19 June 2000
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Webdav.org (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) and the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) last week introduced an add-on to the Apache HTTP Server said to improve users' control of information on the Web. mod_dav adds WebDAV capabilities to the Apache HTTP Server, an open-source software product.
"The introduction of mod_dav version 1.0 is a significant step toward the WebDAV vision of a collaborative, writable Web. Today, Web browsing is primarily done in a read-only manner. This was not the original conception of the Web in early 1990, which could both read and write in the editor/browser. By providing a full-featured, standards-compliant, open-source implementation of the WebDAV protocol, I am hopeful many more communities will be able to use it and reap the benefits of remote collaboration," said Greg Stein, author of mod_dav version 1.0.
Users can control information remotely and collaboratively, using interoperable tools that employ metadata and version control.
Coming in July from Chant Inc., a developer of speech-technology tools for software developers and Webmasters, is a new version of its component software that enables Web sites and applications to speak and respond to voice.
The components, known as SpeechKit, allow the addition of speech recognition and speech synthesis (text-to-speech) capabilities to software programs and Web pages. This reportedly lets the user talk with software programs and Web sites to fill out forms, query databases, enter transactions, navigate pages, ask questions and get responses without having to use a computer mouse or keyboard.
SpeechKit components are built upon Microsoft's Speech API (SAPI) and IBM Speech Manager API (SMAPI). Users who have speech technology installed from vendors such as Dragon Systems, IBM, Lernout & Hauspie and Microsoft, can use this technology to interact with applications and Web pages through SpeechKit. For users who do not have any speech technology installed, Chant provides recognizers and synthesizers to support voice-driven and text-to-speech functions.
SpeechKit handles the low-level processing with the speech engines and operating system, thus eliminating the need for in-depth understanding of how speech technology works and the need to intertwine this low-level code within the application business logic.
Just out from IBM is HotMedia 3.0, its rich media solution for e-business. HotMedia now incorporates streaming video and 3D imaging that enables customers to present products and services with interactive and "visually stimulating" effects.
Based on Java technology with a single file output, HotMedia incorporates streaming video and audio, 3D imaging, synchronized audio, panoramas, multi-track animations and more in one authoring environment, requiring no special servers or plug ins and is available at no charge.
Additionally, it includes transactional capabilities allowing users to initiate transactions within the HotMedia object. Customers can stay on a Web site without having to go to another page to close a transaction.
The HotMedia player is broken into tiny applets (typically 10 Kbytes in size) that are delivered to the user on an as-needed basis. This patented "Smart Content" technology requires no plug-ins or special server requirements, eliminating the most significant drawbacks to the adoption of rich media. The new 3D functionality in HotMedia 3.0 supports Virtual Reality Modeling Language 2.0 (VRML), a standard that represents 3D objects, giving customers a true interactive 3D experience.
HotMedia 3.0 is available for users to author on both Windows and Mac platforms. The resulting HotMedia objects can be viewed with any Java-enabled browser. More information on HotMedia 3.0 and free download at http://www.ibm.com/hotmedia.
Coming soon from SoftQuad Software, Ltd. is XMetaL 2.0 ($495), a major upgrade to its XML content-creation software. Key features to the upgrade include "well formed" editing, a new Structure view, support for more advanced XML constructs and expanded customization options.
XMetaL 2.0 features built in access to script engines and a Script Editor that supports code coloring and "pretty printing." Its Forms Editor facilitates the creation of custom dialog boxes to bring windows dialogs and behaviors into the document interface. It supports inline ActiveX controls and features an extended object interface that allows embedded ActiveX controls to be hosted within a Resource Manager tab. It also supports advanced XML constructs like internal subsets, parsing external entities, the DOM, OASIS catalogs, and UTF-16 (Unicode) encoding.
With regard to XML authoring, it supports well-formed editing, so users can open and edit documents without associated DTD and work with document fragments. As well, XMetaL 2.0's new Structure View provides a quick way to navigate and edit documents.
Ganymede Test & Measurement's newly released Wave Corrector v1.24 a WYSIWYG waveform corrector designed to automatically remove clicks, ticks and plops from recordings of vinyl records. It provides a graphical overlay of the corrected and uncorrected waveforms and allows interactive editing and auditioning of corrections. Corrections can also be manually inserted and deleted. It also divides LP files into separate CD track files.
Clickmarks says its Web personalization service can make any content in a user's customized Web "habitat" available to that user's wireless device -- whether or not the content has been engineered to interface with wireless applications.
The company's programmable "pull" technology lets end users drag-and-drop links to content from Web sites, email accounts, online financial and travel services, and other Internet resources to create their own one-stop start pages or habitats.
Clickmarks then automatically translates this content into wireless-compliant form, enabling users to access it from their wireless devices, including information that may not have been configured by the Internet or intranet sites to reach wireless users. Since less than 1% of the Internet has been WAP-enabled, this is said to represent a significant advantage for users accessing the Web through wireless devices. The service is currently available for users of Palm III, V or VII computing devices, Windows CE devices, or any WAP or HDML-enabled phone.
Newly available from iHarvest Corporation is its second-generation Web information management application, called iHarvest. With the new iHarvest online application, members can save and organize Web content, and access it anytime, anywhere. Users can save partial or entire Web pages, or Web links; annotate pages and highlight important sections; import IE Favorites; and search the harvested content.
Using iHarvest, members can save all their bookmarks, Web pages, and a variety of Web content, including Macromedia Shockwave and Flash files. Their information is accessible on any computer with an Internet connection, and it's all just one click away through the "My Harvest" and "Harvest It" buttons on the integrated iHarvest toolbar.
Timecruiser Computing Corporation, a developer of Internet-based applications for the educational community, this week launches its K-12 portal, SchoolCruiser.com, at The National Education Computing Conference (NECC).
SchoolCruiser is a secure, user-centric Web-based service designed to meet the needs of K-12 communities. It's designed to let students, teachers and administrators share information about classes, school activities and class scheduling and also collaborate on school projects. System administrators benefit from a reduction of software and maintenance costs.
Just out from NewTek is the 6.0b update to LightWave , which boosts render speeds and offers a plethora of other improvements to the 3D animation software. The 6.0b update is the current shipping version of LightWave , and users who have already purchased LightWave  can upgrade via free download at http://www.lightwave6.com.
The new features of the 6.0b version of LightWave  include the following highlights:
A complete listing of new features and optimizations is available as a downloadable document from the http://www.newtek.com site.
Rainbow Studios is using Impulse's Illusion in the creation of visual effects for games and commercial projects such as Sony Family Entertainment's Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles. Illusion is 2D special-effects software for use with 3D animation software programs such as 3D Studio MAX, LightWave, Imagine and others.
Rainbow Studios, one of three production studios involved in the creation of multiple episodes of Starship Troopers, used Illusion in conjunction with LightWave 3D to create visual effects for the cartoon series. In episode 124, for example, Rainbow created shots such as explosive geysers, avalanches, and other effects involving ice, vapor, fire, and smoke using Illusion technology.
Illusion's features include:
Just out from StageTools is its $199 MovingPicture pan and zoom application, a plug-in for Adobe Premiere and other nonlinear editors.
MovingPicture is a tool for documentary and industrial filmmakers to pan and zoom on high-resolution images. Rather than using expensive and bulky motion-control rigs to create pans and zooms on stills, it uses digital images on a desktop PC. This is done directly from the timeline of the nonlinear editor.
MovingPicture uses an animation-stand metaphor, where a virtual camera viewfinder is positioned over the digital image in real time. A series of "key frames" can be set, each one specifying what the camera will see at some point in time. The program will smoothly flow from one key frame to the next in real time.
MovingPicture is Windows 95/98/NT based, although an Apple Macintosh version for Avid and Premiere editors will be available this fall. Plug-ins are available for Premiere, dpsVelocity, RexEdit, Speed Razor and After Effects (to support Discreet Logic’s edit* NLE).A fully functional evaluation copy can be downloaded from http://www.stagetools.com.
A handsome new website called Zoorender.com supplies these resources:
NxView Technologies new, free NxView Player 4.0 lets users view and manipulate 3D objects - such as electronics equipment, automobiles, machinery, furniture, etc. - within a virtual showroom environment by changing their position, examining them from all angles, zooming in on details, trying out features, and adjusting lighting and object colors and textures.
Enhancements to the browser plug-in include:
Vianet Technologies last week launched its pure wavelet codec for Internet-based video compression. The proprietary advanced codec reportedly enables increased control and interactivity for streaming video applications delivered by service and content providers, eliminating the boundaries associated with the standard broadband video delivery technologies in use today.
Vianet says its pure wavelet codec offers three major benefits for streaming video applications currently unavailable through standard video compression and streaming technologies: scalable bandwidth, image clarification and video power zooming. The company further claims that, because pure wavelet processes video in a more efficient manner than current standard video formats, the new compression codec streamlines the delivery challenges faced by the service provider and improves user experience.
Vianet will make the packaged pure wavelet codec available for use by service and content providers in early August 2000. Power zooming for pure wavelet will be available in 4Q 2000.
EON Reality, Inc., a developer of PC-based 3D interactive software, last week released a new product suite EON Server. The modular server-based software is designed for distribution of EON 3D content over the Web as well as managing large 3D product repositories. The first module in this product suite, EON Dynamic Load, is now available. Dynamic Load allows for dynamically loading and unloading of EON objects over the Internet into a 3D environment such as a showroom.
The virtual products are located in a repository of objects on a Web server. An EON object can contain all aspects of EON features including 3D models, behavior, textures, interactivity, audio, video etc. Dynamic Load takes advantage of existing features within EON Studio that allows for compact file size and fast distribution.
Visit http://www.eonreality.com/products/index_server.html for a live demo where you can browse through a furniture showroom.
The Summer 2001 issue of Convergence (vol. 7, no. 2) will be devoted to the theme of "Intelligent Environments."
The development of digital techniques for computation and communication has had a profound impact on contemporary culture. Desktop portable and handheld devices and the networks that interconnect them have altered the way that work and communication is undertaken. Much effort has been expended in theorizing the nature of these changes and the interfaces that are required by and for them.
At the same time, a quiet revolution has been underway. The number and the distribution of embedded controllers far exceeds those of dedicated information processing machines. These devices are beginning to alter the nature of the fabric from which environments are constructed as well as the behaviors that are exhibited by them. Objects and environments with embedded sensor-effector and processing capabilities are becoming commonplace. Adaptive, interactive and autonomous material systems suggest that the relationship between humans and material culture is undergoing a fundamental shift. Discourses drawn from architectural/environmental and media theory are not significantly adapted to this new condition. Critical design practice, in these terms, is not yet well established.
Submissions are solicited relating to the cultural and cognitive dimensions of interactions with intelligent environments from both the theoretical perspective and that of technical, artistic and cultural practices and products. Research papers may include a range of related issues, such as cooperative buildings or environments, intelligent rooms, structures, or objects, interfaces to situated and embodied media, interaction with and interfaces to distributed systems, human-machine, human-environment and human-agent interaction, especially that which does not depend upon symbolic, representational or linguistic interfaces. "Intelligent Environments" will promote a critical understanding of the issues that surround the relationship between humans and adaptive, interactive intelligent and autonomous environments.
Copy deadline for refereed research articles: 30 Sept 2000. All proposals, inquiries and submissions for this special issue to:
Assistant Professor of Architecture
Director of Information Technology
206C Vol Walker Hall
School of Architecture
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Tel: + 1 501-575-7102
Fax: +1 501-575-7099
The past couple of months have provided an embarrassment of riches for fans of console-based RPGs, particularly on Sony PlayStation. Representing the evolutionary pinnacle of the genre, recent titles like Alundra 2, Wild Arms 2, and Vagrant Story never cease to amaze with their depth of story, innovative gameplay, and advanced graphics. Now we have The Legend of Dragoon, a four-disc monster of a game just out from SCEA.
The multifaceted story, more comprehensible in LoD than in many such games, involves a quest for revenge, a brother-sister relationship evolving into a love story, a noble king cheated of his rule, a mysterious, platinum-haired swordsman, a lost race of flying humanoids, and lots more. Characters are often rendered (figuratively) in subtle shades of gray rather than black-and-white, a refreshing change. And there's just enough dialog to keep you interested without getting in the way of the action.
It all takes place in a variety of environments ranging from a dragon's nest to an elaborate prison, and, of course, several towns where characters regroup and stock up. In at least one case, a second visit to a location opens new areas that extend its scope. The graphics follow the trend set by the two most recent Final Fantasy titles, with nicely animated polygon characters superimposed over great-looking pre-rendered backgrounds.
LoD's gameplay doesn't break a whole lot of new ground, but it's varied and novel enough to provide an extremely satisfying gaming experience. Like Vagrant Story, combat is turn based, but involves a real-time aspect in that carefully timed button presses during an attack enhance its power. Visual cues for timing are provided by onscreen animations of an inward-spiraling square or a rotating watch hand, but even so, it's no hat trick. Also, you can increase the effect of some item-based attacks by pressing a button rapidly, reminiscent of any number of '80s video games. Icon-based visual cues helpfully indicate exit points while traveling and remaining enemy strength during battles.
The game's title comes from characters' ability, as the game progresses, to transform themselves into dragoons, aka dragon knights. In this form, which doesn't last long, they can ply stronger attacks and use special magic powers. A game setting lets you minimize the transformation time, but not the special effects for the dragoon attacks and magic. These are impressive at first, but quickly grow tiresome through repetition. The only other quibble I had was limiting the entire group to a total of 32 non-weapon/armor inventory items, which leads to some tough choices about what to keep and what to discard. Other, more enjoyable, gameplay elements involve the customary puzzles, which are clever enough but not overly difficult, and several challenging mini-games.
According to the press release, Legend of Dragoon took over three years and 100 people to create, and provides 80 hours of gameplay. At a typical street price of $40, this means you pay about 50 cents an hour for a unique and thrilling experience that's better in many ways than much of the fare offered on TV and in movie theaters, and interactive to boot. I'd say that's a pretty good deal.
Activision is giving PC-based RPG specialist Interplay a run for the money with its new title Vampire: The Masquerade-Redemption. The game, developed by Nihilistic Software, is based on the White Wolf role-playing system. In the game, the player survives as a vampire over a span of 800 years. It features four 3D gothic cities set both in the dark ages and modern times, a party-based, role-playing system, a complex storyline and a faithful online re-creation of the paper-based version.
Eidos Interactive announced last week that Deus Ex has gone Gold and will begin shipping to stores later this week.
It's the new millennium. Civilization is near collapse. The world economy is in chaos. The middle class no longer exists. Deadly viruses have ravaged the earth's population. Terrorism runs rampant. Out of this maelstrom of violence and suffering an ancient conspiracy bent on world domination emerges from the shadows of legend. The conspirators' greatest strength? No one believes they exist. No one but you. Travel the globe as you develop your skills and build your network of allies. Employ stealth, strategy or action. But trust no one. Even your allies may be more than they seem.
Deus Ex is set in a simulated world of reportedly unparalleled interactivity, engineered to react logically to the player's every action. But remember, in this world, the decisions and consequences are yours. Deus Ex combines the best elements of role-playing, action, adventure and 1st person shooters in a blend of real world conspiracies, cliffhangers and plot twists.
Developed by Ion Storm's Austin, Texas development office, Deus Ex features the software design talents of Warren Spector, co-producer of such hits as Ultima VI and Wing Commander 1. Warren went on to produce the Ultima Underworld series, Ultima VII, Part 2: Serpent Isle, System Shock, Wings of Glory and many more.
A downloadable trial version of Microsoft's StarLancer, the futuristic space combat game developed by Erin and Chris Roberts, is newly available on the game's official site at http://www.microsoft.com/games/starlancer/. The trial version contains two never-before-seen missions and its own unique carrier ship, the Yamato. These missions are actually the prequel to the retail version of the game, revealing the events that led to the transfer of Commander Enriquez to the Reliant and her subsequent command of the rag-tag 45th Volunteer Squadron.
To highlight its tools' ability to produce online games with real-time interactive 3D graphics, Hypercosm has opened WayCoolGames.com (http://www.waycoolgames.com) -- an online games site offering more than 20 3D action games and sports simulations employing Hypercosm 3D technology. The site takes sly pokes at Macromedia's Shockwave, implying that its games download much faster. In fact, they sometimes do, but when we tried it, the Hypercosm player locked up our Win98 PC in short order (probably due to our display driver software). Of course, Macromedia is no slouch either when it comes to technical incompetence; we've yet to be able to install the latest Shockwave player, even with repeated "support" from the company's techs.
These 3D games can be played online using any Web browser. The Hypercosm 3D Player is available for Windows (95, 98, NT, 2000), MacOS, and the Linux operating system. Third party Websites are free to download and install these "WayCoolGames." Authoring software is also available at the site.
pogo.com, an Internet provider of "games for everyone," is providing its games service to Nokia.com and Club Nokia, Web sites of the maker of cellular phones. pogo.com's card, board, word, trivia, arcade, puzzle and casino games are available via Nokia's Games area through Nokia.com and Club Nokia. The two firms are collaborating on making the games available on mobile platforms.
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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