23 June 2003
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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by David Duberman
What's in a landscape? To start with: sky, sun, and land and/or sea. These are the basic components of Dreamscape 2.0, the latest release from Sitni Sati, the Croatian developer that also makes the volumetric software Afterburn. Like the latter, Dreamscape functions as a plug-in to 3ds max. You might be able to replicate some of what it does in max by itself, but only with a great deal of trouble, and it probably won't look as realistic.
The Dreamscape atmospheric effect is the glue that holds together the disparate elements of this powerful landscape-generation software. That and a Dreamscape Sun object get you a realistic sky gradient: light at the horizon, and deep blue at the zenith (you can, of course, set the base color to anything you like). The Sun's position in the scene makes no difference, but the angle between it and its target is all-important. The vertical angle between the two determines the time of day: a low angle makes the sky look like sunrise or sunset; a medium angle gives a mid-morning or mid-afternoon effect, and a 90-degree angle looks like noon. If the direction is aimed roughly at the camera, you can see the sun in the sky (but don't stare!). This isn't overly intuitive, but once you play with it a bit you get the hang of it. Dreamscape offers a preview window with automatic update, but like max's ActiveShade preview, it doesn't respond to transformation of the scene contents; only parameters. Also, the preview window doesn't show the land or sea, so in many cases you still need to render to see the results of changes.
The most important of the Dreamscape parameters control how the software generates and represents the atmosphere. For example, as with Afterburn's volumetrics, you can control the number of steps the software takes through the atmosphere to determine how it will render; the more steps it takes, the more realistic the results, but the longer it takes to render. There's also a Realism setting that lets you choose whether the software should regard the "earth" as an infinite plane or a sphere, with or without reddening; the differences are most apparent when the sun is near the horizon. The Multiple Scattering option can give you brighter skies, and the Glow setting can be turned down to simulate high altitudes, or up to portray the lowlands. If the sun is behind the camera, a rainbow is an option, but it doesn't look very realistic. And if you're rendering a landscape, which should reflect skylight as well as sunlight, you'll want to turn on Render Daylight. Its controls include color, strength, and overcast.
What would a sky be without clouds? Boring, that's what, but fortunately Dreamscape gives you lots of options for adding clouds, from Stratus to Cirrus, heavy overcast to scattered buildups. The preview dialog comes in handy here; its second window shows the clouds and the camera POV; you can move the clouds by dragging in the window. You can add multiple cloud layers and animate their movement by setting keyframes for positions in the preview window. Other clouds settings include density, color and "thickness," and a random seed. Although the default clouds are two-dimensional, meant to be seen from a distance (i.e., the ground), they're very real looking. But if you need to fly through the clouds, you can opt for 3D versions, albeit at a significant cost in rendering time. Dreamscape also lets you produce localized clouds that are restricted to specific areas.
So much for a quick overview of the sky, but there's a good deal more to Dreamscape. For landscapes, you start with the special Terra object. It looks like a regular planar grid, but is actually a special procedural object designed to work within the Dreamscape system. You can, however, opt to have it work as regular geometry within max. You modify the Terra object using a nicely interactive editor, which lets you apply any max map for displacement. Dreamscape also comes with its own Noise and Terrain maps designed for creating realistic landscapes. The Terrain editor lets you paint elevation, slopes, and textures, which are all reflected in the viewports in real time. These painting options include graphics tablet support; a nice touch. Once you've set the overall shape, you can erode the landscape using such parameters as soil softness and sedimentation.
The other special Dreamscape object is Sea Surface, which gives you a wealth of options for simulating lakes, oceans, rivers, etc. Like Terra, it's a procedural-cum-mesh object, but because it's meant to move, it includes quite a few more parameters. First, you can set it to be a simple rectangular mesh, suitable for a lake, or an adaptive object, meant for use in seascapes that extend to the horizon. In the latter case, after you designate a camera, the software changes the Sea Surface outline to spread out as it gets farther away from the camera. Thus it fills the camera view, but doesn't exist outside the camera's scope, keeping calculations to a minimum. For waves, you can set wind speed, height scale, choppiness, and smoothness. You can also set wind direction, and, for looping animations, whether waves repeat.
The Foam settings include a Show In Viewport option, but it's not very accurate. However, the rendered foam effect is fairly realistic. The software creates foam based on how close together the water vertices are, so you need a certain amount of choppiness, but not too much or it looks fake. Other options with Sea Surface include a special Sea material with settings for reflection and refraction, a Sea bump map, and a Subsurface object useful for depicting shallow water. You can also apply the included daemons to the water: the Simple Waves daemon lets you add large, period swells to the motion of the water, and the Dynamics daemon lets you create interaction between the water and other scene objects such as boats.
Do you need Dreamscape? If you render only interior images, probably not. But if you need realistic outdoor renderings, it could help a lot. As with other highly specialized software, the learning curve is fairly steep, but if you practice, the rewards can be substantial. Sitni Sati has put a good deal of work into Dreamscape, with the result that it can save you lots of time over the long run, while keeping your clients happy.
A limited evaluation version is available at http://www.turbosquid.com/HTMLClient/FullPreview/FullPreview.cfm?ID=199843.
Mindseye Technology has officially launched its new Web-content management system, Mindseye Element. Available for JSP/Servlets, ASP, and ColdFusion MX, the extensible, open-framework, database-driven content-management tool reportedly lets content creators publish and schedule information such as articles, products, and press releases into a Website without the use of HTML. The object-oriented approach to content management lets users link related pieces of content together, allowing for cross-selling, targeted information delivery, and reuse of content.
Currently in beta from Microsoft is FrontPage 2003, with added support for a range of capabilities for building dynamic, Extensible Markup Language (XML)-based, data-driven Web sites. FrontPage 2003 will reportedly be the first commercially available, fully WYSIWYG Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation (XSLT) editor in which users can work with live data to create interactive and dynamic Web sites, streamlining the process of sharing information on the Web.
In the WYSIWYG editor, users can create XML data-driven Web sites connecting to XML files, Web services and OLE DB data sources. The software supports WYSIWYG tools for creating and editing XSLT data views, including support for styles, sorting, filtering, grouping and conditionally formatting data. Users can also connect multiple data sources and use the results of one database query to filter the data supplied by an XML Web service. All this work can be saved into a Web package, a new feature in FrontPage 2003. FrontPage will ship with a couple of prebuilt Web packages, including a Web log (blog) solution that can be set up with a couple of clicks.
New design features include layout tables to achieve precise layouts, dynamic Web templates to give users control of their site from one location, greater compatibility with widely used graphics formats and applications, and browser and resolution reconciliation to target specific browsers and screen sizes.
Coding tools include the new Split Screen view, which allows designers to see the code and the design view simultaneously; the Quick Tag Selector and Quick Tag Editor, which help developers select, edit and manipulate tags; Advanced Find and Replace, which uses complex rules to search the code sitewide at even the tag and attribute level; Behaviors, which provide built-in scripting; and IntelliSense technology, which uses the Visual Studio development system coding engine.
Beta 2 of Microsoft Office FrontPage 2003 is available as part of the Microsoft Office System. Customers that are interested in trying the Microsoft Office System can learn more and sign up to receive the beta at http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/frontpage/. The final release of the product will be out this summer; pricing TBD.
According to a 2001 Zona Research study, $25 billion in potential sales was lost online due to Web performance issues. The most frequent complaint in user surveys is "slow Web sites." A recent analysis of the top 10 news sites revealed an average of 145K for their home pages.
New from publisher New Riders and author Andy King of Web Site Optimization, LLC, is a book titled "Speed Up Your Site - Web Site Optimization". King reportedly shows how high-tech practitioners can speed up their Websites and push forward to universal usability.
The book is about designing "speedy" Web sites with techniques that:
Microsoft Corp. last week released three offerings for Web developers: an update to the Microsoft ASP.NET Web Matrix, the release of the ASP.NET Starter Kits, and a resource to find ASP.NET Web hosting companies.
One year ago, the ASP.NET Web Matrix, a lightweight, WYSIWYG application development tool for ASP.NET, was posted to the Web as a free download. The update brings to fruition much of the community's feedback into the product. ASP.NET Web Matrix is available for download at http://www.asp.net/Webmatrix/.
The update includes Microsoft Access database support, several design-time enhancements, and other new features suggested by the community. In addition to using Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and C#, developers can now build applications using J#.
The ASP.NET Starter Kits are five sample applications ranging in functionality from e-commerce storefronts and community portals to data reporting applications. Each sample application ships with documented source code.
With the beta cycle complete, Microsoft released the ASP.NET Starter Kits at http://www.asp.net/starterkits/. Enhancements have been made to the release version of all the kits, including several new features in the Community Starter Kit such as rich HTML content editing, cross-community content replication, and a more flexible content layout.
Web hosters provide services for developers who wish to deploy their applications on the Internet. Microsoft is working with Web hosters to provide ASP.NET hosting services that enable developers to deploy ASP.NET applications in reliable, scalable and secure environments. The listing of premier hosters can be found at http://www.asp.net/hosters/.
Microsoft also recently launched the MSDN ASP.NET Developer Center at http://msdn.microsoft.com/asp.net/, offering a central focus on MSDN for developers interested in ASP.NET.
Interactive Video Technologies, Inc. (IVT), a provider of e-communications software, last week announced version 2.0 of MediaPlatform, its flagship software application. Offered in both subscription ASP and enterprise software server models, MediaPlatform 2.0 is aimed at enterprise communicators and service providers who want simpler access to powerful multimedia solutions. The software reportedly lets enterprises with remote-communications needs create solutions that synchronize audio, video and other communication technologies.
Featuring a re-designed project management interface, the new release is said to let business users build a complete Webcast solution, from registration to application to post-event reporting, in as few as four clicks using the new wizard-driven project manager. Other enhanced features let users add timeline behaviors to template components on the fly, control the encoding process from a single dashboard control, verify registration, view statistics and automatically archive presentations for on-demand viewing.
esmertec ag, a developer of Java software and technologies for mass-market mobile multimedia phones and embedded devices, and In-Fusio, a mobile-games-service provider for operators in Europe and China, plan to standardize the latter's upcoming ExEn Java Extensions gaming engine on esmertec's MIDP2.0 Java virtual machine, Jbed ME.
ExEn Java Extensions will be MIDP2.0 compliant, but will add a series of APIs to optimize and add missing functionality for mobile game access integration. Specifically, the extensions will add a dedicated 3D component, advanced multi-player functionality, extended sound features, and Flash animation extensions. The engine is scheduled to be available by the end of 2003. The first handsets to support such capabilities will be delivered in early 2004.
McDonald Bradley, Inc. (MBI), an information-technology solutions provider to the government marketplace, claims that the projects it is working on for the Department of Defense are setting the stage for what will become the next generation of the Web. Chief scientist, advanced programs group Michael Daconta and principal software architect Kevin Smith explore the implications of these new, transformational technological concepts in a new book recently released by Wiley Publishing: The Semantic Web: A Guide to the Future of XML, Web Services, and Knowledge Management.
The "semantic" Web is the evolution of the current Web to make it usable by machines -- not just people. In order to accomplish this, it places reliance and importance on the meaning of words (called semantics), not simply the matching of words that occurs today when a user submits a query. By eliminating the reliance on word matches, and inserting structure to the information that is stored, the door opens for "machine-to-machine" use of Web. This machine processing requires the meaning of information to be formally and logically expressed to software programs.
The book introduces, explains and explores concepts invented by the authors like the "smart data continuum," "semantic levels," "non-contextual modeling", and "combinatorial experimentation," and how these concepts apply to today's business environment. Further, the book reveals the return-on-investment (ROI) for semantic Web initiatives and other aspects of the business case for adopting semantic Web technologies. Finally, it offers a roadmap to preparing for and implementing semantic Web technologies today.
New from Aladdin Systems is Internet Cleanup 1.0, a new $30 Macintosh (also for Windows) privacy tool said to block pop-ups and banner Ads and detect the presence of spyware on the computer. It removes cookies, history files and Internet clutter that can be traced and allows for the permanent deletion of any file or folder. Internet Cleanup works with all popular Macintosh browsers including Safari and Internet Explorer.
Viewpoint Corporation, a provider of interactive media technology and services, announces the immediate availability of its video capability, Viewpoint Video. Viewpoint says its Media Player can now interactively composite video content with other media types such as 3D, Macromedia Flash, and HTML.
The player automatically detects the user's bandwidth and adjusts the stream. Video can becomes interactive by including Flash menus, 3D objects, text, links, and data capture, all in conjunction with any video content. Video can be added as a layer, background, or foreground, and multiple video clips can be played simultaneously.
The Independent Games Festival (IGF) is now accepting submissions for its 6th annual event. The submission deadline for the IGF Competition is September 1 and Student Showcase submissions are due November 14. The festival honors innovative video games created by independent game developers and students.
More than $20,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to competition winners. 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 Seumas McNally Grand Prize for Independent Game of the Year and the Audience Award.
The IGF takes place annually during the Game Developers Conference (GDC), scheduled for March 24-26, 2004 in San Jose, Calif. The GDC is the largest gathering of video game developers worldwide.
Paraglyph Press's new book on game development, Game Coding Complete by Mike McShaffry (ISBN 1-932111-75-1, 600 pages, $39.99), covers the booming world of game development from the perspective of a master programmer and developer.
Author Mike McShaffry has developed computer games with such companies as Origin Systems (Ultima series, Wing Commander) and Microsoft (Bicycle Casino). In the book, he leads the reader through the hurdles encountered while developing interactive games. The nuts-and-bolts book explains coding practices that all game developers must master, and includes of tips and code samples, plus narration of non-code issues such as working with teams, selecting the right game architecture, testing and debugging, schedule management, and more.
The book includes a foreword by game designer Warren Spector.
TrendWatch, a market-analysis company for the graphics, visual effects, and broadcast/cable markets, recently issued a new report covering video, Web and film media formats used by U.S. studios and broadcasters. The report, "Media in Transition: Format Wars of the 21st Century," is based on original research and contains the TrendWatch media format outlook for 2003 and beyond.
The 96-page report details and analyzes digital and analog video, Web/interactive media, and film media formats used by U.S. visual effects/dynamic media and broadcast/cable markets, including: production companies, broadcast studios, corporate film & video companies, animation/fx studios, postproduction studios/facilities, recording/mixing studios, Web/interactive media companies, film editing/titling services, broadcast stations, cable systems and broadcast/cable networks.
TrendWatch experts analyze media format survey results and discuss and predict which formats will survive today's media format wars with specific conclusions and recommendations for each of the segments/markets covered in this report. Formats covered in the report include:
The $975 report is available in electronic downloadable Acrobat PDF format.
We're Here and Electric Rain, Inc. recently relaunched were-here.com, a professional resource community Web site for designers and developers, with emphasis on Macromedia Flash technologies. Known for years as a Flash-designer community site, were-here.com has expanded its collection of design and development forums and resources to cater to the growing uses of Macromedia Flash, Web applications and multimedia.
The site is also working with Flash developers to showcase applications. For example, the front page features a Flash-made Mini-Blog Reader application, courtesy of Hollowcube.com, allowing visitors to read the first thread of popular blogs without having to leave the We're Here site.
Autodesk division Discreet and Criterion Software, maker of RenderWare middleware technology, say they will develop, deliver, and promote solutions designed to improve the current and future game-development pipeline between Discreet's 3ds max modeling, animation and rendering solution and Criterion's RenderWare software. Under partnership terms, the companies will collaborate on integrating the 3D content-creation process with "on-target viewing" capabilities, allowing game developers to preview content on multiple game console platforms.
The joint initiative is being delivered as a response to game developers' and publishers' increased need for to deliver console and PC titles to market faster. In addition, it will reportedly help enable them to repurpose existing game assets to maximize the opportunities presented by the emerging mobile gaming market platforms, like Nokia's N-Gage.
ParallelGraphics, a developer of 3D-based graphical data-management solutions, recently signed a development contract with The Boeing Company to provide its Virtual Manual Enterprise Platform solution for the company's Commercial Aviation Services Division.
The Virtual Manual Enterprise Platform is an open-standard solution designed to let manufacturing companies combine existing 3D CAD and PDM (Product Data Management) data with operating and procedural manuals to automatically generate Web-deliverable interactive 3D simulations.
The VM Enterprise Platform utilizes open-standards technology to extract both geometric and part-related metadata from CAD systems. This data is then combined with procedural information using the Virtual Manuals XML-based scripting language to produce 3D interactive simulations.
Just out from Vivendi Universal Games is sci-fi action shooter Mace Griffin Bounty Hunter for PlayStation2 and Xbox. Developed by U.K.-based Warthog Studios, the game will also be available for Windows and GameCube in early September.
Against a futuristic backdrop of corporate, religious and political intrigue, players take up the quest of Mace Griffin, once a valued member of an elite police force, The Rangers. Griffin becomes the unsuspecting pawn in a sabotaged incident that kills his comrades and disbands the Rangers, and earns him a 10-year stint behind bars. Emerging from prison hardened and bitter, he becomes a bounty hunter, a vocation that gives him access to classified information and a means to aggressively search for the people who set him up to fall. The character of Mace Griffin is voiced by Henry Rollins.
The game features Warthog's TUSK technology, said to let players transition seamlessly between space combat and FPS action. This tale of revenge and redemption unfolds through 11 levels, combining multiple mission objectives in a diverse array of environments. Throughout the game, players will be able to pilot a variety of different ships, from quick alien scout fighters to massive carriers. In first-person mode, players will have access to weapons with both primary and secondary attacks.
Sony Online Entertainment Inc. (SOE) last week announced Lost Dungeons of Norrath, a new expansion for the PC massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) EverQuest. This full-sized expansion will focus on the exploration of more than 40 dynamic dungeons, with the main emphasis being placed on single-group content. New technology and design ideas have been implemented that will allow players to work their way through dungeons individually tailored to the strength of their group. Lost Dungeons of Norrath will be available this fall in limited quantities at retail and as a secure digital download from SOE.
Blizzard Entertainment has begun shipping Rock N' Roll Racing for the Game Boy Advance under its Blizzard Classic Arcade label. One of the first games that Blizzard developed, the title puts players behind the wheel in a demolition-racing experience. Drivers choose from a variety of cars, each equipped with weaponry designed to help them outmaneuver and annihilate the competition in the most unrealistic racing game ever.
To beat the game, players will have to master five different, fully customizable cars and choose an alter ego who will tear up the interstellar racetrack. Players will be able to race on six different planets against the top demolition racers from across the galaxy -- all while cruising to a classic rocking soundtrack. With a link cable, players can go head-to-head against each other.
Square Enix U.S.A., Inc., last week released Unlimited Saga for PlayStation2. The gameplay features are the result of series creator Akitoshi Kawazu's goal to create a new gaming experience with each evolution of the game.
The story is uniquely told and experienced through the eyes of seven different playable characters, each with its own motivations for their journey. Their searches lead to confrontations with antagonists who are seeking the power of the "Seven Wonders," a group of structures shrouded in mystery. Legend has it that long absent gods lie within the Wonders and their release will trigger a rebirth of the "Golden Age." Destinies of the seven fated adventurers cross during the hustle and bustle of a festival.
Gameplay features include the "Free Scenario" and "Map Movement" systems, providing open-ended adventure and allowing players to focus on the core of the RPG experience: discovery and growth. The "Reel" battle system relies on a slot machine-like interface in which players stop several spinning reels that result in different actions. Throughout their quest, players must utilize both skill and strategy to defeat various enemies and advance their journey.
Also included are a unique character-development system, hand-illustrated visuals, and a new "Sketch Motion" animation system that conveys comic book/anime-like graphics. The game is neither 2D nor 3D; it is a new technique based on technology developed with Adobe Systems.
The Guerilla Studio at Siggraph 2003 is a working laboratory with the latest versions of popular 2D and 3D design software running on high-end workstations connected to the newest output technologies, including large-format printers and 3D rapid-prototyping systems.
Siggraph 2003, to be held 27-31 July at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California, will gather together nearly 25,000 computer graphics and interactive technology professionals from six continents for a technical program, three-day exhibition, and other activities focusing on research, art, animation, and interactive technologies.
"The Guerilla Studio is the only environment at SIGGRAPH 2003 where the content is created on-site by the attendees themselves," said Peter Braccio, chair of The Guerilla Studio from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. "Artists, scientists, and engineers can walk into The Guerilla Studio and realize their creations in either 2D (on paper or canvas) or 3D (in wax or plastic) right in the lab."
3D output devices called rapid prototyping machines will be available in The Guerilla Studio. Rapid prototyping was primarily developed and used in aerospace, automotive, toy, and medical applications. It is now gaining wider acceptance in sculpting, architecture, jewelry, and other areas. Rapid prototyping can aid development of animation models to proof the general concept of the character and to help in the development of a toy from the model.
The Guerilla Studio also offers a chance to combine traditional media with digital output. Attendees are encouraged to work with artists in residence Helen Golden, Lyn Bishop, Kimberly Voigt, and Michelle Marcuse to broaden their repertoire along avenues that they may not have realized existed. The encaustic process, pre and post coating of paper, and bridging the space between 2D and 3D through various means will all be explored.
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- David Duberman
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