Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News 3 June 2002
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)
--Rocket KM Updates Virtual Classroom Software --NXN Announces Starter Pack for Small Development Teams
--Digimation Announces 3D Tree-Creation Tool --Canopus Ships ProCoder Transcoding Tool --Dosch Design Releases 3D Buildings
--NewTek Releases Aura Video Paint [2.5] --Ulead Offers Server-Based Image-Editing/Photo Sharing Software --LIPSinc Releases Mac Mimic
--VRcontext Introduces Walkinside 2.0
--Xara Upgrades Web graphics Package
--Toon Boom Updates Animation Tool
--OneSpace Designer Updated
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
--Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast Review
--Activision, Raven Ship Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix --Acclaim Ships GC, GBA Puzzle Game ZooCube --ACM Siggraph Announces Award Winners
Rocket KM Updates Virtual Classroom Software
New from Knowledgelinx Corporation is Rocket KM version 3.5, browser-based software for "knowledge transfer." Features include: * virtual classroom - Users can hold synchronous sessions over the Web including VoIP and session recording.
* legacy content conversion- Converts all offline learning content (Word, excel, Frame maker, Quark, and PowerPoint) into on-demand Web content.
* knowledge sharing - Enables the sharing of best practices with verification protocols and system-generated deployment.
* 3D object support - 3D objects can be pulled into the system and incorporated into interactive content. All interactions can be tracked.
* custom metadata taxonomy and profiling - Facilitates knowledge management based on organizational requirements and easily adapts to evolving standards.
* import and export for content and user data - Allows for mass imports of organizational lists i.e. HR employee profiles and all AICC and SCORM compliant content.
* custom toolbar and templates - Organizations can easily create the type of interface that suits their needs.
* enhanced search facilities - Allows users to easily access any knowledge resource including learning objects, docs or mentors.
NXN Announces Starter Pack for Small Development Teams
NXN Software, a supplier of digital asset and production management systems for the interactive entertainment, animation and new media industries, now has a new offering for smaller development teams: the NXN alienbrain Starter Pack. The $9,990 package is aimed at smaller teams for asset and production management.
The software offers the feature set of NXN alienbrain, including version control for media assets and source code, project management, and workflow functionality. The Starter Pack is integrated with 3ds max, Maya, and Softimage XSI. The pre-configured software package includes a Team Productivity Server, one NXN alienbrain PowerClient, five NXN alienbrain BaseClients, four NXN alienbrain CodeClients and one year of maintenance.
Designed for 10 users, the package can be extended to 20 users as the team grows in size. It is limited to one installation per company.
Digimation Announces 3D Tree-Creation Tool
Digimation, Inc. last week released SpeedTreeMAX ($395 US), a new virtual-tree-creation plug-in developed by Interactive Data Visualization (IDV) for use with Discreet's 3ds max 4.x.
Trees created with SpeedTreeMAX comprise a few thousand polygons. Controls include leaf density, number of branches, tree height and breadth. The plug-in can also create additional trees or forests using a randomly generated seed, permitting the quick creation of new trees that are similar to but not identical to those already in the scene. The software also allows the user to create an infinite variety of trees, and have them blow in the wind, at any wind speed from gentle breeze to hurricane. Through texture management, SpeedTreeMAX reportedly reduces the amount of rendering time traditionally associated with detailed trees.
* wind effects - based on 3ds max Wind space warp * SpeedTreeCAD - stand-alone tree-editing application with editable level of detail
* tree library - standard library of over 70 trees from 30 different species * SpeedShadow - generate raytrace-like shadows quickly * forest generator/ foresting controls - outline an area to populate it with trees; each tree has a unique seed value, so there are no easily spotted repetitions or copies.
* billboarding - planar or crosshatch tree billboards integrate with foresting control
A free trial version of SpeedTree is available at http://www.maxusers.com/ in the Demo Plugins/3ds max 4 demos section of the site. The SpeedTreeMAX Demo contains the plug-in, SpeedTreeCAD, 3 sample trees, and the index of the full library and is valid for a three-day trial period.
Canopus Ships ProCoder Transcoding Tool
Now available from Canopus Corporation is ProCoder, a $699, Windows-based stand-alone transcoding software tool for digital-video users. The software supports video formats including MPEG-1, MPEG-2, Windows Media, RealVideo, Apple QuickTime, Microsoft DirectShow, Microsoft Video for Windows, Microsoft DV and Canopus DV. Users can convert single or multiple source files at one time and can output to multiple files in multiple formats simultaneously. A stitching feature lets users combine multiple input files of different formats and frame rates into one output file, eliminating the need to combine them in a separate editing application. ProCoder also employs video and audio filters to enhance the quality of converted output.
It can automatically perform operations such as pulldown and frame interpolation when needed, but still allows the user to specify settings manually.
Canopus's scalable technology architecture is said to take advantage of the computer's processing power -- including multiple processors -- to deliver maximum transcoding speed. ProCoder is also optimized for Intel Pentium 4.
Dosch Design Releases 3D Buildings
Dosch 3D: Buildings comprises 50 detailed 3D models of buildings. Objects include single-family homes, factory buildings, villas, high-rise/skyscrapers, corporate, hotel, refinery, power plant, sports arenas, hangar, shops, and more. The models are provided in the formats 3DS, DXF, LWO, OBJ und C4D.
NewTek Releases Aura Video Paint [2.5]
Just out from NewTek is Aura Video Paint [2.5]. The latest version of the paint and animation software has been updated to increase speed, hardware compatibility, alpha channel support, and file format compatibility. The update is free to registered owners of Aura [2.0], and is available for download at http://www.newtek.com.
New features and enhancements include:
* NTSC and PAL broadcast monitor display support on a variety of video capture and playback cards, including: NewTek Video Toaster, DPS PAR, PVR, Hollywood, Reality/Velocity, Matrox DigiSuite Full, LE, LX and DTV.
* support for Windows video hardware such as Web cam, digital camera and DV cards.
* additional flexibility with support of all pressure-sensitive tablets, and the extended range of tablet capabilities such as pen altitude, azimuth, finger wheel and ToolsID from Wacom Intuos tablets.
* Alpha channel support provides the user with the option to select one of five different alpha channel modes in both Import and Export modes, including Pre-Multiply and Non-Pre-Multiply.
* Ability to import Macromedia Flash (SWF) directly into a layer, and enhanced DirectShow support for import and export of any Windows-supported file format.
* new filters, including bevel, grain, glow, erode, black and white converter, bloom, several specialized blurs, and others. All internal filter attributes are individually keyframeable.
* The pixel-tracking tool, which tracks multiple points across any number of frames, now works across layers.
Ulead Offers Server-Based Image-Editing/Photo Sharing Software
Ulead Systems is getting into the enterprise server market with two new imaging software solutions: iMira Album, a server-based online photo-sharing application, and iMira Editing, a server-based online image-editing and conversion application.
iMira Album 1.0's photo-sharing environment includes album templates, album-search mechanisms and email-address management. The program integrates with a company's existing Web site and includes backend administration tools that allow administrators to manage and track photo-sharing activity. Minimum system requirements include Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 SP4 or Windows 2000 and MS SQL Server 7.0.
iMira Editing 1.2 lets companies automate image repurposing and integration with existing systems using an HTTP API protocol with an integral component in processing visual media. Its browser-based image-editing capabilities include red-eye removal, brightness and contrast, hue and saturation, cropping and resizing. iMira Editing 1.2 runs on Linux operating systems.
LIPSinc Releases Mac Mimic
New from LIPSinc is a Macintosh version of Mimic, being distributed by Curious Labs, the Poser folks. Mimic is used for automatically creating lip-synched animations with Poser 3 or 4. A Windows version of Mimic has been available for a while.
Mimic is language, age and gender independent, and requires no special training. Using audio files as input, it drives the speech of any animated character. At its core, Mimic relies on LIPSinc's voice-analysis system to analyze speech and automatically output the precise corresponding mouth, jaw, and lip-position data in three dimensions. It also generates information for speech gestures -- blinks, head, and eyebrow movements that normally accompany speech. Mimic automatically adds the appropriate animation sequences to the pose library.
VRcontext Introduces Walkinside 2.0
VRcontext, a visualization and simulation software developer, last week introduced Walkinside 2.0. The program lets users visualize complex 3D models, from nuclear power stations to offshore oil platforms, and walk inside them, as in video games. The first version focused on conversion speed, usability, and realism.
New features in 2.0 are:
* networking: various network users can walk simultaneously inside the model.
* 3D redlining: users can circle objects in the model, comment on them and save remarks for later review with an updated model.
* database connection: users can load and view all information about an object in the database (length, weight, type, brand, etc.) with a simple mouse click.
* separated reference files: users can attach the same design in different locations, with different rotation, scaling, color table, levels symbology and levels display scheme.
* switching levels on/off: users can change the visible levels and reference files during a review session. They are able, for instance, to deactivate the display of the entire steel structure of a plant and look only at the vessels and piping design. The real-time collision detection is managed according to the visible elements, so that if the user deactivates the floor, he will fall until he removes the gravity manager.
* walkthrough movie (AVI file): users can record their "walkthrough" and make a movie of it, which can be shown or sent to other people afterwards.
Walkinside 1.0 customers can upgrade to the new version free of charge. For more information on Walkinside and to view a demo, visit http://www.walkinside.com.
Xara Upgrades Web graphics Package
Xara last week released an upgrade to Webstyle, its Web graphics creation package. The template-based software lets the user select the type of graphic required from over a thousand templates. The templates are vector graphics, so individual elements can be customized without pixelization.
Also included are new template designs including NavBars, animated banners and themed sets.
Webstyle exports in the popular bitmap formats but also offers direct integration with Macromedia Dreamweaver and Microsoft FrontPage.
A free trial version of Webstyle 3 is available for download from http://www.xara.com.
Toon Boom Updates Animation Tool
New from Montreal-based Toon Boom Technologies is Toon Boom Studio V2, an updated version of the company's 2D animation software. New features include: * new color transform and clipping effects * different appearances for first and last key frame on a motion path so that users can identify and modify the right key frame * copy and paste motion point properties * import, organize and synchronize all drawing, image, bitmap, sound and * multimedia files in the Exposure Sheet.
* track the timing of each object and maximize reuse of recurring images.
* use the 3D staging tools to develop storyboards into detailed animatics * with precise timing and camera movements.
* draw with a Polyline tool to create closed, vector shapes of any dimension.
* paint vector shapes with bitmap textures.
* auto-gap closing for speed painting.
* accelerated painting with auto-paint.
* optimize vector shapes for output to the Web.
* improved stroke endpoint identification to easily close zones.
* automap lip charts to mouth drawings for lip-syncing of voice tracks.
* sound scrubbing for fine-tuning lip assignment.
* support for sound streaming.
* export media links as Macromedia Flash movie clips to decrease file size.
* QuickTime export includes all added sound modification * improved optimization options for SWF output.
OneSpace Designer Updated
Just out from CoCreate Software is OneSpace Designer 2002+, its collaborative 3D design tool. The new version reportedly incorporates more than 800 customer-driven enhancements, expands collaborative-design capabilities throughout the product-development process with five new modules designed to support both technical and non-technical teams, including: technical documentation, inspection, customers, and suppliers:
* The new Design Simplification module provides capabilities to generate a simplified 3D representation of complex designs. Simplified models can be used in large assemblies, when sharing data with suppliers, and with web-based parts providers. The module can control the simplification so that critical areas of the 3D design remain fully detailed, while the rest of the design is simplified.
* The new Model Manager module lets designers manage 3D designs and corresponding 2D drawings, versions, and revisions within their company and to expand their solution to encompass suppliers and their design data.
* The new 3D Inspection module helps designers create a 3D inspection model that can be used to automate the design-inspection process. It is suited for companies with a need for volume inspection of manufactured goods.
* The new Drawing Manager module lets users manage drawing data, versions, and revisions within their company and to easily expand their solution to encompass suppliers and their design data.
* Personal Collaboration lets users share 2D drawing data and collaborate in real-time with their extended design teams, including suppliers, customers, and other departments within the company. Additionally, the latest release of Personal Collaboration provides non-technical users with a Web-based reviewer tool for exchanging ideas, providing design feedback, and revising 2D and 3D engineering formats, free from any hardware or network dependency.
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast Review
The Jedi Knight series of action-adventures from LucasArts has received favorable audience reaction since its debut in the Doom era of first-person shooters, thanks to intelligent level design and challenging but not impossible gameplay. After a long hiatus, the latest installment, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (Outcast for short) is out for Windows PCs, and it follows through in spades. In fact, I found it to be more fun (and addictive!) than the arguable king of the genre, the grim Half-Life. It was created by Activision subsidiary Raven Software and runs on id Software's Quake III 3D engine.
If you're a Star Wars buff, you can enjoy the story, but for the most part it doesn't really figure in the gameplay. And no, this game has nothing to do with the Episode II, or Episode I, or any particular movie, for that matter. As in previous versions, you play Kyle Katarn, agent of the New Republic, who's out to seek revenge for the slaying of his partner by a Dark Knight. You start out with just a gun, but after fighting your way through the first game level, you become a novice Jedi Knight.
At this point, you can use a light saber for melee and ranged fighting (it also serves as a shield!), but if you prefer firepower, you can still use the guns, grenades, etc. Better yet, you have Force powers for pulling and pushing certain objects, jumping real high, and running real fast. The mini-level in which you gain these powers--a training course under the tutelage of Luke Skywalker, in which the ultimate goal is the retrieval of your light saber--is a tour de force of 3D puzzle design, and one of the most enjoyable gaming episodes in recent memory.
From there, you proceed through a series of huge, cleverly designed levels with indoor and outdoor components, solving more puzzles and fighting hordes of bad guys (human and alien). On the way, you acquire more Force powers, including Heal, Grip for choking enemies, Mind Trick for confusing certain foes, and Lightning for electrical attacks. Each force starts out at a basic level, but eventually gains two additional levels for greater power. For example, Force Push knocks down a single enemy at level 1, pushes the enemy back at level 2, and at level 3, pushes multiple targets.
And on top of all that, multiplayer mode gives you seven additional Force powers!
For most weapons, the default view is first-person, but when you're using the light saber, it switches automatically to third-person (camera control is nicely implemented). But you can change the view manually between the two modes at any time. I also like that, when you load a saved game, enemies are often in different positions, so you don't always know what to expect.
Outcast is a big, great-looking game, with lots to do and see, including many secret areas loaded with power-ups. It's not the tired, running-the-gauntlet type of gameplay you often find in action adventures these days; there's almost always something new and surprising around the next corner. If you like this type of game, get it; you won't be disappointed.
Activision, Raven Ship Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix
Now available at retail is Activision's new action game, Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix, developed by subsidiary Raven Software. Players assume the role of John Mullins, a military consultant working for the top-secret agency known as The Shop. Drawing in-part upon the experiences of the real John Mullins, players will experience shoot-outs in the jungles of Columbia, the frozen wastelands of Kamchatka, the bustling streets of Hong Kong, and others. Players have access to real-world weaponry including MK 23 US SOCOM, M4 with M203 grenade launcher, MSG90A1 military sniper rifle, and the MM-1 40 mm grenade launcher, as well as next-generation small arms such as the OICW weapon system. Players will also have to master stealth in order to tackle missions, including hostage rescue, intelligence gathering and search-and-destroy.
Technical features include a detailed damage-modeling system, realistic character movements, per pixel hit locations, and location-based damage modeling. Other features include a new random mission generator technology for both single and multiplayer. Also, multiplayer offers nine maps, more than 100 unique model/skin combinations and four different game modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch, elimination and infiltration.
Acclaim Ships GC, GBA Puzzle Game ZooCube
Acclaim Entertainment has shipped ZooCube for the Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance. Created by PuzzleKings, the 3D puzzle game involves animals have been transformed by shape-altering science experiments and need help in returning to their natural state. Players use their ZooCube to rescue and return the animals to the flying ark. Features include: * power-ups, bonuses and three-axis rotation * play cooperatively with a friend or in head-to-head battle * 12 different modes of play
ACM Siggraph Announces Award Winners
ACM Siggraph is presenting three awards this summer at Siggraph 2002, 21 - 26 July at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, San Antonio, Texas, to recognize individuals who have made a significant contribution to the computer graphics community.
David B. Kirk, Nvidia Corporation, is the Computer Graphics Achievement Award recipient. The award, which recognizes major accomplishments that provided a significant advance in the state of the art of computer graphics and is still significant and apparent, is presented to Kirk for his key technical role in bringing high-performance computer graphics systems to the mass market. Kirk joined Nvidia in 1996, where he drove development of the Riva128, the Riva TNT, the GeForce, the GeForce2, GeForce3, and GeForce4. Today he serves as chief scientist and vice president of architecture at Nvidia.
Steven J. Gortler, Harvard University, receives the Significant New Researcher Award presented to recognize his work, which has been marked from the beginning by challenging mathematical insights coupled to practical graphical algorithms. The award is presented to recognize a researcher who has made a recent significant contribution to the field of computer graphics and is new to the field.
Gortler was instrumental in advancing wavelet techniques in computer graphics through his PhD thesis in 1994 and various publications from 1993-1995, particularly with his influential Siggraph 93 paper, "Wavelet Radiosity," written with Schröder, Cohen, and Hanrahan. He collaborated with Liu and Cohen on computer animation in the 1994 Siggraph paper "Hierarchical Space-time Control." He explored the mathematics of "The Lumigraph" in his Siggraph 96 paper, which is probably his best-known work in the area of image-based rendering.
His work in this field, which began with the Lumigraph but moved into other areas such as layered depth images, interactive image-based rendering, and the geometry of image-based rendering, is widely recognized as deeply original, mathematically cogent, and far-reaching. More recently, Gortler has been involved in polygonal modeling, particularly in areas such as texture mapping and parameterizing meshes, computing silhouettes, and combining image-based rendering and polygonal modeling
Bertram Herzog, Fraunhofer Center for Research in Computer Graphics and Professor at the University of Michigan, is the Outstanding Service Award recipient, presented to an individual who has given extraordinary service to ACM SIGGRAPH. From Siggraph's inception, Herzog has actively participated in both organization and conference activities, serving in technical and managerial roles.
Siggraph 2002 will bring more than 20,000 computer graphics and interactive technology professionals from six continents to San Antonio for the week-long conference. A technical program and special events focusing on research, art, animation, Web graphics, and interactive technologies are planned. Siggraph includes a three-day exhibition of products and services for the computer graphics and interactive technology marketplace from 23 - 25 July 2002. Siggraph 2002 is sponsored by ACM SIGGRAPH, a professional society for computer graphics and interactive techniques. Information on ACM SIGGRAPH membership and other conferences and activities can be found at http://www.siggraph.org.
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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