Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News 29 April 2002
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)
--Dolby, Factor 5 Launch Pro Logic II for GameCube Developers --Tality Delivers Java-based Multimedia Home Platform Solution --Discreet to Support RealVideo 9 Codec in Upcoming cleaner --LaCie Launches Free Mac Backup Software --Ableton Updates Sequencer
--3D Tech Renders Surgical Patients "Transparent" --Digimation to Sell Eyematic FaceStation --Comnet Announces FastDraw Adobe Illustrator Plug-in --NewTek Upgrades LightWave
--InsideCG.com to Host 3D Artist Chat
--Viewpoint Creates Photoshop/ZoomView Portal
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
--O'Reilly Publishes Programming PHP
--O'Reilly Updates Web Performance Tuning Book
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
--Review in Brief: Activision Spider-Man --Interplay's Hunter for Xbox Set to Ship --Airborne to Provide Games for AT&T Wireless --EA Announces SimCity 4
--Sorrent Names Steve Cartwright Senior Engineer --AIC Hosts Student Design, Animation, Video Game Art Event
Dolby, Factor 5 Launch Pro Logic II for GameCube Developers
Dolby Laboratories' Dolby Surround Pro Logic II technology is now available for all Nintendo GameCube developers through Factor 5's MusyX development tool, which is offered exclusively by Nintendo. Dolby's Pro Logic II delivers five channels of surround sound through conventional stereo connectors included with all game consoles. Pro Logic II reportedly lets GameCube developers deliver immersive, near-cinematic surround sound during gameplay.
Originally developed to supplement Dolby Digital, Dolby Surround Pro Logic II allows consumers to experience five-channel sound from stereo and Dolby Surround-encoded systems. The technology's advantages in game applications include full frequency range on five channels, compatibility with existing hardware, and backwards compatibility with stereo and surround equipment.
Tality Delivers Java-based Multimedia Home Platform Solution
New from Tality Corporation is a Multimedia Home Platform (MHP) solution for digital set-top boxes based on the IBM PowerPC-based STB03xxx chipset.
Tality's MHP software solution has been ported to IBM's STB03xxx Evaluation Kit and WindRiver's VxWorks RTOS. This solution is said to reduce the time to develop and bring to market next-generation MHP set-top boxes.
Tality's software solution includes an MHP 1.0.2-compliant implementation augmented by a media application library. The base implementation includes a complete software development kit (SDK), a porting kit (PK) and a set of sample MHP applications, including enhanced programming guide (EPG), email and PVR. The JMF component-based Porting Kit allows for migration of the MHP implementation from the reference designs to production hardware. The SDK enables the development of applications on Windows, Linux and VxWorks-based development systems and on set-top boxes running Linux or VxWorks. Tality has also integrated Web browsers, email clients, games and 3rd party MHP applications into its MHP stack.
IBM's STB03xxx chip family includes an MPEG-2 audio/video decoder, a memory interface subsystem and a range of peripheral interfaces, all on a single piece of silicon. Based on the PowerPC processor, it features operation at 162 MHz, with a 16-KB instruction cache and an 8-KB data cache.
The MHP specification is an open standard that defines a generic interface between interactive digital applications and their terminal devices, enabling the development of applications executable on multiple terminal device types, regardless of their architecture. Such devices include set-top boxes, home and media gateways, integrated digital TV sets and multimedia PCs. The specification was developed by Digital Video Broadcast Project (DVB), an industry-led consortium of over 300 broadcasters, manufacturers, network operators, software developers, regulatory bodies and others in over 35 countries. Conformance testing is under the supervision of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).
Discreet to Support RealVideo 9 Codec in Upcoming cleaner
Last week at Streaming Media West, a digital media technology conference and event, Discreet, a division of Autodesk, Inc., announced plans to support RealNetworks' RealVideo 9 codec. Users will be able to master content in the RealVideo 9 format within the next point release of its cleaner family of products-due to be available May 2002.
LaCie Launches Free Mac Backup Software
LaCie last week announced a new Web site where users of Apple Macintosh computers can download SilverKeeper backup software free of charge. Posted on http://www.silverkeeper.com, the software can be used with any storage device that will mount on a Macintosh desktop.
Users can schedule unattended backups on specific days and times or at system shutdown. SilverKeeper can also compare folders, or synchronize folders so they contain the same files.
SilverKeeper is compatible with Mac OS 9.x, and 10.x, and can be used with any compatible LaCie or third party product, including hard drives; CD-R/RW, DVD-R/RW/RAM, and MO drives; as well as other removable storage solutions with FireWire, USB, IDE, ATA or SCSI interfaces.
Ableton Updates Sequencer
Berlin-based music software company Ableton last week released version 1.5 of Live, its sequencing instrument for Mac OS X, Mac OS 9 and Windows. New features include:
* As a Rewire master or client, Live 1.5 will run with Cubase, Logic, Reason, or Digital Performer
* As a MIDI Sync master or client, Live 1.5 will sync with every piece of hardware
* Users can use controller boxes with endless knobs or motor faders to control their sequencing instrument
* Render-to-Disk function for quick file export into other audio programs * new reverb simulator
3D Tech Renders Surgical Patients "Transparent"
The surgeon looks at the MR image on the monitor to check the location of a brain tumor that lies slightly less than seven centimeters beneath the patient's skull, in the right quadrant about half way down. He marks the patient's head for the incision, looks at the monitor, checks the mark, checks the monitor again, then begins to cut.
During the thousands of surgical procedures performed each year, many surgeons -- regardless of their years of experience -- may well wish there were some means of seeing exactly where to make the incision. That day is quickly becoming a reality, thanks to a Siemens technology said to render the patient transparent to the surgeon.
Known as augmented-reality image guidance, or in-situ visualization, the Siemens prototype employs a head-mounted display (HMD) that carries three miniature cameras. Two of the video cameras capture a stereoscopic view of the surgical site; the third camera is used for viewpoint tracking, in combination with optical markers framing the surgical site.
A computer superimposes 3D computer images taken from the patient's own CT or MR data onto the video view for display on the surgeon's HMD. The surgeon, looking at the patient, can now perceive computer models of anatomical structures at the location of the actual structures. For example, a tumor visible on a medical image can now be seen at the location of the actual tumor.
Digimation to Sell Eyematic FaceStation
Just out from Eyematic is its FaceStation 1.5 software, published by Digimation, Inc. The computer vision-based 3D facial animation software suite is said to automatically recognize and track facial expressions from either a live video camera or pre-recorded video clips. In real time, facial expressions are analyzed, captured and used to animate shaded 3D models in Discreet 3ds max. No motion capture hardware, facial markers or offline rendering processes are required.
FaceStation also includes Avatar Editor, allowing the creation of ready-to-animate characters complete with morph targets simply using front and side photographs. The
Comnet Announces FastDraw Adobe Illustrator Plug-in
Kobe, Japan-based software developer Comnet Co., Ltd., says ThePowerXChange (http://www.thepowerxchange.com) will be the first to release two of Comnet's new Illustrator plug-ins, FastDraw and LogoSpruce 1.5, on June 1.
FastDraw adds drawing, trimming, and guide tools.
Working from a scanned or placed image, FastDraw bypasses the autotracing feature with pen tools, arc tools, advanced beziér tools, mirror tools, guide tools, and trim tools. Right a tilted scan using any definable horizontal or vertical edge, place guides anywhere, even at angles to align text on paths, connect arcs and straight lines without poorly joined paths, convert lines from arc to straight, or the other way around, or overlap shapes and trim to letter shapes.
FastDraw adds 12 new tools to Illustrator, all designed to save time with some of the more common tasks faced by Illustrator users. Featured tools: * straight-line tool (enhanced pen tool) * one-touch guide tools that allow users to place guides with the click of the mouse, at any angle;
* Beziér-convert tool convert straight paths to curved lines with one move * trim tool to delete sections of the path * tangent-arc tool to draw smooth transitions between straight lines and curved segments
LogoSpruce is the professional version of FastDraw, with over 32 new tools for Illustrator in 7 tool families.
NewTek Upgrades LightWave
NewTek last week released LightWave 3D [7.5], available free for current version  owners, and available for download from http://www.newtek.com.
Additionally, the software will ship with both Macintosh and Windows versions in the same box and a new USB duo-dongle that will work on either platform.
New features include:
* slider animation controls (like 3ds max's Manipulator); create custom slider banks to aid in animating characters, lighting rigs, and more.
Appearing directly in the 3D viewports, you can customize their size, color and range.
* Expression Builder is a collection of expressions users can customize, an online technical reference for all expression commands, and a wizard for helping users create custom expressions.
* dynamic parenting and simple constraints for animating interactions between objects
* path tool lets users drag all of an item's motion key frames around directly in the 3D viewport.
* enhanced OpenGL feedback
* For character animation, Motion Mixer 2.0 has an improved user interface as well as new motion weighting and blending features.
* X-Ray mode lets users see bones while working in a solid-shaded Open GL mode
* performance boosts for greater responsiveness in IK, bone deformation, OpenGL display and subdivision surface animation * colored shadows let users tint shadows and lower shadow intensity
* per-light object exclusion options
* Luxigons attach lights to polygon normals in modeler, making models intelligent enough to carry their own lighting rigs.
* Multiple-bounce radiosity solutions
* matte objects and alpha properties for special compositing passes a breeze
* Virtual Darkroom 2.0 adds grain and light response, with simplified interface and over 20 presets, simulating a variety of black and white and color stocks
* multiple render buffers saved in layered PhotoShop (.psd) format as well as the RPF format
InsideCG.com to Host 3D Artist Chat
Dominik Dryja of InsideCG.com tells us his site will soon host a live chat with Igor Posavec, a talented 3D artist from Germany. For more information on the chat visit http://www.insidecg.com/feature.php?id=97.
Igor also has new artwork that can be seen at the current Artist Spotlight at http://www.insidecg.com/feature.php?id=96.
In other news, InsideCG.com recently posted an interview with Francis Tsai, an art director and conceptual artist, at http://www.insidecg.com/feature.php?id=94.
Viewpoint Creates Photoshop/ZoomView Portal
Viewpoint Corporation last week launched its ZoomView / Adobe Photoshop 7.0 partner portal, an online resource center for publishing and deploying ZoomView content. The new portal lets Adobe Photoshop 7.0 users save photo files in Viewpoint's ZoomView format, and directly license the technology from Viewpoint.
ZoomView, a serverless "pixels-on-demand" image transmission technology, reportedly permits the deployment of large, print-quality images online, allowing users to zoom in, pan around, and examine the finest of details without special graphics cards or high-speed Internet access.
Photoshop 7.0 users will be able to create and batch process ZoomView images. The portal allows customers to purchase licenses online for their own Websites, while also offering additional options for deployment such as ZoomView Hosted Solutions (ZVHS), which rolls creation, licensing and hosting of ZoomView images into an ASP service.
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
O'Reilly Publishes Programming PHP
PHP is a simple yet powerful language designed for creating HTML content.
Since its inception in 1994, PHP has swept the Web, and the millions of Web sites powered by it are a testament to the language's popularity and ease of use. Both programmers and Web designers turn to PHP, valuing it for its flexibility, speed, accessibility and convenience.
"Programming PHP" was written for anyone who isn't a PHP guru, but wants to be. The book is an authoritative guide to PHP 4, the latest version of the language, and covers what a programmer or Web designer would need to know to create effective Web applications. The book explains PHP language syntax and programming techniques in a, with examples that illustrate both correct usage and common idioms.
An open-source, HTML-embedded scripting language, PHP allows Web authors to serve dynamic Web content by performing such tasks as processing form input and accessing databases directly in HTML pages, rather than through CGI scripts. "A lot of non-programmers assume that PHP, as a programming language, is too difficult for them to possibly be able to grasp," says coauthor Tatroe. "Conversely, a lot of programmers assume PHP is a 'toy language' and that it can't be used to develop real solutions. Both camps are wrong. PHP scales very well to the level of knowledge a user has."
The contents include information on the basics of the PHP language; separate chapters on functions, strings, arrays, and objects; coverage of common PHP Web application techniques such as form processing and validation, session tracking, cookies, and much more."Programming PHP" also includes a quick reference to all the core functions in PHP and all the standard extensions that ship with PHP.
Chapter 5, "Arrays," is available free online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/progphp/chapter/ch05.html
O'Reilly Updates Web Performance Tuning Book
The speed with which your browser loads a Web page can vary dramatically, depending on a number of performance issues. Any reduction in speed can be further aggravated by your own perception of speed: as most of us know, a red light in heavy traffic is perhaps the only thing slower than a slowly loading Web page. In the second edition of "Web Performance Tuning" (O'Reilly, US $44.95), author Patrick Killelea tackles performance issues on the Web, focusing on the end user's perception of speed, or how quickly the Web satisfies a user's request.
In the four years since Killelea wrote the first edition of "Web Performance Tuning," sweeping changes have taken place on the Web. Killelea points out that the most significant change is that the Web has moved from novelty to an essential utility for the distribution of information. With the Web now taken for granted, making it easier, faster, and cheaper to communicate than ever, Web performance has become a bigger problem than it was four years ago.
The book offers practical advice on getting the best possible performance from the Web. It covers more than just tuning Web server software; it is also about streamlining Web content, getting optimal performance from a browser, tuning both client and server hardware, and maximizing the capacity of the network itself.
Killelea then shifts gears to provide a conceptual background of the principles in computing performance. The latter half of "Web Performance Tuning" examines each element of a Web transaction--from client to network to server--to find the weak links in the chain and how to strengthen them.
The second edition includes new chapters on Web site architecture, security, and reliability, and their impact on performance. Killelea discusses the scalability of Java on microprocessor servers, Perl scripts for writing Web performance spiders, instructions on how to use the Perl DBI and the open source program gnuplot to generate performance graphs. He also covers the use of rstat, a Unix-based open source utility for gathering performance statistics remotely.
Chapter 4, "Performance Monitoring," is available free online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/Webpt2/chapter/ch04.html
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
Review in Brief: Activision Spider-Man
By David Duberman
Yes, it's another game from Activision called Spider-Man, but No, it's not your father's (i.e., PlayStation) Spider-Man. Released on four platforms (PC, PS2, GC, GBA) just prior to the new, wannabe-hit flick, this really is a next-generation game. I reviewed it for Gamecube, but expect that the PC and PS2 games are essentially similar, if perhaps not as graphically polished. And, of course, the GBA version is a side-scroller.
At its heart, Spider-Man is an old-fashioned action adventure, with you controlling the red web-slinger in a third-person view as he jumps, crawls, swings, fights, and zips his way through some pretty impressive-looking, if rectilinear, 3D environments. Zips? Yes, that's a new mode of transportation wherein Spidey shoots out a web line and is then instantly drawn to the surface to which it's attached. Takes a bit of getting used to, but once you've practiced it, you'll find it eminently useful for getting around quickly. You can also use a similar method to grab a distant foe (or one that keeps running away) and deposit him ungracefully on the floor nearby, after which you can pound him good. Other cool combat maneuvers include a high-jump/kick and the Web dome, which protects you when lots of bad guys are around, and then explodes to knock them all down.
Most of the action takes place indoors, but the graphics get truly breathtaking when you're swinging along above the city (just what is that web line attached to up there; clouds?). You'll get to fight super-baddies such as Green Goblin and Shocker, in addition to numerous henchmen, human and robotic. One of the hallmarks of good game design is the ability to use a variety of methods to achieve your goals, and Spider-Man has this in spades, including a variety of special moves that the game reveals to you as you progress. I also like that, for once, the game characters use the actual movie actors' voices (Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, etc.). Haven't seen Kirsten Dunst yet, though.
Complaints? I got lost a few times, but that was mainly because I wasn't paying attention. Developer Treyarch basically got it right with this title. I've always been more a fan of the DC super-heroes than of the Marvel guys, but this game is good, challenging fun that keeps you coming back for more, so hey, Spider-Man; wait for me!
Interplay's Hunter for Xbox Set to Ship
Interplay Entertainment Corp. says its game Hunter: The Reckoning has gone gold and will ship on May 21 in North America. Played from a third-person perspective, Hunter drops players in the nightmarish setting of modern day Hunters. Creatures of the dark disguised as everyday mortals plague humankind. Players can assume the role of one of four Hunter characters, in either single player or 4-player cooperative multiplayer mode, each endowed with unique supernatural abilities that become more diverse and powerful as players progress through 20 plus levels conquering evil. Hunter.
Chicago-based developer High Voltage Software, founded in 1993, previously created "LEGO Racers," "All-Star Baseball 2001," "Ground Control: Dark Conspiracy" and "NBA Inside Drive 2002."
Airborne to Provide Games for AT&T Wireless
Airborne Entertainment has been chosen to provide games for the launch of AT&T Wireless' mMode service. Airborne's game offerings for mMode will feature Buzztime, a multi-player, real-time trivia quiz show; Eternal Hero, a role-playing adventure; the "un-Casino" grit and action of Backstreet Betting; as well as PhoneFoot and CrossCheck, head-to-head versions of soccer and hockey where players can take on another mMode user or battle the phone itself.
In addition to its games menu, Airborne Entertainment has leveraged TheFunniest, its PocketBoxOffice humor channel, to create two custom comedy programs: Just Jokes and Jokes Plus for mMode.
EA Announces SimCity 4
Electronic Arts says SimCity 4, is in development at the company's Walnut Creek-based Maxis studio. Featuring new simulation and graphics engines, new regional game play and the new ability to track the lives of individual Sims as they go about their daily routine, the game will make its debut on May 22 at the Electronic Entertainment Exposition in Los Angeles.
With new landscape-creation features, players will be able to mold mountains, carve valleys, seed forests and lay rivers. Also, each city a player creates will become part of a growing tapestry of municipalities that, once connected by transportation networks, can share and compete for resources. Depending upon the choices made by a player, this multi-city game play can result in a variety of outcomes within that region.
Also, for the first time, players can follow individual Sims as they go about their life in the city. Players can personalize their Sim and immediately move him into any area and watch him experience life in the city, first hand. Is he or she enjoying a happy existence in an urban utopia or enduring a futile fight for survival in the inner-city? A player's Sim will provide clues to improving the city.
SimCity 4's new simulation engine will give players immediate feedback so they can react to its every need. Individual buildings and their lots will now provide feedback to the player who lives there. More "relevant" disasters are also available, along with the ability to dispatch the mayor, police or fire department to areas in the city where they are needed.
Sorrent Names Steve Cartwright Senior Engineer
Sorrent, a developer and publisher of connected interactive games for wireless and Internet-capable devices, recently named Steve Cartwright senior engineer responsible for design and development of Sorrent's wireless sports products.
One of the Activision pioneers of video games with hits dating back to the '80s such as Barnstorming, Megamania, Seaquest, and Hacker, Cartwright enjoys the resurgence in simple yet entertaining and addictive games.
"There's a lot of satisfaction in creating games for cell phones -- much like the early days of the videogame industry when designers were challenged to entertain with limited hardware capabilities," he said.
Most recently, Cartwright served as creative director and executive producer for Electronic Arts, where he was responsible for the look and feel of titles including all Tiger Woods/PGA TOUR products from 1995 - 2001. Cartwright was producer of Play Against the Pros, an interactive sports experience that allowed consumers to compete in real time against professional athletes.
AIC Hosts Student Design, Animation, Video Game Art Event
The Art Institute of California Los Angeles honored students who participated in the Earth Day commemorative contest and celebration at the school last week. The contest was hosted by The Art Institute of California Los Angeles along with the environmental advocate groups Heal the Bay and Global Green USA, with the central theme, "Build the World of Your Dreams." The contest was divided into two categories: one for Art Institute students who created digital and industry/trade-specific pieces of art, and one for local high school students who created traditional works of art.
The Art Institute participants were required to choose from four different mediums in which to work: stills, which consisted of a flat work using either digital or trade tools; video, which included digital video, motion graphics or composites; traditional or 2D/3D computer-generated animation; or videogame storyboards, which were required to have 15 frames. The entries were submitted on April 15 and winners were selected during the event.
The award recipients included:
* Animation: 1st Place - Jim McDaniels, 2nd - Clare Droney, 3rd - Peter Gend, 4th - Florencio Ortiz
* Stills: 1st Place - Alex Yoon, 2nd - Tom Haney, 3rd - Erica Conerly, 4th - Mauricio Barraza
* Storyboard: Hideya Kyran
* Best of Show: Jim McDaniels
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 and online development tools and CD-ROMs for review.
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