Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

12 December 2005
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman

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Today's Headlines (details below)

--NaturalMotion Releases endorphin Student Edition
--Immersion Updates Motion-Capture Glove
--Autodesk Introduce s Linux-based Toxik

--SuperToon DVD Series Added to Alias Learning Tools
--GDC Expands to Asian Market
--Paraglyph Publishes Game Design Complete

--EA Forms Singapore Development Studio

--iEntertainment Launches Khan MMORPG

--L.A. Siggraph Presents Narnia

--About Spectrum



NaturalMotion Releases endorphin Student Edition

New from NaturalMotion Ltd., the developer of 3D animation technology based on Dynamic Motion Synthesis (DMS), is the endorphin 2.5 Student Edition. The endorphin Student Edition contains all the same features found in the endorphin 2.5 commercial version, including fully enabled export functionality; however, it is available only to students and teachers and is not to be used for commercial production. A single license retails at USD $995 and is available for immediate purchase from NaturalMotion’s online store at www.naturalmotion.com.

The DMS technology is reportedly based on artificial intelligence controllers that imitate the human nervous system. Unlike conventional animation techniques such as keyframing or motion capture, endorphin’s DMS technology uses the CPU to simulate the brain and body of 3D characters, which allows animators to synthesize human movements in real time. Used by production and animation companies such as The Mill, Sony Computer Entertainment, Namco, Giant Killer Robots, CIS Hollywood and Moving Picture Company, this approach produces directed, interactive 3D characters said to essentially animate themselves with real-life movements that are unique every time; thus dramatically reducing animation asset production time.


Immersion Updates Motion-Capture Glove

Immersion Corporation, a developer and licensor of touch-feedback technology, last week began shipping its new CyberGlove II hand motion-capture glove to customers. The wireless CyberGlove II system was designed to help animators, product designers, and virtual-reality researchers increase efficiency and realism for animated productions, design prototypes, and virtual reality systems.

"Our CyberGlove products supply very high accuracy and resolution," said Mike Zuckerman, senior vice president and general manager of Immersion's Industrial business unit. "Higher quality motion captur e data allows animators to create more realistic [animation] or to control digital characters with simple finger movements … the new CyberGlove II glove is … now wireless."

The new glove's interface electronics strap to a model's arm and use Bluetooth wireless technology to supply a wire-free 30 foot range from the host PC. The lightweight glove takes up to 22 high-accuracy joint-angle measurements.

The CyberGlove II system includes software options for interfacing with CATIA, MotionBuilder, and other applications. Product designers can use Immersion's VirtualHand for V5 to seamlessly interface with Dassault's CATIA 3D design software and reach into digital designs to evaluate ergonomics. Animators using Immersion's VirtualHand for MotionBuilder can transform hand and finger motions into real-time, joint-angle data for Alias MotionBuilder. For virtual-reality researchers, Immersion's VirtualHand Software Development Kit supplies the interface for adding hand motion capture, hand interaction, and force feedback to simulation applications.



Autodesk Introduces Linux-based Toxik

At the Digital Media Festival held recently in Sydney, Australia, Autodesk launched Autodesk Toxik visual effects software running on the Linux operating system. Toxik software enables teams of digital artists to collaboratively develop feature film visual effects ideas, and is already available on the Windows operating system. With the introduction of Toxik software running on Linux, film studios and post-production facilities have more options for the back-end infrastructure and administration of their digital film pipelines.

"The number of digital artists collaborating on a film can range from less than 10 to more than 100. Autodesk Toxik software facilita tes collaboration within these workgroups," said Bill Roberts, director of product management for Autodesk's Media & Entertainment Division. "Linux is now a prevalent operating system for feature film pipelines. It simplifies the management of large, computerized workgroups and meets the storage and networking requirements for massive, high-quality images."

The Linux operating system has gained popularity amongst film studios and post-production facilities in Australia, Europe and North America. Australia's largest post-production company, The Omnilab Group, beta tested Toxik software running on Linux through an installation at The Lab Sydney.

Ian Johnson, general manager of The Omnilab Group's The Lab Sydney, said, "I can see Toxik becoming a major force in the film industry; the Linux-based version reinforces this because it provides a robust, open architecture that expands our future options. We're moving our render farm to Linux, so Toxik software running Linux would easily fit in. The software is built with the complexity of film file formats in mind and its collaborative workflow design is revolutionary." A render farm is a computer cluster used to speed the delivery of computer-generated imagery, typically for film and television visual effects, in its finished form.

Autodesk anticipates that the Toxik software running on Linux will be available this winter. Toxik software running on the Windows operating system is currently available. North American suggested pricing for each Toxik creative seat with supporting collaboration infrastructure is $9,000 USD. For further information visit www.discreet.com/products or contact Autodesk's Media & Entertainment Division at 800-869-3504.



SuperToon DVD Series Added to Alias Learning Tools

The latest Learning Tools from Alias include Maya techniques for developing, modeling, and rigging cartoon characters into three DVDs that make up the SuperToon Series, now available at www.alias.com/learningtools. Jeff Bernstein of Disney Feature Animation tackles SuperToon Modeling and Body Rigging, Joe Harkins of Sony Pictures Imageworks takes on SuperToon Facial Rigging, and Randy Haycock and Chris Cordingley of Disney Feature Animation share their experience in SuperToon Animation.

The DVDs build on one another and enable artists to learn the differences between realistic and cartoon character creation, and understand the potential pitfalls and challenges. The series starts with Maya Techniques | SuperToon Modeling and Bo dy Rigging, which explores character development and modeling, as well as creating stable setups for stretchy limbs, squashing bellies, character silhouettes, and adjustable line of action. It progresses to Maya Techniques | SuperToon Facial Rigging and addresses the anatomy of the cartoon face, topology, designing a facial system, translating emotion into setup, and integrating the facial setup into the master rig.

From there, Maya Techniques | SuperToon Animation exposes animators to real-world techniques for achieving cartoon-style animation as practiced in the major studios today as well as professional tips and tricks that provide a better understanding of cartoon characters and how to best animate them. Topics covered include 2D versus 3D planning, applying principles such as squash and stretch, cartoon timing and snappy animation, coo l cheats, emotion, silhouette, and line of action.

The Maya Techniques | SuperToon Series of three DVDs is priced at US $150. International pricing may vary.


GDC Expands to Asian Market

The CMP Game Group, host of the Game Developers Conference (GDC), is growing the global game development community by introducing the China Game Summit. The one-day event took place Dec. 7 at The Hilton Hotel in Shanghai, China. Developers, publishers and industry professionals representing companies from both China and the West gathered to explore the theme of “What's Next” in the world of video game creation.

The summit served as a forum for Asian developers to exchange ideas and establish partnerships to better prepare for future development cycles. It provided information regarding business and creative processes behind next-generation consoles and titles, including production and budgets. It also explored ways to advance resources and techniques to create better qua lity games that will appeal to international audiences.

Panels featured executives from Factor 5, Microsoft, Shanda, The 9, and Ubisoft Shanghai, who discussed key global trends in game development and ways to address potential obstacles.

The success of the GDC as a networking platform for US and Western developers has compelled the CMP Game Group to connect with their Eastern counterparts, resulting in the formation of the China Game Summit. The organization recently hosted its fifth successful GDC Europe and plans to complete the global ecosystem of game development by launching GDC Asia in late 2006.



Paraglyph Publishes Game Design Complete

As the games industry gets increasingly complex and the cost of developing games reaches new heights, most designers can't afford to waste time and resources on a product that won't succeed. Designers thus might want to take a look at "Game Design Complete" (U.S. $39.99, 500 pp, ISBN 1-933097-00-0), just published by Paraglyph Press.

Written by game designer Patrick O'Luanaigh of SCi Games in London, the book explores the world of game design, from concept to finished product. Topics include character development, designing with assets from movies, creating sequels, marketing challenges, licensing opportunities, and production bottlenecks are all covered. Along the way, learn about game design tips from the best of the best, including Noah Falstein, world-famous game designer and producer; Raph Koster, Chief Creative officer of Sony Online Entertainment; Ian Baverstock, head of business development at Kuju Entertainment; and Maryam Bazargan of New Street Media, a game marketing expert.

In the real world, game designers always need to work within constraints, such as time, money, hardware and software limitations, marketing issues, and distribution challenges. But designers who view these problems as opportunities can ultimately learn to create exciting and original game titles that become successful. The "complete" approach to game design is about creating design solutions that will leverage these business challenges and, ultimately, create games that work. Game Design Complete is a practical guide that shows how to work around technology limitations, create compelling designs, and design a game that will grab the players' attention and keep them coming back for more.

Author Patrick O'Luanaigh is currently the design director at Eidos. He is responsible for the quality and gameplay of titles such as Tomb Raider, Hitman, and Conflict. He has become a major figure in the European g ames industry. He worked as head of external development at Codemasters, after helping run their internal design studio. He began their external development program, signing and producing titles such as Operation Flashpoint, Prisoner of War, and the Cannes Palm d'Or-nominated title, Music.

In 2000, he moved to SCi Games in London, where he oversaw the design of titles such as the Conflict series, which sold over six million copies over the first three versions. He was also closely involved in the signing of new products and working with licensors such as MGM, Miramax, Paramount and Warner Brothers.

Table of Contents

Part I. Constraints or Opportunities 1. Getting Back to the Basics of Great Game Design 2. Licensed to Thrill 3. The Art (and Challenge) of Designing for Game Platforms 4. A Break from the Norm

Part II. Core Gameplay 5. Designing Camera Systems 6. Control Systems 7. Designing Characters 8. Game Environments and Level Design

Part III. Design Challenges 9. Online Gaming 10. Designing Sequels 11. Advergaming and Sponsors hips 12. Audio

Part IV. A Smarter Designer 13. Market Research and Focus Groups 14. Design Teams, Prototypes, and Pitching 15. Designing Seriously Serious Games

Part V. If All Else Fails 16. Disaster Management 17. The Final Chapter

Appendix. Game Design Template Index

Game Design Complete includes interviews with Noah Falstein, Richard Leibowitz, Ben Gunstone, Tim Wright, Simon Andreasen, Dax Ginn, Toby Gard, Andrew Oliver, Raph Koster, Alex Ward, Maryam Bazargan, Chris Nuttall, Ian Baverstock, Tim Heaton, and Dr. Ian Bogost.




EA Forms Singapore Development Studio

Electronic Arts last week announced an initiative that will bring ga me development and localization to Singapore. Based in the heart of the city at No. 1, Fifth Ave. #04-07 Guthrie House, the studio will focus on localizing and customizing EA games into at least five different languages for distribution throughout the Asia region. In addition, the studio is poised to evolve into an online game development facility. A development team is already in place and the first localized projects have already started to be shipped.

VP Operations, Asia, Ms. Irene Chua will manage the development studio which currently has a development team of 20 international staff from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Holland. EA veteran Chris Thompson, vice president and GM of EA Southeast Asia, will also be based in Singapore to oversee EA's publishing business. Thompson comes to Singapore from Tokyo where he spent seven years serving as general manager of EA Japan.



iEntertainment Launches Khan MMORPG

iEntertainment Network, developer of the WarBirds TotalSims series of simulations, recently launched Khan: The Absolute Power in North America. The game is said to boast a unique party system that encourages people to make friends and form alliances within the game universe.

"The whole concept of Khan is that it is a social game," explains game master John Ewan. "It is possible to play the game by yourself but no character is completely self-sufficient. Each character is balanced with its own strengths and weaknesses. To maximize the enjoyment gamers can get from the game, they should make friends, and join parties and guilds. Eventually their guilds will form alliances with other guilds during the Siege Wars."

Khan: The Absolute Power is played by more than 600,000 people globally and is popular in Asia including in Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It takes players back to the era of Genghis Khan and his retreat to Asia from his conquests in Europe. Unique features include guilds, guild wars, hunting parties, siege wars, and special-event opportunities to win awards and items for the player's continued quests.

Gameplay elements include:
* TPG (Training Point Growth System) - Each character collects practice points, which are necessary in developing character growth. agility, wisdom, mental power, physical strength, and character charm can be grown and developed to trade in social and economic systems.
* Fame System - When battling in higher levels, the player will need to posses higher strengths and better game items in order to survive and win. These attributes can be achieved f rom the Fame System. Fame system points will be also be awarded to those who lead their parties to victory in quests and battles. With each quest accomplishment, the player's reputation will be recorded in the reputation system as fame points. Fame points can be traded for better items and abilities.
* RTR (Real Time Ranking System) - Characters are ranked in real time during game play. The player's character rank will help in determining his place and objective within the mission and quests in progress.
* Emotion Icon Chatting System (Instant Messenger) - Khan's IM Chat system uses emotion icon with built in special icon emotion symbols including Hi, Salute, Hurray, ^^, -, -, and many others. The game also supports sentiment icons using expression keys.
* Free Flowing and unstructured P VP (Player vs. Player) System - In PVP, players are able to build their levels and to gain experience. Khan's PVP system offers players with freedom to seek their own objectives without limiting players to any specific track.




L.A. Siggraph Presents Narnia

Los Angeles ACM Siggraph presents a special screening of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" & Dean Wright, VFX supervisor of "Narnia" and VFX producer of "Lord of the Rings," will present the making of the visual effects.

Thursday, December 15, 2005-- Holiday Special: $5 for non-members


6:30-7:30 Social Hour
7:30-9:00 Presentation
Followed by a screening of the film

The Location
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Leonard H. Goldensen Theatre, 5230 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601




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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- David Duberman


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