29 January 2001
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Scene7, a new interactive imaging technology company, launched last week with a suite of visual, interactive technologies aimed at helping companies to sell more effectively and efficiently. The company has entered relationships with 10 brands, including Victoria's Secret, Sanyo, F. Schumacher/Waverly, Krause's Furniture, and Broderbund.
Scene7 currently offers seven technologies that allow companies to offer interactive features, including real-time image customization, multi-angle viewing, side-by-side image presentation and real-world image effects such as lighting and shadowing. Technologies include:
Montreal-based Emulive Imaging Corporation Inc. announces the immediate availability of Server4 Interactive Broadcast Platform, a turn-key software solution for creating media-rich Web-sites.
Server4, Emulive's new video server software technology, offers management of up to 60 live audio/video channels and allows up to 1,000 simultaneous clients per server. To further expand the viewing audience, Server4 offers channel splitting and redirection to multiple target servers. Server4 manages security and includes a complete streaming, chat and HTTP Web server with dynamic page-creation capabilities. Out of the box, Server4 is a complete e-commerce solution that operates with in tandem with online payment systems to create a complete "video store," where subscriptions can be defined and sold in real time, over the Internet, using a standard credit card.
Producer2001, Emulive's new media-encoding software technology, operates in conjunction with Server4 to create an interactive media channel for client-side users to interact and engage in. Producer2001 operates with video-for-Windows capture devices and includes interactive features such as local and remote PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) camera control, text chat, text and graphical video-manipulation tools, sharpness/brightness/contrast control, grayscale and more. Producer2001 can operate anywhere on a network or the Internet.
Xpresso5, Emulive's interactive streaming media Java applet, allows end-users to engage and interact in an Emulive Server channel. Xpresso5 operates in any Web browser supporting Java, and offers streaming media playback, interactive remote camera control, text chat and banner display with rotation capabilities.
Microsoft Corp. recently announced Microsoft Visual Studio for Applications (VSA), technology for customization of Web applications. VSA lets corporations and ISVs tailor Web applications with specialized business logic. Users can integrate VSA customization technology into their homegrown and packaged distributed applications. This enables customers to use the Visual Basic event-driven model to customize core business logic running on the server without intimate knowledge of the application. By integrating VSA, ISVs and corporations can enable end users to customize those applications.
Visual Studio for Applications supports the writing of custom code using Visual Basic.NET. VSA has a language-neutral architecture, and Visual Basic.NET is the first language to support VSA. In subsequent releases, other .NET languages will be able to plug into the VSA architecture.
Visual Studio for Applications is available for early evaluation by interested industry partners. To date, Great Plains Software Inc., Epicor Software Corp., Marlborough Stirling, Ci Technologies and NetIQ Corp. are early adopters of VSA, working closely with Microsoft to make VSA customization available in the next generation of their distributed Web applications. Companies who wish to evaluate VSA can contact Summit Software Co., the sales agent for VSA, via mailto:email@example.com.
VSA is scheduled to be available for widespread evaluation in the spring of 2001 when Visual Studio.NET beta 2 is released and will ship at the same time as Visual Studio.NET in the second half of 2001.
Nintendo recently approved Criterion Software's RenderWare3 3D game development toolkit as a middleware solution for the upcoming Nintendo Gamecube platform.
RenderWare3 is a multi-platform 3D game development toolkit said to offer a typical saving of six months in game development. The company says 230 development studios have signed for licenses since its release (December 1999), including Activision, Cryo Interactive, Interplay, Konami; Sierra-Online, THQ and Ubisoft.
Now available from Upspring Software, Inc. for a mere $10K is version 2.0 of its Software Quality Benchmark (SQB). The SQB lets software development managers compare the quality of their company’s software with the general software industry. The latest version of the SQB increases the number of software projects reviewed by over 50 percent and includes reports from the telecommunications, embedded systems, networking, financial and ISV markets, along with a new "Defect Found Percentage."
SQB is produced from a database of individual Quality Assessment Reports (QARs). QARs are detailed analytical studies of an application’s source code that provide quantitative measures of the intrinsic quality of an organization’s software. Highlighted are actual defects that violate predefined programming rules, as well as areas of high-risk and maintainability issues.
In addition, QARs provide a variety of metrics from simple "lines of code" or "executable lines of code" to more sophisticated Cyclomatic and Myers’ complexity. Software development managers, by determining where the quality or complexity of their own software stands in comparison to the industry, are more capable of making critical business decisions related to their software systems.
Version 2.0 of the SQB now contains a "Defect Found Percentage," the percentage of defects to the total number of possible defects for each quality category; programming standards, portability, globalization, and structure. For example, the error percentage for discarded return values exceeded 5.7 percent according to the SQB. This provides software managers with a hard and fast baseline to measure their companies own common programming error percentage to the industry and to take proactive action with their staff.
While billions of dollars were spent online this past holiday season, U.S. consumers spent most of this money at a small number of Web sites, according to a new survey by Gartner Group, Inc. Eighty-seven percent of the consumers who bought on the Web told Gartner they spent their holiday gift dollars at a maximum of three different retailers' sites. Amazon.com was the most dominant purchasing site, with over a quarter of all buyers (28 percent) purchasing at least some gifts there. No other site attracted even half as many buyers.
Gartner's survey showed that nearly 25 million American consumers bought gifts online this past holiday season. The results of the survey showed these consumers spent nearly $6.2 billion online for holiday gifts.
"Consumers don't yet see the Web the same way they see a shopping mall, as a place to stroll, browse and window shop in search of gifts," said David Schehr, research director for Gartner's e-Business Services group. "Consumers continue to show that they use sites they are already familiar with, and in most cases for only those things they've come to expect at the sites. Other research we've completed shows that consumers don't usually think of the sites they use as one-stop shopping locations, but more as specialty stores for selected categories."
The idea of shopping at a "cybermall" was not as prevalent in the survey results by Gartner. When asked, 70 percent of online gift buyers stated that they generally had a particular item or product in mind when they went online to buy. Twenty-two percent of online gift buyers said that they generally browsed a variety of sources without a specific item in mind.
Just out from London-based ParallelGraphics, a developer of Web-based 3D technologies, is Internet Model Optimizer, a tool for optimizing complex 3D design models on the Web. It reportedly lets the user eliminate selected polygons while retaining the original visual quality and shape of the model.
Using IMO in conjunction with ParallelGraphics Internet Scene Assembler (ISA) lets users add a range of interactions and animations in the creation of dynamic 3D visualizations and online manuals - in both single and multi-user mode.
3D Studio MAX in its latest incarnation is rechristened 3ds max 4, with new and extensible Inverse Kinematics (IK) architecture features, character animation enhancements and advances in rendering productivity with ActiveShade and Render Elements.
Some of the new features in detail:
Newly available from Digimation is Phoenix 1.5, an upgrade to Phoenix, the fire simulation plug-in for 3ds max developed by the Chaos Group and distributed by Digimation.
Phoenix was developed for simulating fire and it allows 3ds max objects to appear as if they are engulfed in flames. The software can wrap an object or particle system in a volumetric flame. It allows control of the colors, lights, transparency, and the shape of the flames.
New features in Phoenix 1.5 include:
Wildform, creators of Internet media software, last week released Flix, a $99 application that encodes video into SWF, the Macromedia Flash format.
According to a September, 2000 NPD Research study, 96.4% of all Web users can view Flash content without downloading the player. Flix-encoded Flash video content also streams to virtually all platforms, all browsers and through firewalls.
Until now, Flash was primarily an animation tool, rarely utilized for video because it took a long time to create even short clips. With the introduction of Flix, video production time is reportedly reduced to minutes and users can insert links, create video banner ads and emails, and deploy customized media players.
New Orleans-based Turbo Squid Corporation, an online digital asset marketplace, has agreed with Genetic Graphics Inc. to offer the entire ShaderBank collection of 4,500 RenderMan shaders. The entire ShaderBank collection including alien skins, fur, space, rock, cloud, water, wood, glass, metal and cartoon shaders is available on the Turbo Squid system at under $10 each. For users without RenderMan, each shader is also available as a JPEG image.
Feature films rendered with RenderMan include Star Wars, Toy Story, Jumanji, Jurassic Park and The Matrix.
SketchUp, a $500 sketch-based 3D modeling program developed by @Last Software, was selected as one of the Best New Products at the recent AEC Systems 2000 Fall Show in Anaheim, CA.
The Digital Media Online's Community Choice Awards are determined by attendees, primarily professionals from the Architectural, Engineering and Construction (AEC) community, who voted for their favorite products and services at the show. Details are available at http://www.digitalcad.com.
SketchUp is a conceptual design tool designed for architects, contractors, furniture designers, wood workers, game developers, etc. The core of its simplicity is an interface in which the user draws the edges of the desired model in 3D space and the software automatically "fills" the shapes to create 3D geometry.
Coming in April from IXSoftware.com is "Make It So!", an Adobe Photoshop automation module. Designed by world-leading Photoshop experts David Blatner, Katrin Eismann, Martin Evening, Bruce Fraser, Herb Paynter, Andrew Rodney, Jeff Schewe, and Mike Skurski, the software provides an "intelligent" image-processing auto-pilot designed to let users produce precisely formatted image files.
Accessed from the Photoshop menu bar, "Make It So!" comes in three modules:
Each image can be processed for up to six different uses, with each version of the image saved in its own folder. A built-in Wizards function lets novice users optimize images for any type of output.
"Make It So!" analyzes and evaluates every image, then determines which Photoshop image adjustments should be performed. In a final step, unsharp masking is applied. Features include photo effects, soft proofing, grayscale conversions, 16-bit processing, and expert ICC color management.
The United States Patent Office last week granted Virtue3D, a provider of 3D delivery and rendering solutions for the Web, patents for algorithms that improve two of the company's 3D compression and rendering technologies.
Virtue3D's compression algorithm has been incorporated into its 3D tool set since mid-2000. The company expects its advanced occlusion culling algorithms to be in widespread use as it brings a new line of vertical 3D applications to market.
The first of these is Room Designer, an application tailored for the furniture manufacturing and retailing industries that enables customized design of furniture items within a virtual environment.
Virtue3D engineers have refined compression algorithms that accelerate the downloading of 3D content over both high-speed networks and slower dial-up connections. The company says its compression algorithm offers the greatest lossless 3D geometry compression ratio in the industry. For example, the algorithm can reduce a 1MB file to 20Kb, allowing it to be transmitted over a 56Kb dial-up connection in a few seconds, where decompression software within Virtue3D's Player reassembles and displays the image in fractions of a second.
The second patent, granted for a new algorithm for a technology called "occlusion culling," is used to speed up the download and rendering of scenes in which the user interacts with various elements within the scene. These "immersive" scenes - which can be rooms, buildings or entire cities and towns - allow the user to wander in a virtual world composed of 3D objects. Because the scenes are based on a vast number of shapes seen from a nearly infinite choice of viewpoints, the amount of data downloaded to create an entire immersive environment is huge and the graphics computational load makes it impractical to render the scene in an interactive frame rate. Occlusion culling selects only the data required to render a specific scene, based on the position of the camera within that scene. Areas that are occluded do not need to be downloaded and are not sent to the graphics pipeline to be rendered. The effect of using occlusion culling is faster downloads and reduction of the load on the rendering process, yielding a higher frame-rate.
The algorithm deals with both static and dynamic scenes - where parts of the scene may move and the resulting effect on occlusion is calculated online. As a result, even if elements in the room change continuously, the Virtue3D Player has continuous access to the information it needs to render the scene accurately in real-time. The algorithm can be employed in either a server-less (viewer only) or server-based environment.
Virtue3D's family of products include the Optimizer, a tool that converts 3D images to a Web-ready format, and the Player, a browser plug-in that allows users to view the images.
Coming in May is the Interactive Film Festival, an international contest organized by Exponor - Feira Internacional do Porto within the scope of its Portugal Media fair. The objective of the festival is to promote the development of interactive entertainment contents; it is geared towards domestic and international companies, public organizations, private production companies and individuals.
Three prizes will be awarded in three categories in the 1st Interactive Film Festival: the Interactive Film Festival Gold Award, the Innovation Award and the Public's Award.
The entries submitted must be works of fiction with a maximum duration of 15 minutes and at least one level of interactivity; the viewer must be given the opportunity to choose how the film develops. All the films must be spoken or sub-titled in Portuguese, Spanish or English. The works must be presented on CD-ROM or DVD, enabling on-the-spot navigation of the contents and corresponding access to global connections.
The entries will initially be judged by a pre-selection jury which will include two members nominated by the organizers and one member of recognized standing within the audio-visual field chosen by the management of the festival. The entries selected by the jury will then be judged and classified by an international jury especially invited for this purpose; the latter will be constituted by at least five personalities drawn from the cinema, audio-visual, criticism and multimedia fields.
Participation in the festival is free and works should be submitted by means of an enrolment form accompanied by a photograph of the film, text or list of dialogues. All applications should be received at the head office of Exponor, Att. Festival do Filme Interactivo, Feira Internacional do Porto, 4450-617 Leça da Palmeira, Portugal by 18.00 hours on 31 March 2001.
The festival will take place between 10 and 13 May 2001 and the results of the contest will be announced at the Interactive Film Festival's closing ceremony which will take place on 13 May 2001.
For further information, contact the festival secretary by mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amazing Kids! last week launched its Animation Station, an online animation showcase for the animation talent of kids and teens. The site showcases "kid-created" animations, and includes animation resources to help young people learn the art of animation.
The non-profit organization created the Animation Station initially to show the animations submitted for the Amazing Kids! Animation Contest 2000, sponsored by DreamWorks SKG. The winning animations can be seen at: http://www.amazing-kids.org/splash.html. The young winners, ranging from ages 7 to 17, will have an opportunity to be mentored by a professional animator from DreamWorks Animation as part of the winning prizes for the contest. Other prizes include animation and 3D drawing software packages Aura and Inspire from NewTek, Shockwave's Flash, and Flipbook PT, a new pencil test software program from DigiCel.
The Amazing Kids! Animation Contest is one of several ongoing educational contests hosted by Amazing Kids! with the dual purpose of helping kids discover and nurture their own unique talents, while providing them with a positive outlet for their boundless energy and imagination.
Sony Computer Entertainment America has acquired Naughty Dog, Inc., the independent game development house behind the Crash Bandicoot franchise. As part of the deal, Naughty Dog's entire 30-person team becomes a wholly-owned subsidiary of SCEA and will operate under the Naughty Dog brand name. Financial terms of the arrangement are not public.
Based in Santa Monica, Calif., Naughty Dog's day-to-day operations will continue to be run by the current management team and founders, Andrew Gavin and Jason Rubin, under the direction of Shuhei Yoshida, SCEA VP product development.
Activision, Inc. last week recently signed an agreement with UK-based developer Mucky Foot to begin working on a sequel to the popular vampire epic, Blade. Based on Marvel's master vampire hunter, the game is being developed for next-generation console systems.
The deal marks the first time that Mucky Foot, creator of the action-adventure title Urban Chaos, has developed for a publisher other than Eidos Interactive, and represents an expansion of the company's development portfolio. Mucky Foot's founder, industry veteran Mike Diskett, will be working closely on the project.
Based in Guildford UK and founded four years ago, Mucky Foot developed Urban Chaos which, published in 1999, and is shortly to release its second original title.
Also, coming from Activision next year in a partnership with UK-based developer Warthog PLC is a new title based on Marvel's popular X-Men franchise. The game will be developed by Gene Pool, a newly formed spinoff of Warthog that was responsible for creating the PlayStation game Star Trek: Invasion for Activision. The title is being designed for next-generation console hardware.
LucasArts Entertainment Company LLC challenges PC game players to unite against the evil Trade Federation and strike back on land, sea and air in the flight-action game Star Wars: Battle for Naboo. Released originally on N64, Battle for Naboo for PC features enhanced game resolution, textures, and a new interface. Star Wars: Battle for Naboo for PC is being developed in conjunction with Factor 5 and is expected for release in March, 2001.
In Battle for Naboo, players leap into a variety of Star Wars vehicles and traverse a range of environments while clashing with Trade Federation enemies such as battle droids, droid starfighters and AAT's. In the more than 15 levels, players experience new and familiar Star Wars locations while engaging in air-to-air, ground-to-ground, space and air-to-ground battles.
Blizzard Entertainment says Diablo II sold more than 2.75 million copies worldwide in 2000, based on information from PC Data and key retail accounts around the world. The game, which shipped in June 2000, is the fastest-selling game in Blizzard's history. The company also confirmed today that the game's expansion set, Diablo II: Lord of Destruction, is on target for a worldwide release during the first half of 2001.
The expansion set will add Assassin and Druid character classes as well as a new act with six new quests, plus various new monster types including Quest Bosses and Uniques; new Horadric Cube recipes; and a doubling of the stash size. It also contains thousands of new magical items with nearly 250 new Unique and Exceptional items as well as new Class-specific and Elite items.
In Diablo II: Lord of Destruction, players return to follow the path of Baal, the last of the Prime Evils, into the Barbarian Highlands. Traveling north with legions of Demonic minions, Baal intends to destroy the powerful Worldstone that protects the whole of the mortal plane from the forces of Hell. Players will face a new series of quests and challenges to prevent the vile minions of the underworld from destroying the mortal realm.
Diablo II: Lord of Destruction is being developed by the Blizzard North design team and is expected to be available the first half of 2001 in Windows95/98/2000/NT formats for around $30. A Macintosh version is expected this summer.
Coming in March from Eidos is Gangsters 2 – Vendetta, the sequel to Gangsters: Organised Crime. Players experience the lifestyle of a crime boss, but this time in a real-time self-regulating action-strategy environment across the whole state of New Temperance.
Interplay division Digital Mayhem will develop the action/adventure PC game Giants: Citizen Kabuto for PlayStation 2. Scheduled to ship Q2 '01, the PS2 version will reportedly offer detailed character models, smoother and more organic-looking world models, new effects, and simpler controls and interface.
The story of Giants takes place on a planetary formation known as The Island, where three races find themselves at odds with one another. The Meccaryns, a team of beer-drinking cocky aliens, have technological superiority on their side. The Sea Reapers possess devastating elemental spells and magical combat abilities. And then, there’s Kabuto … a thundering mass of horn and sinew, Kabuto’s advantage lays in his sheer brute force.
Viewing from a third-person perspective, the player controls each of the three main characters at different points in the storyline. Each race has access to different equipment and abilities as the game progresses.
Enemies will use projectile weapons, magical spells, and group tactics in their efforts to defeat the player.
Canadian firms Indiqu, Inc. and Telus Mobility have partnered to bring interactive games to its digital wireless subscribers.
The agreement calls for Indiqu to deliver a range of mass-market games including casino, card, arcade, sports, quiz show, board and parlor games in both English and French. Launched initially on Telus Mobility's Clearnet PCS and Mike product lines in 2000, Indiqu's expanded Game On channel is now available to Telus Mobility customers.
American Dream Entertainment, Inc. has begun production on its PC game based upon the multimedia concept "Robin and the Dreamweavers."
The game, set to ship in Q4 '01, will be produced in conjunction with Belgium-based 3D animation studio Imagination In Motion NV. The third-person title will depict the "adventures of the ongoing battle between Robin and her nemesis Triple X."
A new computer game transports players on a mystical ship to a fantastic world of 3D environments in search of ways to heal a fractured continent. This is the challenge of Zelenhgorm, Episode I, available for viewing by publishers as a playable demo.
The game begins as the player awakens from a deep and strange dream to find that his once advanced society has been destroyed, leaving six isolated and desperate peoples. The magic and technology that once unified Zelenhgorm are all but forgotten, and the six remaining cultures live isolated from one another, their memory of better times and a peaceful continent alive only in folk tales told over and over for 900 years since the Great War.
The player's challenge is to acclimate to and learn about his new environment, overcome the obstacles in his path, and return harmony to Universe Zelenhgorm. As he explores, the player wanders amidst hundreds of live actors and actresses against a film-quality graphic backdrop enriched by an orchestral score. Universe Zelenhgorm is an interactive cinematic world, where the player can question the inhabitants or just observe and eavesdrop in an attempt to learn the truth about how this once unified peaceful world was so tragically blown apart.
Astaff of 30 developed Zelenhgorm over two and a half years, writing the scripts, refining the software, and directing and producing the animated and filmed components. The game's custom engine shows multiple live actors and actresses, appearing simultaneously with the capability of interacting with each other and the player. The publisher describes the title as "Lord of The Rings meets Myst."
Episode I of Zelenhgorm is in the Beta phase and is a fully funded project developed by Malamute AB, a Swedish production company. The Episode I Gold Master will be completed this quarter and is available for interested worldwide publishers.
At Frost & Sullivan's Fourth Annual Next Generation Internet Conference & Exhibition, February 11-15, 2001 at the San Diego Marriott La Jolla in San Diego, CA, Internet service providers and telecom companies will converge in San Diego to discuss future market opportunities both nationally and abroad.
As wireless communications finally become reality, providers are scrambling to develop standards and platforms that offer customers unlimited, scalable options. Dean Douglas and Will Ulaszek from IBM's Mobile eBusiness Services group will shed new light on future market drivers in the wireless space. In a general forum, attendees will uncover the key points in wireless infrastructure that will ensure capacity for hundreds of thousands of handheld devices.
In the last year, broadband providers promised a lot and delivered a little. Faulty service, high prices and limited access all added up to leave consumers with a terrible taste in their mouths. In 2001, ISPs and telecom companies are (supposedly) learning from their mistakes, providing customers with broadband solutions designed to revolutionize home and business use of the Internet. Stephen Von Rump, CEO of Vtel will explore growth drivers in the broadband-powered communications space to ensure the third-generation Internet goes according to plan.
As we settle into the era of the digital economy, the model for communications changes. In his keynote address: "Enhanced Services in the Digital Economy," Tony Scarfo, mobile communications veep at Lucent Technologies, will help demonstrate how expansion of services to customers adds competitive advantage. The session offers a look into how innovative services can help a business edge over the competition.
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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