Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News 10 June 2002
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)
--Flash Player Available for Nokia 9200
IN THE INFOGROOVE
--Online Privacy: Consumers Worry, Don't Take Action --Movies on Demand to be Coming Attraction for Broadband
--Softimage Slashes 3D Price
--Discreet Ships plasma for Web 3D
--BHA Ships DVD-Video Recording Software --Activeworlds Updates Web 3D Tech
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
--Call for Entries: Independent Games Festival 2003
--Media General Acquires Web Game Developer Boxerjam
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
--Lost Kingdoms Review
--Empire Interactive Announces PS2 Light-Gun Title --Italian Adventure Title Published in U.S.
--Sony Online Gets Into Wireless Gaming
Flash Player Available for Nokia 9200
New from Macromedia is its Flash Player for Nokia 9200 Communicator Series handsets, integrated devices that combine a wireless telephone with a color display and multimedia capabilities.
Developers can download Macromedia Flash Player 5 and a content development kit for the Nokia 9200 Communicator Series, which includes detailed authoring guidelines and examples to get started creating games, animations, and productivity applications for Nokia 9200 Communicator Series owners.
Macromedia Flash Player 5 ships with every new Nokia 9200 Communicator Series phone including the Nokia 9210i Communicator and the Nokia 9290 Communicator. Nokia Communicator owners can also download Macromedia Flash Player by visiting http://www.macromedia.com/go/nokia9200_download/.
IN THE INFOGROOVE
Online Privacy: Consumers Worry, Don't Take Action
Jupiter Media Metrix, a provider of Internet and new-technology analysis and measurement, reported last week that although nearly 70 percent of U.S.
consumers are concerned about their privacy online, only 40 percent read privacy statements before handing over personal information to Web sites.
Moreover, only 30 percent of online consumers find Web site privacy statements easy to understand, according to a March 2002 Jupiter Consumer Survey. In a new Jupiter Research report entitled "Online Privacy: Managing Complexity to Realize Marketing Benefits," Jupiter analysts advise companies to allocate dollars for consumer security and privacy education and to treat online privacy as a strategic marketing initiative, rather than a compliance burden.
The survey reveals that 82 percent of online consumers are willing to provide various forms of information to shopping Web sites (where they have not yet made purchases) in exchange for something as modest as a $100 sweepstakes entry. Consumers are most willing to offer email addresses (61 percent) and full names (49 percent), and least likely to provide household incomes (18 percent) and phone numbers (19 percent). Interestingly enough, the survey data show that 36 percent of users would provide a username and password to this site -- a potential concern considering that other Jupiter data indicate that 53 percent of online consumers use the same username and password wherever they go online. Jupiter analysts have found that a majority of consumers seem willing to give their personal information for small benefits because it is not always clear how their information will be used or how widely it will be shared, and the extent of this behavior varies greatly among different brands, Web sites and applications.
Based on proprietary research and analysis of Consumer Survey data, Jupiter forecasts that as much as $24.5 billion in online sales will be lost by 2006 -- up from $5.5 billion in 2001. Online retail sales would be approximately 24 percent higher in 2006 if consumers' fears about privacy and security were effectively addressed. With poor online privacy practices, many companies will experience negative effects not only on their online sales over the next several years, but also in off-line sales that shift to more privacy- sensitive competitors.
"Early promises of privacy self-regulation by interactive firms have not materialized, and the industry has ceded the initiative to legislators.
Only immediate widespread industry commitment to privacy best practices will limit further restrictive government regulation," said Jupiter analyst Rob Leathern.
Jupiter analysts offer the following advice to companies looking to increase consumers' confidence in conducting online transactions and sharing personal information:
* Adopt a segmentation approach to identify groups of consumers that are most likely to respond to Privacy Marketing. Jupiter defines Privacy Marketing as messaging directed at allaying consumers' privacy and security fears and differentiation based on conservative data collection and use policies. Businesses should proactively communicate and promote privacy and security policies and capabilities.
* Emphasize transparency, security and accountability in both online and off-line consumer communications.
* Create a privacy council with representation across business units and increase awareness of privacy and data issues at both the senior executive and rank-and-file employee levels.
Movies on Demand to be Coming Attraction for Broadband
As deployments of cable modems and Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) services continue to increase throughout the world, Video-on-Demand (VOD) services over Internet Protocol (IP) networks will grow to a total of more than 17 million users, generating over $1.9 Billion (US) in subscription and pay-per-view revenue during 2006, according to In-Stat/MDR. The high-tech market research firm reports that, as consumer-oriented VOD services over IP become more pervasive, revenue generated by family-oriented VOD services will eventually surpass those of adult content sites, which currently dominate the VOD-over-IP market.
"Several million movie streams per month are currently being served up for free, but as the major movie studios enter the fray, with premium movie titles, pay-per-view and subscription services will gain traction, helping Hollywood figure out what the market is for 'on demand' content, and help engineers and software programmers to develop efficient delivery systems and workable Digital Rights Management solutions," says a company spokesperson. Slated to generate approximately $460 million worldwide in 2002, the adult-content segment of the market (representing over 98% of revenues) will serve as a barometer for the future success of the market as a whole. By the end of 2004, the number of subscribers and pay-per-view participants, regularly using family oriented "on demand" IP services, will outnumber the users of adult content services, and, by 2006, family-oriented, "on-demand" services will overtake the adult content sites in terms of annual revenues.
In-Stat/MDR has also found that:
* By 2006, about 40% of worldwide consumers who have high-speed Internet connections to their residences will be using on-demand services for which they pay monthly fees, bringing $1.9 billion to Hollywood.
* The North American market has the lion's share of consumer broadband connections deployed, and, by 2006, will represent over 7.6 million VOD users, generating over $820 million in revenues.
* Asia, especially South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and others, will represent about 37% of worldwide VOD- over-IP subscribers by 2006, producing over $700 million for movie studios. Europe will provide about 15% of worldwide VOD-over-IP revenues in 2006, and the Rest-of-the-World will bring in about 4.7%.
* Blockbuster Video rental stores won't go away, but VOD services from Cable TV, Satellite TV services, and digital terrestrial datacasting services, will all add momentum to the 'on demand' market.
The report, "Consumer Oriented Video-On-Demand Via IP Networks" (#IN020022MB), includes descriptions of the four key movie on-demand services, profiles of four equipment companies that serve as leading indicators for this emerging market, and regional forecasts for number of subscribers and annual dollar values of each market segment.
Softimage Slashes 3D Price
Softimage last week halved the price of its 3D character-animation and effects software, Softimage|3D, to $1,495 USMSRP. Spectrum views this as an attempt by the company, which we believe to place third in 3D software sales behind Alias|Wavefront (Maya) and Discreet (3ds max), to boost sales.
It also seems to be a ploy to get customers to upgrade to the company's high-end XSI software; Softimage offers full credit to those who trade up.
Softimage|XSI v.2.0 is available in multiple configurations with pricing starting at $320/month(b) (in the U.S.) based on a 24-month lease.
Discreet Ships plasma for Web 3D
Autodesk's Discreet division last week began shipping plasma, its US$650 software for creating 3D content for the Web. With an expected one million sites utilizing 3D content and more than half a billion 3D-enabled browsers by 2007 (Jon Peddie Associates), Discreet places 3D tools into the hands of Macromedia Flash and Macromedia Director users as well as Web graphic designers to develop Web UI and navigation elements.
Based on Discreet's 3ds max technologies, plasma adds connectivity with Macromedia's Flash MX and Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio.
BHA Ships DVD-Video Recording Software
B.H.A Corporation of Japan last week began shipment of its first DVD-Video creation and recording software, B's DVD. B's DVD enables users to create, author and record DVD-video titles from video clips either on hard disk or captured from a digital video (DV) camcorder.
With B's DVD, the user selects a template, drags and drops a video file, and clicks "write" to start writing to a DVD+RW or DVD-R recorder. The software encodes, formats, authors, and records without further user interaction. Included templates provide backgrounds, button positions and color schemes. The software also provides more advanced users with expanded options to create hierarchical custom sub-menus, import graphics for menus and buttons, as well as store DVD disc images on hard disk.
In addition to using prerecorded MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and AVI files as the video source, users can capture video directly from a mini DV camcorder connected to a FireWire (IEEE-1394) port. Two video capture modes are available: "automatic" for hands-free operation and "manual" for full control capture operations. Captured video clips can be cut to the desired length using the "Easy-Trim" function.
B's DVD includes a "DVD Slide Show" capability allowing digital photo enthusiasts to create personalized photo collections, which can be viewed from any standard DVD-ROM drive or DVD-Video player.
Activeworlds Updates Web 3D Tech
Activeworlds Corp., a provider of three-dimensional technology on the Internet, last week released Active Worlds Version 3.3, with improvements such as Direct3D 8 support, faster frame rate, slide detection, coronas, skyboxes, search capability, enhanced contact list, three-axes object rotation, new movement commands, global SDK capability and on-the-fly terrain editing and generation. The new version is available for consumers to download free at http://www.activeworlds.com/.
The new contact-list features allow greater user control over privacy. In addition, a new search-list mechanism enables visitors of 3D worlds to streamline their 3D content search by keywords. Extensions to the SDK will increase the ability of 3D-world creators to track users on their servers as well as to integrate artificial intelligence on a global scale and even across multiple world servers. These features are said to facilitate the ability of Web related 3D developers to create online games or courseware for corporate distance learning and training.
For developers of 3D Web enabled content, 3.3 includes a "3D URL" feature, which allows any Website in whole or part to be displayed in the 3D window.
This is advantageous in the use of whiteboards, streaming media, other 3D world platforms or Flash applications in a 3D world environment for such uses as education and online training.
The Active Worlds 3.3 building tool now allows for on-the-fly terrain editing and creation. By importing Digital Elevation Map (DEM) files, real geographic maps can be displayed in 3D over the Internet. Objects can now be rotated and placed on three axes, which increases the online building capabilities of the Active Worlds tool set and reduces bandwidth needs as well as simplifying the object library set needed to create custom content.
Additionally, the software offers new movement commands and support for coronas (special lighting effects).
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
Call for Entries: Independent Games Festival 2003
The Independent Games Festival (IGF) is now accepting submissions for its 5th annual event. The submission deadline for the IGF Competition is September 1 and Student Showcase submissions are due November 15. The festival honors innovative video games created by independent game developers and students.
The IGF takes place annually during the Game Developers Conference (GDC), scheduled for March 6-8, 2003 in San Jose, Calif. Produced by the Gama Network, the GDC is the largest gathering of video game developers worldwide.
Developers interested in submitting a game can visit http://www.igf.com for official rules and entry forms.
More than $20,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to IGF competition winners this year. Ten finalists will be selected to showcase their games at the event, and awards will be given in four craft categories: Technical Excellence, Innovation in Visual Arts, Innovation in Audio, and Innovation in Game Design. Additional honors will be presented for the Seamus McNally Grand Prize for Independent Game of the Year and the Audience Award.
Media General Acquires Web Game Developer Boxerjam
Media General, Inc. is expanding its offering of interactive news, information and entertainment content with the acquisition of assets of Boxerjam, a producer of original online game shows and puzzles. Founded in 1995, Boxerjam (http://www.boxerjam.com/) produces more than 20 games with broad demographic appeal, drawing players from all over the world for multi-player competition.
"The acquisition of the Boxerjam assets is part of our strategy to create premium interactive content that goes beyond the online enterprises affiliated with our newspapers and television stations," said Neal F.
Fondren, president of the company's Interactive Media Division. "Beyond the Web site, we also hope to deliver the Boxerjam content to interactive television and game consoles through strategic partnerships."
Boxerjam has developed games and game shows that can be played on personal computers, television and wireless devices. Over two million registered users and more than 100,000 daily players participate in games on the site.
Privately held Boxerjam, whose sole revenue stream was advertising, generated several million dollars of revenue in 2000 before falling victim to the advertising downturn that began late that year. "Media General plans to relaunch Boxerjam, build a premium service and reinvigorate its advertising stream," Fondren said.
The newly formed company will be Boxerjam Media. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
Lost Kingdoms Review
From Software, a Japanese game development house that's been around since 1986, was responsible for the Playstation-based King's Field, one of my all-time favorite console RPGs (and one of the few I've ever finished).
More recently, the company has released a slew of poorly received titles for PS2, none of which I've played. So it was with a mixture of trepidation and anticipation that I approached Lost Kingdoms, From's latest RPG and its first Gamecube title (and, as far as I know, its first for Activision). I needn't have worried; this one's a doozy. I might not finish it--although, according to Activision, it lasts a mere 20 hours--but I'm having a blast meanwhile.
Gameplay consists primarily of a series of missions in different areas; as you complete each mission, additional ones become available. A mission takes place in a distinctive 3D environment--a desert, a sewer, a castle--through which you travel while encountering monsters and power-ups.
Although the graphics are three-dimensional, you don't have any control over the camera, except the ability to zoom in and out a bit. For the most part, the software controls the camera adequately.
Monster encounters are random; one moment you're wandering around; the next, you're in a battle. It's in these battles that Lost Kingdoms truly distinguishes itself. They take place in real time, and your "weapon" is a deck of cards, each of which represents a creature that will fight for you or otherwise support you.
At any given moment, you have access to four cards from a deck of up to 30.
The deck must last you throughout the mission, although you typically have opportunities to replenish it at several points before completion. As you do battle, cards "burn down," and when one is used up, the software draws a new one from the deck.
Each card is of one of several types and one of four element-type attributes. The three main types are weapon, summons, and independent. A weapon card acts as just that, only instead of a blade or whatever, you momentarily unleash a monster that attacks the foe in front of you. A summoned monster can temporarily replace you, fighting for a little while, or stay near you and assist with your attacks, or heal or shield you, or perform any of various other functions. And an independent monster functions on its own, chasing down your enemies (and keeping them from attacking you).
The attributes add a scissors-rock-paper aspect to the battles; for example, fire cards are best against wood monsters, and earth cards are most effective against water creatures. You can use any card against any creature, but if you don't play efficiently by pitting the strongest cards against adversaries, you could run out of cards before the end of the mission. And when you're out of cards, you're out of luck. Of course, you can always restart the mission.
There's much more to Lost Kingdoms; the designers put lots of thought into this game, and it shows. Playing a card uses up "magic stones," but damaging or beating a monster releases magic stones, which you can pick up if you're quick about it. And, of course, your character has hit points, which diminish if you take damage during a battle, or if you don't have enough magic stones for the card you use.
And there's more: You can exit a battle at the cost of a card, which might be for the best if you're not doing well. With a bit of skill, you can "capture" an enemy creature, thus gaining an extra card that you can add to your deck at certain points in the mission. Treasure chests scattered throughout the environments can also yield up extra cards for later use.
Using cards during battle and collecting magic stones gives your creatures experience, which you can use outside a mission to trade up to more powerful cards. And, of course, you can edit decks outside missions. Then there are the blue and red fairies ...
I have only a couple of criticisms of Lost Kingdoms; one mild, and one more serious. After the spoken-dialog richness of FFX, it's hard to go back to a next-generation RPG with text-only dialog. But given the shrunken Gamecube discs (no doubt a desperate, if ill-fated, attempt on the part of paranoid Nintendo to combat piracy), I suppose it's understandable. The main problem I had with the game is the fact that the icon that designates a card's attribute, clearly visible on the deck-editing screen, is nowhere to be found during battle! Thus, one of the most important pieces of information you need during a battle must be gleaned from the color of the (thin) border of the card. I had to turn my TV's Color setting up to a lurid level to see this easily.
In conclusion ... I didn't read the entire review of Lost Kingdoms on Gamespot, which scored it a low 71, but the pull quote criticized the designers for putting too much into the battle system at the cost of the rest of the game. Well, duh! If you don't know it by now, bunky, RPGs are mostly about fighting monsters, but too many of them sacrifice battle design for the sake of the "story." You'll note that, in this review, I haven't even mentioned the story; it's utterly irrelevant to enjoyment of the game.
If you've played a few console RPGs, you know the routine: Combat is often mind-numbingly consistent, battle after battle. Lost Kingdoms also suffers a bit from this sameness, but for the most part you've really got to stay on your toes during battle, and the card system adds a lot of variety. Also helping you maintain interest are the well-designed environments, puzzles (such as mission goals that can be accomplished only in battle), and the excellent animations.
The game might be briefer than some, but there's good replay value, and the time you spend with it is of higher quality than most. So is it worth $50?
Yes, if any game is. But if you're not absolutely sure you want to invest that much (remember, you can always sell it on eBay when you're done), try renting it first.
Empire Interactive Announces PS2 Light-Gun Title
Just out from publisher Empire Interactive and distributor Vivendi Universal Games is Endgame, developed by Cunning Developments for PlayStation2. In the light-gun action game, players go through over 15 timed levels in a race against the clock. Features include: * graphical innovations including multi-pass rendering: motion blur, anti-aliasing, soft shadows and focus effects.
* boss AI-- bosses can see what the player is doing and react * detailed locations in real-world settings, each with varying gameplay.
* training modes
* multiple endings based on player skill.
* destructible environments
Italian Adventure Title Published in U.S.
Got Game Entertainment last week began shipping The Watchmaker, an adventure game for the PC developed by Italy's Trecision. The game combines 3D graphics with a storyline set in a mysterious Austrian castle. Players join lawyer Victoria Conroy and paranormal expert Darrel Boone on their mission to foil the potentially catastrophic plans of a fringe group of fanatics. The goal of the game is to recover a mysterious pendulum device that they believe is hidden in the castle and that could be used to destroy the world.
Got Game says The Watchmaker is unlike traditional adventure games in that it frees the player from having to move along a single given path, permitting exploration of the castle and castle grounds at the player's own pace. Players can control the two main characters independently, with each character exhibiting different personalities, traits, and skills, as well as choose between dynamically moving cameras in a third person point of view, or first person to examine objects and environments in detail.
Sony Online Gets Into Wireless Gaming
Entering into the anticipated wireless gaming market, Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) Inc., a publisher of massively multiplayer online gaming titles (think EverQuest), says it will develop recognized entertainment brands for wireless devices using Qualcomm's Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW) platform. SOE will publish titles such as Wheel of Fortune Online and Jeopardy Online.
"We are witnessing a change in the gaming landscape with the increasing convergence of technologies," said John Smedley, chief operating officer, Sony Online Entertainment. "As our lives become more and more hectic, we demand that the very devices we use to communicate and organize also provide a few minutes of entertainment."
Industry members expect the mobile devices market to become one of the fastest-growing areas in the multi-billion-dollar gaming industry. Yankee Group estimates that over 200 million people in the U.S. and Europe will be playing wireless games by 2005, with particular appeal to teens and young adults.
Qualcomm's BREW platform is a thin application execution environment that provides an open, standard platform for wireless devices. The BREW platform is part of an end-to-end solution for wireless applications development, device configuration, application distribution, and billing and payment.
The complete BREW solution includes the BREW SDK (software development kit) for developers, the BREW applications platform and porting tools for device manufacturers, and the BREW Distribution System (BDS) that is controlled and managed by carriers enabling them to easily get applications from developers to market and coordinate the billing and payment process.
Carriers' BREW-based services will enable consumers to customize their handsets by downloading applications over the air from a carrier's application download server.
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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