Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

13 June 2005
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
For editorial/subscription inquiries, send mailto:spectrum1@broadviewnet.net
Search the Spectrum archives at http://www.3dlinks.com/spectrum


Today's Headlines (details below)

--Book: Inside 3ds max 7 Review
--Book: The Art of Producing Games

--Bloglines Doubles Index Size

--On2 Ships Video SDK for Nintendo DS, Announces Autodesk Deal
--Toon Boom Concerto Reaches Finale
--Sega Releases Animanium 'Lite' Version
--Maxon, Luxology Ready for Mac-Intel Move

--GarageGames Expands

--Blizzard Entertainment Launches WoW Battlegrounds

--O'Reilly Conference to Cover Location Tech

--About Spectrum



Book: Inside 3ds max 7 Review
By David Duberman

The "Inside …" series of books for 3ds max users has been a mainstay of the Autodesk 3D modeling and animation program since its early days (some 15 years ago) as a DOS program named 3D Studio (since then it's been renamed several times, including 3D Studio MAX, 3ds max, and now 3ds Max). Inexplicably, New Riders published no versions of the book for 3ds max 5 or 6, but with the recent publication of "Inside 3ds max 7," the series is back with a vengeance. Author Sean Bonney and editor Steve Anzovin are joined by a dozen other writers for a series of tutorials on a wide range of max's functionality. Disclosure: Your reviewer contributed content to one chapter, on the character studio Motion Mixer and Crowd features, so I won't cover those parts. Also, I earn no royalties from sales of the book.

The 3ds max package includes copious documentation, including reference material and tutorials, but the software itself is so vast and complex that users often need extra learning material. In 952 pages + DVD, this book supplies that in a generally helpful but sometimes uneven fashion. The first part comprises five brief chapters that cover new features in the interface, modeling, texturing, animation, and rendering. As with previous books in the series, in a few cases Inside 3ds max 7 does little more than replicate what's in the program manual, but for the most part it augments the existing documentation in useful ways. For example, an early tutorial walks you through the new Walkthrough mode (FPS-style navigation) with the extra fillip of creating a camera animation as you go, and even gives you tips on tweaking the animation when you're done.

The What's New in Modeling chapter does a decent job of covering its territory, with the notable exception of the Edit Poly modifier. This major new feature with its unique animation capabilities deserves more than a few short paragraphs, plus a superfluous note that, as its author admits, applies equally to the venerable Edit Mesh modifier. Similarly, a short tutorial on the Projection modifier shows, rather pointlessly, how to use it to project texture coordinates from one plane to another plane. More useful is another tutorial that demonstrates the significant new normal mapping feature. Again, the "What's New …" chapters are introductory in nature, so one can't expect much depth there.

One of the most powerful features in 3ds max is its scriptability: the ability to write a few lines of code to automate tasks that might otherwise require tedious, repetitive, manual interaction. Despite its potential, scripting is something that most users, including yours truly, avoid like the plague. Let's face it: MaxScript just isn't as sexy as the rest of the program. So, anomalous though it might seem, it's entirely appropriate that the book proper starts off with a chapter on scripting. Author Jon Seagull shows the reader how to write a script to turn off all lights, including an informative false start with correction, and even contributes some useful general-programming tips, such as the use of pseudocode for outlining scripts. You won't master MaxScript with this one chapter, but it's a great start.

The remainder of the book runs the gamut of core 3ds max techniques. A chapter on precision modeling shows how to use the max grid to create an architectural model. The following chapter, on environmental modeling, demonstrates building a rocky exterior scene of the type you might find in a game. And of course, there's some excellent material on modeling your own characters, including 50 pages of tutorials on creating animals as well as human bodies and faces. Texture creation gets 60 pages, and the all-important topic of lighting gets 70, including some great comparative illustrations.

Most of the remainder of the book covers various animation techniques, including a comprehensive introduction to Particle Flow, the event-driven particle system first implemented in 3ds max 6. Particle Flow plays well with MaxScript, so it's nice that this section includes a bit of scripting, showing how to make lightning strike a biplane. Hats off to Sean Bonney; the Particle Flow chapter alone is practically worth the cost of admission. Rounding out the package are three chapters on rendering and compositing, the latter topic covered by old-timer Doug Barnard, writing about the sadly neglected Video Post utility.

No one book can be all things to all animators, but by covering such a range of ways to achieve your vision with 3ds max, this book serves as a practical introduction to newcomers and a valuable refresher course for longtime users of the program. Welcome back to the Inside … series; long may you render.



Book: The Art of Producing Games
Reviewed by Lucy Daggett

Computer and video games are primarily visual experiences, so it's fitting that Thomson Course Technology has published a lavishly color-illustrated volume on the topic. Written by David McCarthy, Ste Curran, and Simon Byron, The Art of Producing Games, a large-format $30 paperback, aims to analyze the full range of elements necessary to create games.

The book's introductory section looks at game design in the early days, and then in the 80s and 90s, followed by a few words and more pictures about game design in the 21st century. It concludes with a chart showing the modern game-design process based on the various roles involved, such producer, writer, artist, programmer, etc. The remaining four sections cover preproduction, production, postproduction, and business and finance. Each section includes chapters on the various processes required at these different stages, plus interviews with industry members involved in relevant professions.

The preproduction phase, as in filmmaking, primarily involves planning the game. For example, it's in this phase that you determine the type of game. An interesting sidebar here discusses the pros and cons of five types of design ideas: original concept, sequel (usually reserved by the team that created the original), licensed titles, simulations (such as a board game), and basing the design on the unique characteristics of a specific platform, such as the Internet or Sony's EyeToy.

A big part of preproduction is raising cash to develop your game, which usually involves pitching the project to a publisher. Most publishers want you to show you're prepared by providing them with a range of materials, including a sales sheet (concise summary of the game, requirements, etc.); design documents; an interactive demo; risk analysis with contingency plans; and, most important, cost forecasts, which should be realistic. According to interviewee Jeremy Chubb, a business development manager at EA's Partners division, the pitching process can take from three to 15 months, so you need lots of persistence and dedication.

The Production section of the book starts with a photo of a software package most people don't associate with videogames: Microsoft Project. Nonetheless, game production, especially for the producer, involves keeping track of a highly complex process, something that can't be done without dedicated software or the genius ability to keep everything in your head at once. It's in this section that we learn the details of the various roles involved: producer, designer, artist, programmer, and so on. An interview with Epic Games co-founder Tim Sweeney sheds light on the latter role; for instance, Sweeney states, "The most important … attribute of a programmer … is his ability to work … with a code base that is largely not any one person's creation." In other words, the age of the primadonna coder is over, as John Carmack learned with Doom 3. Sweeney also proffers the intriguing opinion that game programmers require both engineering and creative skills. The Production section also provides excellent coverage of level design, audio development, and game narrative.

After production comes postproduction, which involves fine tuning, localization (translation), and planning of sequels and expansions. Yannis Mallat, an executive producer at French developer/publisher Ubisoft, stresses the importance of good planning when creating original IP (intellectual property) in order to be confident of being able to spin off successful sequels. Finally comes marketing and PR, for which the authors make some suggestions, but largely advise leaving to professionals. According to Sony publicist David Wilson, good PR is mainly about raising awareness, but you already knew that, didn't you?

Despite the plethora of large, colorful game illustrations, this book contains a wealth of hard information for the budding game developer. If you're just embarking on a career in game-making, it's unlikely this book will tell you everything you need to get started. What it will do is provide you with a thorough overview of the industry and the various opportunities and rows to hoe, and, with its illustrations and interviews, lots of inspiration for creating your own games.




Bloglines Doubles Index Size

Ask Jeeves, Inc. announced last week that Bloglines (www.bloglines.com), a free online service for searching, subscribing, publishing and sharing news feeds, blogs, and rich Web content, has set a new standard among newsreaders: 500 million blog and news feed articles are now stored in the service's searchable database.

Bloglines' milestone reflects the meteoric rise in popularity of blogs as a new communication channel, the development of RSS-type technologies for content syndication, and the creation of user-friendly newsreaders to simplify the process of subscribing to blogs and news feeds of interest. Between January and June of this year, the size of the Bloglines index doubled. Each day Bloglines adds 2 to 2.7 million new blog and news feed articles to the database, drawn from a diverse range of sources in many languages, from blogs about knitting to major online newspaper feeds.



On2 Ships Video SDK for Nintendo DS, Announces Autodesk Deal

On2 Technologies last week unveiled its Nintendo DS Software Development Kit beta program which includes a beta version of the its soon-to-be- released video software developer kit (SDK) for game developers. Available now, the Nintendo DS SDK beta for the Nintendo DS platform lets game developers integrate video into Nintendo DS games, as well as for video-only implementations on the DS platform. The fully licensed version will be made available to developers later this summer.

On2 also signed an agreement with the Media and Entertainment division of Autodesk to license the former's Flash video encoding technology. As a result of this agreement, On2 tech can be used to enable upcoming new versions of Autodesk digital media products to publish video in emerging .FLV and .SWF formats, the Internet video formats supported by the Macromedia Flash player.



Toon Boom Concerto Reaches Finale

Toon Boom Animation has phased its Toon Boom Concerto software out of the market due to the superior toolset offered by Toon Boom Harmony, its animation software solution for digital productions. Building on Opus and Concerto's capabilities, Toon Boom Harmony includes more advanced features such as morphing, inverse kinematics and "glue." Harmony also includes a global template library that facilitates the reuse of assets, all set up in an integrated pipeline.

Toon Boom Harmony runs on Linux, PC and Mac.



Sega Releases Animanium 'Lite' Version

Sega Animanium, 3D character-animation software used by animation studios and videogame developers in Japan, is now available in both a full version and a newly released "lite" version.

USA Index Corporation, the U.S. subsidiary of Japan-based Index Corporation and licensee of Animanium, has released Animanium Express at SRP $99. Animanium Express offers most of the features of the full version of Sega Animanium, but is limited to no more than 180 frames and does not offer the automatic cleanup function.

USA Index Corporation is also offering a free trial version of Animanium, which can also be downloaded at the Animanium Web site.

Animanium is designed to reduce the cost and time involved with creating realistic human movement by replacing the need for motion capture technology and cutting time spent on programming. The software integrates with leading animation programs including 3ds max/ Character Studio and Maya.

USA Index Corporation is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Index Corporation (Jasdaq: 4835). Based in Japan, Index Corporation is a diversified company with products and services that reach into areas including mobile technology and content, broadband, fashion and lifestyle magazines, communication and entertainment technologies. Primary shareholders include Mitsubishi Corporation, NEC Corporation, and Dentsu Inc.



Maxon, Luxology Ready for Mac-Intel Move

Luxology, LLC, the creator of modo 3D-modeling software, announced last week modo's compatibility with Apple's new Intel processor-based Macs. modo's architecture will enable Luxology's customers to access the new technology as soon as it's released.

“We had a programmer working on this immediately following Apple's announcement and within 20 minutes modo was not only compiled as a universal binary but actually running on the Intel-based Macs,” said Brad Peebler, president of Luxology.

“modo was built as a mach-o application using XCode from the very first line of code,” said Matt Craig, senior engineer for Luxology.


Similarly, 3D software specialist Maxon Computer today also announced its support of the new Intel-based Apple Macintosh Generation.

Maxon CTO Harald Schneider stated, "Apple's announcement is good news for a cross-platform developer like MAXON. Since our products' source code is over 95% platform-independent, it can be ported quickly."

Cinema 4D has been leading a "secret double life" as an Xcode version for a while. To that end, the first internal Universal Binaries for Intel- and PowerPC-based Apple machines were already compiled in the company's labs.



GarageGames Expands

GarageGames recently expanded GarageGames Studios with development on Xbox 360 and the addition of BraveTree Productions to its development team. GarageGames, best known for its Torque Development Platform, has been expanding the GG Studios team to build more games for console and online downloadable casual games.

Members of the former BraveTree team have been added to the Xbox 360 development team. "Getting to focus just on creating games without the distractions of running an indie studio fulfills our original purpose in founding BraveTree," said Joe Maruschak, former creative director of BraveTree Productions and current GarageGames creative director. BraveTree Productions, the studio behind the indie title ThinkTanks, is a longtime partner of GarageGames.




Blizzard Entertainment Launches WoW Battlegrounds

Blizzard Entertainment last week released the first two player-vs.-player (PvP) Battlegrounds for World of Warcraft, its subscription-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Battlegrounds are PvP-enabled zones where players compete against each other to achieve victory, honor points, and in-game rewards. Each Battleground has different goals and gameplay styles, providing an addictively engaging experience for participants. The two initial Battlegrounds now available to the public are Alterac Valley, a high-end zone designed for large groups of experienced players, and Warsong Gulch, a more casual zone designed for players level 21 and up.

In Alterac Valley, two teams of 40 battle each other for all-out domination. The snowy zone, nestled high within the Alterac Mountains of Lordaeron, features a base for each faction, NPC defenders, PvP quests, and unique allied monsters. Players can spend hours executing carefully planned strategies in Alterac Valley, earning bonus Honor points by achieving key objectives along the way, and ultimately by winning the Battleground.

Victory in Warsong Gulch, situated on the border between Ashenvale Forest and the Barrens, likewise requires strategy and teamwork, but the pace of play is faster, with games lasting 45 minutes on average. In Warsong Gulch, two teams of 10 vie to capture each other's flag and return it to base while defending their own flag from capture. Three successful captures result in a win, with each capture conferring bonus Honor points.

The Honor points gained in both Warsong Gulch and Alterac Valley accumulate to help players advance in rank in World of Warcraft's Honor System. Designed as an alternate means of character advancement, the Honor System allows players to access increasingly powerful items as they move up through the ranks.




O'Reilly Conference to Cover Location Tech

Location-aware technologies combined with mapping and other data are poised to create a whole new class of Web apps and services. Hackers and researchers are mashing up Google maps with everything from Craigslist to Chicago crime stats. Automakers are incorporating restaurant addresses into their cars' navigational screens so drivers can spontaneously find sushi. Maps are becoming an interface, helping us to visualize and access other forms of data. Call centers, insurance agencies, transportation companies, and retailers are finding unconventional internal uses for location technologies too.

But where is location-based technology leading us in the larger sense? And while it's fertile ground for hackers and researchers now, where's the business model beef? Where 2.0, a new O'Reilly conference taking place June 29-30 in San Francisco, brings together the people, projects, and issues at the center of this technological frontier to debate and discuss what's viable now, and what's lurking just below the radar.

"Where 2.0 will make it obvious that Web developers are the new market for geospatial tech," observes conference co-chair Nathan Torkington. "Map systems, satellite imagery, and yellow page information are all being made available to Web hackers, with major corporate players in a race to offer the best platform to these developers. The GIS industry is watching very closely to see how this plays out."

Microsoft MapPoint general manager Stephen Lawler has joined the Where 2.0 speaker roster and will discuss Microsoft's mapping and location strategies, and tools for businesses, developers, and consumers. "The Where 2.0 conference is an excellent forum for the mapping community to discuss the future of mapping for businesses and consumers. Our goal is to continue to break down the barriers associated with location technology and offer a wide array of products and services that help people and businesses be more effective."

Other notable speakers and topics include:

Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! have joined Telcontar as conference sponsors, another indication of increased activity and interest in the location and mapping space. The conference's exhibit hall will showcase systems, tools, and services pouring into the location arena.

Where 2.0 also features the Where Fair, a science fair-style event that gives participants a first-hand look at a few of the intriguing location-aware technologies before they go mainstream. Fair-goers can discuss the ideas behind the demos with the creators, and learn how these unconventional new technologies can be adapted into existing business strategies. Where Fair projects are being drawn from research labs, academia, and yet-to-be-discovered entrepreneurs.

Conference co-chair Nathan Torkington of O'Reilly Media, Inc. and co-chair David Sonnen of iSpatial are building a conference program that allows participants to grasp both the current state of affairs and the far-reaching effects and implications around these transformational location-based technologies and services. Where 2.0 is an opportunity to meet the people behind the innovations and see projects that have the potential to transform how location information is viewed, interpreted, and delivered.


For an in-depth perspective about the current state and future potential of location technologies from Tim O'Reilly and Nathan Torkington, read a transcript from a recent press conference at: http://conferences.oreillynet.com/pub/w/39/transcript.html

Location- and geo-related blogs by Nathan Torkington: http://radar.oreilly.com/nat/

"Historical Maps Online" http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/network/2005/06/02/davidrumsey.html

"Hacking Election Maps with XML and MapServer" http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2005/05/31/electionmaps.html

"The Geospatial Web: A Call to Action" http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/network/2005/05/10/geospatialWeb.html

"Google Maps and BBC Backstage" http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2005/05/google_maps_and.html



About Spectrum

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/online-development tools and end product for review.

Send your interactive multimedia business, product, people, event, or technology news by email only to: spectrum1@broadviewnet.net.

If you contact companies or organizations mentioned here, please tell them you saw the news in Spectrum. Thanks.

Please send address changes (with old and new addresses), subscribe and unsubscribe requests etc. to the above address. If you use the Reply function, please do _not_ echo an entire issue of Spectrum with your message.

Publisher's note: We are now accepting limited advertising. If you'd like to offer your company's products or services to Spectrum's elite audience of Internet and multimedia professionals, send an email query to mailto: spectrum1@broadviewnet.net. - David Duberman


Spectrum founding editor: Doug Millison (www.Online-Journalist.com)


©Copyright 2005 Motion Blur Media. All rights reserved. No reproduction in any for-profit or revenue-generating venue in any form without written permission from the publisher.