Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News 11 February 2002
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)
--Pulse Ships Interactive Web-Audio Tool --Intava Gravity Available for WAP, Palm and Pocket PC Platforms --XAO Ships Web Developer Suite
--ScanSoft Dragon PDsay Adds Voice Control/Synthesis to PPC --Microsoft, Octal Introduce iTV Development Kit --Firms Ally to Bring Games to Palm OS
--Alien Skin Announces Splat! Photoshop Filters --Teen Develops 3D Character-Animation Plug-in --Discreet Updates edit Desktop NLE
--Toon Boom Studio v1.1 for OS X Launched
--Nvidia Launches GeForce4 GPUs
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
--O'Reilly Updates C# Essentials
--O'Reilly Updates Qt Book
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
--Black Isle Announces Icewind Dale II
--Presto's Whacked Coming to Xbox
--Total PDA Shipments Rises, But Growth Rate Slows in '01 --FFX Hits Million-Unit Sales Mark in N.A.
--LBE VR Firm Retains Chief Software Scientist
--GDC Conference Highlights - Visual Arts
Pulse Ships Interactive Web-Audio Tool
New from San Francisco-based interactive rich-media provider Pulse is Sonifier, technology for adding interactive audio to Web sites. Available at monthly subscription fees starting at $14.95, Sonifier requires no programming or audio expertise. The software uses a drag-and-drop interface and includes an initial library of more than 15,000 audio files.
Users choose as many audio clips as they like from Sonifier's libraries of bandwidth-optimized vocal cues, musical scores, audio logos and sound effects. While applying those sounds in real-time to elements on the selected Web page, users designate the sounds to be played when site visitors arrive, or when they move their cursor over, or click on, a "sonified" element. The result is an interactive, multi-layered soundtrack that is woven into the site's HTML code and instantly responds to visitors' actions on the page.
Pulse Sonifier audio files are delivered transparently to site visitors' machines. Sounds are organized by type, keyword, and theme - sub-categories of sounds are collected under headings ranging from "Business" and "Sports" to "Travel" and "Lifestyles."
Intava Gravity Available for WAP, Palm and Pocket PC Platforms
Intava Corporation, a provider of wireless development applications, last week released Intava Gravity v1.1, its multi-platform Web authoring application, now available for WAP, Palm and Pocket PC development.
* support for the Pocket PC wireless platform, including simulation * expanded testing capabilities with over three dozen bundled device simulators, now with increased support for the newest Sprint PCS (Nasdaq:FON) devices
* enhanced international device simulators allow applications to be created for a global audience
* usability enhancements within Intava Gravity * increased code-editing options allow greater control within individual markup languages
The multi-platform Intava Gravity Professional, priced at $295 per user, is available for download and purchase at http://www.intava.com.
Single-platform versions of Intava Gravity are also available for $195. A fully functional 15-day trial version is available and technical support is free during the evaluation.
XAO Ships Web Developer Suite
XAO Inc., a Pasadena-based software company (formerly a division of VA Linux Systems), last week released its Web Developer 1.02, the first version of a suite of objects for rapid site development and integration with legacy systems. XAO Web Developer 1.02 works with the XAO Foundation Server (which operates as the database for XAO Web Developer objects).
XAO is currently shipping the Web Developer Suite under the XAO Open License, found at http://www.xao.com/license.html.
The suite provides an infrastructure for deploying a variety of Web sites on the Apache platform. It includes Apache handlers, object-oriented templating language, dynamic object loading and manipulation facilities suitable for use in large-scale projects.
A significant part of the suite consists of ready-to-use universal objects that include:
* Identify User -- identifies returning users to the system and provides multiple layers of authentication for the user.
* Identify Agent -- identifies the user agent of the Web user and behavior of the user.
* FS -- provides access to the data stored in the Foundation Server and provides the basis for customized manipulation of objects.
* Search -- provides complete natural search functionality of the Web site or data stored in the Foundation Server.
* Conditionals -- allows complex Web systems to be built using complex conditional logic about the user.
* Cookie -- supports generic cookie manipulation.
* Fillout Form -- a set of objects designed to allow developers to quickly generate and parse forms, with conditional formatting.
* Style Support -- handles the presentation layer of the information, allowing the same content to be presented in multiple formats (such as WAP-enabled devices).
* Multi-page Navigation -- offers the ability to adjust navigation to account for large data sets or search results.
* Utilities -- includes support for integrating tracking from every major shipper including UPS, DHL, FedEx, Yellow Freight and Airborne Express, credit card checksum verification and many other commonly used Web utilities.
* XAO Pod View -- XAO Web Plugin for displaying PERL PODS (Plain Old Documentation) allowing quick presentation of documentation on the Web without re-coding.
ScanSoft Dragon PDsay Adds Voice Control/Synthesis to PPC
ScanSoft Inc., a supplier of imaging, speech and language solutions, last week released Dragon PDsay, a new application that adds voice-control and speech capabilities to Pocket PC devices. With Dragon PDsay, Pocket PC users can control operating system selections and application interfaces using natural voice commands and can have email, calendar and contact information read aloud automatically. PDsay works with the standard microphone and speakers built into Pocket PC products.
PDsay supports speaker-independent speech recognition, and its command vocabulary is said not to require training. The software understands and acts upon commands such as "Next Appointment," "Read email" or "Start Internet Explorer." Key features include: * information retrieval by voice (contacts, e-mail, appointments, tasks) * speech notifications
* automatic text-to-speech reading of emails * voice recognition and control of standard built-in Pocket PC functions and applications
* command and control through speaker-independent speech recognition
Microsoft, Octal Introduce iTV Development Kit
Microsoft Corp. and Novabase SA of Portugal last week announced availability of the Sagreskit, a new development kit for building iTV services for the Microsoft TV platform running on OctalTV set-top boxes.
The first version of the Sagreskit is available now in English and enables the following:
* Personal video recorder management. The development kit includes video file handling and allows the creation of video-based applications, such as video on demand and interactive video demonstrations. It also includes tools that enable file conversion from and to MPEG 2.
* Smart Card handling. Payment or loyalty program applications can be created using the Smart Card feature of the OctalTV set-top box.
* Digital video dynamic tuning. Multicamera, multiaudio applications can be created to enable multiangle views for sports events or multirole shows.
* SMPTE 363 simulation. This simulator helps synchronize content with video broadcasts by allowing developers to send Society for Motion Picture and TV Engineers (SMPTE) 363 (formerly known as ATVEF transport A) triggers.
* Multiplayer gaming. Developers can create multiplayer games using a set of client and server objects; games can be run between two or more set- top boxes using a broadband connection.
The Sagreskit also includes a customizable graphical user interface (GUI) that can be used for deployment of localized TV portals; a Trivial file transfer protocol (FTP) client and a server component that allows for transfer of files in and out of the set-top box; and a manual containing how-to sections on building content, such as live-broadcast simulations using recorded video and ActiveX Controls.
The initial version of the Sagreskit supports Microsoft TV Advanced version 1.5 running on the OctalTV STB5005 and OctalTV STB6005 set-top boxes. It is available to fee-based members of the Microsoft TV Developer Program. More information on the program can be found at http://www.microsoft.com/tv/working/.
The OctalTV STB6005 includes the following features: * digital video recording (DVR) Support * Windows Media-based streaming of MPEG 2 and MPEG 4 * built-in cable modem and xDSL
* embedded conditional access system from Nagravision and support for DVB-CI by PCMCIA conditional access module * Smart Card reader for European, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) credit cards or Loyalty Program chip cards
* two USB ports to connect a variety of devices, such as a wireless gateway, Webcam or printer
* DVD drive
Firms Ally to Bring Games to Palm OS
In an effort to streamline the delivery of mobile games content to Palm OS-based PDA devices, Motorola's Semiconductor Products Sector (SPS) today announced plans to enhance its DragonBall MX1 and Super VZ microprocessors with portable game application programming interface (API) software from Sega Corporation.
In conjunction with Motorola and Metrowerks, Sega will develop this API for next-generation Palm Powered devices. The game API will be integrated into future versions of Metrowerks' CodeWarrior development tools for the Palm OS platform. In addition, Sega Corporation will license the game API to developers.
Alien Skin Announces Splat! Photoshop Filters
Alien Skin Software last week introduced Splat!, a new filter set for Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia Fireworks, ProCreate Painter, Deneba Canvas, Jasc Paint Shop Pro, and Corel PhotoPaint. The software combines frames, textures, edges, borders, mosaics, and more with the interface of Eye Candy 4000.
* Frame adds mattes and frames to any photo or other rectangular selection.
Users browse through over 100 frames using a preview, then scale the frame to fit, and apply. Frame includes traditional wood frames, Dover and geometric borders, and realistic frames such as grommets and pushpins.
* Resurface adds any of 100 high-resolution surface textures to any object, selection, or composition. Designers can distort an image to fit a surface.
The natural-media oriented filter lets artists apply textures such as paper, metal, stone, wood, leather, brick, carpet, concrete, dirt, and fur.
* Fill Stamp fills a selection with objects from over 100 stamp libraries including leaves, buttons, coins, food, and flowers, then scaling the objects, and applying.
* Edges lets users ornament invitations and greeting cards with halftone patterns, torn paper, and pixilated edges.
* Border Stamp works with any shape or selection to let users create themed borders from everyday objects such as pebbles, rose petals, seashells, candy, and more.
* Patchwork re-creates any selection, shape, or image as a mosaic. Users choose from tile libraries including ceramic tiles, cross-stitch, light pegs, and ASCII art. Users simply browse the libraries and then scale the tiles to fit.
Splat! is carbonized for OS X on the Macintosh and will be available for both Mac and Windows late in the first quarter of 2002. The estimated street price for Splat! will be $99.
Teen Develops 3D Character-Animation Plug-in
In cooperation with 16-year-old Donovan Keith, Maxon released Golem, a new plug-in that augments the character-animation tools in Cinema 4D XL, the company's 3D software application. The youthful animator/developer developed the plug-in based on discussions with other 3D artists about character-animation workflow.
Discreet Updates edit Desktop NLE
Autodesk division Discreet has begun shipping edit 6.5, the latest version of its real-time Windows 2000-based desktop non-linear editing (NLE) system. edit 6.5 runs exclusively on the Pinnacle TARGA 3000 and is said to provide faster performance, better media-management capabilities and additional concurrent real-time effects and graphics.
edit 6.5 also includes direct timeline access to combustion 2, Discreet's desktop visual-effects and compositing software. Other edit features include multi-layered offline-to-online workflow, from edit to Discreet's smoke or fire IRIX-based workstation systems, for high-resolution non-compressed finishing.
The software supports up to three non-compressed graphics layers as well as two streams of non-compressed or compressed video. It is also DTV-ready, with 16:9 image capture and playback, serial digital, composite and component I/O.
Multiple timeline layers from edit 6.5 can also be accessed directly from combustion 2, allowing elements to be manipulated and rendered directly into the edit timeline or offloaded to a remote rendering station using free network rendering.
Toon Boom Studio v1.1 for OS X Launched
Toon Boom Technologies has launched Toon Boom Studio version 1.1 optimized for Mac OS X version 10.1. This upgrade release includes new features, including export to iMovie projects, as well as a number of Aqua user-interface improvements.
The new iMovie export lets artists use iMovie to add titles, transitions, or effects.
Version 1.1 also features an enhanced Aqua interface, which includes customizable toolbars at the top of each window instead of floating tool palettes.
Additionally, Toon Boom Studio's screen layouts and utility palettes have been optimized and redesigned to provide more on-screen work space. Other improvements include dual-monitor support and custom screen arrangements for the wider G4 PowerBook and Cinema displays.
The Mac OS X edition of Toon Boom Studio, including version 1.1, was developed by The Software MacKiev Company (http://www.mackiev.com/), based on the original version created by Toon Boom Technologies Inc.
Nvidia Launches GeForce4 GPUs
New from Nvidia Corporation is the GeForce4 family of Graphics Processor Units (GPUs), with new technologies including: * up to four times the performance of previous GeForce generations.
The new GeForce4 family includes:
* Ti 4600, 4400 and 4200 -- consumer GPU capable of driving complex geometries and character animations
* MX 460, 440 and 420 -- for mainstream desktop PC, with nView multidisplay technology, LMA II, and antialiasing
* 440 Go and 420 Go -- mobile GeForce4 GPUs integrate power management, a Video Processing Engine and antialiasing, and efficient memory architecture
The GeForce4 family includes Lightspeed Memory Architecture II (LMA II), an advanced 128-bit Double Data Rate (DDR) memory interface, and other memory-enhancement technologies said to double available memory bandwidth and increase overall memory efficiency. LMA II includes Nvidia's second-generation Z-occlusion culling, a hardware technique that predetermines which objects in a scene are visible to the eye, and which objects are hidden by other objects in the scene. By rendering only the visible parts of objects, Z-occlusion culling maximizes memory bandwidth.
LMA II can also compress the values of distances between objects that are stored in the GPU Z-buffer at a ratio of four to one, without any degradation in accuracy. In addition, LMA II features four individual caches for instant rendering pipeline access, which can be reused and refreshed instantaneously.
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
O'Reilly Updates C# Essentials
For more than a year, Microsoft has heavily promoted C# (pronounced C-sharp) as a language that embraces many of the best features of each of the Visual C++, Visual Basic, and Visual J++ languages and development environments. Created with Web services and applications in mind, C# was designed to combine the rapid development benefits of Visual Basic with the power and control of C and C++. "C# Essentials, Second Edition" by Ben Albahari, Peter Drayton & Brad Merrill (O'Reilly, US $24.95) provides an overview of the language aimed at helping programmers grasp the fundamentals of C# programming.
Co-author Albahari describes C# as an elegant and practical language designed to give an optimal blend of simplicity, expressiveness, and performance. "It's similar to what Java would be if Java people were allowed to forget about backward compatibility and just work on making the language better," he says.
The new edition of "C# Essentials" has been updated to cover the final release of the C# language. Its presentation of key concepts serves as a roadmap to the online documentation for the language, while the many examples included in the book provide context for would-be C# programmers.
In addition to overviews of C#, the Common Language Runtime (CLR), and the .NET Framework Class Libraries (FCL), this new edition of "C# Essentials" covers:
* every C# language element and its syntax, in reference format, including new keywords
* the major C# datatypes, with code examples * common C# programming tasks
* interoperation with legacy Win32 APIs and COM components, and the use of C/C++ style pointers within the managed context of the CLR * common development issues
Chapter 1, "Introduction" is available free online at http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/csharpess2/chapter/ch01.html
For more information about the book, including Table of Contents, index, author bios, and samples, see http://oreilly.com/catalog/csharpess2/
O'Reilly Updates Qt Book
According to publisher O'Reilly and Associates, Qt remains one of the niftiest toolkits for building graphical user interfaces (GUIs) in Linux, Unix and even Windows. Its applications are environment-portable, it's included in most recent Linux distributions, it's much easier to use than the standard Motif toolkit for Unix systems, and it provides Windows users with native-looking interfaces.
Frustrated by the lack of a good tutorial-style manual when Qt made its debut, author Matthias Kalle Dalheimer used his hard-won knowledge to craft the first edition of "Programming with Qt," which has become a much thumbed-through tome on many a programmer's bookshelf. Dalheimer's motivation for updating "Programming with Qt" for Version 3 was the fact that "the Qt landscape has changed considerably since the first edition was published. It is no longer a niche product, but one that is widely used.
Especially the embedded version, Qt/Embedded, has brought Qt into many new places, so the need of a good tutorial-style introduction (but also of some more advanced programming topics that I also cover) is even more pressing than before."
As the popularity of Linux continues to grow (there are an estimated 12 million users worldwide), so does the need for guidance in generating user-friendly interfaces. Qt is already the toolkit of choice for the thousands of participants who help develop and maintain the open source KDE desktop, the popular Unix-Linux GUI--which Dalheimer helps to write in his spare time. "Programming with Qt, 2nd Edition" (O'Reilly, US $39.95) shows how to use all of the Qt GUI elements, and covers advanced topics like 2D transformations and drag-and-drop. The book contains exercises and answers, debugging hints, and instructions for reading and writing XML documents.
Among the many features adding value to the second edition is a new chapter on network programming.
An article by the author, "Design Patterns in Qt" is available at: http://www.onlamp.com/pub/a/onlamp/2002/01/10/designqt.html
Chapter 8, "Container Classes," is available free online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/prowqt2/chapter/ch08.html
For more information about the book, including Table of Contents, index, author bio, and samples, see http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/prowqt2/
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
Black Isle Announces Icewind Dale II
A sequel to the computer role-playing game Icewind Dale is currently in development by Black Isle Studios, the role-playing game division of Interplay, and will be distributed by Vivendi Universal Games in North America. Icewind Dale II is scheduled to ship to retail on May 28, 2002.
The sequel expands upon gameplay elements found in Icewind Dale, letting players hone their combat skills and get more powerful possessions, spells, and experience. Icewind Dale II hosts a large variety of new weapons, armor and magical items and features all the spells from Icewind Dale and its expansion Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter. Additionally, ID2 includes over 50 new spells such as Executioner's Eyes and Aegis, bringing the total to over 300 spells.
Over 100 new special items can be found in Icewind Dale II's elevated "Heart of Fury" mode, first introduced in Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter.
This challenging mode enhances the game's replayability by allowing players to face intensely difficult and strategic battles with their high level, battle-hardened characters.
Modifications to the game's BioWare Infinity engine include a variety of features originally developed for Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, including dual-wielding, class kits, new classes such as the Sorcerer and Monk as well as 3D technology developed by BioWare. Icewind Dale II introduces new class kits like the Mercenary, Giant Killer and the Dreadmaster of Bane among others, plus new sub-races including the Drow and Tiefling.
Presto's Whacked Coming to Xbox
Coming this fall for Xbox is Whacked!, developed by Presto Studios Inc. The game will feature combat in which eight contestants are pitted against each other in a game show. Contestants must use power-ups and zany weapons such as giant staplers and rubber ducky grenades to flatten their opponents and win a grand prize.
* Bizarre characters, including Otto, the emaciated, narcoleptic dude who lets his recliner do all the work, and Lucy, whose sinfully attractive body is surpassed only by her cunning ability to use it.
* multiple gameplay modes include Combat Mode, which lets players fight each other in a race to collect resources, Chicken mode, which pits a player against a horde of man-eating chickens in a quest to stay alive, and King of the Hill, Grab 'n' Run, Fragfest and Dodgeball.
* detailed levels include an artic pipeline, a Christmas tree, and the kitchen sink
* more than 40 weapons and power-ups, including a circus cannon, a pitchfork, a staple gun, and a shish ka bob
Total PDA Shipments Rises, But Growth Rate Slows in '01
According to Cahners In-Stat/MDR, global shipments of personal digital assistants (PDAs) grew 17% in 2001 despite a weak global economy and continuing erosion of U.S. consumer confidence. Total shipments reached 8 million units for the year. Even though these numbers seem positive, the high-tech market research firm reports that it represents a significant slowdown growth rate from the previous year.
According to Neil Strother, a Senior Wireless Handset Analyst with In-Stat/MDR, "Key PDA market drivers for the coming years will be more robust devices with newer and more reliable applications, backed by better wireless data and phone networks; wider use of Bluetooth and other short- range wireless technologies; and lower unit prices.
Shipments in 2002 for PDAs will increase about 18% as new manufacturers enter the market and a wave of wireless functionality takes hold in a big way. The future will be all about making the PDA a more ubiquitous device and more useful to both the mobile business user and the on-the-go consumer."
In-Stat/MDR has also found that:
* The three major customer segments for PDAs are consumer, mobile professionals and enterprise.
* The global long-term market forecast for PDAs is solid, with annual growth through 2005 in the double- digit range, peaking in about 2004 at 30%, and then tapering off in 2005 as the market matures.
* The current OS leader among PDAs is clearly Palm followed by Pocket PC and Windows CE.
The report, "Getting a Grip on PDAs: Analysis of the Personal Digital Assistant Market, Segmentation and Forecasts" (#IN020401WH), covers the vendor side of the global PDA market in addition to existing and emerging technologies. It also discusses shipments, revenue and important technological advances. The information is organized by first a technological overview, then a discussion of the key vendors, and finally a forecast. To purchase this report, or for more information, visit http://www.instat.com/catalog/cat-wh.htm or contact Erin McKeighan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-609-4551.
FFX Hits Million-Unit Sales Mark in N.A.
Square Electronic Arts, the publisher of Squaresoft products in North America, announced last week that Final Fantasy X for PlayStation 2 has sold more than one million units in North America.
This, combined with the units shipped in Japan (Japanese versions of Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X International) makes a total of four million units shipped in both North America and Japan. Sales of the latest FF have propelled the life-to-date sales of the series to 38 million units worldwide (which could easily finance any number of additional cinematic bombs).
In Japan, Final Fantasy X was the top-selling video game title in 2001, with more than 2.3 million units sold. It was released there on July 19, 2001 and sold through 90% of the 2.14 million units it shipped in the first four days. It is the first PlayStation 2 title to reach the two million-unit mark in Japan. Final Fantasy X International, released only in Japan on January 31, is the US version of Final Fantasy X including English-only voiceovers and new features.
LBE VR Firm Retains Chief Software Scientist
GameCom/Ferris, which designs, manufactures, and operates virtual-reality products for use in entertainment facilities and at special events, has retained the services of Dr. Douglas A. Hoskins with Applied Evolution, located in Kent, Washington, to function as the company's senior training and simulation software developer.
Hoskins is an expert in the development and deployment of object-oriented software and artificial intelligence (evolutionary computation and emergent behaviors). He received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in aeronautics and astronautics, and also holds masters degrees in both biochemistry and aeronautical engineering. Hoskins previously served as a senior specialist engineer for The Boeing Corporation, developing mission-planning software for unmanned air vehicles and advanced missile and space vehicle control systems. Additionally, he previously acted as chief scientist for Advanced Interactive Systems of Tukwila, Washington, where he conceived and developed products such as rapid deployment scenarios for projectile and laser sensor and laser tracking systems.
Hoskins' immediate focus at GameCom/Ferris will be augmenting the company's new team for the training and simulation markets.
GDC Conference Highlights - Visual Arts
This week's Game Developer Conference dispatch offers highlights of the Visual Arts-track sessions:
Visual Arts keynote: "Crossing Over From Film and Back Again" Peter Chan, concept artist (Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone)
Visual Arts speakers:
* "Cinematic Lighting for 3D Graphics" - Jeremy Birn, Author (Digital Lighting & Rendering)
* "So Many Polys, So Little Time: Modeling and Texturing Rogue Leader" - Bastian Hoppe, Factor 5 (Rogue Leader), Paul Topolos, Factor 5 (Rogue Squadron, Rogue Leader) Mario Wagner, Factor 5 (Rogue Squadron, Rogue Leader)
* "State Based System of Animation: Artfully Blending Animation with AI" - Peter Hirschmann, LucasArts Entertainment (Medal of Honor: Underground, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault), Sunil Thankamushy, Electronic Arts (Medal of Honor: Frontline)
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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