Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

19 April 2004
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)

--Rise to Honor Review

--3D-Online Updates Dynamic-3D with Java, JavaScript support

--Alias Announces Maya 6 at NAB
--Adobe Debuts New Video Lineup at NAB
--Avid Announces Softimage|XSI v.4.0
--Digimation Ships GestureMAX
--Avid Updates Media Composer
--Alias Updates Maya Support Option

--VC Firm to Acquire Alias from SGI

--Web Dad Receives Finnish Technology Award

--About Spectrum



Rise to Honor Review

By David Duberma


Martial Arts star Jet Li lends his name, likeness, and moves to Rise to Honor, a new PS2-only game from Sony. The throwaway plot tells the tale of Kit Yun, a young Asian man seeking vengeance for his father's death. It starts in Hong Kong and then moves to San Francisco, but the locations are mostly generic. The graphics are decent, the music is great, the animation is top-notch, and the sound effects are adequate if repetitive. Where the game really excels, though, is in the beat-em-up action.

Rise to Honor is basically a long brawler on rails. You're led by the nose through myriad indoor and outdoor environments, fighting with bare knuckles or anything that comes to hand. At every turn you're beset by hordes of relatively tough bad guys, or one really dangerous bruiser. In the former cases, the enemies often attack you from all sides, and you can in turn attack in different directions by pushing the right analog stick accordingly. This takes a certain strength of will and force of concentration, though; my tendency is to focus on one enemy at a time, which leaves me open to attack from behind. In some areas you can vary your attack by jumping off a wall, but the enemy AI is good enough that they often evade such moves. Another attack variant is the adrenaline tactic; if the so-named gauge, which fills from successful attacks or defensive moves, flashes, you can perform especially damaging moves. And if an enemy drops a weapon such as a baseball bat, you can pick it up and deal out some real whup-ass.

As an alternative to the beat-em-up sequences, every so often you get to shoot bad guys with a pistol. Why you can't do that all the time is a mystery, especially since you never need to reload, but it does serve to add variety to the gameplay. First you target a visible bad guy by flicking the analog stick in his direction, and then you fire by pressing a shoulder button. Or you can target explosive objects in the environment and blow them up to cause collateral damage to those nearby, including yourself if you're close enough. You can wait out return fire by ducking behind an obstacle, but you can't do anything while hiding. Frankly, the hand-to-hand fighting is more fun.

Then there are the sub-bosses and bosses. The first such encounter, with a seemingly drunken bar-owner, took me about 20 tries to beat. The bad guy reels and staggers so convincingly that you're enticed into approaching him; not always a good idea. The battle takes place in a realistic wading pool, and if you get too close, he grabs you by the neck and dunks you for a significant amount of damage. You can do the same to him, if you're quick, but the partial drowning doesn't seem to hurt him nearly as much as it does you. The only way I found to beat him was to constantly attack, but always be ready to defend. The game forces you to be flexible; the same approach doesn't always work. This encounter is also a great example of how the game incorporates a variety of motion-captured moves in real time for highly realistic animation.

What's most remarkable about Rise to Honor, for me, anyway, is that the more the game challenges me, the more it motivates me to succeed. Typically, when I keep dying over and over again at the same point in a game, I just want to put it away and try another one or read a book. Often that has less to do with the gameplay itself than the long load times or complex reloading procedure between tries, but Rise to Honor makes it easy: Press a button and wait a few seconds, and you're back at the start of the scene. Also, you can go back to any scene you've already beaten and try it again. Rise to Honor pisses me off, but in a good way. If you like a good dose of adrenaline in your gaming, or just want to check out a well-designed brawler, this is your game.




3D-Online Updates Dynamic-3D with Java, JavaScript support

3D-Online has launched “Dynamic-3D”, version 3, with Java and JavaScript support. The new version adds a full application programming interface based on the ISO VRML97 standard (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) for Interactive Web 3D. This allows 3D scenes exported by popular 3D modeling programs to be controlled via Java, allowing users to interact with 3D objects, change viewpoints, lighting and control key frame or procedural animations either based on mouse activity or per rendered frame.

Dynamic-3D's JavaScript interface allows HTML forms with buttons, check boxes or selections to manipulate the 3D scene, without advanced programming.

Dynamic-3D version 2 allowed 3D Studio Max artists to create Interactive Web 3D without any programming. Artists simply create interactive 3D by appending keywords to 3D object names to control animations, rotate items or change texture maps. A Maya and Caligari trueSpace version will be available soon.

Dynamic-3D version 3.0.0 is free to download and use for unlimited time to post content on the Web. A lowered pricing option removes the banner at the top of online content.




Alias Announces Maya 6 at NAB

Alias yesterday announced the next version of its 3D animation and special effects software - Maya 6. The software reportedly includes hundreds of new features and enhancements requested by Maya users.

New and enhanced features for character animation include re-architected "trax" non-linear animation. New motion retargeting and motion redirection capabilities let animators repurpose animation clips from a motion library onto characters.

Character animators can tap into the innovative new Maya Hair toolset, featuring a dynamic curve simulation engine designed to enable long hair to be added to characters. The ability to braid, curl and style hair is integrated with the Maya dynamics engine, allowing for realistic hair movement with accurate collisions. In addition to long hair effects, the Maya Hair dynamic curves represent a new entity that can be used anywhere NURBS curves are currently used; as well as lending themselves to other hair-like objects such as ropes, chains and wires. This allows animation effects such as dynamic character rigs and surfaces, including dangling tail joint chains and undulating underwater creatures.

Other new features include visual feedback of cloth stress, new stitching options, easier manipulation of cloth objects based on geometry, and new caching functionality including the ability to view, edit and blend between multiple caches. Fur can now be rendered in mental ray.

Optimizations reportedly result in performance gains in many areas, particularly in the use of the Smooth Proxy tool, said to be up to 18 times faster; Subdivision Surface proxy manipulations are now up to eight times faster. Outliner and Hypershade display performance are boosted and new tools including a lattice manipulator in the Graph Editor allow dense keyframe data to be edited. Also, new file referencing, scene segmentation, and shader organization features enable working with large data sets.

Mac users will benefit from the conversion of Maya to a Mach-O application, allowing plug-in developers to use Xcode from the Apple® Developer Tools. Also, software rendering times on the Mac averages 20-50% faster than previous versions.

New connectivity with Adobe Photoshop results in a streamlined workflow for using Maya and Photoshop together in an integrated way; PSD files can be both read into Maya and written out from Maya, with automatically created connections to layer sets in Photoshop, facilitating an iterative painting workflow.

Windows, Linux and Mac OS X platform users can now take advantage of a new embedded Web browser within the Maya panel. Beyond providing an integrated location for viewing documentation and tutorials, the javascript compatible browser allows artists to create and view interactive Web pages that can contain Maya Embedded Language (MEL) scripts in the form of MEL URLs, providing an easy way to create a customized user interface or to manage assets and scene data.

Game developers, graphic designers, and artists working in film and video can benefit from support for the DDS and PNG file formats, both new in Maya 6. Full bi-directional support for Alias StudioTools and OpenFlight on all platforms is also provided with this release of Maya, along with updated support for AutoCAD 2004 DWG files and enhanced support for IGES files.

The new ability to apply deformers to particles brings greater control to the dynamics toolset, while Paint Effects has been extended so that it can be used with polygon meshes. Modeling improvements include the ability to produce a crackless polygon mesh from multi-surface NURBS, enhanced polygon beveling, a new polygon mirror cut option and workflow enhancements for Smooth Proxy; in addition, a new Soft Modification tool and deformer allows users to move, scale and rotate a selection with customizable curve-based falloff.

Maya 6 features enhanced integration with mental ray for Maya including IPR, the ability to render fur and volumetric fluid effects, image-based lighting, blurry reflections and refractions, contour rendering and easy access to native shaders. The new high-quality rendering in the interactive viewport enables the interactive preview of shading attributes such as bump, transparency and specularity. Maya 6 offers four integrated rendering options: hardware rendering, vector rendering, mental ray and the native Maya software renderer. The rewritten rendering documentation gives users a better understanding of Maya's integrated renderers by presenting concepts and workflows clearly and comprehensively. As well, the improved search engine and navigation for Maya documentation makes it easier for users to find what they need to know, in rendering or any aspect of Maya.

Maya 6 is available via download on April 26, 2004 for Maya customers with current full annual maintenance agreements. Maya Complete for the Windows, IRIX®, Linux and Mac OS X operating systems, is priced at $1,999 and includes modeling, rendering, animation, dynamics, Maya Artisan, Maya Paint Effects, mental ray for Maya and Maya Embedded Language (MEL), an open interface for programming and scripting. Maya Unlimited for the Windows, IRIX and Linux operating systems, is priced at $6,999 and includes all features in Maya Complete along with Maya Hair, Maya Fluid Effects, Maya Fur, Maya Cloth and Maya Live. Maya will be available to purchase in May 2004 through the Alias network of authorized resellers or online at: http://www.alias.com.


Adobe Debuts New Video Lineup at NAB

Adobe Systems Incorporated today announced the Adobe Video Collection 2.5, which includes new versions of its digital video products Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5, Adobe After Effects 6.5, Adobe Audition 1.5 and Adobe Encore DVD 1.5. With cross-product integration and performance enhancements that take advantage of recent advances in hardware, Adobe's new video lineup also introduces more than 200 new features, including advanced support for high definition (HD) video in Premiere Pro 1.5.

Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5, Adobe After Effects 6.5, and Adobe Encore DVD 1.5 support Adobe Photoshop CS features, including nested layer sets and non-square pixels. The ability to copy and paste between Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects further tightens the integration between the two applications. Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere Pro can share effects, and using the Adobe Video Collection 2.5, Adobe Encore DVD users can send Photoshop menus to After Effects to create motion menus. Adobe Encore DVD also recognizes timeline markers created in After Effects 6.5 and Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 AVI and MPEG-2 files, letting users convert markers to DVD chapter points.

After Effects 6.5 includes new animation presets, which let users save any combination of layer properties, including text animation properties, and apply them to other layers. More than 250 text Animation Presets were added to create text animations and more than 60 new effects enable users to create visuals including light rays and 3D particles.

The new Clone tool provides a visual overlay of the clone source, and five user-definable presets let users shift between clone settings. To assist users in matching footage from different sources, After Effects 6.5 Professional adds three grain-management tools, and both editions include one-click tools like Auto Color, Auto Levels, Auto Contrast, and Shadow/Highlight. For advanced color correction, After Effects now includes Color Finesse from Synthetic Aperture, a 32-bit floating point color correction system. In addition, motion tracking in After Effects 6.5 Professional has been enhanced for greater accuracy and flexibility.

Inside After Effects 6.5, previews and support for OpenGL are faster and more accurate. In addition, After Effects 6.5 has been optimized for the latest Intel and Macintosh G5 systems. New scripting support in After Effects 6.5 Professional enables users to write scripts to streamline their work and disk caching vastly improves real-time playback.

The Adobe Video Collection is available in two versions, Standard and Professional. Designed for corporate and event production professionals, the Adobe Video Collection Standard includes Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5, Adobe After Effects 6.5 Standard, Adobe Audition 1.5, and Adobe Encore DVD 1.5. The Professional edition of the Adobe Video Collection was created for film and broadcast professionals, incorporating Adobe After Effects 6.5 Professional and Adobe Photoshop CS.

The Adobe Video Collection available for Windows XP will be available in Q2 2004. The estimated street price for Adobe Video Collection Standard will be US$999. Upgrade versions from any of the individual products will be available for an estimated street price of US$799. The estimated street price for Adobe Video Collection Professional will be US$1499. Customers who owned the previous version of Adobe Video Collection Standard or Professional editions will be eligible to upgrade for an estimated street price of US$249. Adobe Video Collection Standard customers can upgrade to Adobe Video Collection Professional for an estimated street price of US$799.



Avid Announces Softimage|XSI v.4.0

Just out from Avid Technology subsidiary Softimage is Softimage|XSI version 4.0, now available in three configurations: XSI Advanced, XSI Essentials, and the new entry-level XSI Foundation.

Using Reference Models and Reference Animation, animators and technical directors can create lightweight scenes, minimize memory usage, and share animation scenes by offloading animations and partial animation sources to external files. New motion trails, ghosting, and advanced scene playback options also enhance the in-context visualization of animated content.

The new version further extends its implementation of the mental ray renderer version 3.3 with performance improvements and advanced rendering features. The software delivers up to eight free Satellite tile-based distributed rendering tokens per license, allowing artists to take advantage of accelerated render regions or multi-CPU renders of a single frame without purchasing additional rendering licenses. Further integration with the content- and asset-management system, Alienbrain Studio, reportedly offers greater control over large-scale productions, as well as a more reliable and streamlined asset-management framework. In addition, Softimage|XSI v.4.0 offers integration with Avid editing and storage solutions, including new direct render-to-video output and previewing via the Avid Mojo hardware - part of the Avid DNA family.

Also new:
* Custom Display Host (CDH) exposes the core of the SOFTIMAGE|XSI software to external applications, tools, or custom run-time engines.
* The XML-based UI engine gives technical directors centralized per-scene control with scriptable table of contents, scenario-specific relational views, and configurable interface layouts.
* Integrated into the standard mesh modeling environment, Subdivision Surfaces propagate texture coordinates, vertex colors, weights, and shapes across any and all modifications.
* The character-animation system provides new advanced biped, quadruped, and hybrid rig systems and a rich Character SDK for customizing character rig creation, animation, and editing.
* The FX Tree compositor, based on Eddie and Media Illusion technology, now features 2D raster- and vector-based resolution-independent paint tools based on the Matador technology.
* Simulation effects share the same integrated forces and dynamics environment, so hair and fur, dynamic constraints, particles, fluids, cloth, and new rigid and soft body dynamics work together.
* The XSI RenderCore plug-in architecture allows for multiple rendering methods and can host custom plug-in renderers, views, and display engines.
* The new Softimage|XSI graphic synthesizer (Xgs) ensures fidelity between in-context visual feedback and final production output.
* Version 4.0 also includes the BatchServe Web-based processing and rendering queue management system.

Softimage|XSI v.4.0 is available in the following configurations:
* Foundation is available for $1,995 USMSRP from the Softimage Web site (www.softimage.com/store). This model polygon-modeling tools, subdivision surfaces, and the Softimage|XSI toolset. The product also offers standard scripting languages, real-time shaders, and a workgroup-aware production framework running on floating licenses, enabling users to use multiple systems.
* Essentials is available for $3,995 USMSRP from resellers. This model is a customizable professional-grade package with rigid & soft body dynamics, the character-rig systems and SDK, and the custom display host.
* Advanced is available for $8,995 USMSRP from resellers. This model features customization features and flexibility, plus compositing and resolution-independent paint, hair, and fur.



Digimation Ships GestureMAX

New from Digimation is GestureMAX 1.0 for 3ds max 5.1 and 6.x. The $195 file-import plug-in lets users import Poser models and optionally have skeletons, skinning, and rigging applied to the characters so they are ready to animate.

Users who have either Poser 4 or Poser 5 installed on their system can import Poser .PZ3 files directly into 3ds max. GestureMAX will import different parts of the models from various directories within the Poser installation.

All actors, figures and props (to use Poser terminology), along with the textures and morphs, are effectively moved from the Poser environment to the 3ds max environment. In addition, the user has the option to rig the figure, using native max bones or a Character Studio biped, and to skin the figure using the Skin modifier or Character Studio Physique. The new 3ds max characters are ready to be added to the pipeline for animation and rendering.

Overall, GestureMAX makes the job of importing and animating Poser characters within 3ds max a breeze. In addition, GestureMAX fully supports network licensing and license transfers for ultimate flexibility in your licensing needs.



Avid Updates Media Composer

Coming later this quarter from Avid Technology is the $25K Media Composer Adrenaline 1.5 system with new film, audio, and media management capabilities, as well as the ability to play up to 11 real-time streams of uncompressed SD media on Windows-based systems and up to nine real-time streams on Mac-based systems. Avid also unveiled a future version of the Media Composer Adrenaline system with broad HD support, including native HDV and Panasonic DVCPRO HD media, uncompressed HD resolutions, and Avid DNxHD, a 10-bit HD encoding technology that enables collaborative HD postproduction via the Avid Unity MediaNetwork with the same storage bandwidth and capacity requirements as SD files. Avid will demonstrate Avid DNxHD encoding technology in the Media Composer Adrenaline system at NAB 2004.

New interoperability and export capabilities include support for the Material Exchange Format (MXF), which streamlines metadata and media exchange between Avid products and third-party systems, and a Windows Media 9 direct export option that converts projects to compressed Windows Media streaming formats. This new version also offers audio features such as the ability to output record-side timecode (i.e. sequence timecode) as Linear Timecode (LTC) so that third-party devices can synchronize to the playback frame. In addition, the product supports bi-directional MIDI control for Digidesign's new Command|8 control surface, allowing editors to access transport functions on the controller and record fader, mute, and solo automation data into the Media Composer sequence during playback.

Additional editing and effects features include:
* FluidFilm: Enables the creation of a film look from 30i sources using the FluidMotion engine, resulting in a true 24p progressive source with a 2:3 pulldown.
* Boris Continuum Complete AVX 3: The latest version of the compositing and effects package includes more than 150 filters, featuring real-time compositing, integrated motion tracking, advanced masking capabilities, powerful keys, one-click application to titles, and the ability to easily stack filters for combined effects.

Future HD support for the Media Composer Adrenaline system will include:
* 10-bit Avid DNxHD encoding technology that delivers a 4:2:2 color space and is available in three user-selectable bandwidth configurations: 220 megabits per second (Mbps) for both 10-bit and 8-bit video, and an efficient 8-bit configuration requiring 145 Mbps for 720p and 1080p/i HD resolutions.
* the ability to deliver nine streams of SD and three streams of Avid DNxHD media on the user interface for on-the-fly multicam editing
* an optional uncompressed HD add-on PCI card that extends the functionality of the Media Composer Adrenaline system by allowing users to directly input and output uncompressed HD media, including 1080i, 1080p, and 720p formats, directly into the system via SDI and HD-SDI connections
* compatibility with industry-standard HDV and DVCPRO HD media formats, as well as support for Sony HDCAM devices
* the ability to mix HD and SD resolutions in the timeline and perform simultaneous up/down converts while retaining the same frame rate

Avid will also offer Avid Studio Tools, new software for users of Media Composer Adrenaline systems. It comprises three apps:
* Avid 3D: 3D animation and effects technology from Avid's Softimage product family
* Avid FX, software based on the Boris Red compositing and titling package
* Avid DVD by Sonic: DVD authoring



Alias Updates Maya Support Option

Alias recently today updated its $1,299 Full Annual Maintenance support option for its Maya customers. The program provides the most up-to-date version of Maya, unlimited access to technical knowledge through telephone hotline, and online e-Support services. New services launched in conjunction with the announcement of Maya 6 include a new 'Ask Alias' service, online case submission and additional learning content offered via eSupport.

The 'Ask Alias' service provides online answers to technical questions. Subscribers can , access the Alias hotline using this online question and answer feature. 'Ask Alias' can provide answers faster than logging a case via the telephone hotline.

Online case submission now offers an option for subscribers to log their case by phone or online.

Alias eSupport, an Full Annual Maintenance-only online service, will add more learning content monthly in the form of tutorials, quick tips and Expert to User discussion forums, including new Maya 6 content.

Subscribers on Full Annual Maintenance can download Maya 6 on April 26, in advance of the product shipping to new and upgrading software customers.




VC Firm to Acquire Alias from SGI

Accel-KKR and Silicon Graphics-owned Alias last week announced a definitive agreement with SGI under which Accel-KKR, with participation from the management of Alias, will acquire Alias from SGI for $57.5 million USD. Alias is a provider of 3D-graphics technology and services for the film, video games, Web, interactive media, automotive, industrial design, education and visualization markets. Accel-KKR is a technology-focused private equity firm.

Said Alias prexy Doug Walker, "Our plan is to accelerate investment in the product and service areas that provide the greatest payback for our entertainment and design customers. Our new partnership with Accel-KKR will facilitate this activity, providing long-term patient capital and other strategic resources to help us thrive as an independent enterprise. We believe Alias is uniquely positioned to lead and drive future innovation and, at the same time, make 3D technology more accessible to both professionals and consumers. The breadth of applications for this category of software is enormous."

The sale is expected to close this quarter.



Web Dad Receives Finnish Technology Award

World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee last week was named recipient of the first-ever Millennium Technology Prize. The honor, which is accompanied by one million euros, is bestowed by the Finnish Technology Award Foundation as an international acknowledgement of outstanding technological innovation aimed at promoting quality of life and sustainable economic and societal development. Berners-Lee will be lauded at an award ceremony at Helsinki's Finlandia Hall on June 15, 2004, held in conjunction with the inaugural Millennium Technology Conference, "Future Society - Future Technology."

Berners-Lee, a graduate of England's Oxford University, currently holds the 3Com Founders Chair at the Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), in Boston.

In 1989, with a background in system design in real-time communications and text-processing software development, he invented the Web while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. Berners-Lee created the first server, browser, and protocols central to the operation of the Web: the URL address, HTTP transmission protocol and HTML code.

At LCS he established the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 1994 as a forum for information, commerce, communication, and collective understanding. W3C develops interoperable technologies (specifications, guidelines, software, and tools) to lead the Web to its full potential. Since its founding, Berners-Lee has served as the consortium's director, coordinating Web development worldwide with teams at M.I.T., INRIA in France, and Keio University in Japan.

In 2003, Berners-Lee was named a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his pioneering work. Complete biographical information about Berners-Lee is at http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee .

Seventy-eight innovators from 22 countries were nominated for the Millennium Technology Prize 2004 in four technological fields: energy and the environment; communication and information; new materials and processes; or healthcare and life sciences. Berners-Lee's selection was made unanimously by the board of the Finnish Technology Award Foundation at an April 14 meeting based on the recommendation of the International Award Selection Committee. Future prizes will be awarded biennially.

The Finnish Technology Award Foundation is an independent fund established in 2002 by eight Finnish organizations: the Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers; the Finnish Academies of Technology; the Finnish Academy of Technology; the Finnish Association of Graduated Engineers; the Foundation of Finnish Inventions; the Foundation of Technology; the Swedish Academy of Engineering in Finland; and the Walter Ahlstrom Foundation. Its mission is to promote scientific research aimed at developing new technology that will have a positive effect on the quality of life and to encourage wide-ranging networking around similar goals.

The foundation was created through united efforts of the Finnish Academies of Technology and Finnish Government and Finnish businesses.




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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