9 June 2003
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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By David Duberman
At first blush, Lost Kingdoms II is quite similar its predecessor. A young woman finds herself in possession of a magical rune, which she wears on her back, causing her to leave cool-looking streaks behind her as she moves. No, actually its main function is to let her use cards to do battle with the enemies--monsters and humans--she meets on her travels.
The Gamecube action RPG, developed by Japan's From Software and published by Activision, tells the story of one Tara Grimface. Tara starts out in the game as the principal warrior for a band of thieves, but soon leaves them behind in her search for … something. The game isn't about saving the universe, as in so many of this type, but rather about sibling rivalry. The story is really incidental, though; as with the original, progressing through LK2 consists of moving over a map and entering a location to accomplish a specific goal: sometimes it's just getting to the end; other times it's finding a certain item.
While moving through a level, Tara encounters enemies and must do battle to survive. This is where you find the two biggest differences between the new version and the original: no more random battles, and no isolated battlefields. In the original, you'd be running through a level when suddenly the screen would shimmer and you'd be transported to a small, limited area to fight a few enemies. This time, you can spot the enemies from a distance, and fight them right there on the spot (or sometimes avoid them, if you prefer). The benefits of this method are obvious; the drawback is that if you run away, you might draw more enemies into the battle. And there are good reasons to run away, such as chasing (bright, elusive) butterflies (okay, fairies) that can restore health, magic stones, or cards.
Which brings us to the unique method of doing battle in LK2. Tara can't fight directly; instead, she uses cards that invoke magical beasts that do the fighting for her. Each card has several primary characteristics: the level, or strength; the type, about which more shortly; the cost in magic stones (known as mana in other games); and the attribute, or element. Attributes from the first game, possessed by Tara, her cards, and her enemies, are wood, water, fire, and earth. This is the scissors-rock-paper aspect of the game; fire is stronger than wood but weaker than water, and so on. Also from the original version is the neutral attribute, and new is the mech attribute, possessed by battle robots of an incredible variety.
Playing a card costs magic stones, always a limited resource, but enemies shed them upon taking damage, and if she's quick Tara can pick them up from the battlefield while risking damage herself. An added incentive to grab stones in LK2 is that, if she's topped off, any extra stones get converted to money that she can use to buy cards. If she runs out of stones, using a card costs her hit points instead, to the point that playing that one last card can cost her life. Fortunately, you don't die in LK2; you just get kicked out of the current level, with all experience and possessions intact.
Winning in LK2 is a matter of using the right cards. From the 200 different cards in the game, Tara can bring a deck of only 30 into a level. When she enters a level, these are shuffled randomly, and the first four dealt, shown in a diamond formation on the screen and available by pressing one of the four main buttons on the controller. Of course, these might not be the best cards for the job at hand, so you can replace one with the next card from the top of the deck, shown on the left. In the original version, replacing a card made it unavailable for the remainder of the battle; in LK2, it just gets moved to the bottom of the deck. Much better, but an obvious consequence of the integrated battles. Also, you can find cards as you explore, and bring them into the deck at a deck point, which also restores your health.
An important consideration in determining the right card to use is its type. This is perhaps the most crucial strategic element in LK2. One type is Weapon, which launches a single attack such as the swing of a sword blade. Weapon cards can usually be reused several times, at the cost of magic stones each time. Some weapons must be deployed close up; others work from a distance. The Independent creature type attacks enemies (or, occasionally, friends) on its own until it's killed or runs out of time. These come in a great variety; one of my favorites is the shark, which "swims" around underground and then leaps up for a fairly fierce attack. Then there's the Summons type, which acts on a one-time basis for a strong attack or support function, and the Helper, which can restore health, strengthen a certain attribute, act as a decoy, etc.
New in LK2 is the Transform type, which turns Tara into a creature that can attack, or use innate capabilities such as flying or jumping to access parts of the level that Tara can't get to by herself. This element adds a great deal to the exploration aspects of the game, on top of which you can now re-enter previously conquered levels to find new areas, which you couldn't do in the original.
The improvements in LK2 lead to a vastly more enjoyable game. Thanks to camera and UI enhancements, it's easier to see what's important. For example, the gauge showing the remaining magic stone supply is now horizontal (like the health gauge), rather than circular, and you can press a button to see forward, and another to lock onto a nearby enemy. In the original, you could rotate the camera only in specific increments; now rotation is free. And easier deck editing frees you to concentrate more on the gameplay and less on housekeeping duties. Other enhancements include higher-res card graphics; the character animation is improved as well. As with the original, the level graphics are a visual treat; it's eye candy all the way.
One problem with the integration of exploration and battle is that, because you can play a card at any time and the game's sensing of when you're at a switch point is a bit touchy, you sometimes waste a card instead of activating the switch. That's a minor complaint, though; overall LK2 is a richer, deeper experience with lots of replay value thanks to the incredible variety of available tools (i.e., cards). Battle sequences are exciting, and the fact that you can't die eliminates a lot of the frustration found in the competition. I recommend Lost Kingdoms II highly for RPG fans and those who love original games.
4D, Inc., publisher of the 4th Dimension RAD/RDBMS environment and 4D WebSTAR Server Suite, last week released WebSTAR V v5.3, including updated 4D WebMail Pro with support for iCal, improved search-indexing technology, and more flexible security. The new 4D WebSTAR V v5.3 is an update to the 4D WebSTAR V Server Suite comprised of a Web server, email server, 4D WebMail interface, FTP server, WebDAV server and Search engine.
4D WebMail Pro now integrates with Apple's iCal calendaring application. WebMail users can display, publish and subscribe to iCal personal calendars and shared group calendars. 4D WebSTAR V v5.3's Search engine uses new underlying indexing technology for search results. The new indexing technology in version 5.3 also adds support for accented characters.
The new security plug-in in version 5.3 combines configurable authentication and allow/deny realm protections for a more granular level of protection. Different security controls for user access in and outside the office can be set with a GUI interface.
New from Anark Corporation is Anark Studio 2, the newest version of its multimedia authoring software. Based on Anark Studio's integration of 3D, video, images, audio and interactivity, the new version offers a range of content-delivery options in addition to new productivity features. Featuring the new cross-platform Anark Player and Anark Client, Studio lets users create for both Macintosh OSX and Windows, with applications such as CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, self-contained screensavers, Web, and now video.
New features include:
Authorware integrates graphics, sound, animation, text, and video into e-learning experiences. It uses the same user interface from across the Macromedia MX product line while retaining the product's visual flowline authoring metaphor and drag-and-drop functionality.
Discovery iMedia recently expanded its interactive television lineup to include new iTV programming on the Discovery Channel and TLC. Discovery iMedia has joined with OpenTV, a company that provides interactive television technology and content for the cable, satellite and terrestrial broadband industries, to deliver the new enhanced TV offerings.
To build on last year's interactive programming on the Discovery Channel's Monster Garage and TLC's Trading Spaces, Discovery iMedia will feature new iTV programming starting in Q3 '03. New programming includes Unsolved History, Shark Week, and the Quest series on the Discovery Channel, and Junkyard Wars and What Not To Wear on TLC.
Each of these programs will let viewers test their knowledge during the program with interactive quizzes and games. The interactive enhancements give viewers a way to access quick facts related to the specific show, and respond to offers and surveys by using their remote control without leaving the show they're watching.
OpenTV provides a suite of technology, content, games, tools, applications, and services that enables cable and satellite network operators in over 60 countries to deliver and manage iTV services on digital TV platforms.
Autodesk's Discreet division has entered into a partnership with Highend Network Inc, to add its 3ds max software into the supported communities represented on <http://www.highend3d.com>. This partnership will help extend the resources available for professional 3D artists and animators using 3ds max worldwide. 3ds max artists can now access a range of 3ds max-specific forums and data, including product tips, programming scripts, shaders, tools, plug-ins, image galleries, and a range of information to expand their knowledge of modeling, animation, rendering and other 3D specialized topics.
Graphics studio and publisher Marlin Studios recently released Seamless Textures 11 - Great Textures of the Orient. The JPEG-format texture maps can be used in virtually any computer graphics program.
Oriental textures in the $159 library include building fronts, signs, statues, plants, doors, roofing, walls and windows. Also included are 971 stock photos.
The library includes 473 seamlessly tileable textures and bump maps, along with 104 alpha maps, all created from photos by Geoff Holman. The textures are presented in three sizes: large (approx. 2240 x 1680 pixels), medium (66% of large) and small (33% of large). The library also includes a thumbnail browser for searching the textures.
Ulead Systems, Inc., a developer of digital video, image editing, 3D animation, and DVD authoring applications, last week released StudioQuartet. StudioQuartet is a collection of Ulead's digital-media applications on one DVD. It offers videographers digital-media tools for image editing, graphics creation, 3D text, key frame motion and object animation, plus full-resolution, real-time video editing, painting, rotoscoping, and CG tools. StudioQuartet also includes DVD authoring and support for a range of traditional and emerging format types including MicroMV and DVD-VR.
Coming this summer from Corel is its new lineup of graphics software, including some familiar titles as well as new applications. Titles will include:
NEC Solutions (America), Inc. last week introduced the WT600, which utilizes NEC's lensless mirror design to attain what the company claims is the shortest throw distance of any front projector to date. The $7,000 unit can project a 40-inch image from 2.5 inches from the screen and a 100-inch image from 26 inches from the screen. In addition, the WT600 features a 3000:1 contrast ratio.
"The WT600's short throw distance [gives] presenters the ability to move freely … without worrying about obstructing the image," said product manager Don Fasick. "It enables projection in cramped spaces that couldn't previously accommodate a front projector, and results in significant space savings for rear screen applications versus traditional projectors."
Instead of a traditional optical system using a lens, the WT600 features a series of aspheric mirrors developed and produced using NEC's plastic-mirror technology. It also incorporates NEC's ImageExpress wired and wireless networking technologies for the ability to communicate from a PC to the projector through a wired LAN system using a 10 base or a wireless system via Wi-Fi 802.11b. And the wireless option lets users place their laptop anywhere in the room and switch between presentations on multiple laptops with the touch of a button.
The Object Management Group (OMG), Open GIS Consortium (OGC), Simulation Interoperability Standards Organization (SISO) and Web3D Consortium, are requesting presentations for the first annual Workshop on Web Enabled Modeling and Simulation (WebSim). The workshop is planned for October 27 - 30, 2003 in Crystal City, VA, USA and will bring together members the web services, modeling and simulation communities.
The four-day workshop will include one day of tutorials followed by three days of interactive sessions and panels aimed at those interested in interoperability standards for Web based modeling and simulation.
The Workshop Program Committee is currently seeking proposals for presentations and papers on any of the following topics:
Abstracts are due by June 27, 2003. Presenters will be notified by July 15, 2003 and papers will be due by September 2, 2003. Interested individuals or organizations are invited to submit a brief abstract of their presentation or position paper via email to abstracts@Websim.net. Submitters should also identify whether they are applying for a Workshop session, tutorial, or panel discussion, along with estimated duration time, and a brief biography. Abstracts should be no longer than one page in length and should only use HTML, PDF, or ASCII text formats. Only three abstracts per individual will be accepted. Biographies should be no longer than 50 words.
For a detailed description of the WebSim mission and more information about the call for presentations, visit http://www.Websim.net and http://www.Websim.net/1st_Worshop_CfP.htm.
Portland-based Oregon3D Inc., The Center for Visualization Technologies, will begin expanding its series of evening and weekend classes with a Discreet 3ds max Fundamentals evening class. Scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday evenings June 10 through July 1, the class will provide a broad overview of the entire process of creating 3D animation. For a limited time, Oregon3D will be offering a special introductory 50% discount promotion on the 3ds max Fundamentals June 10 evening class.
Taught by Discreet certified instructors, the 3ds max Fundamentals evening class will address animation basics such as using the timeline and keyframing. The class will also focus on principle concepts, including: interface navigation, working in a 3D space, optimizing specific preferences for individual machines, using the Modifier Stack and mastering the user interface. Class participants will complete projects such as modeling, applying materials and textures, detailing with atmospherics and lighting, and learning techniques for rendering output from start to finish.
Also, scheduled for the weekend of June 14-15, 2003 at Oregon3D, a two-day class will focus on using Discreet 3ds max as an effective design and visualization tool. Taught by Discreet certified instructor Gary M. Davis, the class will focus on importing models efficiently, creating/applying materials, lighting techniques (including global illumination) and rendering out photo-realistic or technical (illustrative) images. 3D modeling and animation will also be discussed in respect to augmenting third-party models and showcasing a product or building.
"Games, Diversions, and Perl Culture" (O'Reilly, US $39.95) is the third volume of the "Best of the Perl Journal." Compiled and re-edited by the journal's original editor and publisher, Jon Orwant, the book focuses on entertaining topics such as the Obfuscated Perl Contests, Perl Quiz shows, and poetry. Readers will also find articles on astronomy, bioinformatics, natural language processing, home automation, Braille, voting methods, and, of course, games.
According to O'Reilly, of the three volumes of the "Best of the Perl Journal," this is arguably the most useless. It's also the most entertaining, and the one that best captures the spirit of Perl.
Chapter 38, "Searching for Rhymes with Perl," and Chapter 43,"The Zeroth Annual Obfuscated Perl Contest, " are available free online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/tpj3/chapter/index.html
For more information about the book, including Table of Contents, index, and samples, see: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/tpj3/
New from Mythic Entertainment is a Gold Edition of its flagship product, Dark Age of Camelot, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). Dark Age of Camelot: Gold Edition will include the original game, the Shrouded Isles expansion, and the soon-to-be released housing expansion, Foundations. A new 45-page beginner guide compliments the updated manuals to introduce players to the world of MMORPGs and Dark Age of Camelot.
Shrouded Isles extends the story and adds character classes, new races, and three new continents, displayed in a new graphics engine. Shrouded Isles also includes almost one hundred new monster models and nearly 400 hundred new weapon, armor, and shield graphics. The expansion features new quests, thousands of new monster encounters, and an artificial intelligence system enabling monsters to behave and attack in new ways.
The first of three expansions Mythic will be releasing in 2003, Dark Age of Camelot: Foundations, will let players purchase property and build their own homes. Players will first claim a housing lot and then buy a deed to one of several different types of houses. Houses and items are customized in appearance for use in each of the game's three Realms. Real estate prices will fluctuate according to location and market demand.
Houses can be owned and maintained by either a single player or a Guild (group of players). Foundations is currently in beta and will be available to all subscribers free of charge in late June.
Currently Dark Age of Camelot has more than 225,000 paying subscribers. More than 60,000 people play simultaneously at peak times.
Dark Age of Camelot: Gold Edition will be distributed by Vivendi Universal Games in North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Dark Age of Camelot and Shrouded Isles were developed by Mythic Entertainment, co-published with Abandon Entertainment and distributed by Vivendi Universal Games.
The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences last week honored the world's best Web sites in the first Webby Awards announcement to take place completely online.
Awards were handed out in 31 categories, including Activism, Film, and Humor. In keeping with Webby tradition, animated characters designed by the winners delivered the famous five-words-or-less acceptance speeches. Speech highlights included:
Winners ranged from upstarts like MeetUp.com http://www.meetup.com/ (Best Community) and MoveOn.org http://www.moveon.org/ (Best Politics), two sites that are using the Web in innovative ways to organize people worldwide, to Web stalwarts like Google (Best News), eBay (Best Services), and ESPN.com (Best Sports).
In a nod to the boom in blogging, Movable Type http://www.movabletype.org/, a site that enables people to publish personal online journals, received the Best Practices Award, which is bestowed on the site that serves as an overall model for excellence.
With a record 24 international nominees, the awards honored several sites hailing from outside the United States, including the United Kingdom's SHOWstudio http://www.showstudiocom/ (Best Fashion) and rathergood.com http://www.rathergood.com/ (Best Weird); The Netherland's NobodyHere http://www.nobodyhere.com/ (Best Personal Web Site); and Canada's CBC Radio 3 http://www.cbcradio3.com/ (Best Music).
Side Effects Software, developer of the Houdini family of 3D software, last week announced the panel of judges selected for The Houdini Apprentice Challenge, an art and animation contest based around the company's Houdini Apprentice Edition.
Through June 16, 3D artists are invited to create work in any of three categories models, character animation and effects.
The contest judges include an array of animation and effects industry specialists:
- David Allen, Senior Effects Developer/Lead Animator, PDI/Dreamworks - Tom Capizzi, Technical Director, Rhythm & Hues - Rick Glumack, Visual Effects Developer, PDI/Dreamworks - Sean Lewkiw, Senior Technical Director, Jim Henson's Creature Shop - Kevin Mack, Visual Effects Supervisor, Sony Pictures Imageworks - John Mariella, Co-Founder & VP, C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures - David Prescott, CG Supervisor, Digital Domain - Nordin Rahhali, Effects Artist, Framestore-CFC - Rita Street, Publisher & Editorial Director, Animation Magazine
A best entry in each category, as well as a best entry overall, will be chosen to win a range of prizes including an HP XW4000 workstation, ATI Fire GL X1 cards and Houdini commercial licenses. Top entries will also be promoted throughout the industry and shared with effects-industry employers. All awards will be announced at the Houdini Annual Meeting during Siggraph on July 27 in San Diego, CA.
Registration is now underway for the 2003 Christian Game Developers Conference, which will be held July 25-27 on the campus of Cascade College in Portland, Ore.
“Last year’s conference proved that there is real interest in an industry gathering devoted to Christian games,” said conference organizer Tim Emmerich of GraceWorks Interactive (http://www.graceworksinteractive.com). “This year, we will focus on how best to address the needs of Christian game developers for the future.”
Among the speakers at this summer’s conference are Kevin Johnson of Intel (http://www.intel.com) and Frank Cloutier of Hewlett Packard (http://www.hp.com), as well as Ralph Bagley of N’Lighting Software (http://www.n-lightning.com) and representatives from the independent game development community.
“This year’s conference will revisit last year’s topics as well as others,” Emmerich said. “We will discuss the goals of Christian gaming and what sort of content we hope to provide, and how to fund projects and publish them. We also plan to examine the games that are on the market now to see where they have succeeded and why they might fail.”
“Many families want non-violent entertainment alternatives. They are looking for action titles with wholesome messages,” Emmerich said.
“Depending on the developer, a game can share the Gospel Message, or just equip the game player with better social skills or even educate them on various topics. Christian games are important to our society today as they can minister to the players.”
With the constant advances in technology, Christian developers are able to target games to a specific audience without having to rely on a large publisher and risk diluting the message of their product. Organizers of this year’s conference hope to encourage developers to “take advantage of their God-given skills and technologies to develop their project,” Emmerich said.
“We pray that we can be encouragement (sic) to developers and teams of all sizes, whether they’re currently working on a Christian gaming title or planning future projects.”
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