13 December 1999
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Editor's note: You hold in your virtual hands the very last regular edition of Spectrum of the 20th century; indeed, of the 2nd millennium! We'll be taking a break next week and the week after, and will return with the next-millennium version of Spectrum, Y2K willing, on January 3.
The happiest and most peaceful of holiday seasons to you and yours!
- David Duberman
RealNetworks last week announced a marketing, development and distribution partnership with WebGlide, developer of 3D computer-generated video (CGV) technology and provider of an e-shopping solution. WebGlide will integrate its CGV technology into RealNetworks' RealSystem G2 to create a new product, code named "Utopia," that delivers computer-generated video said to require less than 1/20th the bit rate required for conventional video. Potential applications include entertainment, e-commerce, advertising, and electronic greetings. Utopia was demonstrated publicly for the first time at the Streaming Media West conference in San Jose, CA.
The companies also announced that RealNetworks will make a minority investment in WebGlide and that Rob Glaser will hold a seat on WebGlide's board of directors. This is the first such investment that RealNetworks has ever made.
Three-dimensional computer-generated video renders video of interactive animated environments, which users can watch linearly or interact with. WebGlide has a three- pronged approach to streaming CGV; first, it enables the use of video created using authoring tools such as Discreet 3D Studio MAX in combination with a WebGlide encoder and synchronization tool. Second, it provides streaming computer-generated video via compression technology said to generate results 20-100 times "deeper" than comparable quality MPEG video streams. Lastly, WebGlide says its "Natural User Interface (NUI)" simplifies 3D navigation and playback.
RealNetworks and WebGlide plan to make available the beta release of "Utopia" for Windows and Macintosh users in the first half of 2000. The client pieces of Utopia will be available as a free download to all existing RealPlayer G2 and RealPlayer 7 customers. Final naming and pricing will be announced at that time. In the interim, content developers can go to http://www.Webglide.com for a browser-based version of WebGlide's CGV technology and to begin developing applications for "Utopia."
Macromedia last week shipped the Dreamweaver 3 Fireworks 3 Studio, which combines new versions of Dreamweaver, Macromedia's Web authoring environment, with Fireworks for Web graphics development.
New features in Dreamweaver 3 include support for Microsoft Office, letting users strip non-essential tags from HTML output from Microsoft Word, as well as importing and displaying Excel and Access data. A History Palette automates Web production by recording user moves and letting them save steps as reusable commands. Text styles can be defined and modified globally using HTML Styles that work across all browsers and can be shared across teams to ensure a consistent look-and-feel.
Streaming media specialist RealNetworks last week introduced RealServer 7.0 and RealProducer 7.0, the latest advancements to RealSystem G2, its cross-platform media delivery system. The advancements in RealServer 7.0 reportedly deliver up to 250% improvement in server capacity, improved client connections, and reliability. New in RealProducer 7.0 is MPEG-1 video at half the data rate, said to deliver VHS video at 800 Kbps via DVD-derived encoding techniques.
The beta version of RealServer 7.0 Basic for Internet or intranets is available for free download from http://www.realnetworks.com/. The beta version of RealServer 7.0 Plus is available for purchase and download for $1,995 from the same location. RealServer 7.0 is available for the Windows NT, Linux, and Solaris platforms.
Details on RealProducer 7.0 enhancements:
Beta 1 of RealProducer 7.0 Basic for Windows is available for free download from http://www.realnetworks.com/. The beta of RealProducer 7.0 Plus for Windows is available for purchase and download for $149 from the same location.
AI Internet Solutions last week released Version 4.03 of CSE HTML Validator Professional, designed to assist in creation of syntactically correct HTML documents. Version 4.03's new Batch Wizard allows validation of multiple documents. Also new are the ability to select multiple files in the editor's shell list and open dialog box; the ability to specify an Agent string to use when opening documents from the Web (useful for opening dynamic URLs that return different documents based on the Agent); the ability to specify a username and password when opening documents on the Web; and a new option in the Editor tab to reduce the character spacing of certain fonts.
CSE HTML Validator Professional runs on Windows 95/98 and Windows NT.
The product is available for $89.95 for a business-use license and $49.95 for a non-business-use license. For more information, visit http://www.htmlvalidator.com/.
Berkeley, Calif.-based StarNine Technologies last week released WebSTAR Server Suite 4.1, with enhanced search engine options, new Funnel Web 3.6 Lite for Web-traffic analysis, and full Mac OS 9 compatibility . Available free for current WebSTAR Server Suite 4.0 users, the new version 4.1 includes additions to WebSTAR's search engine, such as advanced Web-crawler capabilities, searchable indexes created from multiple Web sites, and more extensive customization options for search results pages. WebSTAR Server Suite 4.1 has added a log-analysis option with a new Funnel Web 3.6 Lite add-on application from Active Concepts. The new version includes "under-the-hood" improvements to WebSTAR Mail and various plug-ins.
Streaming21 last week launched a suite of Internet streaming media products. Built upon its Global Streaming and Progressive Media Proxy technologies, Streaming21's Media Server, Media Caster and MP3 Server offer an integrated streaming-media solution designed for large scale streaming applications. In addition to sharing a core streaming engine, the products offer a unified Java-based remote-management system with a single point of management control for all applications.
Streaming 21's Media Server, which supports a bandwidth from 28.8Kb/s to 16 Mb/s, and standard compression formats such as MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MP3, ASF and AVI, is designed for a range of streaming services, including distance learning, corporate communications, on-the-job training, movies on demand and archived video playback.
Streaming 21's Media Caster broadcasts live video globally and can simultaneously store the encoded video to be played back on demand utilizing the Media Server. Broadcasters and Webcasters can use it to stream real-time news, live events and training to audiences across the Web and to remote sites through satellite, DSL, cable or dial-up networks.
Streaming 21's MP3 Server offers a scaleable MP3 streaming solution from 32Kb/s to 320 Kb/s with a single server capable of supporting up to 1,500 simultaneous 128Kb/s MP3 streams. Functions include streaming license control, rights management, remote management and load balancing between multiple processors and servers.
Be Here Corporation announced its iVideo creation packages enabling the development of 360 degrees live or pre-recorded streaming Internet video, to begin shipping by year-end.
Captured with Be Here's single-shot 360 degrees optical system, iVideo content lets users control their own virtual camera using video players from RealNetworks, Microsoft, and Apple. Any number of simultaneous viewers can independently navigate within a captured environment, allowing them to look around where they want during a live broadcast or recorded video feed.
Be Here will deliver by month's end two immersive video content creation suites:
Be Here iVideo Suite / Betacam SP -- targeted for use with the Sony Betacam SP NTSC video camera. Priced at $8,495, the suite enables broadcasters and video producers to develop 360 degrees video content through use of a portable solution. The suite includes the Betacam version of the Be Here 360lens and Be Here iVideo Create software. The Be Here iVideo Suite / Betacam SP will also be offered on a rental basis for individual projects at a rate of $495 per day and $1,995 per week.
Be Here iVideo Suite / High Res -- targeted for broadcasters and Webcasters desiring higher resolutions for broadband delivery. The suite includes a high-resolution version of the Be Here 360lens, Be Here iVideo Create software, a megapixel digital video camera, and a video capture board. The suite, priced at $14,995, is used with a Pentium III computer, enabling recording directly to disk.
The components of the Be Here iVideo Suites include:
MediaSite, Inc. last week introduced a new solution for creating searchable video. MediaSite Publisher Suite 4.0 includes Publisher, Publisher Modules (Speech Index, Image Index, Highlights Index, Auto Index) and WebFinder. Users can create, index, edit, manage and post searchable video.
MediaSite Publisher 4.0 is an evolution from its earlier product, MediaSite Logger, which indexed and segmented digital video files. Publisher automates this functionality and includes the following features:
MediaSite Publisher 4.0 Modules provide additional functionality that address specific needs of different video sources. The modules include:
MediaSite also announced significant enhancements to WebFinder 4.0. In conjunction with industry standard browsers, WebFinder allows users to navigate and search video on the Web using both images and natural language queries. Image matching allows users to search on thumbnail images. Once a video clip has been selected, WebFinder streams the video to the user's browser using Real Networks or other media players. Additionally, a new browsing feature provides a hierarchy of content categories.
Now available from TEAC is its new 4X4X32 CD-Rewriteable Drive (CD-W54E). The IDE/ATAPI drive both writes and rewrites at 600KB per second (4X) and reads at a 4.8MB per second (32X) data transfer rate. It also provides an 85ms average access time and 2MB data buffer. Like most CD-RW drives, it lets users create up to 650MB of data and the equivalent of 74 minutes of audio onto CD-R media for permanent storage or onto reusable CD-RW media for personal backup.
Include software from Adaptec is Easy CD Creator 4, Direct CD, Take Two, CD Copier Deluxe, Jewel Case Creator and Liquid Audio.
The 4X4X32 is available as a Windows 95/98 and NT compatible kit at an MSRP of $199. Coming later this month is a USB version of the 4X4X32 CD-RW (CD-W54EU at expected MSRP $299.
Shipping now from Smart and Friendly, Inc. is its new single-disc CD Duplicator, the CD Copy Rocket Mach 12. The 12X, ESP $699 unit reportedly creates complete copies of 650MB CDs in as few as 6 minutes.
Percussion Software last week introduced Percussion XSpLit, a free utility for converting HTML into XML and XSL. The technology is a component of Percussion's recently announced XML Data Server product, Rhythmyx, which dynamically serves structured data from relational databases into Web pages.
The utility runs on Windows 9x and Windows NT 4.0. A free 30-day evaluation of Percussion Rhythmyx is available at http://www.percussion.com/feel_the_rhythm.
Interactive TV (ITV) returns but emerges as a hybrid of Web and television revenue and programming models, according to new research released last week from Jupiter Communications. Jupiter projects that ITV will reach 30 million US households and generate $10 billion in revenue by 2004, but for entertainment and media players to win, they must reinvent their strategies--just as they must for the Web.
"The revenue model for television is very focused on advertising, and players entering the Internet space must shift their focus to compete in the Web's commerce-centric environment," said Jupiter analyst David Card. "ITV will force yet another change in strategy, as the revenue mix is more balanced between commerce and advertising. In addition, ITV will also force players to relearn programming. Online entertainment is all about involving the audience."
The ITV platform will offer the entertainment industry an alternative to the Internet for programming, but players must learn that it's still too early for companies to jump on the Internet as an entertainment medium.
Jupiter offers entertainment and media companies the following tactics for using the Internet today to prepare for ITV tomorrow:
Ultimately, the goal is to strike a balance, said Card: "Simply put, if an entertainment company has $50 to spend on the Internet, it should spend $40 of it on promotion and audience relationships, and use only the remaining $10 on inventing online entertainment content."
Be Incorporated and Opera Software are cooperating to deliver a version of Opera Software's Web browser, which Be will offer as part of both its Internet appliance software platform, code-named Stinger, and its desktop operating system, BeOS. The parties expect to deliver the first software under the agreement in the first quarter of 2000.
Be will bundle the Opera browser with BeOS and the browser will serve as the user interface for the Stinger platform, making it possible for Stinger licensees to create customized interfaces for Internet appliances. Additionally, licensees will be able to leverage existing Web content, providing access through the Opera browser. The companies claim Stinger with the Opera browser will enable a more personalized interface and user experience than is currently possible using PC-based browsers.
Stinger is the code name for Be's software solution for the creation of appliances that deliver information and entertainment over the Web. Based on BeOS, Stinger is customizable and supports popular streaming audio and video standards. Be expects to formally introduce Stinger in the first quarter of 2000.
Fast Search & Transfer (FAST) last week launched a new version of its Search service. The new release lets users search in any of 25 language catalogs, limit searches to title and URL text, and narrow results to specific domains. FAST Search and the individual language catalogs are available for private labeling by portals, search engines, ISPs, media companies, and content sites.
audiohighway.com has begun offering a service that allows its users to create and customize their own free "rich media" Web sites of up to 24 MB of server storage space. Using Homestead.com's technology and palette of drag-and-drop elements, visitors to audiohighway.com can create multimedia sites without prior experience or knowledge of Web-related programming.
Newly available from Jest Software is Figment ($40) for Windows, described as a new type of photo-editing software package for the home user.
Figment has three modules designed to let users composite and combine digital photos and images. The first module is the Input module for importing digital media. Once imported, trimming tools allow cutting out sections of an image, creating a photo object. The second module is the Layout module allows placing, scaling, positioning, and rotating the photo objects. Layout also provides photo-editing tools including adding text, special effects, and color adjustments. The last module is the Output module, which lets save, print, email or save the images as a Web page.
Figment's compositing engine, developed from experience producing graphic software for the film and video industry, analyzes and matches colors between separate photographic elements, adds shadows and provides real-world photographic effects like lens flares.
Visit www.jestsoftware.com or call (800) 854-4496.
Interplay Entertainment Corp. will distribute at least the next four of Blue Byte Software's PC titles in North America. Included in the list of titles are Stephen King's F13, Battle Isle 4, The Settlers4 and Dragon's Lair 3D, all scheduled to ship within 2000/2001.
Stephen King's F13, is designed to "take over" a user's computer, features the previously unpublished (in book format) King novella, Everything's Eventual; interactive "King-esque" games and customizable desktops; "screamsavers" and more. The product, which is both Macintosh and PC compatible, will be available in stores nationwide January 2000 with an MSRP of $29.95.
Battle Isle 4, due Q3 2000 on PC CD-ROM, is a 3D, fantasy strategy game. The Settlers IV, scheduled for Q4 2000 on PC CD-ROM, will offer new, defiant races, units and buildings, various missions, terrain, and surprise features.
Interplay RPG Division Black Isle Studios last week released Planescape: Torment on CD-ROM for Windows 9x-based computers. The title is the first computer RPG set in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Planescape campaign setting, and uses the real-time game system powered by the BioWare Infinity Engine from Baldur's Gate.
Modifications to the Infinity Engine include floating text, a pop-up quick-key system, a bigger gameplay area, and over 80 spells. The game's characters are over twice the size of those in Baldur's Gate.
The player finds himself resurrected in a strange place with his memory completely erased. Someone or something is stalking the player's character and the main plot element involves the player figuring out whom, and more importantly what, keeps killing him. Throughout the game, curiosity, fear, greed, survival, self-defense and revenge take turns driving the character.
Developed in-house at Black Isle Studios, Torment creators include members of the Fallout 1 and 2 teams. The Torment team also includes Colin McComb, one of the original designers on the Planescape world setting for TSR.
In conjunction with the release of the game, Sybex has published Planescape: Torment Official Strategies & Secrets ($19.99, 320 pages). Written by the game’s lead designer, Chris Avellone, and one of Fallout 2’s lead designers, Matthew J. Norton, the guide includes:
Fans of auto combat will be pleased to learn of the second title in what promises to be a long-running series of vehicle combat titles based on the original title Interstate '76. Vigilante 8: Second Offense, just out from Activision for PlayStation, builds on its predecessor's popular quest mode feature with larger and more challenging quests. Other features include new power-ups, weapons, special moves, and modes of play. Developer Luxoflux also added graphical effects such as vehicle exhaust, fog, water effects, brake lights, and bigger explosions (natch!).
Konami's new title Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness for Nintendo 64 transforms players into a fierce werewolf battling the evil incarnate himself, Lord Dracula.
The title sends players back in time to a period eight years before the original game begins, revealing the history of Dracula's rebirth and plot to spread dark dominion over the entire world. Players don the role of Cornell, a werewolf warrior, seeking to unravel the mystery behind his sister's disappearance. As
As Cornell, players can morph from human to werewolf, and wield the traditional weapons of medieval vampire slaying, including axes, daggers and holy water, among others. Weapons can be upgraded through three strength levels. Gameplay progresses through 14 stages, as players guide Cornell through a foggy lake, forest, castle, underground passages, a church tower and do battle with enemies like skeletons, vampires, bats, dragons, Medusa and Death. Secret chambers and additional characters add to replayability.
Cavedog Entertainment, like Blizzard Entertainment, is one of the rare gems in the game-dev biz; not prolific, but what they do release is generally of high quality. So it was a pleasure to hear last week of the upcoming release (3/00) of The Iron Plague, the expansion pack to the fantasy real-time strategy game Total Annihilation: Kingdoms. The Iron Plague introduces Creon, a new fifth civilization with air, land, and sea power. A DaVincian society whose precepts of science and technology sharply contrast with the magic-using clans of Darien, Creon feels the time has come to challenge the balance of power.
Highlights of The Iron Plague include:
The forces of Creon (five examples):
LucasArts Entertainment Company has brought its Star Wars: Episode I Racer game to the Macintosh platform. Star Wars: Racer allows players to take control of the jet-propelled Podracers featured in the Boonta Eve Classic race in Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace.
Despite the replication of movie sequences and simulated speeds of up to 600 miles per hour, the Macintosh version of Racer reportedly runs on the popular iMac and iBook product lines without requiring additional 3D upgrades.
Just out from Acclaim Entertainment is Armorines: Project S.W.A.R.M. Based on an original Acclaim Comics property, the first-person action game centers on an elite fighting force of Marines charged with saving the world from an invading swarm of immense alien insects bent on colonizing Earth. The game is currently available for Nintendo 64 and will follow shortly for PlayStation.
Gamers journey with one of two Armorines characters, Private Lewis and Private Lane, through multiple environments and secret worlds including: a Siberian Military base, where gamers must battle pollution and a heavy onslaught of alien bugs; the South American Jungle, where jungle bugs abound in an ancient Inca settlement; a Volcanic Island, where alien creatures must be eradicated from the depths of a steaming, lava-ridden volcano; the Egyptian Desert, where gamers confront alien bugs in the Valley of The Kings; and the Alien Hive, which features an asteroid-like spacecraft that carries thousands of alien insects to Earth. As players complete each level, additional secret worlds with tougher alien opponents will be revealed.
Sierra Studios and San Francisco-based developer Click Entertainment have inked an agreement to publish Throne of Darkness on the Sierra Studios' label. A vast action-role playing game (RPG) set in feudal Japan, Throne of Darkness is due to release in the second half of 2000.
Throne of Darkness offers gamers both single-player and multiplayer experiences as they vie for control of power in ancient Japan. Based on Japanese mythology, Throne's single-player game casts gamers in a fight to overthrow a dark warlord and his army - battling solo or as party leader. The multiplayer game allows gamers to team up against a computer controlled or human controlled warlord (or warlords), in party or as a single challenger, in a vast number of insanely detailed environments.
Microsoft and Gas Powered Games' Chris Taylor, the creator of Total Annihilation, last week unveiled the project they have been working on in secrecy for more than a year. Dungeon Siege, an action fantasy role-playing game slated to release holiday 2000, will plunge gamers into a large, continuous 3D fantasy world said to combine the immersive elements of an RPG with the intensity of an RTS.
Starting out with a single character, players travel through the land, gathering a party of characters. Players must then lead them into a fantasy world as they embark on the quest to stop the evil that has been unleashed. Dungeon Siege lets the player manage a large multi-character party or play through the adventure with a single character.
Built on Gas Powered Games' proprietary "Siege Engine" technology, Dungeon Siege will reportedly feature an interactive 3D world of immense size and scale, with both surface and underground worlds.
Canada-based Digital Leasure has released Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp for PC DVD-ROM. The classic laser-disc based arcade game features animation created by Don Bluth, a former Disney animator known for his work on An American Tail, The Land Before Time, and the more recent Anastasia. In addition to the game, the DVD-ROM release contains heretofore-unreleased preproduction footage of the game animation while under development, including pencil tests of the animation and scratch audio tracks. A special "Watch" option allows players to view the entire game without requiring moves to be made.
"Dragon's Lair II is the most challenging of the Don Bluth video games," says Elizabeth Foster, president of Digital Leisure. "The scenes are much longer than the original Dragon's Lair and Space Ace, and the game features inventory item pickups during gameplay, making for added challenge."
Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. has shipped 70 million units of its PlayStation videogame console worldwide. Cumulative hardware production shipments by territory are as follows:
The PlayStation platform has more than 4,000 software titles available worldwide, with hundreds of new releases scheduled in the various territories. In addition, consumers will be able to continue to run PlayStation titles on PlayStation2, which will be released in March 2000 in Japan, followed by a fall 2000 release in North America and Europe.
Fears that online merchants will lack stock of desirable items or deliver the items too late for holiday giving are expected to drive a majority of online holiday shoppers to spend less than 10 percent of their holiday budget online, according to new research from Jupiter Communications. These fears will drive many of the 20 million online holiday shoppers--20 percent of the online population--to favor those merchants from whom they bought in the past, making the goal for online retailers to turn those experimenting with holiday shopping online into loyal shoppers.
Jupiter queried more than 1,300 US online shoppers in late November and found that the majority of these shoppers plan to act conservatively in shifting their holiday budgets online. According to Jupiter's research, 51 percent of survey respondents said that they would spend less than 10 percent of their total holiday shopping budget online, amounting to about $6 billion.
Jupiter advises that online merchants not employ the same price-driven tactics of customer acquisition, including discounts, deals, and free offers, which had worked for them in the past. To secure the wallet share of online shoppers, merchants' promotional efforts should establish and/or reinforce the credibility of their online brand. Online retailers should focus on guarantees, dependability, and security.
Square Electronic Arts announced that Final Fantasy VIII for the PlayStation game console has sold more than one million units in North America since its release in September 1999, grossing more than $50 million in 13 weeks of sales. The title has sold more than 6 million units worldwide including Japan, Europe and the United States. The company is planning a January 2000 release of Final Fantasy VIII for the PC.
To date, the Final Fantasy franchise has sold more than 25 million units worldwide.
The 14th Annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) last week announced an industry lineup of more than 200 speakers for the 2000 conference at the San Jose Convention Center, March 8-12, 2000. The attendees, exhibitors and speakers at the trade-only event will cover all aspects of interactive game development.
Showcased on the roster of speakers are Yu Suzuki and Yuji Naka from Sega of Japan, Phil Harrison of Sony Computer Entertainment America, Randy Thom and Doug Chiang of Lucasfilm, Tom Dusenberry of Hasbro Interactive and presenting the conference keynote address, Danny Hillis of Walt Disney Imagineering.
A very brief sampling of planned talks:
Game Design Track
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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