17 February 2003
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Macromedia last week announced Macromedia Studio MX Plus, a special edition of the suite of integrated tools that now includes FreeHand MX, Contribute, and DevNet Resource Kit Special Edition at no extra cost. Macromedia Studio The $899 product, which replaces Macromedia Studio MX for Windows, is available for download from http://www.macromedia.com/go/buystudiomxplus/.
Since its introduction last June, more than 350,000 customers have purchased Macromedia Studio MX, which includes Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, FreeHand, and ColdFusion MX Developer Edition.
FreeHand MX, the new version, includes the streamlined MX interface, new productivity tools and panels, improved Mac OS X performance, and increased integration with Flash MX. The new Object panel automatically shows all properties that can be inspected and changed for a selected object. Multiple Attributes lets users apply and order an unlimited number of strokes, fills, and effects to a single vector or text object, which can also be used across multiple copies of an object. Users can also apply live vector and raster effects like bevel, blur, and transparency to objects, as well as reshape graphic primitives while still maintaining their editability. Drag-and-drop ActionScript navigation commands with the Action tool simplify the creation of hot-linked graphics.
Studio MX Plus is a special commercial edition for Windows customers that also includes Macromedia Contribute for updating content for HTML Websites, and Macromedia DevNet Resource Kit Special Edition, which includes content from the previously-released Macromedia MX Developer Resource Kits Volume 1 and 2, containing extensions, components, and resources for building Web applications. For more information on Macromedia Studio MX Plus, visit http://www.macromedia.com/go/studiomxplus/.
DMOD, Inc. has shipped Version 2.5 of its DMOD WorkSpace, software designed to streamline the media-production process and give content owners and creators tighter control over digital assets. By securely leveraging the public Internet, DMOD WorkSpace reportedly improves efficiency, saves time and lowers the cost of digital production. Version 2.5 provides expanded media format compatibility, including support for QuickTime 6.0, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4, as well as several enhancements that make it easier for production teams to share, track, and review digital media.
Version 2.5 extends the power of the DMOD WorkSpace with increased flexibility and accessibility as well as enhanced media playback capabilities. Enhancements include:
Pricing starts at $17,500 per year for one server and five client seats. Maintenance and support are additional. DMOD products support Microsoft Windows 2000/XP, Apple's Mac OSX, Linux and Sun platforms.
Mok3 Incorporated, a new graphics technology company, previewed its 3D graphics software last week at the DEMO 2003 conference. The company's graphics software is said to let users rapidly create and edit photorealistic 3D scenes from 2D images in a fraction of the time and effort normally required using current 3D graphics modeling tools and techniques. The company claims its technology will let architects, interior designers, animators, moviemakers, and game designers build prototype- or production-quality 3D content, saving over $500M/year across those industries alone.
Mok3 plans to release its first end-user software package for both the PC and Mac platforms in Q3 of 2003, at a base price point under $1,000 US. The company also offers graphic-design services on a contract basis to develop photorealistic 3D scenes and virtual touts for clients such as hotels seeking to improve the Web presentation of their conference and function facilities or architectural design firms seeking better visual presentation of their concepts.
Donovan Moxey, co-founder of LIPSinc, recently founded a new company, Interactive Multimedia Solutions, Inc. The company has licensed LIPSinc's proprietary voice-to-animation technology and will focus on providing automated voice-to-animation products and solutions for the multimedia market.
LIPSinc officially ceased operations August 2002, and subsequent to its closing Dr. Moxey reached an agreement with LIPSinc's investors that allowed for the formation of the new company. Under the terms of the agreement, Interactive Multimedia Solutions, Inc. (IMS) has access to LIPSinc's core technology and intellectual property, and is able to develop applications and solutions to address opportunities in the growing multimedia market.
IMS plans to develop five products for the multimedia market. These include three products that are companion products to Macromedia's line of products, including its Shockwave 3D rendering engine, and two multimedia developer kits targeted at application developers. The company's two multimedia developer kits, the IMS V2A MDK, and the IMS V2A Real-Time MDK are available for licensing, and it plans to release its software tool, IMS CharacterGenerator Studio, for Macromedia Director MX in a few weeks. A demonstration version of this product is available for evaluation on the IMS Web site.
The IMS product line is based on a core voice-to-animation technology that can analyze sound files from a live or recorded voice, as well as from a text-to-speech engine, and produce the corresponding facial animation for a 2D or 3D animated character. Characters can be either photo-realistic, or created by hand animation. The IMS core voice-to-animation engine analyzes sound files in any language and reportedly produces accurate results. This engine detects inflections in the voice signal, and generates speech gesture data that is used to automatically drive the eye blinks, eyebrows, and head movements of the animated character in synch with its speech. Voice files can be from either live or recorded human speech, or synthetic speech created using a text-to-speech engine.
Alias|Wavefront, an SGI company, announced last week a Maya Productivity Pack which, for US$2,179, includes Maya Complete 4.5 for Mac OS X or Windows; phone access to A|W support staff for resolution of _one_ incident; and a Learning Maya Book and DVD series; Learning Maya |Beginner's Guide; Learning Maya | Foundation; Learning Maya | Character Rigging; Learning Maya | Rendering; Learning Maya | Modeling in Animation; The Art of Maya.
Market research firm DFC Intelligence announced the release of a new 600-page research report on the 19 leading companies in the video game and PC game industry. The report, Market Leaders in the Video Game and Interactive Entertainment Industry, analyzes each publisher's history, financial performance, strengths/weaknesses of their corporate strategy, product lineup, development teams, marketing and distribution skills, and future potential.
The good news for the video game industry was 35 percent aggregate revenue growth for the past fiscal year. Furthermore, aggregate operating income in fiscal 2002 was 11.5 percent of revenue compared with an aggregate loss in fiscal 2001. However, the report notes that these gains have not translated into stock price increases. According to DFC Intelligence, the average video game company's stock was down 51 percent from January 2000 to January 2003.
DFC Intelligence claims that there is a significant difference in the prospects of each of the companies in the interactive entertainment industry. The report divides the companies into four categories. The first category consists of the four market leaders: Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony. These are the dominant companies in the industry.
The report notes that in the past five years, Sony has emerged as the leading force in the video game industry. From fiscal 1995 to fiscal 2002, Sony has reported $36 billion in revenue from video games, compared with $32 billion for Nintendo. On the other hand, Nintendo has reported significantly higher operating income. Nevertheless, the momentum is clearly on Sony's side. Nintendo has been consistently profitable, but its revenue has not significantly grown in the past 10 years.
According to DFC president David Cole, "Sony has had a very strategic focus, and their willingness to take a short-term loss has given them a long-term leadership position."
The second category of companies include the Japanese-based companies that have their roots in the arcade business: Capcom, Konami, Namco and Sega. These companies are faced with the problems of a declining arcade business and a slow Japanese economy. Their biggest challenge will be expanding on an international basis.
According to Cole, "The Japanese arcade companies have some of the best developers and game assets in the world, but they have a poor track record of expanding into the U.S. and Europe. These companies could be much larger if they put a major focus on international expansion."
The third category of companies includes Activision, Take-Two Interactive and THQ. These are companies that have experienced strong growth on the strength of one or two very successful product lines. The challenge for these companies is taking the earnings from their hit product line(s) and building a consistent, dependable revenue stream.
The final group consists of the European companies that have grown rapidly through expansion: Eidos Interactive, Infogrames, Ubi Soft and Vivendi Universal Games. These companies have large product lines but face the challenging tasks of absorbing acquisitions, managing debt and building up a solid marketing infrastructure outside Europe.
DFC Intelligence is a research firm focused on interactive and digital entertainment. For more information contact DFC at 858/780-9680 or go to the DFC Web site at http://www.dfcint.com.
Computer book publisher Sybex has released Maya 4.5 Savvy, , first Alias|Wavefront Approved title. Maya is software for creating 3D animation and special effects.
Co-author John Kundert-Gibbs is director of digital production arts at Clemson University. Author of a number of publications on Maya, computer graphics, and dramatic literature, he directs students in producing animated shorts, creates effects for live action projects, and designs electronic media for theatrical productions.
Co-author Peter Lee is a professional animator and director at Storydale Inc. in South Korea, where he supervises TV series, commercials, movies and games. His work has appeared in The Nuttiest Nutcracker, Jason X, and The Super Snoopers, and was shown at Siggraph '99.
The new book begins with Maya Complete essentials and continues into advanced topics with Maya Unlimited, guiding readers through tools, techniques, and functions. Key subjects include: modeling with NURBs and polygons; creating realistic textures and shading; and working with particles, dynamics, and MEL. The book includes:
Caligari Corporation, a provider of 3D software, is sponsoring an animation contest for users of its trueSpace 6.5 3D modeling and animation software. The contest will conclude June 15, 2003.
The contest includes two categories:
Judges include Ralph Guggenheim, producer of Toy Story and Toy Story 2; John Evershed, president and cofounder of Mondo Media, a supplier of in-game and marketing art and animation for computer games; Eli Noyes, Academy Award-nominee for his animated film "Clay" and producer of animation for Sesame Street, HBO, Scholastic, Nickelodeon etc; Don Davidson, animation and art history teacher in San Francisco; Andrew Britt, author, media spokesperson and digital media director at the Xpression Center for New Media; and Roman Ormandy, president and founder of Caligari.
Top prizewinners in each category will receive a Wildcat animation card by 3D Labs, Poser 5 software by Curious Labs, video editing software by Ulead, and a collection of 3D objects specially created for the Big Break contest by Cacheforce. Prize-winning animations will also be featured on the Caligari Website.
From now until this Friday, February 21, individuals can log on at http://www.battle.net/register/war3xbeta and register for a chance to be one of 10,000 players chosen to play-test Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. These players will be the first to experience the new expansion to Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.
Applicants must be at least thirteen (13) years of age, have the bandwidth capability to download 100 MB of data, have a valid email address, and possess a valid Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos CD-Key to be eligible to enter the beta test.
Following the registration period, Blizzard will randomly select 10,000 testers to participate in the initial phase of the expansion beta test. Multiple submissions will result in disqualification.
The beta, which will be playable only over Battle.net, will give selected testers a chance to play-test many of the new features that are available to each of the races in Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos--Humans, Orcs, Night Elves, and Undead. For more information on the new features in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, visit http://www.blizzard.com/war3x.
Coming this May from Electronic Arts is The Sims Superstar, a new expansion pack to the hit PC game. Players can indulge their fantasies of fame and fortune as they try to become a rock star, movie star or a supermodel and live the lifestyle of a celebrity.
For the first time, players can follow their Sims to work and witness their pursuit of fame and fortune firsthand. Fledgling Sims start by signing with an agent and shuttling to Studio Town, a new and fully customizable destination that offers television and movie lots, spa locations, recording studios and fabulous fashion facilities. Once there, Sims can schmooze, network and name-drop their way to stardom in the movies, music or fashion.
A new cast of comical characters is available to assist the Sims in their quest for celebrity. A fashion designer, record producer, and maniacal movie director are available for career critique. A butler, sushi chef, and masseuse will be on call to administer to the every whim of a celebrity Sim. Life in the spotlight would not be complete without the glare of the paparazzi, the adoration of groupies, and the annoyance of an obsessed fan or two. This is all part of life in the spotlight in The Sims Superstar.
Sims can become a celeb or just live like one. New objects like a skydiving simulator, satellite dish, and a new art and furniture collection can turn an ordinary Sims abode into a mansion. Sims in need of indulgence and pampering can also enjoy the new day spa, complete with mud treatments, steam baths, Sim massages and an oxygen bar. Domestic staff is also available for hire so manicured Sims won't chap their hands with the drudgeries of household maintenance.
Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. says that five additional major recording artists have agreed to provide music and video content for the upcoming PlayStation2 rhythm-action game, Amplitude. The newly signed bands include blink 182, P.O.D., Mekon, Freezepop and Dieselboy. These will join other recording artists including David Bowie, Garbage, Weezer, Quarashi and Logan 7. Developed by Harmonix Music Systems, Amplitude allows players to become a rhythmical DJ and jam with more than 20 diverse songs in interactive musical environments while mixing and remixing hit songs in both offline and online gameplay.
Activision is letting gamers go behind the scenes for its upcoming stealth-based, ninja action game at the official Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven Web site. The site will kick off with a cinematic trailer showcasing the game's storyline and stealth action featuring all three playable characters - Rikimaru, Ayame and Tesshu. Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven will be available at retail early next month.
The stealth-based, ninja action/adventure game features new stealth attacks, an enhanced fighting engine, new weapons and tools, plus larger levels, improved character animations, new multiplayer options and a soundtrack from composer Noriyuki Asakura. It includes 25 missions, detailed lighting and weather effects, and improved character animations.
Square Electronic Arts L.L.C. says Final Fantasy Origins for PlayStation will begin shipping to North American retailers on April 8, 2003. The title combines Square's Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II role-playing game titles into one disc and will carry a suggested retail price of U.S. $30. Remakes of the two titles feature new cinematic movies, opening theme songs, event scenes including updates of the original event sequences, enhanced graphics, improved sound quality as well as new gameplay modes. Together, these two titles laid the foundation for the series and spawned many hit sequels that have sold over 42 million units worldwide.
Final Fantasy was originally released in North America in 1990 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game follows the story of four young warriors, each possessing a special crystal, who are summoned to bring harmony back to a world threatened by an evil entity intent on conquering it. Following their unknown destinies, the warriors battle heinous monsters and travel to places they never imagined possible in their quest to restore order to their world.
Final Fantasy II, being offered for the first time in North America, was released in Japan in 1988. Utilizing complex story development and deeper characterizations, the game tells the story of a malevolent emperor that has called upon demonic monsters to take over the world. In the chaos that follows, thousands succumb to their evil attacks until four young, orphaned survivors take it upon themselves to stop the merciless rule and avenge the deaths of their parents.
Final Fantasy Origins also includes a new bestiary with detailed descriptions of all monsters, access to art galleries with illustrations from artist Yoshitaka Amano and a "memo file" function for quick saves.
South Korea's NCsoft Corporation, an online computer gaming company, reported record-breaking revenues of KRW (Korean Won) 154.8 billion (US$123.3 million) for fiscal year 2002, the highest ever recorded in the Korean game industry. The results continue to demonstrate a steady growth path since the company's establishment in 1997. Net profits stood at KRW 53.1 billion, with recurring profit and operating profit at KRW 56.8 billion and KRW 77.1 billion respectively. Overseas royalty earnings were posted at KRW 21.8 billion, marking an increase of over 135% on the previous year's KRW 9.3 billion.
NCsoft's CFO Hong Heo commented, "Our company was able to maintain favorable growth last year amid the systematic slump of the local industry thanks to the breakthrough expansion of the online game market. This year we will strengthen our internal capabilities and give added momentum to our current ongoing projects to set the stage for a second growth spurt. We have set our projected revenue at a conservative KRW 180 billion."
By the second half of March NCsoft will launch in South Korea, Lineage Tournament, an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game)-based combat game on regular servers. That will be followed by a new series of Lineage episodes this summer, as part of plans to continue Lineage's growth. Also this year NCsoft will make a serious advance into the Chinese online gaming market and the company plans to launch commercial services for its Lineage II game.
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) has announced the nominees for the Third Annual Game Developers Choice Awards. The recipients will be announced at the ceremony on March 6, during the Game Developers Conference (GDC), March 4-8 in San Jose, Calif.
Nominations were free of charge and open to all professional game developers, regardless of membership or affiliation, ensuring that the nominees reflect the international development community's opinions.
The nominees are:
Game of the Year
Original Game Character of the Year
Rookie Studio of the Year
Excellence in Audio
Excellence in Game Design
Excellence in Level Design
Excellence in Programming
Excellence in Visual Arts (Editor's note: It's a crime that Metroid Prime wasn't nominated in this category)
Excellence in Writing
An advisory committee from the IGDA will select the recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award, First Penguin Award and the IGDA Award for Community Contribution.
All registered GDC attendees are invited to attend the ceremony. Produced by the Gama Network, the GDC is the largest annual event exclusively for the game development professionals driving the $10 billion video game industry.
The Adventure Company, Microïds, and Discreet, a division of Autodesk, Inc. have been honored by game-industry's editor for visual presentation and storyline in the PC game, Syberia.
Computer Gaming World calls Syberia "One of the Best PC Games of 2002" while PC Gamer gave it the title of 'Adventure Game of the Year'. Computer Games Magazine also included the game in its 'Top 10 PC Games of the Year'. Syberia also received 'Adventure Game of the Year' awards from both GameSpy and GameSpot, as well as GameSpot's 'Best Graphics' award.
Syberia was created using Discreet's 3ds max technology, software for animation, modeling, and rendering, used in many games.
Approximately 2,400 professionals from over 45 countries will examine the future of human-computer interaction from April 5-10 in Fort Lauderdale, FL at the Broward County Convention Center. The Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems will feature a six-day program of presentations, tutorials, vendor exhibits and networking opportunities. Researchers, practitioners, educators, and students from around the world join in exploring and creating the future of computer-human interaction.
Thirty-six short courses (tutorials) on designing user interfaces to computers and to the World Wide Web will be offered. Among the highlights of the tutorials are courses on user interface design for the Web, ubiquitous computing and designing for everyday life.
Usability guru Jared Spool will present "Web Sites that Work: Designing with your Eyes Open" and "Web-Site Usability: The Big Picture 2003." These tutorials will explore significant design factors that affect a user's success in interacting with Web sites. Web expert Steven Pemberton of CWI, The Netherlands, will present "Styling the New Web: Web Usability With Style Sheets." Pemberton has been involved with the Web since the beginning, including chairing the first Style Sheets Workshop.
Vision-based interfaces allow pervasive and ubiquitous human-computer interaction systems to respond directly to the visual image of a human user. Trevor Darrell will present "Vision-Based User Interfaces for Pervasive Computing." This tutorial will survey the algorithms and techniques involved in vision-based perception of people, describe what performance is attainable in state-of-the art systems, and also discuss the privacy, freedom and safety implications of this new technology. Darrell leads the Vision Interface Group at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.
William Gaver, Senior Research Fellow in Interaction Design at the Royal College of Art, UK, will present techniques for developing designs that reflect the idiosyncrasies of everyday life in "Subjective Approaches to Design for Everyday Life." Gaver will show how to conceptualize new products and services that capture a broader range of human values including aesthetic, emotional and everyday cultural values.
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