Editor's note: Next week is Labor Day weekend, which provides a convenient excuse for Spectrum to take the week off. We'll return with the latest news and reviews September 13.
- David Duberman
Today's Headlines (details below)
--Khronos Group Delivers OpenGL ES 1.1 Spec
--NVIDIA Launches Scene Graph SDK
--Teac Introduces 16X Double-Layer, Dual-Format Burner
--CAT Announces Muscle, Runtime Systems
--auto.des.sys Announces form.Z 4.5
--EyeSee360 Introduces PhotoWarp 2.5
--Ulead Adds Double Layer DVD Support to VideoStudio 8
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
--O'Reilly Releases "AI for Game Developers"
--Xfire Holding Skin Contest
--Eidos Secures Distribution Rights For Lego Star Wars Game
--Virage, AppTek to Offer Multilingual Voice-Recognition Solutions
--VU Games Sells Home Productivity Brands to Nova Development
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
--Sims 2 Goes Gold
--The Adventure Company Ships Dark Fall: Lights Out
--Blizzard, Fileplanet Partner for World Of Warcraft Stress Test Beta
--Artificial Life Announces Virtual Girlfriend Mobile Game
Khronos Group Delivers OpenGL ES 1.1 Spec
The Khronos Group recently ratified and publicly released the OpenGL ES 1.1 and EGL 1.1 specifications, meeting the group's commitment to provide an update to the application programming interface (API) for embedded 3D graphics, one year after its initial release. The OpenGL ES standard is royalty-free and defines subset profiles of OpenGL to enable small-footprint embedded applications with advanced graphics capabilities and has been adopted by the wireless and gaming industries. OpenGL ES 1.1 adds functionality to encourage and enable the new functionality of new-generation embedded platforms with 3D hardware acceleration, including cell-phones. The OpenGL ES 1.1 and EGL 1.1 specifications are available for free download at http://www.khronos.org/opengles/spec.html for any third party to implement in products with no licensing restrictions or royalties.
The OpenGL ES 1.1 specification was developed by Khronos member companies. Version 1.1 emphasizes hardware acceleration of the API, while OpenGL ES 1.0 focused heavily on enabling software-only implementations. Khronos expects both OpenGL ES 1.0 and 1.1 to be used across the full range of platforms in the embedded industry and OpenGL ES 1.1 is backwards-compatible with 1.0, enabling porting of applications between the two versions of the API. The companion specification to OpenGL ES, EGL 1.1, standardizes how OpenGL ES can be integrated into a wide diversity of operating systems.
OpenGL ES 1.1 has new features that provide enhanced functionality, improved image quality and optimizations to increase performance while reducing memory bandwidth usage to save power:
Khronos expects to update the OpenGL ES Adopter's Program to provide conformance tests for OpenGL ES 1.1 within three months, enabling interested companies to join Khronos for a small administrative fee to gain access to source code for Conformance Tests and example implementations, and to use the OpenGL ES trademark on products that pass the defined testing procedure. This ensures that conformant OpenGL ES implementations provide a reliable, cross-platform graphics programming platform.
NVIDIA Launches Scene Graph SDK
At Siggraph, Nvidia Corporation unveiled its new Scene Graph Software Development Kit (NVSG SDK) designed to let developers optimize applications to exploit graphics-processing hardware. The NVSG SDK is an object-oriented programming library (C++) that simplifies and speeds the development of high-performance 3D applications. The library also provides a set of classes developers can combine and extend to create graphics applications.
Said Dan Vivoli, executive vice president of marketing at Nvidia, "NVSG is … extensible, GPU-centric, shader aware, operating system and graphics API independent, and cluster and multiprocessing/multi-threading aware."
NVSG can be used to develop high-performance 3D applications for visual simulation, manufacturing, simulation-based design, scientific visualization, broadcast video, architectural walkthroughs, and computer-aided design, among others. It's designed to let developers make optimal use of both Nvidia Quadro graphics hardware performance and feature set. It currently operates on top of the OpenGL application programming interfaces (API) in either 32-or 64-bit Microsoft Windows or Linux operating system environments. NVSG is architected to allow for the integration of other rendering platforms such as Microsoft DirectX.
In addition to being API flexible and operating system independent, NVSG takes advantage of higher level shader interchange formats. It features optimized memory management for NVSG objects; can be applied to clusters when used in conjunction with a genlock-capable Nvidia Quadro FX graphics board; and supports multithreading and multi-pass rendering. Developers can create their own interfaces to add a variety of import and export file formats.
A beta version of the NVSG SDK viewer is expected to be available for download by September 1 to licensed software developers at http://www.developer.nvidia.com .
Teac Introduces 16X Double-Layer, Dual-Format Burner
Coming September 15 from Teac is its new 16X DV-W516G DVD+/-R/RW Double Layer IDE/ATAPI Dual DVD-Recorder.
The unit writes at 16X speed to DVD+R and at 8X to DVD-R. It stores 8.5GB on double-layer media. It also writes to CD-R media at 48X speeds and rewrites to CD-RW at 24X.
The drive utilizes an IDE/ATAPI interface and supports a variety of DVD-recording applications. The kit comes with the installation hardware, recording and video editing software, DVD video player software, full backup software and is ready for installation on Windows systems.
CAT Announces Muscle, Runtime Systems
At Siggraph earlier this month, Character Animation Technologies showed CATMuscle, described as a scaleable solution that allows animators to solve problems in their skin deformations without knowledge of complex anatomy.
The muscles are actually strands of "bone segments." Muscles can be applied to problem areas as required. Often only one or two muscles will be sufficient. Muscle detail is also flexible, meaning that the system could be applied equally to game characters or high-end film projects.
The software will ship in Q4 '04 with muscle structures for both humans and animals. Muscle systems, including existing presets or presets created from scratch, can be loaded onto CATRigs and applied, with the muscles automatically fitted to the target CATRig's proportions.
Once loaded, CATMuscle allows the artist to maximize existing skinning tools, such as the 3ds max Skin modifier. CATMuscle reduces the amount of envelope editing required, significantly lowering skin-up times.
CATMuscle will be available as a plugin to CAT 2. Both are expected to be released in the 4th quarter of 2004. The price of CATMuscle has yet to be determined.
Also coming from the company is CATRuntime, an SDK designed to let game developers have the key features of CAT, like non-sliding footsteps and segmented bones, running in a game engine.
auto.des.sys Announces form.Z 4.5
Coming next month from auto.des.sys, Inc. is form.Z 4.5. It makes public a new API (Application Program Interface) and a new Script Language, thus extending an invitation to third parties to develop their specialized operations.
form.Z 4.5 marks the end of support for Mac OS 9, as this new version makes it fully Mac OS X native. It also supports Microsoft Windows 95SE, 98, 2000, ME, XP.
form.Z 4.5 also delivers enhancements and introduces a number of new features, either as plug-ins and scripts or as direct extensions:
EyeSee360 Introduces PhotoWarp 2.5
EyeSee360 last week announced an upgrade to its PhotoWarp software for processing panoramic images. PhotoWarp ($249), available for Mac OS X and Windows, is the software component of 360 One VR, a one-shot panoramic photography system from Kaidan.
PhotoWarp delivers panoramas using Apple Computer's QuickTime VR software, iSeeMedia's Zoom Viewer, or Helmut Dersh's PTViewer applets for Java-enabled browsers. PhotoWarp 2.5 adds support for the new FlashVR panoramic viewer (http://www.flashvr.de/). FlashVR is a Macromedia Flash panorama viewer that offers a perspective-corrected display. PhotoWarp 2.5 includes a license for a special EyeSee360 edition of FlashVR.
PhotoWarp 2.5 adds 25 new features, including a live preview window for easier setup of source images, auto-rotating panoramas, 16-bits-per-channel image processing for improved color depth with digital SLRs, and AppleScript support for Mac OS X.
Ulead Adds Double Layer DVD Support to VideoStudio 8
Ulead Systems has incorporated double-layer DVD burning into VideoStudio 8, its consumer video editing software. The company also offers double-layer DVD burning support with DVD MovieFactory 3, its consumer-level DVD-creation software, and DVD Workshop 2, its professional DVD authoring software.
The double-layer DVD is the latest DVD format, which offers a longer recording time and/or higher recording quality for video applications. Adding an additional storage layer increases the storage capacity of a DVD disc to 8.5 GB, which allows users to burn approximately 4 hours of DVD-quality video. Double layer DVD discs are backwards-compatible and can be played on most DVD players sold in the market today.
Double layer DVD support for VideoStudio 8, DVD MovieFactory 3 Disc Creator and DVD MovieFactory 3 Standard Edition and DVD Workshop 2 is available free at http://www.ulead.com/tech/techsupport.htm
O'Reilly Releases "AI for Game Developers"
From the ghosts in Pac Man to the bots in the first-person shooter Unreal and many others in between, most games incorporate some form of artificial intelligence (AI). The definition of AI can vary broadly depending on whom you ask, but is often considered the ability of a computer or machine to exhibit behavior that is typically thought to require intelligence. Some definitions go even further, arguing that it's not enough to be able to reason and solve problems intelligently, but AI must also learn and adapt to be considered intelligence. AI that meets these requirements is termed "strong AI," contrasted with game AI, which is considered "weak AI."
As David M. Bourg and Glenn Seemann, authors of "AI for Game Developers" (O'Reilly, US $39.95) note, "The bottom line is that the definition of game AI is rather broad and flexible. Anything that gives the illusion of intelligence to an appropriate level, thus making the game more immersive, challenging, and most importantly, fun, can be considered game AI." Like the use of real physics in games, the authors maintain, good AI adds to the overall experience of the game, drawing players in and suspending their reality for a time.
Indeed, today's game players have grown in sophistication, no longer wowed by dazzling and compelling 3D graphics that were only dreamed of years ago. Fortunately, advanced AI game techniques are within the grasp of every game developer--not just those who dedicate their careers to AI. "AI for Game Developers" introduces novice game programmers and experienced programmers who are new to AI to a range of game AI techniques such as finite state machines, fuzzy logic, and neural networks.
Supported with code samples (written in C/C++) throughout, the book instructs readers in basic game behaviors, from chasing and evading, to pattern movement and flocking, to anticipating player moves. The reader is shown how to apply AI techniques to give game characters believable intelligence by employing a mix of deterministic (traditional) and non-deterministic (newer) AI techniques aimed squarely at beginning AI developers.
Other topics covered in the book include:
Xfire Holding Skin Contest
Xfire, a company and a new online gaming platform, describes its product as the first social networking tool for gamers. It lets users see where friends are playing online in over 150 PC games, and join over 70 of those games with a click. It's also a server browser and an IM for gamers, designed not to interrupt full-screen games or eat up system resources. The company was founded by Quake champ Dennis "Thresh" Fong, Mike Cassidy (former CEO of Direct Hit), and Max Woon, and is located in Menlo Park, CA.
And … Xfire wants you to enter its first Skin contest. It's offering over $3,000 to artists and coders who can put together new interfaces for the Xfire client.
There are 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place prizes in three different categories, as well as an artwork-only prize for skins that have not yet been fully coded into the Xfire client. The categories include an Xfire-themed skin, a game-themed skin, or a brand-themed skin.
Eidos Secures Distribution Rights for Lego Star Wars Game
Game publisher/developer Eidos has secured the distribution rights to Lego Star Wars with Giant Interactive Entertainment Ltd for all countries except Japan. The game will be released in April 2005 for PlayStation2, Xbox, PC and Game Boy Advance.
The game is based on The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith, slated for release in May 2005.
Under an agreement between LucasArts and Giant Interactive Ltd, Lego Star Wars is currently being developed by Traveller's Tales for the PlayStation2, Xbox and PC. Amaze Entertainment is developing the Game Boy Advance version.http://www.eidos.com
Virage, AppTek to Offer Multilingual Voice-Recognition Solutions
Virage, a division of Autonomy Corp. and a provider of rich-media communication and content-management software, and Applications Technology, Inc., a technology developer of applications in computational linguistics and linguistic software ("Lingware"), last week announced a joint, global effort to provide multilingual voice-recognition software to government entities and broadcast-media outlets globally. AppTek plans to integrate its text-based applications with Virage's speech technology, such as voice recognition and text-to-speech transcription and translation.
The two are currently working together on a number of deployments, including the Iraqi Media Network (IMN). In this federally funded project, the IMN plans to use Virage systems, including VS News Monitoring, at Iraqi media outlets to monitor Iraqi news broadcasts in real time. Tracking these news outlets with Virage and AppTek's combined technologies will help flag trends in the news, and enable faster transcription and publication of the news on portals for public access.
For more information about Virage customers, visit www.virage.com/customers, and for information about Virage solutions, such as VS News Monitoring, visit www.virage.com/technology. For more information about AppTek and its products such as Machine Translation, visit www.apptek.com.
VU Games Sells Home Productivity Brands to Nova Development
Vivendi Universal Games (VU Games) last week announced the divestiture of home productivity software franchises, Hallmark Card Studio and Print Artist, to Nova Development Corporation, effective immediately.
Under terms of the agreement, Nova Development acquires technology and content use rights to both franchises, as well as an extended license with Hallmark for the Card Studio product line. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The divestiture of home productivity software is part of VU Games' strategy of refocusing its business exclusively on games.
Sims 2 Goes Gold
The Sims 2, the sequel to the best-selling PC game, has gone gold and is set to be in stores by September 17. With the introduction of genetics, players control their Sims over a lifetime and pass their Sims' DNA down from one generation to the next.
Players will be able to create and play virtually their own sitcom by choosing one of five different aspirations for their Sims' lives. Choices include popularity, fortune, family, knowledge, and romance. These aspirations in life cause Sims to have wants and fears. Will you give your Sims a long successful existence or leave their life in shambles?
The Sims 2 also opens up endless new creative possibilities. Make Sim films with the new moviemaking feature. The player can create the cast, set the stage, take control of the camera and capture her screenplay in action. Zoom in close with the new camera to see every last detail.
Generate unique Sims with the new “Create-A-Sim” packed with a vast selection of facial features, hairstyles, and outfits. Gain easy access to player-made content and open up endless customization options. Create dream homes and design neighborhoods with the new building, design, and home furnishing options.http://www.info.ea.com
The Adventure Company Ships Dark Fall: Lights Out
Many lives have been lost on the lethal rocks surrounding the harbor town of Trewarthan. When a thick fog covers the land, the silence is shattered by the sound of a ghostly foghorn. Suddenly, Fetch Rock Lighthouse is plunged into darkness. In Dark Fall: Lights Out players follow Benjamin Parker, a young cartographer, sent to map the area, and Polly White, a ghost hunter determined to make contact with “the beyond,” as they explore the Lighthouse throughout four different time periods.
The sequel to Dark Fall: The Journal offers more than 50 pre-rendered locations to explore in a ghost story weaved with multiple subplots. Players will come across an original cast of characters as well as observe and interact with spectral beings in the adventure thriller.
Dark Fall: Lights Out is developed by XXv Productions and has an ESRB rating of T for Teen.http://www.adventurecompanygames.com/tac/dark_fall2/index.html
Blizzard, Fileplanet Partner for World Of Warcraft Stress Test Beta
Blizzard Entertainment plans to collaborate with FilePlanet on Blizzard's upcoming World of Warcraft stress test beta. The seven-day test will help Blizzard optimize World of Warcraft for when it launches later this year. Gamers in North America will have the opportunity to become one of over 100,000 people chosen to participate in the stress test and try out World of Warcraft before its release.
Sign-ups for the World of Warcraft stress test beta are scheduled to take place exclusively on the FilePlanet Web site (www.FilePlanet.com). Additional information regarding the start date of the sign-ups and the start of the stress test beta will be released on the FilePlanet Web site in the days ahead. Anyone in North America can apply-one submission per person-and selected testers will be notified by FilePlanet and receive further instructions after completing the sign-up process.
The World of Warcraft stress test beta is designed to tax the game's server infrastructure, allowing Blizzard to evaluate the account-creation process and server performance under heavy loads. Stress-test participants will be able to play the same content that is currently being tested by World of Warcraft's closed-beta testers, but the stress test beta will take place on separate servers in order to avoid unbalancing the closed beta test. Blizzard will also be conducting an open beta test, in which everyone is free to participate, in the months ahead.
World of Warcraft is Blizzard Entertainment's massively multiplayer online role-playing game set in the Warcraft universe. Players assume the roles of legendary heroes as they explore the game's diverse cities and wilds, revisiting famous battlefields and questing through uncharted territory. Whether adventuring together or fighting against each other, thousands of players will be able to interact online within the same persistent world, forming friendships, forging alliances, and competing with enemies for power and glory.
Artificial Life Announces Virtual Girlfriend Mobile Game
Hong Kong-based Artificial Life, Inc. a provider of agent-based mobile and Internet technology and applications, last week announced the upcoming release of its new 3G game and product line: Virtual Girlfriend.
The game that is based on "intelligent" animated 3D characters (avatars) that live in a virtual mobile world. The virtual girls can be contacted and seen using a 3G phone at any time. They will be involved in different activities during the day; for example, the girlfriend may be at home, at her workplace, in a virtual bar or restaurant, or just shopping with a friend in a virtual shopping mall. The user can watch the characters during these activities and interact with them via the mobile phone. The characters and the game follow a daily and weekly schedule that will change and progress over time. The behavior of the virtual characters is said to be based on scientific principles and algorithms inspired by the computer-related artificial life sciences and is using artificial intelligence technology to achieve human like behavior and responses.
Users can interact with the game characters on their mobile phones by either sending them SMS and MMS messages or by chatting with them in real time through a J2ME client. Several interactive game icons are available as well. Users can send the virtual girlfriend virtual gifts, which can elevate the user to different, "more sophisticated" game levels. A Virtual Boyfriend version of the game is scheduled for release in February 2005.
The new 3G game supports all major 3G handsets currently on the market, and 2G users can access a limited version via a WAP interface. The 2G counterpart will not have any autonomous behavior and visual content will be down sampled to make up for limited bandwidth.
The Virtual Girlfriend product line is scheduled for launch on December 1, 2004 and will be presented to the public and a broad audience during an invited speech by Artificial Life's Chairman and CEO at the upcoming 3G World Conference to be held in Hong Kong on November 15, 2004.
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