30 June 2003
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Editor's note: Spectrum will take a break next week for the Independence Day holiday. Have a spectacular Fourth, and we'll be back the following week.
Apple last week introduced Safari 1.0, based on KHTML from KDE's Konqueror open source project. Apple also released a software development kit that allows developers to embed the Safari HTML rendering engine directly into their applications.
Features include built-in Google search; SnapBack to instantly return to search results; a new way to name, organize and present bookmarks; tabbed browsing; and automatic "pop-up" ad blocking.
Today Electric Rain last week launched Flash Illuminations, an experimental showcase project designed to demonstrate the use of Flash MX and Swift 3D to create 3D applications. The new site, at http://www.swift3d.com/illuminations/, is intended to teach new users the power of adding 3D to Flash projects and inspire current users to take their 3D work into emerging arenas such as gaming, tours, education and e-commerce.
Swift 3D is a standalone application for designers to build and export 3D animations to the Flash (SWF) file format, as well as other major vector and raster formats. Flash Illuminations highlights new Swift 3D vector-rendering capabilities, photo-realistic raster rendering, SmartLayer Technology, and modeling and animation enhancements.
Electric Rain is providing free Flash MX and Swift 3D tutorials along with the downloadable source code (FLA files) for each of the four projects.
Other Swift 3D showcase sites include:
Swift 3D Extreme - http://www.swift3d.com/extreme
Swift 3D DevLab - http://devlab.swift3d.com
Tokyo Plastic - http://www.tokyoPlastic.com
2Advanced, Perspectives - http://www.2advanced.com/perspectives/
Second Story, A Chinese Home - http://www.pem.org/yinyutang/
Swift 3D User Showcase http://www.erain.com/community/examples/designer_showcase/
Just out from Anark Corporation is its Client 2 software for Mac OS X. Mac users can use it to view Anark content created with Anark Studio 2, the newest version of its multimedia authoring software. Available for download at on the Anark Website ( http://www.anark.com/developers/ ) the new client supports Apple's new Safari Web browser as well as Netscape and Mozilla browsers.
Anark Client 2 for Mac OS X is one of several enhancements included in the new Anark Studio 2, along with video export and the ability to save as a screensaver.
Anark Studio 2, priced at $995 USD, is slated for availability in Q3 of 2003.
Digital Element, an Oakland-based software developer and publishing firm specializing in art tools, last week released Aurora 2 for Photoshop ($179 and up). Features include:
Beginning users can use presets and the variation wizard to effects quickly. Advanced users can use over 120 controls for translucency and reflection colors, cloud shaping, cloud overtones, etc.
New features include moon with settings for a textured moon surface and moon phases, as well as 3D shapeable "puffy" Nimbus clouds, and underwater scenes. The improved user interface includes zoom, preview, and graphic UI for sun and moon placement, and improved cloud placement.
Other features include scene variation, which lets users vary individual elements randomly, and a fractal-generated 3D world that supports sky dome pictures, support for high resolutions such as 10,000 x 10,000 pixels, and contiguous panoramic views.
A limited demo and product information are available at http://www.digi-element.com.
Alias/Wavefront says it is exceeding business expectations for its Maya software product line since expanding into the volume software market in April 2002. Over the past 12 months, Alias/Wavefront has added many new customers including Lionhead in the United Kingdom, Sparx in France, and InterPlay and Pixel Magic in the United States.
Maya is a 3D software application used in industries ranging from special effects and film production, to game development, Web graphics development and design visualization.
Said Doug Walker, president, Alias/Wavefront, "Today, 65 percent of all Maya software licenses currently being sold are going to users who already own other 3D packages, but are adopting Maya. Twenty-five percent are being sold to existing customers and 10 percent are new entrants to the 3D market."
The campaign began with the launch of a limited, free, non-commercial version of Maya Complete, entitled Maya Personal Learning Edition. There have been almost half a million registrations of the Maya Personal Learning Edition since its launch in January 2002.
Alias/Wavefront also released over 20 new self-paced Learning Tools over the past year, aimed at teaching 3D concepts and techniques to beginner, intermediate and advanced users. The Learning Tools consist of books, CDs and DVDs, covering a variety of Maya and StudioTools topics.
Other recent highlights for Alias/Wavefront include receipt of an Academy Award as the company was recognized with an Oscar statuette, from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on March 1st of this year, for its development of Maya software. Since 1930, only 40 Scientific and Technical achievements have been recognized with this level of award -- Maya is the first 3D software package to be bestowed with an Oscar.
In May 2003, Maya 5 started shipping. For more information on Maya 5 along with a list of new features and functionality, visit: http://www.aliaswavefront.com/en/press/maya/releases.shtml
Other company milestones over the past 12 months include:
Just out from dvGarage is 3D Toolkit 2.5, a new 3D training product designed to bring 3D production to 2D artists. The $99 product includes four hours of video training, 28 tutorials and a full, working version of Electric Image Universe (3D Toolkit version), a 3D application.
"We believe 3D is really the next media frontier," explains Alex Lindsay, dvGarage founder and former member of Industrial Light and Magic's Rebel Unit.
The step-by-step tutorials walk beginners through the basics of 3D and introduce advanced users to the tools in Universe.
The 3D Toolkit is available for Mac OS9, OSX, and Windows 2000/XP.
Boulder, Colo.-based @Last Software last week released version 3.0 of its 3D program, SketchUp, which the company describes as "design software for anyone who loves to sketch on napkins."
New features include:
SketchUp for Windows and Macintosh OS X is available in English, French, German, Swedish, and Japanese versions.
Visit http://www.sketchup.com/ to download a free trial of SketchUp and to purchase ($495) or upgrade to 3.0 ($95).
Citing Intel's successful classification of integrated graphics parts based on "good enough" graphics for office computing, Dr. Jon Peddie of Jon Peddie Research, a Tiburon, Calif.-based multimedia and graphics market research firm, says there is a need to re-classify the PC in a way that will help consumers understand what kind of computer they are buying and what the capabilities of that computer are.
Peddie recommends that the PC industry create two classes of entry-level PCs: corporate entry-level PCs for business, and entry-level entertainment PCs (EEPCs) for gaming, DVD, video editing, and music. For gamers, the difference between the two means "good enough" for office computing or great for game play. Better yet, the step up to hot gameplay graphics and can cost the consumer as little as $50 more, a price most would be happy to pay to be sure and get a machine that matches their expectations
The confusion started when the PC industry established a "Value PC" segment comprising PCs that typically sell for less than $1,000 and use integrated graphics parts to keep the manufacturing cost down. These parts are either integrated graphics controllers (IGCs) or integrated graphics processors (IGPs), an entirely new category of chipset. The integrated graphics controllers (IGCs) offered by Intel, VIA and XGI (formerly SIS) cannot run newer Microsoft DirectX8 level graphics-rich games and other multimedia applications. The new category of high performance integrated parts using integrated graphics processors (IGPs), on the other hand, can run applications based on DirectX8.
But pity the consumer who enters a retail outlet, sees an active demo of a high-end PC running a fantastic game or multimedia applications such as a DVD movie, music mixing, photo editing, etc. but recoils at the system price – typically $1,500. Not wanting to lose a sale, eager salespeople direct the buyer to a lower-priced value PC but neglect to reveal that those low-end machines with an IGC are not designed to play the kind of games or multimedia applications that consumer saw demonstrated on the high-end system. Many times the salesperson isn't aware of the difference either. But, once consumers bring the IGC-based system home, they're liable to be frustrated and typically the retail outlet typically has to take back the system from the disappointed customer. The solution is to define the Value PC segment as containing chipsets designed for the corporate user or for entertainment applications.
Peddie says that by creating these new classifications, IGP suppliers such as ATI and Nvidia will get a higher ASP (average selling price), the box builders get more, and the retailer gets more. And best of all, the consumer's expectations are met by an affordable system designed to play today's and tomorrow's games.
Southern Methodist University (SMU) has selected Discreet 3ds max modeling, animation and rendering software as the primary 3D software package by for its new "Guildhall" program, reportedly the first game-development-education program in North America to be launched by a research university and developed with industry professionals. The Guildhall is a joint initiative between academia and the game industry to create an "experiential" learning environment for students aspiring to create the next top-selling 3D game titles.
SMU will install up to 100 seats of 3ds max in its facility in Dallas, Texas, over the next six months. The certificate program in digital game development is an 18-month (six-term) curriculum designed for digital game development. At the completion of the program, graduates receive a certificate with a specialization in art creation, level design, or software development.
Just out from Sony Computer Entertainment America is Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits for PlayStation2. The fantasy role-playing game (RPG) unfolds thousands of years after the last installment in the series with a new storyline, a turn-based battle system, and a variety of new characters with unique abilities.
Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits introduces gamers to a world of betrayal and self-destruction with strategic combat and quests. The game, with a reported 60+ hours of gameplay, lets players join brothers Darc and Kharg on their journey to capture the Great Spirit Stones and restore peace to a chaotic world. Utilizing 14 playable characters, each with special abilities, weapons and combination attacks, players will engage in tactical fighting sequences.
Underdog publisher GarageGames has begun shipping the company's first two titles, Gadgets (formerly Chain Reaction) and Marble Blaster, to retailers throughout North America. The Windows versions of the games are being published and distributed by eGames through a licensing agreement with GarageGames.
"GarageGames' core business model is to publish independent games online and build community behind them," said Jay Moore, company evangelist.
Marble Blaster is an arcade-style action game in which players race against time as they navigate their marbles through moving platforms and dangerous hazards, collecting treasure along the way.
Gadgets is a 3D puzzle game where players create contraptions to solve each level. The objective of each contraption is to blast Monster onto his landing pad.
Midway's Sports Asylum action-sports brand recently released Freestyle MetalX, a freestyle motocross game for PlayStation2, with Xbox and GameCube versions to follow. Features include a stunt system, expansive worlds, eight levels and multiple sub-games, plus side events where players can earn money in career mode by executing maneuvers such as Bus Jumping, Wall of Death, Longest Wheelie, and more.
In addition, Freestyle MetalX is customizable, allowing gamers to choose from 16 riders, options of motocross gear and bike models. Gamers can create their own motocross arenas with a level editor and take on sub-games like riding off a cliff and turning into a human dart aimed at a giant dartboard.
New from Activision is Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix for Xbox. Developed by Gratuitous Games based on the original from Raven Software, the game places players into the role of John Mullins, a Special Forces officer and military consultant working for a secret anti-terrorist agency known as "The Shop." Gamers engage in firefights throughout 55 missions located in hotspots such as the deep jungles of Columbia, the frozen wastelands of Kamchatka and the streets of Hong Kong. Missions include a range of objectives from stealth infiltration and intelligence gathering, to search and destroy - each granting players access to 25 real-world weapons including the MK 23 US SOCOM, M4 with M203 grenade launcher, MSG90A1 military sniper rifle, MM-1 40mm grenade launcher and OICW next generation weapon system.
In addition to the intense single-player campaign, the title includes multi-player action via System Link and Xbox Live support. Gamers can choose from 20 multi-player maps and six game types, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Demolition, Infiltration, Elimination and Capture The Flag against up to 12 players. New to the Xbox, Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix also includes a random mission generator for both single and multi-player modes.
Coming in Q4 '03 from Vivendi Universal Games is Metal Arms: Glitch in the System for PlayStation2, previously announced for Xbox and GameCube.
The third-person shooter takes place on a distant planet inhabited exclusively by robots. Glitch, the game's hero, must save the inhabitants of Iron Star from the clutches of General Corrosive and his minions. As his adventure unfolds, players will explore regions of the robot planet, drive an array of vehicles, solve puzzles, learn to possess enemy 'bots and gain weapon upgrades to ensure the survival of the Droid Race.
Developed by Swingin Ape Studios, the game combines action, several varied gameplay types, and a unique robotic look. The publisher also promises witty writing and story elements courtesy of a team of television and cartoon series writers.
Just out from publisher Agetec Inc. is Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color for PlayStation2. The 3D adventure game features a graphics tool that lets players draw and animate their own cast of characters. These characters are interactive within the game and become integral parts of the player's success in completing the adventure.
The player takes on the role of a "Doodler" who befriends two children, Zoe and her brother Taro, who are searching for their father. As a Doodler, the player is granted the ability to draw characters (called Doodles) in a sketchbook that stores them until they are needed in arena matches. Along the way, the player collects new parts and colors for the sketchbook that enables him to draw larger, more complex Doodles. In the arena matches, the townspeople try their luck against all comers. Winners of the matches are awarded with new colors and/or parts to add to their existing characters or to create new Doodles.
Interplay and BattleBorne Entertainment last week announced their collaboration on the development and distribution of Airborne: Liberation, a third-person action-combat game for current-generation consoles set in the battlefields of World War II.
The game transports the player to the European theater of operations during World War II as allied airborne forces prepare for the invasion of Hitler's "Fortress Europe" on June 6, 1944. Assuming the role of Pvt Patrick Harper, the player is dropped into Normandy in the pre-dawn hours of the D-Day invasion to fight his way through war-torn Europe from D-Day, to Market Garden, the siege of Bastogne, and the final assault into Hitler's Germany. The player can choose to fight as a member of the 101st "Screaming Eagles" Division, the 82nd Airborne, or the British Red Devils.
Utilizing both individual player- and squad-based combat, the game's features include detailed environments, special-effects visual and sound effects, and authentic uniforms, weapons, vehicles and environments. Two-player coop allows a player to fight side-by-side with a friend on the same screen.
Mythic Entertainment, developer and publisher of Dark Age of Camelot, last week released Dark Age of Camelot: Foundations, a downloadable free expansion that adds player and guild housing to the massively multiplayer online role-playing game.
Players and guilds can pick the neighborhood they want to live in, choose a lot, and then select a house style that fits their taste - and budget. They then can decorate, and redecorate, the house's interior and exterior.
Also, the outside garden and yard of houses can be decorated by the player. Objects available for decoration include hedges, flower gardens and stone walls for the garden; and pictures, torches, stuffed animals and furniture for the interior.
Other new features let players use their homes as private, outdoor markets to sell items to other players by hiring a "consignment merchant" to stand outside their house and hawk their wares, even when the player is offline. Also, crafters can open their own home business by purchasing crafting tools to put in their house. Up to four storage vaults that store up to 100 items each can be placed in a house's basement; a tenfold increase of available storage space.
Initially, 36,000 housing lots will go up for auction on Mythic's U.S. servers. Lots will be sold through a reverse-auction process, which counters the first-come first-serve land grab problems of housing systems in other online games. The price of lots will initially be very high, but step down at steady increments until they reach a set minimum price or the lot is purchased. This process allows prices to fluctuate according to location and market demand.
Lots are grouped in a series of villages of about ten lots each, with paths connecting villages to one another. There are rivers, lakes, woods, and hills in the peaceful housing zones, which will lead to some lots - such as lakefronts - that will command higher prices than others.
Premier Press, a division of Thomson Corporation-owned Course Technology, a developer of computer-education products and services, will hold the third Xtreme Game Developers Xpo at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA, September 6-7, 2003.
The $299 technical conference lecture series consists of game-programming lectures and hands-on tutorials in C/C++ Game Programming, General Game Development Techniques, Microsoft's DirectX 9 and DirectX Game Programming, OpenGL Game Programming, Network Game Programming, 3D Game Programming, and Java Game Programming including Java3D. In addition, the event will have a small virtual job fair and a LAN gaming network.
Andre LaMothe, the inventor of the virtual reality game CyberGate, says he created the XGDX to provide a less-expensive option to GDC.
Microsoft will host Meltdown 2003 at the Westin Seattle, July 16-17, 2003. The first 250 people to register and attend will receive an NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Graphics Card.
The company describes the event as two days of content for game programmers, QA/compatibility technicians, technical artists, publishers, hardware manufacturers and business developers. Tracks include graphics development, publishing/business development, quality assurance, game testing and a track for hardcore game programmers.
Also offered will be hands-on workshops in intermediate and advanced High-Level Shader Language, taught by members of the Microsoft DirectX graphics development team.
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- David Duberman
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