10 February 2003
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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By David Duberman
Back in the '80s, a new software company named Cinemaware promised to create games that would be like taking part in a movie. But due to the limited technology of the time, and perhaps the limited vision of the game designers, the company didn't do too well, and faded away after a few years. Incidentally, some of the games were recently re-released for Nintendo's Game Boy Advance.
Skip ahead to 2003, and we have The Getaway, perhaps the most successfully movie-like game to date. It's an ultra-violent gangster epic, set in the streets of London, developed by Team Soho and published by Sony. You start the game as one Mark Hammond, a Cockney ex-thug who's trying to go straight. But a gang kills your wife and kidnaps your young son, and you've got to follow their orders (given by various captains and henchmen) if you want him back. The story unfolds in relatively long, real-time 3D cut-scenes between missions, which you unfortunately can't skip through or pause. They're relatively entertaining, though, if you can suss out the thick Cockney accents and underworld slang. The game would've benefited from subtitles, as is done for some of the more accent-laden British movies that travel across the pond.
The Getaway has 24 missions: the first 12 as Hammond, and then another 12 as Frank Carter, his buddy on the police force. In most of the missions, you drive somewhere and do something or someone. The missions are broken up into sections, but unfortunately you can't save until you've completed an entire mission.
In some of the driving missions, you don't have much time for sightseeing, because if you don't get where you're going within the time limits, you have to start the mission over. Although, if you finish the game, you get a "free ride" mode where you can just cruise around at your leisure. At any rate, if you tried to drive legally through the traffic-congested streets, you'd take forever to get to your destination, and would be just as bored as a real driver in a crowded city. So the designers made it very tempting to break the law, driving in the oncoming lane or between lanes, cruising on the sidewalk for a bit while tossing the odd pedestrian, and so on. Problem is, as soon as you start doing so, the cops (or "filth") are on you like creepy on crawly. They shoot at you, set up roadblocks, and try to ram you from behind or force you off the road from the side. It's quite entertaining when they attempt the latter but instead smash into oncoming traffic.
If they do manage to stop you, you can usually barrel on through, but your car will suffer damage. This is modeled realistically in a number of ways, including loose doors and hatchbacks, shattered windows, and flat tires that make steering difficult. Eventually the car will become too difficult to drive, or even burst into flames. At that point, you can get out and easily hijack another. While you're on foot, you can also engage in battle with the cops, or a rival gang that's trying to take you out. More about that in a moment.
Once you reach your destination, you typically enter a building and try to find someone or something while bad guys try to kill you, although I have to admit the designers created a nice variety of missions. You can shoot enemies (the game gives you a choice of aiming methods: automatic, or, for pro killers, manual), or sneak up on them, grab them around the neck, and then use them as hostages or simply wring their neck. A stealth mode is nicely implemented: You can sneak along a wall and then pop out into a doorway to surprise an enemy in the room, crouch down behind low objects, and do barrel rolls to avoid enemy fire. There's no manipulation of objects, though; you can't open doors, or even vault over obstacles.
Eventually, you'll take damage, but the game offers no health power-ups. All you can do to heal yourself is lean against a wall for a while, while watching out for bad guys who try to surprise you. This leads to my greatest complaint about the game: The manual doesn't even mention how to recover health! I guess the designers thought it was obvious, but it sure wasn't to me.
This also leads to how The Getaway is like a movie. There are no health/ammo gauges, maps, or other artificial indicators of status or progress. If you're wounded, bloodstains appear on your clothing, and eventually your character starts staggering and saying he can't go on like this. As you lean and heal, the stains eventually fade. Similarly, while driving, all signs of vehicle damage are as in real life: dents, broken glass, smoke pouring out of the engine, excess vibration, and so on.
There are no weapon/ammo power-ups; you can pick up only what enemies drop, and only when you're out of ammo, or if it's more powerful than what you're currently packing. On the plus side, this sometimes means you get to carry a shotgun, or even dual semi-automatics. Lastly, as mentioned, there are no maps. While driving, you navigate via taillight signals, unless your taillights are broken, which means it's time for a new vehicle. Incidentally, the game lets you drive (and destroy) a plethora of real-world, cars, trucks, vans, SUVs, and even those big red London buses, each with its own realistic power and steering characteristics.
The thing I liked best about The Getaway is that it's quite playable. It seems difficult at first, but you get quickly the hang of maneuvering in its world. You typically have to repeat a mission several times, but the designers built in excellent randomization, so it doesn't get boring. For example, one mission involves finding and killing a certain quarry in a two-story building. Sometimes he'll flee downstairs, but other times he'll stay upstairs. There's also great attention to detail, such as the excellent voice acting, which is probably one reason the game took four years to develop. On the down side, the camera can be problematic. As in a movie, you don't have any control over it, and the sudden shifts in view, especially in close quarters, can be frustratingly disorienting. Also, development was apparently rushed, so that the final version has a number of more-or-less obvious bugs. In fact, there's even a Glitches FAQ on GameFAQs (http://db.gamefaqs.com/console/ps2/file/getaway_glitches.txt), although most of the items seem to be about the European version of the game.
The Getaway is, if nothing else, a very educational game. I now know that the sidewalks of London are wide enough to drive on, and that if you drive like a maniac through the city, even on the streets, pedestrians run out in front of you as if begging to be mowed down. Also, most of London's streets are one way. I've no idea whether the latter is actually true, but I do know the game's designers went to great extents to re-create a wide swath of the city realistically, which adds a great deal to the game's enjoyment. It's very nice to be able to drive for miles and not see the same scenery repeated endlessly, as in so many other driving games.
I've heard The Getaway compared to the crime films of Guy Ritchie, but not having seen any of those, I can't say. To me, the game's characters recall to mind Don Logan, the fascinatingly menacing Cockney thug played by Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. Overall, it's a most entertaining game, and highly recommended for PlayStation2 owners who don't mind a bit of ultra-violent fun. Incidentally, I recently heard this statistic: Of people who play violent games, females are more likely than males to subsequently act out the violence after playing. So ladies, stay away! <g>
New from Sharp Systems of America are two additions to its LCD monitor lineup: the LL-T17D3 and the LL-T18A1, at 17 and 18.1 inches, respectively.
Equipped with stereo speakers, and compatible with both analog and digital video inputs, the $499 LL-T17D3 is a 17-inch SXGA (1280 x 1024) monitor that provides 250-nit brightness, 500:1 contrast ratio, and 17ms response rate.
The Sharp LL-T17D3 features a color management function compatible with the “sRGB” international standard for color reproduction. By performing color conversions that adjusts to liquid crystal characteristics, the unit reportedly displays pictures with natural tones, and color matching is achieved with sRGB compatible peripheral equipment. It also has a “Vivid” mode for dynamic primary colors, and “Standard” mode for displaying colors beyond the sRGB standard.
In addition, the LL-T17D3 LCD monitor includes menu settings that can be automatically adjusted for crystal clear images and text. The menus can be displayed in eight languages and the settings can be locked to prevent accidental changes.
The 18-inch LL-T18A1 ($699) also supports analog and digital with viewing angle of 160-degrees, both horizontally and vertically. Contrast ratio is 350:1 and brightness is 250 nits. Its white balance (color temperature) can be switched from warm to cool by selecting one of the five presets, or by adjusting red, blue, and green values individually. The monitor also features a color management function compatible with the “sRGB” international standard for color reproduction.
"Continents with complete fractal river drainage networks are a MojoWorld exclusive," said Dr. F. Kenton "Doc Mojo" Musgrave, CEO and Chief Technology Officer of Pandromeda. "Creating them is such a difficult problem that Benoit Mandelbrot and I couldn't solve it; that took our resident astrophysicist, Jim Bardeen. Jim also helped Stephen Hawking formulate the original theory of black holes."
The 2.04 version of Bardeen's Rivers plug-in enhances the capabilities of Version 2.0, particularly when creating large continents with many levels of adaptive river detail. Features include:
The continent-scale river terrains are resolved with MojoWorld's pixel-level detail, complete with alpine lakes, small cascading brooks, meandering streams, and rivers on the order of the Mississippi or the Amazon, which spread out into wide estuaries as they approach the sea.
The Rivers 2.04 Plug-in works with all MojoWorld 2.0 products. It is available as a free download at http://www.pandromeda.com.
New from Digimation and Boomer Labs announced is Sound Trax, an audio plug-in for 3ds max that integrates the capabilities of a 64-track, non-linear audio editing system directly into the program. Features include:
$150 (commercial version), $50 (educational version)
A free demo version of Sound Trax can be downloaded at www.boomerlabs.com.
New from New Orleans-based Turbo Squid, a Web-based marketplace for digital assets, is Snoswell Design's Absolute Character Tools (ACT) Pro version 1.6. ACT-Pro is a suite of tools for character modeling and animation.
In addition to cgMuscle objects, ACT-Pro also now includes tools and objects (cgTubes) to create skinned proxy characters that deform and animate in real time.
With v 1.6, ACT-Pro also includes cgHuman, a human skeletal, muscle and skin character set that's rigged and ready to animate.
ACT-Pro V 1.6 sells for $895, with an introductory price of $645 until March 1, 2003.
Just out from Digimation is Stitch Lite, a $195 cloth-simulation plug-in for 3ds max. The Lite version offers the cloth simulation engine of the main product as a stand-alone product. Focused on the creation and animation of realistic cloth, Stitch Lite can simulate stretchy rubber, heavy cotton, silks, and canvas. Users can apply dynamic secondary motions to cloth by adding Wind and Gravity Space Warps. Fabrics flow, fold, bunch, and gather. It also supports cloth-to-cloth conversions for more complex simulations.
Anark Corporation recently debuted three new 3D exporters, allowing users of Alias|Wavefront's Maya, NewTek's Lightwave and Right Hemisphere's Deep Exploration to export models into Anark Studio 1.5.2. Artists who use these 3D tools can integrate 3D content into Anark's interactive, real-time multimedia presentations.
The exporters, once installed, will allow developers to export models and scenes into the Anark Model Exchange (AMX) file with full retention of complex 3D data.
Pulse, a developer of interactive rich-media technologies for email and the Web, has incorporated the ProductionSync and InstantSync technologies from California-based Automatic Sync Technologies in the Pulse Veepers 3.0, the latest version of Pulse's virtual character creation software. ProductionSync and InstantSync functionality has been integrated such that interactive 3D characters created in Pulse Veepers instantly include full lip-synchronization functionality. Information entered via audio (or converted to audio using the text-to-speech support found in Veepers) is processed by the ProductionSync and InstantSync components, which then automatically drive the character's lips to realistically deliver the information. Pulse claims no manual animation of the character's mouth movements is necessary, and the lip-synching can be further refined using "transcript assistance" found in Veepers, whereby a text version of the spoken audio helps dictate the lip movements of the character.
Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Automatic Sync Technologies is a provider of automated audio synchronization and searching tools and software for multimedia-production applications in gaming, animation, online training and electronic communication. Using speech-processing and pattern-identification technology, the company provides production tools for the creation of synchronized multimedia content. Automatic Sync Technologies can be contacted at http://www.automaticsync.com.
IDT Media, through its 3D-animation production subsidiary Digital Production Solutions (DPS), has entered into 3D animation content production for the toy marketplace. IDT Media is a division of IDT Corporation, a multinational carrier, telephone and technology company.
Digital Production Solutions will be utilizing the proprietary technology of its Global Animation Studio to provide 3D animation for toy manufacturers. The Global Animation Studio will use its 3D animation software to transform a company's toys into animated TV and video productions. The Global Animation Studio's technology provides character models with textures, lighting, and visual effects.
"The usual trend has been for animated characters of popular movies and TV shows to be made into toys. That kind of merchandising has grown into a billion dollar industry," said Jim Courter, CEO of IDT. "But what about those popular toys that don't have their own TV show or movie? Through our Global Animation Studio, we can take a doll or action figure and create an entire animated production featuring that toy. We believe that this will be a lucrative new venture for IDT and a boon for the toy market."
DPS. recently announced a co-production agreement with Jim Jinkins and David Campbell of Cartoon Pizza, the creators of Doug, Stanley and PB&J Otter. In addition, the D.P.S. studio is currently working on production of 26 episodes of "Monster by Mistake" under an agreement with CCI Entertainment, Ltd to be broadcast worldwide. The D.P.S. studio offers producers access to international animation talent on demand for a fraction of domestic costs, and with levels of control similar to an in-house studio.
Digimation last week released the TruEarth30 Iraq collection from TerraMetrics, with high-resolution satellite imagery of Iraq at 30, 60, 120 and 240-meter per pixel resolution revealing cloud-free ground-level detail in true colors. This unique collection includes full country coverage of Iraq and Kuwait, and bordering areas of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Iran.
The imagery is available on CD or DVD in a variety of collections, and it ain't cheap; we're talking four and five figures per collection.
Virtual-reality tools on the David Rumsey Internet GIS site let visitors interact with history and modern online-mapping technologies. A new suite of gaming and simulation techniques available at www.davidrumsey.com/gis/3d.htm gives Web-based GIS and map enthusiasts the opportunity to fly through and interact with late 1800s maps of California landscapes such as Yosemite Valley, Lake Tahoe, and Los Angeles.
A 3D mosaic of Lewis and Clark's early-1800s expedition of the Western territory of the U.S. is featured along with the new 3D California data sets.
Over 30 maps of the expedition area were recently added to Rumsey's online GIS collection, including pre-voyage and journey maps, and Lewis' original 1814 map of the team's routes. Together, the 2D GIS maps and the 3D mosaic give visitors an opportunity to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the journey through a combination of history and modern-day mapping technologies.
Rumsey and Telemorphic, Inc. (http://www.telemorphic.com) created the browser-based interactive 3D visualization capability with support from Knightcap Productions and ID8 Media, Inc. Once the full 3D map file is downloaded to the user's desktop, she can move through the map at varying speeds and angles, stopping to inspect various points.
Over half of all businesses in this industry have fewer than four full-time employees: 54%, to be exact. And, in case you're wondering, there's another 28% that are freelancers.
Why should you care? For those who are involved in business planning, marketing or sales, knowing the demographics of the industry can provide critical information for sizing your markets and getting a handle on potential sales volume. These two groups - companies with one to four employees plus freelancers account for nearly 29,000 individual businesses. As in many industries, it's often the big studios that everyone talks about, but there are thousands of very small companies that do a significant number of projects and project tasks day in and day out that buy and upgrade equipment and software all year long.
--Excerpt from the TrendWatch 2002 Visual Effects/Dynamic Media Demographic Atlas Report
Sign up for free TrendWatch Fast Facts featuring facts from their Visual Effects/Dynamic Media reports at http://www.trendwatch.com/fastfacts.html.
Nokia last week unveiled its N-Gage at events in London, UK and Sydney, Australia. The unit is said to comprise a cell phone, mp3 player, portable FM radio, Internet connectivity, and wirelessly networked game machine.
Games for N-Gage will be sold separately on game cards (using the MultiMediaCard standard). N-Gage and game titles will be available in major retail outlets, game-specific and video game retail outlets, as well as in regular mobile phone-delivery channels in all major markets.
Besides gaming, the Nokia N-Gage game deck also features a digital music player (MP3/AAC) and stereo FM radio, as well as a tri-band (world phone) GSM 900/1800/1900 mobile phone. Nokia is planning on making N-Gage available in volumes across five continents in the 4th quarter 2003 well in time for the holiday shopping season.
In a related announcement, Activision said it plans to develop N-Gage games, including launch titles, but didn't provide specifics.
A video-game classic from Activision's ancient history is swinging onto the next-gen consoles as the daring explorer Pitfall Harry packs his wits, athleticism and quick reflexes and embarks on an all-new adventure deep in the South American jungle. Featuring over 50 perilous levels including lush rain forests, creature-ridden caves and vast glacial mountains, the game challenges players to explore a dynamic obstacle-filled world. Developed by Edge of Reality, Pitfall Harry will be available fall 2003 for PlayStation2, Xbox, GameCube, and Game Boy Advance.
Gamers assume the role of Harry, a treasure seeker who battles evil using his athletic ability and a knapsack filled with adventure gear. Harry must race against a rival explorer to find hidden treasures, which in the wrong hands could spell doom for him and his friends. The landscape, ranging from forests to ancient ruins to subterranean mines, provides players with game options as they face the consequences of their decisions. Crossing treacherous jungle terrain and dark areas filled with puzzles, tricks and traps, players swing on vines, avoid crocodiles and dodge rolling logs as they unearth artifacts and use their cunning to defeat dangerous foes.
As recorded-music sales continue to plummet, the music industry has of late turned its focus towards the burgeoning video game industry as a primary vehicle to reach fresh music buyers, especially teen and young adult males, with reported success.
According to online marketer ElectricArtists, which surveyed over 1,000 video-game "tastemakers" on a series of questions relating to the intersection of the music and gaming industries, 40% of the respondents said that after hearing a song they like in a video game have they then bought the CD. The survey revealed that new artists including OK GO, Andrew W.K., Good Charlotte, Nappy Roots, Del the Funky Homosapien, and Trust Company have gained from being featured in video games.
Among the other important findings, 74 percent agreed that soundtracks help sell video games; 43 percent of respondents said they downloaded a video-game soundtrack from a file sharing network such as Napster or KaZaA; 40 percent of those responding learned of a new song or band from a game and then 27 percent of them went out and bought their CD; and 92 percent remember the music well after they stopped playing the game.
In addition, the respondents signaled out the Final Fantasy series as having the best soundtracks and they praised Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for the integration of recognizable songs from their past with terrific gameplay. Other games the respondents singled out for praise included Castlevania, Shenmue, Tony Hawk and Metal Gear Solid Series.
The online survey's more than 1,000 respondents were mostly males (95 percent) between the ages of 13 to 32. In addition to the United States, they come from countries such as Australia, Denmark, the UK, and Canada, where video game sales are strong and Internet usage high.
The Internet investment bubble may have burst, but the online population continues to grow, albeit at a much slower pace than in the '90s. The latest measures of Internet use by The Harris Poll are that 67% of all adults are now online from somewhere, including 57% who use the Internet at home, 28% who use it at work and 18% who do so from a college, library, cyber cafe or other location.
However, Internet growth has been much slower over the last two years than it was in the '90s. In 1995, Harris found only 9% of adults were online. This increased rapidly to 19% in 1996, 30% in 1997, 56% in 1999, and 63% in 2000. So it has increased by four percentage points between late 2000 and late 2002. All of this recent growth has come from increased use of the Internet from home -- up from 49% at the end of 2000 to 57% now.
In total numbers (based on rapidly rising percentages in contrast to a much more slowly increasing adult population) these results mean that those online grew from 17.5 million adults in 1995 to over 50 million in 1997 and over 100 million in 1999. The latest data show that 140 million adults now go online.
In other data on Internet use, Harris continues to find that those online spend an average of seven hours a week on the Internet. While this number has stayed virtually unchanged since 1999, this does not reflect the increasing sophistication of Internet users and the growth in the use of broadband and faster modems.
In our most recent polls, more than a quarter (27%) of all those online now have a broadband connection, including cable, ISDN, T1 and T3 lines and ADSL/DSL. This is an increase from only 22% early last year. Interestingly, fully 27% of all those who are online do not know what type of connection they have, but it is reasonable to assume that these relatively unsophisticated Internet users are mostly using slower modems and are not using broadband.
Other Harris Interactive surveys have also found that Internet users have become more skilled users of the Web and find information or do transactions more quickly than they used to. People are doing more things online and doing them faster.
Those online still tend to be somewhat younger, better educated, and more affluent than the total adult population. However, as Internet population has grown, so the profile of Internet users has become more like that of the total population. The Internet population now includes many more low-income and older people than it used to.
Jon LeBrie, CTO, Weta Digital has been announced as keynote of CMP Media's 17th annual Game Developers Conference (GDC), March 4 - 8, 2003, San Jose, California.
LeBrie is the principal architect of the digital infrastructure used to create the Academy Award-winning digital visual effects in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. LeBrie's keynote, "Fleshing out Middle Earth: Weta Digital Creatures" discusses specific approaches to crowd animation, creature setups, digital doubles, Ents, the specific challenges involved in bringing Gollum to the screen, and how the concept of "creative iteration" informed the development of one of the world's largest digital visual effects infrastructures.
The GDC offers more than 300 sessions, which provide information, diverse perspectives and inspiration to attendees. Attracting more than 10,000 annually, the GDC provides an independent forum for developers from around the world to set the agenda for the next generation of games.
"With revenues at $10 billion, video game development is serious business," said Alan Yu, director, Game Developers Conference. "This industry is changing at an incredibly rapid pace. Developers are facing serious issues and challenges from within and outside."
Other notable speakers include:
The GDC's seven content tracks cover the following disciplines: visual arts, production, business and legal, game design, audio, programming and the IGDA track. For the complete list of presenters, schedules and event information, visit http://www.gdconf.com.
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- David Duberman
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