Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

28 February 2005
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)

--Virtools Releases Service Pack 3

--imeem Unveils All-in-One Communications Software
--Five Across Launches Weblogging Tech

--Eovia Updates TransPoser Plug-in
--Company Offers Home Holo Kit
--Discreet Updates 3ds max
--Alias Updates Maya
--Maxon Updates Cinema 4D
--Project Dogwaffle turns 3, becomes PD Pro

--MIT Press Publishes Interaction Design Book
--In-Stat/MDR Offers Mobile Gaming Research Report
--Game Trust Announces Casual Game Development Contest

--DreamCatcher Set to Ship Domination
--Final Fantasy Dad to Create Xenon RPGs

--Game Developers Choice Nominees Announced
--IGDA Awards 25 GDC Scholarships

--About Spectrum



Virtools Releases Service Pack 3

Virtools last week released Service Pack 3 for Virtools Software Suite for creating interactive 3D content for virtual reality/simulations, video games, and marketing/multimedia applications. The suite comprises Virtools Dev 3.0, the development platform, and its add-on packs: Virtools Physics Pack, Virtools AI Pack, Virtools Server, Virtools VR Pack, Virtools Xbox Kit, and Virtools CAD Pack.

In addition to bug fixes, the service pack offers new features said to improve Virtools' interface and production environment:
* Create Web Page now automatically generates HTML code to deliver the Virtools Web Player effectively via AKAMAI servers worldwide.
* new variables and options for saving and merging data.
* improved shader compatibility and support of DirectX Semantics and Annotations Standards.

Full details available at http://www.virtools.com/support/30_97_PatchBugFix.html



imeem Unveils All-in-One Communications Software

imeem, a closely-held Silicon Valley start-up, is introducing new communications software that combines instant messaging, blogging, photo sharing, file sharing, and desktop search in one package. The free software enables the following services from a PC desktop:

imeem is currently in limited release and has opened their network only to invited groups and their guests. imeem will continue to select additional groups to try out the new product. Interested groups can submit themselves for consideration by emailing info@imeem.com.


Five Across Launches Weblogging Tech

Silicon Valley startup Five Across, Inc. recently announced Bubbler, its new blogging platform. The Bubbler client updates text and pages in real time, allows drag-and-drop photo, audio, and video sharing, and has a group model that provides wiki-like collaboration for authorized users. The Bubbler hosted service is launching as a free public beta.

The blogging phenomenon is fueled not only by online users' innate desire to publish, but also by a new generation of tools that simplify Web publishing for novices. Blogging software delivers the ability to author pages in a preformatted style combined with built-in Web hosting, so users don't need to arrange for Web hosting contracts, understand FTP, or become DNS experts. As a result, blogging software has delivered a faster, easier way for consumers and business users alike to publish online. According to blog directory and measurement firm Technorati, 23,000 new Weblogs are created every day, yet only seven percent of U.S. online consumers currently have blogs, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Bubbler users create Web pages by dragging and dropping their content -- blog entries, photographs, and links. Five Across' Bubbler Server technology combines the content into compelling Web pages in real time. While most blog software is limited to text entries, Bubbler supports photo, audio, and video file handling. Blog authors can post files of any type, including digital photographs, movies, audio, and other multimedia assets as well as business documents like spreadsheets, documents, and presentations. Content can be presented in different styles through designer templates.

The media-rich hosted sites are powered by Five Across' Bubbler Server, which integrates Web hosting, content management, and messaging, eliminating the need to source and manage separate Web server, SMTP, instant messaging, and file sharing systems. Five Across offers blog hosting to Bubbler users on the company's public Bubbler hosted service and will offer an OEM version of Bubbler Server to ISPs to offer blog hosting to their customers. The Bubbler Workgroup Suite, which includes the InterComm instant messaging and group collaboration client software, is also available to corporations for business blogging behind the firewall.

The public beta of Bubbler is launching immediately at www.bubbler.com. After the public beta period, Five Across will offer a 30-day free trial and several hosting options starting at $4.99 per month, depending on storage and bandwidth usage. The Bubbler OEM Server is available immediately for ISPs and other blog hosting providers and the Bubbler Workgroup Suite will be available at the conclusion of the public beta.




Eovia Updates TransPoser Plug-in

Eovia's new TransPoser 2 plug-in lets users import Poser v5 and v4 characters and animations into Eovia Carrara 4 software, where they can be integrated in more complex scenes. In addition to improved workflow, the new version includes Poser files into the Carrara 4 network rendering. Through special arrangement with DAZ Productions, TransPoser 2 comes with the Victoria 3.0 and Michael 3.0 models.

Dynamic hair rendering, a new feature in TransPoser 2, enables users to import the Poser 5 dynamic hair with its animation and render it with anisotropic lighting and accurate self-shadowing. Workflow improvements include a scene update button, allowing users to update a Poser character from within the Carrara 4 application with a click. Additionally, TransPoser 2 takes advantage of the distributed network rendering capabilities of Carrara 4 Pro to render Poser figures on a network for faster results.

Additional features are listed at http://www.eovia.com


Company Offers Home Holo Kit

While the concept of a holographic butler is still not possible, Holographics, Inc. says its new $139 Litiholo Hologram Kit provides everything necessary to make real holograms, including a new film material that develops the holograms "instantly."

The Litiholo "Instant Hologram" film creates the holograms without processing, Polaroid-style. The kit sets up on a solid table or surface, and takes up about 12 inches of space. After exposing one of the film plates to the laser light for a few minutes, the hologram is visible by looking through the film plate to see an image that looks like you could reach around and grab it.

Liti launched the Hologram Kit in October of last year, selling primarily through its Website, and gaining some exposure from the Slashdot website. The kit has since been picked up by educational distributors such as Sargent-Welch and American 3B Scientific.



Discreet Updates 3ds max

Coming this spring from Discreet, the media and entertainment division of Autodesk, Inc., is 3ds max 7.5 software, an upgrade for its 3ds max subscription customers with new features and capabilities. The upgrade provides file compatibility with the current 3ds max 7 software, and will add enhancements such as integrated hair and fur system, mental ray 3.4, and new tools that combine the feature sets of 3ds max and Autodesk VIZ software.

The Hair and Fur features added in the 3ds max 7.5 software subscription update are based on Joe Alter's "Shave and a Haircut" software, and offers styling and dynamics tools for creating hair and other strand-derivative effects, including:



Alias Updates Maya

Toronto-based Alias has begun shipping Maya 6.5. The new version has reportedly been equipped to handle larger datasets by a dual approach: speed improvements in critical parts of the workflow and new tools for efficiently managing very large datasets. Alias says absolute speed improvements have been dramatic in many cases, as Maya performs more efficiently in relation to larger scene sizes. For example, UV manipulations have been benchmarked as being more than 100 times faster in Maya 6.5 compared to Maya 6. Depending on specific file characteristics and customer workflow, the update is said to deliver improved interactivity, faster calculations of deformations and simulations, speedier I/O, and faster redrawing.

In addition, large datasets are more manageable in Maya 6.5 software due to a variety of improvements in scene segmentation including reference file editing, nesting and locking. A new STEP translator makes the importing of CAD data files several orders of magnitude faster.

Additionally, the new mental ray for Maya Satellite rendering allows network rendering across multiple CPU's for interactive and batch rendering, including use of mental ray for pre-lighting.



Maxon Updates Cinema 4D

Developer Maxon has released the first update to its Cinema 4D Release 9. Over 50 new features and enhancements are included in the R9.1 update with the focus on data exchange, n-gons, the interface and the material system. The update is free from http://www.maxon.net.

For compositing artists, besides the existing support for After Effects, Combustion and Final Cut Pro, Cinema 4D projects can now be transferred to Apple's new graphics package Motion.

For architects using Allplan, there's now direct export to Allplan 2005. The new Allplan 2005 exporter returns geometry to the CAD environment true to size and in the same position.

Maxon has also integrated n-gon support in many of the import and export filters, most notably FBX, LightWave 3D and VRML.

Modeling sports enhanced support for n-gons that makes it easier to create a clean mesh. Chief among the enhancements here is a new type of HyperNURBS optimized for n-gons, as well as a new option that allows caps to be created as n-gons.

User-interface tweaks include refinement of the HeadUpDisplay, introduced in Release 9, for greater control over the data displayed in the viewport. Scene navigation has been improved, especially when creating camera animation, thanks to new camera tumbling modes.

Last, the material system boasts three new types of noise: Fire, Electric and Gaseous; a noise preview window now means that you can select a type of noise more easily via thumbnails, and SubPolygonDisplacement includes new mapping possibilities.


Project Dogwaffle turns 3, becomes PD Pro

New from developer/animator Dan Ritchie is the latest version of his painting software, PD Pro.

The outstanding capability of the program is in its brushes. Brushes are not just static, grayscale stamps. They're living, breathing and moving, full color entities with a life all their own. You can pick up any part of your image or even an animation and paint with it. You can modify the hue, scale or rotation of a tree to paint an entire forest, or work with a huge assortment of existing traditional media and even make your own. It's also possible to apply keyframed special-effects filters to an animated brush, like applying effects in a video-editing program. Particle brushes for realistic foliage and bristle brush simulations are also available, and of course there's full tablet support.

New features include:




MIT Press Publishes Interaction Design Book

In their new book, Thoughtful Interaction Design, authors Jonas Lowgren and Erik Stolterman go beyond the usual technical concerns of usability and usefulness to consider interaction design from a design perspective. The shaping of digital artifacts is a design process that influences the form and functions of workplaces, schools, communication, and culture; the successful interaction designer must use both ethical and aesthetic judgment to create designs that are appropriate to a given environment. This book is not a how-to manual, but a collection of tools for thought about interaction design.

Working with information technology--called by the authors "the material without qualities"--interaction designers create not a static object but a dynamic pattern of interactivity. The design vision is closely linked to context and not simply focused on the technology. The authors' action-oriented and context-dependent design theory, drawing on design theorist Donald Schon's concept of the reflective practitioner, aims to help designers deal with complex design challenges created by new technology and new knowledge. Their approach, based on a foundation of thoughtfulness that acknowledges the designer's responsibility not only for the functional qualities of the design product but for the ethical and aesthetic qualities as well, provides a theory of interaction design that can increase and nurture design knowledge. From this perspective they address the fundamental question of what kind of knowledge an aspiring designer needs, discussing the process of design, the designer, design methods and techniques, the design product and its qualities, and conditions for interaction design.

Jonas Lowgren is Professor of Interaction Design at Malmo University, Sweden. Erik Stolterman is Professor of Informatics at Umea University, Sweden.



In-Stat/MDR Offers Mobile Gaming Research Report

Mobile gaming has come a long way since Snake was first deployed on wireless handsets in 1997. With good momentum already in the US and worldwide, In-Stat/MDR believes that mobile gaming, while remaining a niche market, will continue its rise as a key contributor to wireless data usage and revenues.

By 2009, mobile gaming services in the US are expected to generate $1.8 billion annually, or approximately 4.4% of total wireless data revenues. Additionally, by 2009, 78.6 million wireless subscribers in the US will play mobile games, and gaming downloads will increase more than tenfold from 2003 levels.

Research and Markets (http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/c13075) has announced the addition of Mobile Gaming Services in the US, 2004-2009 to its offerings. The report includes:



Game Trust Announces Casual Game Development Contest

Game Trust, a developer of play infrastructure for casual games, recently announced the first "Casual Game Evolution Challenge," cosponsored by Shockwave.com. Open to all game developers, the contest seeks to identify the best single-player Shockwave game concepts for online, tournament, and download play. The contest is designed to help developers successfully release their games and to help the casual game market evolve with new game concepts. Five finalists will be awarded Game Trust licensing contracts with a revenue share and guaranteed distribution to millions of casual game players worldwide including an exclusive premiere on Shockwave.com. The Grand Prize winner will also receive a specially modified, high-end Vespa.

The "tricked out" Vespa will be on display for all developers to see at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) and the International Game Developers Festival (IGF) in San Francisco (GDC Booth #141). Developers can register and submit game concepts at http://www.gametrust.com/ or at the GDC/IGF event. The finalists will be announced on March 21, 2005, and the grand prize will be awarded to one developer on March 28th, 2005.

Any game concept with a storyboard and preliminary game graphics can be submitted as well as completed games. Game Trust and Shockwave.com will evaluate games based on their potential for commercial success, innovative storyline, and "fun factor." The winner must agree to complete all versions of the game in exchange for the Grand Prize, a revenue sharing agreement, and distribution opportunity on Shockwave.com and beyond.



DreamCatcher Set to Ship Domination

Toronto-based DreamCatcher Games says its strategy game, Domination, has gone gold for Windows in North America and will ship in April.

Developed by Wargaming.net, Domination features a renewed global conflict between the Free Nations Union and the Phantom League on distant planets, including sci-fi land, sea and air warfare at a grand-strategy level. The game inherits the features of the original game and deepens the massive assault player experience through increased gameplay options and new strategic challenges.

Features include:



Final Fantasy Dad to Create Xenon RPGs

Hironobu Sakaguchi, video game legend and president of Mistwalker game studio, has joined with Microsoft Game Studios to develop role-playing game (RPG) video games exclusively for the next-generation Xbox video game platform. Sakaguchi is best known as the creator of the "Final Fantasy" franchise, which has sold more than 60 million units worldwide, and was executive vice president in charge of game development at Square Enix Co. Ltd. until February 2001.

Sakaguchi will lead the creation of two upcoming Xbox-exclusive RPG titles to be published by Microsoft Game Studios.

Sakaguchi started his career at Square Co. Ltd. in 1986 as director of planning and development. He was promoted to executive vice president in 1991 and eventually ascended to president of Square LA Inc. (now Square USA Inc.) in 1995. In 2000, Sakaguchi was inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts & Science (AIAS) Hall of Fame for his work on the "Final Fantasy" series. In 2004, Sakaguchi announced that he had started his own development studio, called Mistwalker.



Game Developers Choice Nominees Announced

The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) has announced nominees for the 5th annual Game Developers Choice Awards, the premier accolades for peer-recognition in the game industry. Recipients will be awarded on March 9, 2005 at a ceremony during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The nominees are:

Best Game

New Studio


Character Design

Game Design


Visual Arts


The IGDA membership will vote on the finalists.In addition to the voted award categories, honors will be presented for the Innovation, Lifetime Achievement, First Penguin, Community Contribution and Maverick awards.



IGDA Awards 25 GDC Scholarships

The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) has selected recipients of the 5th annual GDC Student Scholarship Program, which is designed to support students passionate about game creation. The 25 recipients will be granted passes to this year's Game Developers Conference (GDC), March 7-11, in San Francisco, Calif.

The scholarship recipients will have full access to all lectures, panels and exhibits at GDC, the world's largest conference and exposition exclusively devoted to the art, science and business of video game development. To gain further insight into the game industry, students will be paired with mentors from the development community.

The recipients of IGDA's 2005 GDC Student Scholarships are:
* Aaron Knoll, University of Utah
* Arjuna Ravikumar, Carnegie Mellon University
* Britney K. Brimhall, Arizona State University
* Christopher Scott Joyce, University of Baltimore
* Dan Roy, University of Massachusetts Amherst
* Derek Ehrman, Full Sail Real World Education
* Drew Murray, Southern Methodist University
* Erin McKinney, University Advanced Technology
* Erin Reynolds, University of Southern California
* Evan Marc Pollock, University of Denver
* Galip Kartoglu, Yildiz Technical University (Turkey)
* Havard Christensen, Hedmark University College (Norway)
* Jennifer Estaris, Columbia University
* Larz Smith, Guildhall at SMU
* Marvin John Semila, De La Salle University - Manila (Philippines)
* Melanie Lam, Carnegie Mellon University
* Nick Schrag, University of Cincinnati
* Ronald Andaya, Cogswell Polytechnical College
* Sebastian Schmidt, Bauhaus University Weimar (Germany)
* Stephen Erin Dinehart, University of Southern California
* Ting-Wei Liu, Digipen Institute of Technology
* Travis Draper, Queensland University of Technology (Australia)
* Vancito Wallace, Carnegie Mellon University
* Victoria Webb, Carnegie Mellon University
* Wesley Beary, Grinnell College

Representatives of the gaming industry and members of the IGDA's Education Committee judged the scholarship applications. The recipients represent a diverse range of disciplines and cultures, including Australia, Asia, Europe and North America.




About Spectrum

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/online-development tools and end product for review.

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