27 January 2003
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Microsoft last week announced broadened availability of the Microsoft DirectX 9.0 application programming interface (API). The latest version of the Microsoft Windows Gaming API delivers a new High-Level Shader Language (HLSL) and features design tools for the development of rich multimedia elements such as full-spectrum color graphics, video, 3D animation and enhanced audio capabilities.
Based on the C programming language, HLSL introduces a programming environment designed for simplicity and flexibility across the full range of 3D graphics. It's said to be useful for development tasks ranging from the creation of art and animation to effects programming. Compatible with all DirectX-compliant graphics processing units, MS says HLSL lets developers define a similar visual effect across a wide range of graphics hardware. It can be integrated into the Visual Studio IDE and complemented by enhancements to Microsoft's current developer toolset.
DirectX 9.0 introduces improvements across its suite of APIs. DirectSound offers new audio capabilities, DirectShow accelerates video rending hardware, and Direct3D enhances low-level graphics programmability with new programmable vertex and pixel shader 2.0 models.
The DirectX 9.0 Software Development Kit including HLSL can be downloaded from the DirectX Developer Center at http://msdn.microsoft.com/directx/. The latest version of DirectX is also available for free download (connect-time charges may apply) from the DirectX Home User Web page at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/directx/.
New from Curious Labs is pro-V Studio, a tool for authoring Viewpoint interactive projects for Web-based presentation. The software uses a visual environment to let users combine 3D objects, images, Macromedia Flash (*.SWF) animations, and more.
Catalyst Development Corporation, a publisher of Internet controls and libraries, last week released Catalyst Internet Mail. The ActiveX control provides a simplified interface for composing, sending and retrieving email messages.
With the single component, it takes less then 20 lines of code to add email functionality to your project that would otherwise take over 100 lines of code.
Created using the ActiveX Template Library, this control has no dependency on third-party components or Microsoft support libraries. It can be used with a wide variety of programming languages and different types of development environments and is supported by languages such as Visual Basic, Visual FoxPro, Visual C++, Visual Studio.NET, Borland C++ Builder, Delphi and PowerBuilder.
In addition, the control can be used as a basic COM object in scripting languages like VBScript, with full support for server-side scripting in Active Server Pages and other similar technologies.
A fully functional 30-day evaluation copy is available for free download from the Catalyst Web site. A single developer license for Catalyst Internet Mail is $295.
Sample code here: http://www.catalyst.com/products/internetmail/compare.html
Alien Skin Software, LLC, last week introduced Xenofex 2, 14 effects for Photoshop, Fireworks, Paint Shop Pro, and other image editors. The software simulates natural phenomena, produces distortions, and transforms photos. Completely rewritten and including five new filters, Xenofex 2 is aimed at graphic designers, digital photographers, and special effects enthusiasts.
Among the effects:
natural phenomena - render storms using photographs; "aim" lightning by specifying beginning and end points; age photos with Stain, Cracks, and Burnt Edges.
Distortions - warp images with Television, Crumple, and more. 3D effects include Flag, Shatter and Rip Open
transform images into jigsaw puzzles, constellations, and intricate mosaics. Advanced edge detection of Constellation and Classic Mosaic properly match colors and align tiles/stars for the best effect.
Xenofex 2 uses the same interface Eye Candy 4000. Users tweak their effects in a large preview that includes underlying layers and command menus, and keyboard shortcuts. Presets put one-click effects at users' fingertips. Switch between filters in the preview window and unlimited undo capability.
Now carbonized for OS X on the Macintosh, Xenofex 2 will be available for the Macintosh and Windows platforms late in the first quarter of 2003. The estimated street price for Xenofex 2 will be $129.
Coming in late February from Ulead Systems is VideoStudio 7, the next version of its consumer-level video editing software. Using a display card to output to a second display device, users can now preview their creation on TV with high-quality, real-time, full-screen previews. The new version is one of the first consumer software applications to offer increased processing speeds of up to 23% by supporting Intel's Hyper-Threading (HT) technology. It also leverages the performance gains offered by dual processors.
Other new features include:
Nvidia Corporation last week introduced the Nvidia Quadro FX series of workstation graphics solutions aimed at the professional CAD/CAM and digital-content-creation markets. The series, which will start shipping in February, includes the Quadro FX 2000 and Quadro FX 1000 graphics solutions, both of which combine a 128-bit floating point precision with an eight-pipeline, programmable graphics engine.
Nvidia says the cards, featuring three parallel vertex engines with an on-chip vertex cache, eight programmable pixel pipelines, and a new line engine coupled to a high-speed DDR2 memory interface, achieve line performance five times faster than the its previous-generation products. Full-scene antialiasing supports resolutions up to 3840x2400 QUXGA.
Ontario-based Fakespace Systems has delivered a reconfigurable visualization system as part of an Immersive Environment Simulator, used to study how soldiers use equipment in combat zones, at the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. The RAVE II visualization system consists of three detachable, large-scale stereoscopic display units that ARL uses to project realistic imagery of simulated hostile environments.
The RAVE II is one part of the Tactical Environment Simulation Facility at ARL, which includes two adjoining simulation environments. One is a stereoscopic projection-based Hostile Environment Simulator that includes a 155-decibel sound system. The second part, called the Immersive Environment Simulator, integrates the RAVE II with motion tracking and an omni-directional treadmill to allow soldiers to literally run and move in any direction within virtual hostile terrain and combat conditions.
The RAVE II at the ARL is a reconfigurable stereoscopic display system consisting of three self-contained 10-ft x 12.5-ft rear-projected modules that can be arranged to form a flat wall display, an immersive theater, or an enclosed CAVE-like environment. As part of the Immersive Environment Simulator it is used in conjunction with an immersive sound system consisting of 44 loudspeakers. It is the first system of its type to ever include an omni-directional treadmill, and it also has an accurate inertial acoustic position measuring system, which enables visualizations to track in real time with the user's changing point of view. SGI was prime contractor for the $2.5 million project, and the Immersive Environment Simulator is driven by an SGI Onyx supercomputer
The new facility will be used for human factors studies on pre-prototype hardware and software, such as new helmet designs and target acquisition systems. As part of the laboratory's Objective Force Warrior program, the immersive systems will also be used to evaluate how increased information, and different ways of accessing and presenting information, will affect soldiers' performance. Among a variety of proposed research studies, it will also be used in a project to determine if dismounted soldiers can successfully control one or more battlefield robots.
More information on ARL can be found at http://www.arl.army.mil.
Viewpoint Corporation says that Lycos Europe, a European Internet portal, has signed an agreement to deploy Viewpoint content across its European network.
Lycos Europe intends to utilize Viewpoint's interactive digital technologies in upcoming advertising and promotional campaigns. The two companies have planned a European marketing tour to introduce, educate and promote the enhanced product offerings to the Lycos Europe advertising customer (only one? <g> - Ed.).
Just out from Jon Peddie Research is its $2,495 2003 - 2006 DVD study, which reports a 420 million-unit world market for all types of DVD systems, including players, recorders, set-tops, PCs, etc.
The report covers the market size and forecast for five platforms:
Associative industries benefit from this growth too including semiconductors, software, new technology, the eDVD, licensing, and copy protection.
* Media production for DVDs will exceed 1.6 billion discs in 2006, a CAGR of 159%.
* Semiconductors makers will benefit greatly from this phenomenal growth, enjoying a 44% CAGR of 44% by 2006.
* Software decoders, editors, and encoders also to benefit from the explosion of the DVD market.
The DVD market is huge, and getting larger; very rapidly. No longer limited to home entertainment playback boxes, it is being combined with increasing numbers of consumer electronics products; computers, portable devices, appliances and industrial systems; DVD is everywhere.
The report is supplied electronically in printable PDF form. Printed copies are also available from JPR.
Number of Pages: 199; figures, 50; tables, 31.
Coming this summer from Blizzard Entertainment is Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, an expansion set for the PC game Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.
The Frozen Throne provides gamers with a new chapter in the Warcraft saga. In the single-player campaign, players revisit the war-torn world of Azeroth. Several months have passed since Archimonde and the Burning Legion were defeated at the battle of Mount Hyjal, yet a new threat has arisen throughout the land.
The evil Lich King Ner'zhul has been imprisoned inside the Icecrown glacier, deep within the arctic continent of Northrend. Although the former Orc Shaman lacks physical form, his soul lives on, forever seeking a means to escape his icy prison. As the saga continues, it is revealed that both the Night Elf renegade, Illidan, and the traitorous Death Knight, Arthas, seek the Icecrown glacier and the mysterious powers found inside. While it is uncertain as to what is being sought inside the icy tomb, players must traverse uncharted lands and battle treacherous new enemies to uncover the schemes of these nefarious beings, and save all of Azeroth from the forces of darkness.
Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. last week released The Getaway, a free-roaming, mission-based, 3D action game for PlayStation2. Developed by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe's, Team Soho, the game features 40 square kilometers of photo-realistically recreated London blocks and street corners.
The Getaway follows the story of two men from opposite sides of the law. Mark Hammond, an ex-bank robber and former member of the Collins Crew gang, is on the run for the murder of his wife. Frank Carter is a vigilante cop who was suspended from the Flying Squad. Both men, manipulated by Charlie Jolson, a notorious crime boss of London's East End for more than 20 years, are desperate to clear their names. Longing for revenge, they share their obsession to bring down London's crime supremo.
The player can decide how to play, from choosing how to complete missions, to deciding whether to drive or run to the next location. Initially, gamers will hit the streets of London playing Hammond in order to complete a series of suicidal missions, and will later switch over to the role of Carter to complete the other missions. Both characters provide a variety of gameplay options and players will experience versatility in missions, as each character has his own agenda. As Hammond's story unfolds, other characters will be introduced with their actions viewed from Hammond's perspective. When the gamer changes roles, however, these same events affect Carter differently, impacting the gameplay with entwining storylines.
The game features immersive environments featuring damage modeling and physics on all cars, moving traffic, free-to-roam parks, hundreds of tourists and pedestrians and high-powered weaponry. Gamers can race to their next mission, get out and run inside a building to face their next task -- then make the getaway on foot or by car. Players can also abandon their cars and grab new ones, and perform amazing stunts while in their vans, buses, taxis or anything else stolen from the street.
New from GarageGames is the demo version of Chain Reaction, developed by Monster Studios. The demo features eight playable puzzles and access to 13 of the interactive parts. The full version of Chain Reaction, available at www.garagegames.com for $14.95, includes over 50 levels, fifty-nine parts and a full level builder with tools for users to create their own puzzles, which they can email to their friends.
The Monster Studios team includes, Jeff Tunnell, co-designer with Chris Cole and Kevin Ryan original programmers on The Incredible Machine, the original art director, Brian Hahn,, Tim Clark and Joel Streudler on music, and Don Carson, former Senior Show Designer for Disney Imagineering on Mickey's Toon Town, who set the look for Chain Reaction.
Chain Reaction is a 3D puzzle game where players create and complete contraptions to solve each level. The objective of each contraption is to blast MC Monster onto his landing pad. Players choose from a toy box full of sixty-nine 3D parts such as a basketball, dynamite, wrecking ball, bucket, solar panel, trampoline, or electric motor. Connect them with structural parts like pipes, ropes, boxes, conveyor belts and platforms to create and solve cause-and-effect puzzles.
In the we'll-believe-it-when-we-see-it department, Tampa Bay-area technology company Infinium Labs Corporation says it will develop and market a new game console that it claims will outperform the Xbox, Sony PlayStation 2, and GameCube.
Reported features include:
The company says its system provides game developers and publishers a secure and efficient software distribution system, and that it intends for game developers and publishers to reap greater profits using this new game delivery system.
Infinium Labs has engineered its prototypes and expects to unveil the new gaming console this March, and to launch the console to the U.S. consumer market by November 2003.
The Computer History Museum, Mountain View, Calif.-based home to the world's largest collection of computing artifact and stories, last week announced an event to celebrate the accomplishments of the database industry. On Monday, February 10, 2003, the Museum will host a panel discussion with database pioneers Chris Date, Herb Edelstein, Bob Epstein, Ken Jacobs, Pat Selinger, Roger Sippl and Michael Stonebraker, with moderator George Schussel.
Panelists will discuss how the industry got started and highlight their personal observations and experiences. The public is welcome to attend and enjoy a rare opportunity to see this intriguing group of pioneers as they share their personal stories and fascinating insights. Together, the group is responsible for such accomplishments as the founding of Informix Software, the development of the SQL database language and the technical planning and design for Oracle9i Database and IBM DB2.
The panel discussion starts at 7:00 p.m. and will be held in Building 3 at Moffett Field. The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. For more information please visit the Computer History Museum Web site at http://www.computerhistory.org/events or call 650.810.1027.
The Gama Network, organizer of the 2003 Game Developers Conference (GDC), March 4 - 8, San Jose, Calif., will give away one free hotel suite at the Fairmont San Jose for the nights of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, March 5, 6 and 7. All GDC 2003 attendees who have paid registration fees on or before Wednesday, Feb. 5 are automatically entered in the drawing. To register, visit http://www.gdconf.com.
The GDC brings together game development professionals through more than 300 lectures, tutorials, keynotes and roundtable discussions.
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- David Duberman
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