Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

20 December 2004
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
For editorial/subscription inquiries, send mailto:spectrum1@broadviewnet.net
Search the Spectrum archives at http://www.3dlinks.com/spectrum
Editor's note: This will be the last edition of Spectrum for 2004. What a year! We'll be taking the next two weeks off for the holidays and will return relaxed and ready for an even more exciting 2005 on January 10. Enjoy the eggnog and we'll see you next year! - David Duberman

Today's Headlines (details below)

--Khronos Invites Public Review of Draft OpenVG Spec
--Game Trust Updates Game Frame Engine for Casual Gaming

--cebas Releases ThinkingParticles 2.0
--auto.des.sys Updates form.Z
--Toon Boom Updates Studio for PC
--Pixel Farm Launch PFHoe for Match Moving on a Budget
--Telestream Flip4Mac Brings Windows Media Encoding to the Mac
--Hawaiian Firm Updates Video Encoder

--Worcester Polytechnic Launches Game Development, Interactive Media Programs
--O'Reilly Releases "Mind Hacks"
--Paraglyph Press Publishes "A Theory of Fun for Game Design"
--Softimage, NAD Centre Launch Online Learning Program for Softimage|XSI

--Bluestreak, Sarbakan Team for ITV
--Ubisoft Licenses MotionBuilder 6

--Activision Announces The Movies Logo Competition Winners
--MMORPG Announces U.S. Launch, "Free2play" with Unlimited Playing Time

--Independent Games Festival Names Finalists

--13th Flashforward Features Digital Visionaries

--About Spectrum



Khronos Invites Public Review of Draft OpenVG Spec

The Khronos Group says the first draft specification of its OpenVG API (application programming interface) standard is available, on schedule, for public review. Khronos invites any interested party to execute a Khronos Reviewer's Agreement and provide feedback and guidance to the OpenVG Working Group to ensure that this industry standard meets the needs of the industry. Details about this review phase, the Reviewer's Agreement and more details about OpenVG - including a Table of Contents of the draft specification - are available at www.khronos.org/openvg.

Khronos also announced that Zoomon has joined the Khronos Group as a Contributing Member in order to actively participate in the development of OpenVG, and to get early access to the final specification. Zoomon is a provider of Mobile SVG solutions.

OpenVG is a royalty-free, cross-platform API that will provide a low-level hardware acceleration interface for vector-graphics libraries such as Flash and SVG. OpenVG is targeted primarily at handheld devices that require portable acceleration of high-quality vector graphics for compelling user interfaces and text on small screen devices, while enabling hardware acceleration to provide fluidly interactive performance at low power levels. The working group is also ensuring that OpenVG can be seamlessly integrated with the 3D graphics of OpenGL ES to create a fully integrated 2D and 3D graphics acceleration environment.

The OpenVG working group was founded by a number of Khronos members including 3Dlabs, ATI, Bitboys, Ericsson, Hybrid Graphics, Imagination Technologies, Motorola, Nokia, PalmSource, SGI, Symbian and Sun Microsystems. OpenVG is on a fast-track development schedule with the first draft specification created after just six months and final ratification and public release of the OpenVG 1.0 specification expected in the spring of 2005.


Game Trust Updates Game Frame Engine for Casual Gaming

Developer Game Trust recently released Game Frame Version 4.5, a platform that the company claims can integrate community and commerce into any casual game. It's aimed at solving the problem of revenue and distribution for new and existing casual titles, which Game Trust contends will fuel marketplace growth to create a billion-dollar transactional market for casual games by 2007.

In development for more than one year, Version 4.5 is said to enable rich storylines and features more typically associated with console-based games, and offer access to 130 million unique visitors per month, according to Media Metrix, through Game Trust's network of distribution partners.

Version 4.5 is compatible with most published APIs and can integrate casual games created with Java, Shockwave and C++.

Features include:




cebas Releases ThinkingParticles 2.0

ThinkingParticles 2.0 has now been certified as a Discreet Certified 3ds max plug-in and begins shipping to customers around the world today. The software was recently used by effects house Digital Dimension for creating complex realistic effects for “Blade: Trinity”

ThinkingParticles 2.0 is a rule-based particle system for 3ds max. According to developer cebas, when compared to an event-based particle system, which works on triggers and time-dependent events, a rule-based system is free from constraints and instead applies simple behaviors. These behaviors govern all aspects of a particle's motion, life, death, and collisions in a true non-linear fashion.

ThinkingParticles 2.0 offers its particle system functionality through a “programmatic” approach. This approach lets artists use ThinkingParticles 2.0's visual Wire Setup Interface to procedurally build the rules and conditions that control the particle behavior. Because of this technology, artists become the ultimate master of particle mayhem.

New features include:

ThinkingParticles 2.0 can be purchased from Turbo Squid at www.turbosquid.com/dcpstore, from Discreet at http://www4.discreet.com/3dsmax/3dsmax.php?id=967 or from authorized Resellers around the world.


auto.des.sys Updates form.Z

Just out from auto.des.sys, Inc. is form.Z 5.0. In addition to a number of new features, the software includes a new open architecture that supports the development of extensions to form.Z. These can be of two types: plug-ins that can be developed using the new API (Application Programming Interface) and scripts that are developed from within form.Z, using the newly released FSL (form.Z Script Language). While the former may require a certain level of programming expertise to be effective, the latter is intended for the broader user community and aims at making it relatively easy to extend and customize the application by accessing its internal workings with only a few statements and calls to functions.

Find an overview of the new features at http://www.formz.com/products/version_5_0/version_5_0.html, and a downloadable demo at http://www.formz.com/downloads/demo_log_in.html.


Toon Boom Updates Studio for PC

Toon Boom Animation recently released Toon Boom Studio v2.5 for PC. Similar to the Mac 2.5 version, Toon Boom Studio for PC adds such features as:

  • Support for scanning
  • Ability to draw in the 3D Sceneplanning space
  • Improved sound scrubbing
  • Visualization and manipulation of drawings and keyframes in the timeline

    The v2.5 update sells at $ 199 USD for V1 customers and at $ 99 USD for V2 customers. For Academic (schools and students) customers, v2.5 update sells at $ 99 USD for V1 customers and at $ 79 USD for V2 customers.



    Pixel Farm Launch PFHoe for Match Moving on a Budget

    The Pixel Farm, a developer of software tools for digital post-production, recently released PFHoe. Described as a cost-effective DV tracking application for the Mac and Windows platform, the software is aimed at DV hobbyists and budding CG artists.

    Using core technology developed for PFTrack, a tracking and analysis system, PFHoe reportedly uses a simple, intuitive interface. An import Wizard guides the user through importing and setting up the DV footage by explaining the parameters needed to successfully track a shot. Like its big brothers PFTrack and PFMatch, PFHoe is said to be able to solve any kind of camera motion, including zooms and nodal pans

    Pixel Farm managing director Richard Spöhrer explains, “With PFHoe we are delivering something we have wanted to do for a long time - providing those who can't afford our professional systems with a great set of tools to either learn about camera tracking or produce their own projects. … while PFHoe is limited to DV use, it is not … technologically limited.”

    PFHoe also features additional tools, including an automatic lens-distortion-correction tool, support for importing mattes from third-party applications, simple edit tools to modify tracking data, and quality graphs to aid the user in making data editing decisions. Distortion-corrected DV resolution footage can also be exported as a QuickTime or AVI for proper matching of 3D objects into the scene in third-party compositing applications.

    Camera data can be exported to common CG packages with 3D support via a range of plug-ins working under an API to facilitate future support of new applications. PFHoe comes with a single exporter, chosen when purchasing the software, with the option to purchase additional export format support as and when needed.

    Shipping on 1 January 2005, PFHoe will be available from the Pixel Farm Shop at www.thepixelfarm.co.uk for Mac OSX and Windows for £39/$76USD/€56 with one of the following exports: 3D Studio Max, Adobe After Effects, Maya, XSI, Light Wave, Animation Master and Combustion.


    Telestream Flip4Mac Brings Windows Media Encoding to the Mac

    Telestream, a provider of media-encoding solutions, recently shipped its Flip4Mac Windows Media Export Component for Apple's Mac OS X platform. The component provides encoding in Microsoft Windows Media 9 Series SD and HD on the Macintosh.

    Flip4Mac lets Mac users select Windows Media 9 Series from the list of available formats in the Export function of QuickTime-based applications running on Mac OS X v10.3 or later. These applications include Final Cut Pro HD, iMovie, QuickTime Player, Discreet Cleaner, and more. Also, Flip4Mac will be supported in an upcoming release of the Sorenson Media Squeeze 4 Compression Suite Macintosh version.

    Two versions of the Flip4Mac Windows Media WMV Export Component are now available from Telestream: the Standard version supports standard-definition resolutions, single-pass encoding, and stereo audio for US$99. The Pro/HD version adds support for high definition, two-pass encoding, and 5.1 channel audio for US$179.



    Hawaiian Firm Updates Video Encoder

    Maui X-Stream (MXS) has shipped its VX30 Encoder Version 2.0 ($800). The upgraded software-based encoder reportedly enables playerless streaming from any standard Web server and sends pre-recorded video email, live stream video from a single camera feed with the option to send video with either a "Java" system that eliminates the need for the user to install any player, upgrade or plug-in to view video on the Internet.

    The upgraded encoder is also said to be able to stream video through a "native" player featuring four functions, including video-on-demand, live video/audio on demand, and live audio coupled with the capability to stream in real-time as low as 400 K-Bits for broadcast quality and at 900 K-Bits for full HD-D1 quality.

    The encoder's graphical interface allows batch processing, editing, and previewing of source files. From the interface, customers can create separate profiles for varying data rates.




    Worcester Polytechnic Launches Game Development, Interactive Media Programs

    Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is introducing a B.S. degree in interactive media and game development for the 2005-06 academic year, following approval of the new major last month by the WPI faculty.

    Said to be the first major of its kind in the U.S., the four-year undergraduate program blends the artistic and technical aspects of game creation, and lets students concentrate in either area at the same institution. It will be jointly administered by WPI's Computer Science Department and Humanities and Arts Department, and the major's faculty will hail from both of these departments.

    WPI's IMGD major focuses on the development of interactive media and computer games, fast-growing fields with releases that rival Hollywood movies. Students receive a base education in both artistic (art, music, and story) and technical (programming) aspects, and then select an artistic or technical concentration as the emphasis for the remainder of their program. They are also required to study social and philosophical issues associated with games and related media.

    The program was developed over the past year by examining the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) Curriculum Framework, researching other educational programs, and consulting with members of the game development industry.

    The IMGD major's course work consists of core classes that expose students to the fundamental ideas of interactive media and game development. After students select a technical or an artistic emphasis, they take advanced courses in their chosen area. Some of the course offerings include:

    As part of the WPI undergraduate curriculum, the IMGD major also gives students a base of technical knowledge in computer science, mathematics, and science, as well as artistic knowledge in the areas of art, music, and English. WPI uses a project-based approach that balances theory and practice, and students are challenged through a series of independent projects to investigate and report on open-ended issues. Electives allow students to tailor the degree to meet specific career goals or interests.

    At the end of the degree program, IMGD students will have successfully completed a large-scale software project and a group project with both technical and artistic IMGD majors. They will be able to creatively express and analyze artistic forms relative to IMGD; communicate effectively orally, in writing, and in visual media; and be aware of social and philosophical issues pertaining to games and related media.

    To learn more about the IMGD major and how to apply to the program, visit the IMGD Web site at http://www.wpi.edu/+IMGD. WPI's deadline for undergraduate admissions and this new IMGD program is February 1, 2005.


    O'Reilly Releases "Mind Hacks"

    Quick, how much of your brain do you use? Ten percent, right? Wrong! Although conventional wisdom may not give it proper credit, our brains use every neuron they have to reconcile a prodigious amount of information. In fact, our ever-considerate brains do so much without nagging that we often take their efforts for granted.

    In "Mind Hacks" (O'Reilly, US $24.95) authors Tom Stafford and Matt Webb delve into cognitive neuroscience in an attempt to give the brain its due.

    "People have always tried to peek inside the brain, and science books about the mind going awry have always been popular," note Stafford and Webb. "Previously, these have taken people with damaged brains as a starting point, seeing which areas are broken and what the effects are, or they've done experiments on people using flashing lights and accurate timing and so on, but without actually looking at the brain."

    That's the past, say Stafford and Webb. And coming up in the future are some pretty wild ideas: computer games controlled by whether you feel calm or not, and more seriously, the same technology being used so that people can control computer cursors with controlled brain activity, which would be a boon to people who can't use current-day computers.

    But what lies in the middle, between the experiments of the past and the visions of the future? Neuroscience, according to Stafford and Webb, is going to get really big over the next decade. Cognitive neuroscience is one of the ways we have to understand the workings of our minds. It's the study of the brain biology behind our mental functions: a collection of methods--like brain scanning and computational modeling--combined with a way of looking at psychological phenomena and discovering where, why, and how the brain makes them happen.

    "How much of our 'self'--what we think of as the mind--depends on the physical stuff of the brain? How changeable is that?" Stafford and Webb ask. "Can we learn to count faster, to read emotions better, or pay attention better? We can get an insight into our own brains just by looking at research that's been coming to light in the past few years."

    Want to know more? "Mind Hacks" is a collection of probes into the moment-by-moment workings of the brain. Using cognitive neuroscience, these experiments, tricks, and tips related to vision, motor skills, attention, cognition, subliminal perception, and more throw light on how the human brain works. Each "hack" examines specific operations of the brain. By seeing how the brain responds, we pick up clues about the architecture and design of the brain, learning a little bit more about how the brain is put together.

    In "Mind Hacks," the authors don't treat the brain as an abstract idea: "We start from an experiment that you can do at home, or one that's particularly illuminating that's been done in the lab, and then we draw out how it works and what else we can learn from it." For example, "Go to a mirror, and stare into it from about 6 inches away. Now look from eye to eye. Do you see your pupils in motion? They must be moving, but you can't see it happening. Watch someone else do it and you'll see their pupils move quite a lot, so how did you miss it? Well, it's because your vision cuts out while your eyes are in motion …"

    Or maybe you want to know why people get so specific about how they take their coffee. "It's because caffeine is a drug, and it trains you into following a ritual," Stafford and Webb tell us. "We associate the coffee-making ritual with the coffee high in the same way Pavlov's dogs associated a ringing bell with food, and started salivating." Other "hacks" in the book include:

    "Mind Hacks" is not just fun and games--it has a serious side, too. The authors cite Web sites, books, and academic papers so readers can probe other interesting resources. "Some of the hacks in this collection document the neat tricks the brain has used to get the job done, " note Webb and Stafford. "Other hacks point to quirks of our own minds that we can exploit in unexpected ways."

    Steven Johnson, author of "Mind Wide Open," writes in his foreword to the book, "These hacks amaze because they reveal the brain's hidden logic; they shed light on the cheats and shortcuts and latent assumptions our brains make about the world." If you want to know more about what's going on in your head, then "Mind Hacks" is the key--let yourself play with the interface between you and the world. As Steven Johnson says, "May it mess with your head in all the right ways."

    Several sample hacks, including "Why People Don't Work Like Elevator Buttons," "Create Illusionary Depth with Sunglasses," and "Improve Visual Attention Through Video Games," are available online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/mindhks/chapter/index.html


    Paraglyph Press Publishes "A Theory of Fun for Game Design"

    New from Paraglyph Press is "A Theory of Fun for Game Design" (U.S. $22.99, 256 pp, ISBN 1-932111-97-2). Authored by Raph Koster, chief creative officer of Sony Online Entertainment, the illustrated book aims to show interactive designers how to improve their designs to incorporate fun. It covers such topics as:



    Softimage, NAD Centre Launch Online Learning Program for Softimage|XSI

    Softimage Co. and the National Animation and Design Centre (Centre NAD) recently launched NAD Centre Internet Academy (NADIA), a real-time, interactive learning program for Softimage|XSI digital content creation software. Its aim is to let users access instruction for Softimage|XSI software directly from a desktop PC connected to the Internet. Participants can choose from a series of 18 modular courses supplemented by a library of material and scenes.

    NADIA's live interaction capabilities allow instructors to take control of a participant's workstation and display manipulations in real time and in full view directly from the Softimage|XSI user interface. The use of NADIA's own Web folders allows instructors and participants to load large scene files and deliver live rendering in real time.

    The program is based on three levels of instruction: Essential, Intermediate and Advanced. Courses are then divided into six topics: Modeling; Texturing and Rendering; Animating in XSI; Simulation; Lighting and Rendering Optimization Techniques. Both public and private sessions are available, to accommodate both individuals and team needs. Class enrollment is two to four students and courses are taught in four-hour blocks.




    Bluestreak, Sarbakan Team for ITV

    Bluestreak Network, Inc. and Sarbakan plan to expand Bluestreak's digital cable TV games platform with new, cable-exclusive games and animated features from Sarbakan.

    The companies are producing new games for the Bluestreak Digital Entertainment Middleware (DEM) platform. DEM allows the rendering of interactive graphics and animation over digital cable TV set-top boxes. The new games will be part of Bluestreak's core digital TV games offering. DEM games are played using the standard TV remote control. Initial titles will include Nights of Mr. Snoozelberg, Houdini: Master of the Extraordinary, and Croc'o'snack, and will be available over cable to customers of the Bluestreak DEM platform.

    Founded in 1998, Sarbakan is a both an idea shop and a digital creation studio that specializes in the development and exploitation of animated content. Over the last five years, Sarbakan's original online productions have been distributed in 15 countries and generate, on an average month, more than 100,000 hours of Web gameplay. Warner Bros, WB Kids, America Online, Viacom, Sony, CBC/La Société Radio-Canada, Groupe TF1 and The National Film Board of Canada are some of its clients.



    Ubisoft Licenses MotionBuilder 6

    Game developer Ubisoft has purchased several licenses of Alias MotionBuilder 6 Pro 3D character performance and animation software. With over 45 animators already trained on the software, Alias MotionBuilder 6 will be a component of Ubisoft's production pipeline for animating characters in several of its upcoming games.

    Ubisoft is also utilizing Alias MotionBuilder HumanIK | Middleware in-game character animation and rigging library on "Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Chaos Theory," scheduled to release in March 2005.




    Activision Announces The Movies Logo Competition Winners

    Following a worldwide search, three lucky fans - Jonathan Jensen (Canada), David Watts (United Kingdom) and David Boyle (United States) - have been named grand prize winners in Activision, Inc. and Lionhead Studios' The Movies Logo Competition.

    The winning logos will be featured in Lionhead's upcoming PC life simulation game, The Movies, among different designs that players can select to represent their movie studio. The logo will appear on everything from entry gates and crew clothing to opening film credits and more. The winning designs, which were judged from hundreds of entries by the art team at Lionhead Studios, can be viewed at www.themoviesgame.com.

    Developed by Lionhead Studios and Peter Molyneux, a pioneer in the "life simulation" genre, The Movies lets gamers become Hollywood players by creating unique movies and releasing them from the studios they build, starring the actors they discover and develop.



    MMORPG Announces U.S. Launch, "Free2play" with Unlimited Playing Time

    K2Network (http://www.k2network.net/), a global online game publisher, recently launched Knight Online (http://www.knightonlineworld.com/) with revamped Website, new server expansion, and "Free2Play" with unlimited playing time. Both existing and new players will have complete access to all the current features of the game as well as all future updates and expansion packages. Knight Online also offers pay options for higher hit rates, increased player abilities, access to special weapons, and other benefits.

    Knight Online is a medieval fantasy adventure game with perpetual war servers operating with local language-support in China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, and North America. Since its first introduction in Korea two and a half years ago, Knight Online has been played by millions of players from over 50 countries. With the new server expansion, enhanced Website, and the "Free2Play", K2 Network expects to double its global player base to 300,000 in the upcoming months for its North American servers.



    Independent Games Festival Names Finalists

    The Independent Games Festival has announced the finalists in the seventh annual Independent Games Festival (IGF) competition. Game-development teams will compete for more than $40,000 in cash prizes. Finalists will exhibit their titles at the Game Developers Conference, March 7-11, 2005 in San Francisco and winners will be announced at the Game Developers Choice Awards Ceremony March 9. More information about the finalist games can be found at www.igf.com

    The 10 games selected for the "Open" category are (in alphabetical order):

    The 10 games selected for the "Web/downloadable" category are (in alphabetical order):

    Winners will be announced at the Independent Games Festival Awards Ceremony on March 9, 2005 in San Francisco. Games in each category are eligible for six awards: Innovation In Audio, Innovation In Game Design, Innovation In Visual Arts, Technical Excellence, The Audience Award and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize for Independent Game of the Year, for a total of $40,000 in cash awards.

    To register for the Game Developers Conference and review conference information, visit http://www.gdconf.com .



    13th Flashforward Features Digital Visionaries

    Flashforward and the Flash Film Festival (April 6-8), a gathering of Flash users, announced more than 70 confirmed speakers for the San Francisco conference to be held April 6-8. Speakers include digital and design visionaries Matthew Carter, type designer; Stefan Sagmeister, graphic designer; Laurence Lessig, digital rights attorney; and Ze Frank, Website humorist and developer.

    The San Francisco conference, the 13th Flash event in five years, features three days of workshops, seminars, technology showcases, exhibitions, networking receptions, and the Flash Film Festival, honoring the best Flash creations in 15 categories including animation, video, 3D, original sound, and art.

    The Flashforward line-up of Flash developers and designers includes Pete Barr-Watson (Pixelfury); Brendan Dawes (magneticNorth); John Davey (Develop Ltd.); Chris Harding (Hallmark Cards); Martin Hughes (wefail); Garrett Nantz (Big Spaceship); Nader Nejat (Omega Media); Noel Saabye (Cartoon Network); Grant Skinner (gskinner.com); Evan Spiridellis (JibJab Media); Jared Tarbell (levitated.net), and more...

    The program and list of speakers is posted on the Flashforward Website at http://www.flashforwardconference.com.

    Publisher's note: We are now accepting limited advertising. If you'd like to offer your company's products or services to Spectrum's elite audience of Internet and multimedia professionals, send an email query to mailto: spectrum1@broadviewnet.net. - David Duberman


    Spectrum founding editor: Doug Millison (www.Online-Journalist.com)


    ©Copyright 2004 Motion Blur Media. All rights reserved. No reproduction in any for-profit or revenue-generating venue in any form without written permission from the publisher.