MB)
* Headphone with remote control
* Soft Case
* Wrist Strap
* Cleaning Cloth
* UMD in-pack game/movie/music sampler
* Spider-Man 2 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (for the first 1 Million PSP Value Packs shipped)

With gaming at the product's core, PSP features graphics rendering capabilities comparable to the PlayStation 2, allowing users to play 3D games with full-motion video and high-fidelity stereo audio. PSP also includes built-in stereo speakers, exterior headphone connector and input/output connectors such as USB 2.0, and 802.11b (Wi-Fi) wireless LAN, enabling users to connect to the Internet and play online via a wireless network. Up to 16 PSP systems in the vicinity can also be connected to each other directly, allowing for wireless head-to-head competition. In addition, wireless capabilities allow software and data to be downloaded to a PSP and saved onto a Memory Stick Duo.

The "launch window" lineup of 24 game titles includes (additional 23 titles currently in development in North America and 100 titles currently in development worldwide):
* Ape Escape: On the Loose, SCEA
* ATV Offroad Fury: Blazin' Trails, SCEA
* Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower, Capcom
* Dynasty Warriors, KOEI
* FIFA 2005, Electronic Arts
* Gretzky NHL, SCEA
* Lumines, Ubisoft
* Metal Gear Acid, Konami
* MVP Baseball, Electronic Arts
* NBA Street Showdown, Electronic Arts
* Need for Speed Rivals, Electronic Arts
* NFL Street 2 Unleashed, Electronic Arts
* Rengoku: Tower of Purgatory, Konami
* Ridge Racer, Namco
* Smartbomb, Eidos Interactive
* Spider-Man 2, Activision
* Tiger Woods PGA TOUR, Electronic Arts
* Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix, Activision
* Twisted Metal: Head On, SCEA
* Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, Sony Online Entertainment
* Wipeout Pure, SCEA
* World Tour Soccer, SCEA

Several motion picture studios announced feature film support for the platform with movies being made available on the newly developed proprietary, 60mm1.8GB optical disc, Universal Media Disc (UMD), which PSP utilizes as its main storage medium. In addition to other studio announcements, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment announced House of Flying Daggers, XXX, Hellboy, Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Once Upon A Time In Mexico, for release on April 19. To protect this content, the copy-protection system developed for UMD utilizes a combination of a unique disc ID, 128 bit AES encryption keys for the media, and individual ID for each PSP hardware unit.



Lego Star Wars Video Game Ships

A popular film series joins with a toy maker to create Lego Star Wars: The Video Game. Eidos plc, publisher and developer of entertainment software, and Giant Interactive Entertainment recently announced that Lego Star Wars: The Video Game is now available for PlayStation2, Xbox, PC, and Game Boy Advance platforms.

Created by Giant Interactive Entertainment, Ltd. and Traveller's Tales, the game features a game world and characters built from virtual Lego blocks. Within the game, players relive scenes from the most recent Star Wars movies, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and the forthcoming film Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith.

Gamers can play as more than 40 Star Wars characters through more than 18 levels, experiencing the storyline of the first three movies in the Star Wars saga with action, puzzles, and Lego Star Wars humor. Additionally, players can try a two-player cooperative play mode that lets a second player drop in and out of the action without interrupting gameplay.




Game Trust Announces Casual Game Development Contest Finalists, Winner

Game Trust, a developer of play infrastructure for casual games, last month selected five finalists in the first "Casual Game Evolution Challenge," co-sponsored by Shockwave.com and Macromedia.

The contest launched before GDC seeking to identify the best single-player Shockwave game concepts for online, tournament, and download play. The contest was designed to help developers successfully release their games and to help the casual game market evolve with innovative new game concepts.

The five finalists will be awarded Game Trust licensing contracts with a revenue share and guaranteed distribution to casual game players including an exclusive premiere on Shockwave.com.

The five finalists were:
* DigiPet: Munch Madness, by Mockworld Games (www.mockworld.com): A 3D Pac-Man variant, where players shoot and dodge gun-wielding trolls while collecting cookies.
* Writer's Block, by Blockdot (www.blockdot.com): A fast-paced word game where players twist and rotate a lettered and cubed surface to form words.
* Dodge That Anvil!, by RabidLab (www.rabidlab.com): A 3D game where players dodge anvils and use dynamite, magnets, and other fun objects to help harvest and collect food.
* Johnny and Tommy, by Nikitova (www.nikitova.com): A unique and fun old-school western shooter where players chase and defeat robbers to retrieve a loved hostage.
* Oshiro, by Walking Ideas Inc. (www.walkingideas.com): A Japanese-themed puzzle game with single and multiplayer game play.

On March 28, Oshiro was chosen grand prize winner. Developed by San Francisco-based Walking Ideas, Inc., Oshiro plays both like a puzzle and a chess-match. The game features great graphics, three game modes, and single and multiplayer game play. It's a time-killer in the office, a brain-teaser for cerebral minds, and a chess match for competitive spirits. A demo version of Oshiro is currently available at www.walkingideas.com.

Oshiro won a five-figure revenue share advance, a Game Trust Game Frame licensing contract, and an exclusive premiere on Shockwave.com. In addition, Game Trust awarded Walking Ideas with a specially “tricked out” Vespa commissioned specifically for this contest. The Vespa was on display last month at GDC.




O'Reilly ETech Wrap-up

Hackers and other innovators have embraced the do-it-yourself renaissance, tweaking here and integrating there, creating new tools and inspiring a resurgence of hands-on experimentation. These new, unexpected combinations--and the opportunities they present--were the driving force behind the 2005 edition of ETech, the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, held in San Diego, California, March 14-17. The conference attracted over 800 attendees, making it one of the best-attended ETechs to date, illustrating both the popularity of "remix" and the pervasiveness of technology in our lives.

As new applications, services, and devices simultaneously converge and morph in unconventional ways, the lens of ETech helps to bring new trends to light and focus the future of computing technology for a wider audience. As in past years, ETech gave developers, IT decision-makers, lead users, engineers, and tech aficionados exposure to new ideas and technologies through roll-up-your-sleeves tutorials, plenary presentations, focused sessions that included late-breaking issues, and a relevant exhibit hall. Speakers and topics at the conference included:

ETech's inaugural Maker Fair illustrated the popularity and "mass amateurization" of gadgets and grassroots projects. This science fair-like evening event showcased projects from O'Reilly's new "Make" magazine, which launched in March.

Several announcements were made at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference:

For complete conference details, visit: http://conferences.oreilly.com/etech/



About Spectrum

Spectrum is an independent news service published every Monday for the interactive media professional community by Motion Blur Media. Spectrum covers the tools and technologies used to create interactive multimedia applications and infrastructure for business, education, and entertainment; and the interactive media industry scene. We love to receive interactive media/online-development tools and end product for review.

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