21 February 2000
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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SoftPress Systems last week announced Freeway 3.0 ($299), an upgrade to its Web-design software for Apple Macintosh. The new version, which requires Mac OS 8.1 or later, offers these features:
faster opening and editing of large Freeway files, plus limited support for AppleScript, allowing common tasks to be automated.
multilingual Web-site production--supports Apple's WorldScript technology and users can select from a wide range of language encodings for individual pages in a site.
Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop files can be imported directly into Freeway, where they are automatically converted into Web-ready formats. Freeway can also use Photoshop plug-ins to import (and export) a wide range of non-native graphic formats, while Photoshop scanner plug-ins allow images to be scanned directly onto a page. Also, a new multimedia preview feature and an extended set of behavior options for QuickTime and Flash content
link map and link checking
Monolith Productions subsidiary LithTech Inc. has begun creation of a licensable, multi-genre, massively-multiplayer technology to be an extension of its proprietary LithTech 3D Game Operating System (3DGOS).
The new technology, LithTech Online, aims to standardize the development of immense, persistent worlds, referred to as "LithWorlds," in which users can interact with others online.
Also announced last week, LithTech Inc. is proceeding with an arrangement with Fox Interactive to provide a licensed property for LithTech's first persistent world. Several Fox properties have been discussed for the world's environment although one has not yet been selected.
LithTech is a licensable technology for multiple platforms that functions as a complete, full-featured, 3D game operating system said to let developers design, develop and focus on content without reinventing new technology for each project. LithTech Online will provide developers with a standardized set of flexible tools designed for rapid development of unique, online universes that support thousands of users at once.
Also, Monolith announced last week a version of LithTech for PlayStation2. Built on the LithTech PC foundation, the PlayStation2 and PC versions of LithTech will share design and interface similarities, allowing PC developers familiar with traditional 3D engines to switch to PlayStation2 development. However, to insure optimum performance with PlayStation2 hardware, the Monolith development team has re-engineered several parts of LithTech with features such as NURBs, displacement mapping, and parallel processing.
Coming in March from Macromedia is Macromedia Director 8 Shockwave Studio for Mac and Wintel. New features include:
The new version also offers enhanced layout and animation controls, the ability to launch and edit Linked Scripts in various text editors, and a Cast Manager to quickly sort assets across large projects. Director projects can incorporate over 40 different media types, including Macromedia Flash 4, streaming video with Apple QuickTime 4, and streaming audio with MP3.
Passport New Media last week launched Your Own World (YOW), its free service to bring children ages 2 to 12 Web content within a closed offline environment.
Children launch the service from their PC desktop without going online. YOW's software uses the Internet to automatically update content daily in the background at any time a parent selects.
During YOW installation, parents and their children select "channels" of content from children's Web sites and CD-ROMs that are appropriate for each child's age, reading level, gender and special interests.
El Sitio, Inc. has created El Sitio 3D, a three-dimensional Latin American virtual community. The site is divided into three main frames:
The 3D aspects are based on Superscape's VRT plug-in.
Just out from iMove, Inc. is Panoramic Media for 3D Studio MAX and 3D Studio VIZ, a $499 plug-in for turning 3D computer-generated models into interactive panoramas, panoramic objects, and panoramic videos or "walk-throughs." Digimation will distribute the software.
iMove Panoramic Media lets artists create 3D panoramic renderings that let users move forward and backward, look anywhere, zoom in and out, and trigger interactive hotspots. The software is said to render animated walkthroughs of 3D designs faster than with other methods.
The title has been revised several times since its inception in 1995. The new release includes a feature to turn 3D models into panoramic objects that can be rotated on both the vertical and horizontal axes at once or rotated on one axis while animating an element of the object. This feature enables engineers to create virtual working models of their drawings, architects to conduct shadow studies and designers to show all angles of prototypes.
Panoramas and objects can be combined into one file. For example, a viewer can walk through an architectural rendering of a room and click on a desk or other piece of furniture, which opens a window where the desk can be rotated for further examination. An iMove "hotspot" on the desk can be used to launch an Internet browser that takes the viewer to a Web site offering additional ordering information.
Ireland's ParallelGraphics last week launched its new Web 3D authoring tools: Internet Scene Assembler 1.0; Internet Character Animator 1.0; Cortona SDK 1.0 and VRMLpad 1.0.
Internet Scene Assembler and Internet Character Animator are designed to let 3D developers create and publish interactive 3D scenes, models, virtual worlds and presentations on the Internet. Potential applications include online 3D virtual manuals to aid in distance training and customer support, interactive 3D product presentations for e-commerce, and virtual company presentations.
ParallelGraphics has also upgraded its VRML client – ParallelGraphics Cortona VRML client 2.1. The new version allows installation of the different components of the VRML browser to become invisible to the user. The 500K core can be installed automatically when a Web visitor first opens a VRML scene. Additional components are downloaded and installed only if necessary to view a particular scene.
MadOnion.com (formerly Futuremark Corporation), a provider of PC performance and upgrade information, last week released Video2000. Developed in co-operation with Faroudja, Inc., Video2000 is a video benchmark said to measure the video quality, features and performance of desktop video streams.
Key features include:
CMGI-owned Equilibrium and digital watermarking firm Digimarc plan to cooperate to provide the automation of digital watermarking to the imaging and Internet communities. As part of this relationship, the two will work together to offer watermarking solutions in Equilibrium's DeBabelizer and future Internet infrastructure technology from Equilibrium.
Digimarc digital watermarking enables information such as copyright ownership, usage restrictions and contact details to be linked to digital images and other media content through a digital code imperceptibly embedded in the content. Because the embedded information is woven into the fabric of the image, it stays with that image wherever it travels for use in identifying, licensing and tracking content on the Web.
Computer game developer and publisher NovaLogic Inc. has been awarded a second patent for its Voxel Space 3D graphics technology.
On Feb. 1, 2000, the United States Patent and Trademark office issued patent number 6,020,893, covering the second and third generations of NovaLogic's Voxel Space technology, Voxel Space 2 and Voxel Space 32.
The company's first patent was awarded in 1996 for the original Voxel Space 3D graphics engine, which had debuted in NovaLogic's 1992 helicopter combat simulation, "Comanche Maximum Overkill." The game's voxel-based graphics yielded detailed, smoothly contoured terrain. Voxel Space 2 is said to provide an improved 3D graphics engine capable of depicting more visual detail and rendering greater viewing distances.
1999 saw the debut of Voxel Space 32, with 32-bit rendering for 16 million-color support; full degrees of freedom of movement (allowing simulated terrain to rotate through 360 degrees on any axis); and higher resolution.
Sierra Studios and Valve LLC announced at last week's Milia trade show in Cannes, France that their action game Half-Life is currently in development for a summer release on Sega Dreamcast.
Originally created for the PC by Valve, Half-Life has won more than 50 Game of the Year awards from publications around the world, was named "Best PC Game Ever" by Imagine Media's PC Gamer magazine (November 1999), and has sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide.
In development by Northern California-based Captivation Digital Laboratories in conjunction with Gearbox Software and Valve, the Dreamcast edition will feature several optimizations, including higher-polygon player characters, dramatic lighting and special effects.
Half-Life: Dreamcast will also feature a new single-player mission that surrounds the Black Mesa Security Guard character, Barney. This special mission is being custom created for the Dreamcast by Gearbox Software, the Texas-based development team that created the add-on title Half-Life: Opposing Force.
Coming this fall from Activision is empire building game Call to Power II. The sequel to Civilization: Call to Power puts players in control of an empire from primitive beginnings into the sci-fi future of 2300AD. Gamers command armies and employ 6300 years' worth of weaponry, politics, exploration and cultural evolution to defend their empire and defeat enemies as they strive for supremacy.
The new title offers players several new governing tools, diplomatic options and trade features. The player's diplomatic strategy will play a large role in the development of their civilization, as enemy states will survey the diplomatic landscape before attacking or forming their own alliances. A diplomacy interface assists players in choosing their political stance, and allow counterproposals when dealing with other civilizations.
Game engine enhancements include:
Microsoft last week released the first section of the Flight Simulator 2000 Software Development Kit (SDK). The product contains information needed for flight sim enthusiasts to create their own adventures and lessons for Flight Simulator 2000.
The first section of the kit focuses on the Adventure Programming Language (APL), and contains documentation and all the necessary components for a sample adventure. The Flight Simulator 2000 APL SDK is intended for experienced software developers familiar with a high-level programming language such as C++. (Microsoft Product Support doesn't offer assistance in using the SDK or for developers creating add-on products)
Future releases of the Flight Simulator 2000 Software Development Kit will provide information on topics such as aircraft, panels & gauges, and scenery.
Square Electronic Arts last week released SaGa Frontier 2 for the PlayStation game console. The adventure role-playing game (RPG) lets gamers play from start to finish as any one of several characters, and offers a multitude of weapons and magical powers.
The game is set in the 13th century against a backdrop of watercolor environments, where Gustave XII rules the kingdom of Finney. Characters in this land use a magical power called "Anima" to conjure up spells, and when Gustave XII discovers that his son, Gustave XIII, doesn't have Anima powers, Gustave XIII and his mother are exiled from Finney.
Gustave XIII becomes the hero of those who do not possess the power of Anima, and he and his followers develop battle skills using machines and natural resources. Gustave XIII's nation becomes a threat to other nations including his homeland of Finney, resulting in a century-long conflict known as The Gustave War.
Unlike traditional role-playing games, SaGa Frontier 2 offers a multi-level scenario system where players select from two different scenarios to commence the game. One scenario follows Gustave XIII; a young prince who is forced into exile when he is found incapable of wielding a magical power called "Anima."
The other scenario traces the life experiences of William Knights, a treasure hunter in search of the truth behind his parents' mortality. Although each scenario carries its own individual storyline, the outcome of one scenario opens up a multiple of different paths that will eventually effect the events in the second scenario.
There are three distinct battle modes -- Duel, Team and Strategic -- which allow the player to tactically fight his or her way through the adventures. In the Duel battle mode, the player chooses a character to represent the entire team to engage in a battle against a representative from the enemy group.
The Team battle mode allows the player to use the collective power of the entire team to perform massive combo attacks in a turn-based style of combat. In the Strategic battle mode, the player commands and strategically maneuvers several units to fight in intense battles on a large battlefield.
In Strategic mode, players can execute hundreds of combination attacks at will, thus allowing more control during battle sequences.
Scheduled for a summer 2000 release from Sierra Studios, Relic Entertainment and Barking Dog Studios is Homeworld: Cataclysm. Created by Canada-based Barking Dog, the upcoming title extends Homeworld's gameplay with new fleets of ships, each with the ability to upgrade their capabilities, new research, fog-of-war, interface enhancements, mothership modules, damage control and way points.
Homeworld: Cataclysm continues the story from the original Homeworld game and introduces a new threat from a techno-organic entity known as "The Beast." In addition to 17 new single-player missions, the new title will feature an improved multiplayer mode that allows for multiplayer games of up to eight players via WON.net, along with support for WON.net's enhanced ladder ranking system.
Barking Dog Studios Ltd., founded in May 1998, is a Vancouver-based development house that concentrates on making action, strategy and 3D shooter titles for both the PC and console markets.
Sybex's new Microsoft Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings Official Scenario Design Toolkit ($24.99, 288 pages) includes text and CD-ROM with tools and information for using the game's built-in map editor. Written by a team of game developers headed by Paul Schuytema, the title aims to teach readers how to create maps, scenarios, and campaigns for both single- and multiplayer games.
Topics covered include:
The CD-ROM provides:
Square Co., Ltd. and Disney Interactive plan to develop a game for the PlayStation 2 computer entertainment system, helmed by director and character designer Tetsuya Nomura, the creative force behind Square's Final Fantasy franchise.
The two firms will work together on creative-content development, production and design, manufacturing and distribution, as well as 3D technology.
The title is scheduled to be released in Japan by end-of-year 2001 and in North America and Europe in 2002.
American computer and video game publishers lost an estimated $3 billion in 55 countries in 1999 due to software piracy, the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA) announced last week.
The figure does not include online piracy or losses in major markets, such as the United States, Mexico and Europe.
"Many U.S. game software companies generate 40% or more revenues from overseas," said IDSA President Douglas Lowenstein. "The high levels of piracy in many foreign markets make it impossible to sell legitimate goods in scores of countries, thus suppressing the potential of our industry to grow at a more accelerated clip than we have over the last five years. If American copyright industries like ours are to maintain leadership as major economic engines for the U.S. high-tech economy, legal goals like TRIPs implementation and ratification of the WIPO Copyright Treaty must be mainstream policy goals for every government around the world, and must be vigorously pressed by the United States Government."
The IDSA's filing is included in last week's report of the Washington-based International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) to the United States Trade Representative. The IIPA represents America's leading content associations on piracy issues worldwide.
The IDSA's $3 billion figure covers the 55 countries named in the IIPA filing. The largest entertainment software losses are attributable to piracy in Malaysia where the piracy level is 99 percent ($164 million), Thailand where the piracy level is 95 percent ($116 million), China where 95 percent of the game market is pirated product ($1.38 billion), and the Russian Federation where 95 percent of the market is pirated ($241 million).
Mondo Media, a San Francisco-based creator and distributor of serial-based animated content, has secured $20 million in its second round of funding.
The financing round was led by Macromedia and Foundation Capital. Additional financing partners in the round included Sofinnova Ventures, Red Rock Ventures, Silicon Valley Bank and Phoenix Growth Capital. Mondo Media also bolstered its syndication network to 14 partners with the recent addition of Excite @ Home, AltaVista, AtomFilms and washingtonpost.com.
Founded in 1988, Mondo creates and distributes its Mondo Mini Shows, The God & Devil Show (a celebrity talk show host by God and the Devil), Like, News (written and directed by Don Asmussen, a regular cartoonist for Time and George magazines) and Thugs on Film (a refreshing pair of film critics), with more programs slated for distribution this year.
With the additional investment, Mondo plans to grow its syndication network, as well as create and acquire original content and commission outside material from independent animators and studios.
Speakers at the 14th annual Game Developers Conference (GDC), coming to the San Jose Convention Center, March 8-12, include Danny Hillis, who has announced that he will soon be leaving his job as vice president and Disney Fellow at The Walt Disney Company, to form a new company, Applied Minds; Yu Suzuki of Sega of Japan; and Phil Harrison of Sony Computer Entertainment.
Hillis will share his views on entertainment and the future of technology in the GDC conference keynote March 11 at 7:30 pm. GDC speaker highlights also include special sessions with Harrison and Suzuki.
Harrison, Sony’s VP of third party relations and research and development, is expected to give the audience a glimpse into the future of the Playstation format on March 11 at noon. On March 12 at noon, Suzuki, leader of Sega’s AM2 Arcade team and project leader on epic game Shenmue, will delve into reality as a key component in the ultimate fantasy videogame.
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