Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

28 June 2004
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Editor's note: Spectrum will take next weekend off to celebrate the Independence Day holiday, and hopes you'll do likewise. We'll return July 12 with the latest multimedia/3D/game-developer news. -David Duberman ___________________________________
Today's Headlines (details below)


--Garage Games Ships Torque Shader Engine (TSE) Early Adopter
--NTI Updates Dragon Burn

--MGD Updates EMotion FX Character-Animation System --Electric Rain Posts Swift 3D 4 Details

--Study: Acacia Research Group 3DCC 2004
--No Starch Publishes Blender Guide

--DAZ Productions Acquires Bryce from Corel

--DreamCatcher Announces Painkiller Expansion Pack
--Adventure Company Ships Missing: Since January
--Enlight Ships TrackMania Racing Game
--TAC to Publish Sentinel: Descendants in Time

--Study Predicts Electronic Game Devices to Increase Fivefold

--About Spectrum



Eye Candy 5
by David Duberman

To Photoshop-filter hounds like me, Alien Skin is one of the coolest software developers around. Its Eye Candy series of paint-software plug-ins add image-creation functionality out the wazoo to programs like Photoshop. Now the company has just shipped Eye Candy 5: Textures for Windows and Mac; besides Photoshop and ImageReady, it also supports Elements, Macromedia Fireworks MX, and Jasc Paint Shop Pro (Windows only).

EC5: T represents the start of a slight revamping of the Eye Candy line. While it contains a few existing filters from a previous version of Eye Candy, most of the filters are new, as is the streamlined user interface. The remaining EC5 packages--Nature, with natural phenomena such as smoke and fire, and Impact, with "classic graphic design effects"--will come out next year.

As its name suggests, Textures adds texture-generation capability to Photoshop. If you need to fill a selection with believable bricks or that industrial metal flooring called diamond plate, EC5 has got you covered. The other filters are Animal Fur, Marble, Reptile Skin, Texture Noise, Swirl, Stone Wall, Weave, and Wood. Ten filters for $100 bucks comes to $10 a filter; not a bad deal. And each one has a ton of features that virtually ensure you'll be able to use them for lots of different jobs.

Here's a quick rundown of the 10 filters in Eye Candy 5:

Animal Fur can produce a variety of effects from short, bristly fur to long, wavy hair. It has four "spotty" pattern types such as Dalmation and Leopard, two "stripy" patterns--Tiger and Zebra--and it can also take the coloration from the original image. You can set base and spot colors, pattern spacing, hair/fur length, pattern variation, and whether the software can draw hairs outside the selection for a more natural look. And 3D users will appreciate the ability to create a seamlessly tiling pattern. Animal Fur also includes a wealth of preset variations (aka Settings) such as Shaggy Tiger and Bed Head Calico. The only thing missing is a setting for the hair spacing, to give sparser coverage if needed.

The Bricks texture is a good example of Alien Skin's attention to detail. After all, how many different ways can you do bricks? In EC5: T, about a million. Options include brick height and aspect ratio, brick and mortar colors, thickness and depth for the mortar as well as an option for flat or curved mortar, surface detail (pits in the brick surface), and uneven brick edges.

Diamond Plate is another example of a texture where you might think that if you seen one, you've seen 'em all--that is, until you see Alien Skin's implementation. If you've never witnessed shiny chrome diamond plate, you can now. Other options include bevel amount (height) and tapering the length of the bumps, as well as randomized surface pitting.

The Marble texture offers three basic options--veiny, layered, and fractured (the latter looks just terrific)--with lots of options such as Feature Size (overall scale) and Roughness. An option to set blending for the layered marble would have been a nice extra here.

Alien Skin started out 10 years ago as a developer making 3D plug-ins for another publisher (AS now publishes its own software) that created textures for a wide variety of alien-skin-type (what else?) effects. I've always regretted that AS never republished that software on its own. Anyway, for a practically infinite array of scaly-skin textures, EC5's Lizard skin more than suffices. The two basic options are lizard and snake--the latter overlaps--and options include surface height and settings to flatten bumps as well as make them pointed.

Stone Wall is a faithful simulation of a wall made up of a variety of odd-shaped/sized flattish stones of similar hues. You can change how grainy their surface is, how much the colors vary, and the edge roughness. Potentially a very useful texture, and not just for landscaping purposes. If only it had the option, as many of the others do, to derive its colors from the original image.

The Swirl texture reminds me of the style of Vincent Van Gogh, in paintings such as Starry Night. You can superimpose it over the original image or add it as a distortion to the original image, and in the latter case you can derive the pattern from the original--very nifty.

Somewhat similar to Swirl is Texture Noise, which in some of the examples looks like a mosaic pattern, and in others is pretty indescribable. You can add noise separately to any or all of four different channels: hue, saturation, brightness, and opacity. You also have a choice of six different noise types: smooth lumps, smooth or wrinkled fractal, dots, crinkles, and diamonds. This, along with Swirl, is a great way to mess up your friends' faces, but it has any number of more practical uses as well.

That leaves Weave and Wood. The former brings to mind the nursery rhyme that begins "A tisket, a tasket …", and, in fact, defaults to a realistic green-and-yellow pattern. It has four different patterns, the option for solid or derived colors, and the ability to fill the gaps with solid color, the original image, or transparency. And Wood offers the ability to separate the patterns into panels (as in flooring), set four different grain aspects, knottiness, and more.

Besides 10 superb textures, EC5: T has lots of great features, such as online contextual help, copious examples, and lighting settings for all the textures. One little thing kept tripping me up: Because the plug-in uses a discrete interface, pressing Enter (as when entering numeric values) exits the plug-in and returns you to Photoshop. But that's just a matter of getting used to using the Tab key or the sliders or spinners instead. Also, I wish Alien Skin would make procedural textures like these as plug-ins for 3D software like 3ds max or Maya. But overall, the first iteration of Eye Candy 5 shows awesome utility and lots of promise; I can't wait to see the next two.




Garage Games Ships Torque Shader Engine (TSE) Early Adopter

A new generation of video cards supporting shaders and DirectX 9 has been on the market for several years and is becoming ubiquitous in new computers. Shaders are becoming a technology that cannot be ignored by game makers, but that cannot easily be addressed by old techniques. For this reason, GarageGames started working on shaders for Torque about a year and a half ago. Its solution was to create a new engine, the Torque Shader Engine (TSE), based on the Torque Game Engine, by completely rewriting the rendering portion of the TGE.

TSE features include:
* thousands of built-in shader combinations available for technical artists to use out of the box, reducing development time and making shaders easier to integrate into games.
* Procedural generation of shaders that support normal/bump mapping, glow, refraction, dynamic per-pixel lighting, detail maps, specular, cubemapping, reflection, volumetric fog, texture UV animation
* shader interface allowing integration of custom shaders and effects
* API-independent graphics layer, TorqueGFX, currently supporting DirectX 9, but designed with forthcoming OpenGL support in mind
* vertex buffer and texture management, with support for static, dynamic and volatile vertex buffers
* new and improved rendering code architecture.

TSE is not finished, but GG decided to release an Early Adopter version so the TGE community can have a crack at shaders and start learning how to work with next-generation techniques. The developer is still working through driver issues, compatibility issues, and completion of features.

Torque Shader Engine uses the same liberal licensing GarageGames pioneered with the Torqe Game Engine. Indie licenses are available to small game companies funding their own development and making less than $250,000 in annual revenue from all sources. Here is a link to the TSE Indie Game EULA: http://www.garagegames.com/pg/product/eula.php?id=28

TGE owners can upgrade to the TSE for the Early Adopter price of $150. The EA upgrade pricing is available until TSE goes final sometime later in 2004. After TSE is final, the upgrade price for TGE owners will go to $195. Eventually, GG will have stand alone TSE, but for now, if you want to purchase TSE and do not own TGE, you will first need to purchase TGE.

Commercial licenses for TSE will be $995.

http://www.garagegames.com ___________________________________

NTI Updates Dragon Burn

NewTech Infosystems, Inc. (NTI), announced last week Version 4.0 of Dragon Burn with new features and a $9.99 promotion upgrade offer. New features added to this release include VCD/SVCD mastering, VIDEO_TS support for DVD Video burning, "Picture CD" layout support, and DVD+R Double Layer support.

Dragon Burn lets Mac users produce video, audio, data, MP3 and Enhanced (audio + data) CDs and DVDs.




MGD Updates EMotion FX Character-Animation System

Rotterdam, Netherlands-based Mystic Game Development, a middleware SDK animation developer, last week released version 2.1 of its EMotion FX realtime character-animation library. The latest release features a system to dynamically assemble characters from different body parts, improved and new inverse kinematics solvers, memory optimizations as well as an improved "look-at" controller and improvements to the EMotion Studio artist tool.

Main changes and additions of v2.1:
* Character factory: Construction of characters from different body parts that can be skinned and deformed. Remove or replace body parts at runtime, allowing limbs to be ripped off by explosions or for characters to age during a game.
* Motion-based actor repositioning: allows automatic movement of characters based on motions without foot sliding.
* Look-at controller enhancements: rewritten to support rotational constraints using spherical ellipsoids, said to give realistic results. The responsiveness of the controller can be set, for example, to make eyes move faster than the head itself.
* EMotion Studio improvements: testing of LOD levels, character factory testing, improved physics setup, improved bone display, a schematic view to view and locate node names, synchronization of body and facial animation, and an improved interface.
* Inverse Kinematics: The CCD controller has been improved to add stability and to find more solutions. Also joint limits are now supported in the CCD controller. Those limits can set up and exported directly from 3ds max or Maya. An additional Jacobian pseudo inverse IK controller has been added with support for joint limits.
* Keyframe compression: Compression for keyframe data with built-in support for compressed floats, vectors and quaternions. The compression and decompression is transparent to the end user. The product is extensible, allowing the user to plug in further compressed types or compression and decompression routines.
* Improved exporters: Both the 3ds max and Maya exporters have been improved with additional features, such as the exporting of any number of UV sets. This is useful when exporting lightmaps for level geometry. Also support for the 3ds max DirectX material has been added, allowing artists to set up and export shader parameters.
* Memory management and optimization: Detailed memory usage statistics are available for memory profiling during production. The overall memory footprint has also been reduced.
* DirectX 9 rendering: A new DirectX 9-based actor is included, which uses the Direct3D 9 effects system. The actor supports LOD, cloning and facial animation.



Electric Rain Posts Swift 3D 4 Details

Swift 3D is a nifty little stand-alone program for generating Flash animation from 3D data. New on the Electric Rain Website is detailed information about 17 new features in Swift 3D v4, ship date TBD. These include:
* advanced modeling environment w/integrated vertex/poly modeler
* apply smoothing/rounding surfaces
* lighting gallery
* import 3ds models with textures
* numeric rotation controls
* soft selection
* bevel gallery
* animation paths
* apply multiple textures to object surfaces

For further info, visit http://www.erain.com/FeaturePreviews/FeaturePreviews.asp?erain=RainJun04



Study: Acacia Research Group 3DCC 2004

The latest market study from Acacia Research Group is 3D Modeling & Animation Tools 2004, a 63-page report with 50 tables and figures of industry data, including five-year forecasts for revenue, units, ASP and installed base of:
* professional 3D software
* prosumer tools
* plug-ins

Forecasts for education seats and service revenues, which have become increasingly important to the industry, are also covered in this report.

Although the past couple of years have been tough for everyone in the industry, some 3D toolmakers are beginning to reap the benefits of their most recent market strategies. This study analyzes those strategies to provide information on who will be leading the market over the next few years, and who is likely to find themselves niched out of the mainstream.

Request a copy of the table of contents at http://www.acaciarg.com .


No Starch Publishes Blender Guide

Blender is free 3D software that allows modeling, animation, rendering, post-production, and real-time interactive 3D with cross-platform compatibility (Windows, Linux, Irix, Sun Solaris, FreeBSD, and Mac OS X). Originally developed by Not a Number (NaN) as a commercial product, Blender has since been released as free software under the GNU GPL, with a reported 250,000+ registered users.

"The Official Blender 2.3 Guide" (No Starch Press, $49.95, with CD-ROM) is a guide to Blender, written and produced by the Blender community with the support of the Blender Foundation. The book includes a CD-ROM with versions of Blender for all platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, and more), example files and python scripts, image galleries and movies, and all files needed for the book's tutorials. A color insert demonstrates Blender's capabilities. Readers will find:

* methods for designing models, defining materials, and simulating light, as well as design basics and advanced techniques
* instructions for rendering 3D scenes, including special effects like motion blur and cartoon edges
* help creating 3D animations: moving objects in time, deforming objects, and animating characters
* tutorials for using Blender as a video editor with the advanced sequence editor
* ways to extend and customize Blender with Python scripting and binary plug-ins




DAZ Productions Acquires Bryce from Corel

Salt Lake City-based DAZ Productions has acquired Bryce, a 3D landscaping and animation package, from Canadian firm Corel.

DAZ's development plans for Bryce include launching new versions for both the Macintosh and Windows platforms. DAZ also plans to develop a pathway to bring existing DAZ 3D content into Bryce seamlessly. Further integration with DAZ|Studio is also scheduled for development.

DAZ will assume responsibility for all Bryce customer service, providing technical and sales support, as well as online discussion and technical support forums.

DAZ Productions, Inc. specializes in 3D digital content creation. The company provides 3D models such as the digital 3D figures, Michael and Victoria. DAZ also develops software applications that support its content, including DAZ|Studio, a 3D free character-posing and rendering application, and DAZ|Mimic, a lip-synching application.




DreamCatcher Announces Painkiller Expansion Pack

DreamCatcher Games says it will publish the Painkiller Expansion Pack: Battle out of Hell for its Windows FPS in time for the holidays.

Picking up where the game's story left off, Battle out of Hell includes an additional single-player chapter with 10 levels, as well as new multiplayer modes, maps and models. It will also offer an amplified arsenal of weapons, bigger and badder bosses, and the map editor Software Development Kit.



Adventure Company Ships Missing: Since January

New from The Adventure Company is Missing: Since January for Windows. Journalist Jack Lorski and his companion disappear while investigating a series of serial killings. Soon after, SKL-Network, the agency Jack works for, receives a disturbing CD-ROM showing video footage obtained during his investigation. More than a simple CD, this disc marks the start of a game of cat-and-mouse with a mad killer known only as "The Phoenix."

The game combines Windows and Internet gameplay. Players receive email from virtual characters and The Phoenix himself, offering important information. Players will also scour 300 real and fictitious websites to gather clues vital to solving the case.

Developed by Lexis Numérique, the game was released under the name In Memoriam.



Enlight Ships TrackMania Racing Game

Entertainment software developer and publisher Enlight last week shipped its hybrid racing game, TrackMania, in North America. Developed by Nadeo, the $30 PC title contains enhanced Internet play, a unique avatar system, a new survival mode, ghost competition cars and 60 new building blocks such as tunnels, land transitions, signs and turbos. Enlight describes TrackMania as an adventure with a multiplayer Mecca, which allows for crazy tracks and a variety of competitive modes. Also, its network game is said to be built to allow players of all skills to participate, from low-speed casual gamers to the hard-core with bandwidth.



TAC to Publish Sentinel: Descendants in Time

The Adventure Company plans to publish Sentinel: Descendants in Time for Windows.

The Tastan people surrendered to extinction many years ago, their only legacy being the legendary Tastan Tombs. Much speculation surrounds the tombs: Some say they hold treasure, while others believe wealth can be attained through the technology left behind by this advanced race.

As Beni, the player enters the Caverns on a dangerous quest for riches. Along his strange journey, he encounters a sentinel charged with guarding the tombs. This sentinel, a hologram programmed with advanced A.I., awakens only when the tombs are disturbed. She appears to Beni throughout his quest, sometimes with a benign purpose, but other times with calculated intentions. Beni will soon realize that the sentinel is much more than she appears to be. Her dark purpose threatens his very existence.

Players will explore eight diverse 3D worlds. The game offers a non-linear style of gameplay and more than 20 puzzles of varied difficulty.

Sentinel: Descendents in Time is developed by Detalion and will ship globally in November, 2004. The game has an expected ESRB rating of 'T' for Teen.




Study Predicts Electronic Game Devices to Increase Fivefold

In the Completely Ignoring Growing Concerns About Quality Issues In Electronic Games Development department: Unrelenting progress in processing power, network bandwidth and storage capacity will enable the electronic game industry to become greater than five times more pervasive by 2010, with the installed base of electronic game devices (excluding PCs) growing from 415 million to 2.6 billion. ''Moore's Law and Electronic Games,'' a new global report by Deloitte's Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT) Group and Deloitte Research, focuses on the industries--outside of the electronic game and related industries--that will be impacted by technological advances based on Moore's Law, as well as the positive and negative disruptions that the advancements will create. According to Deloitte, Moore's Law states that the transistor density of a silicon chip will double every two years.

"As technology continues to improve, new opportunities will arise for industries outside of the traditional electronic game arena, such as movie studios, record companies, advertisers, mobile phone producers, communications operators, toy manufacturers and electronics manufacturers," said Scott Singer, managing director of Deloitte's Media and Entertainment Corporate Finance Group. "As a matter of fact, the number and range of platforms on which paid-for electronic games can exist will expand significantly and will include mobile phones, MP3 players, PDAs, set-top boxes, children's toys and even exercise machines."

Moore's Law implies that there will be an eight-fold increase in processing power and memory capacity between now and 2010, greatly impacting the disruptiveness of the electronic game industry. It is expected that 450 million homes worldwide will have broadband connections by 2010, with one billion individuals having access to multimedia mobile phones that could support game downloads and some form of mobile game playing. Storage capacity will likely increase to 1,000 gigabytes of disk storage in a typical home PC by 2010, enabling games to be longer and more complex with enhanced visual detail, sound effects and music.

These technological advances will create new revenue opportunities for sectors related to electronic games and will expand audience reach beyond the traditional electronic game markets.

Advertising -- Game publishers looking to recoup their spiraling development costs are increasingly receptive to product advertising in games. In-game advertising is expected to become more popular, particularly as technology improvements and shifting demographics make in-game product ads more appealing.

Wireless communications -- Mobile operators will be the predominant channel for selling and distributing phone-based games, with only a small number sold in retail stores. More advanced networks prevalent by 2010 will provide higher transfer rates, enabling downloaded games to be more complex and sophisticated.

Entertainment -- Electronic games represent an important new merchandising category, with cross-licensing between movies and electronic games providing a major source of revenue for movie studios. Music companies will recognize revenue opportunities, as music in electronic games becomes a more essential part of the game experience. Video games have inspired entire lines of toys and action figures, allowing toy manufacturers to capitalize on cross-licensing opportunities.

Additional key findings from Deloitte's ''Moore's Law and Electronic Games'' report include:

Game publishers -- Game publishers will have more platforms to leverage, including online play and mobile phones, but will also face escalating production costs as demand for more sophisticated games increases. Steep entry costs may drive smaller publishers out of the market.

Advertisers -- Embedded advertising in games provides advertisers a new opportunity to reach an expanding market with attractive demographics. Aggregating eyeball hours for a game that sells three to five million copies implies at least 50 million hours of viewing time. The Sims Online game already includes an interactive advertising element (Great example -Ed.).

Fixed-line operators -- Fixed-line telecommunications operators will benefit from the increasing popularity of multi-layer online games and downloadable add-ons, leading to increasing subscriber revenues.

Mobile operators -- With an equal ratio of females to males owning mobile phones, the expansion of games to mobile phones will likely increase the participation level of women to electronic games. However, bandwidth may be insufficient to support the growth until 3G networks are more widely available around 2010.

Music industry -- The music industry will continue to benefit from the growth of electronic games. Titles like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City use music to enhance the game's appeal, and seven audio CDs from the game are sold separately. Music and licensing revenues will become a factor in mobile and handheld games.

Toy manufacturers -- Electronic games have historically competed with traditional toy manufacturers in the youth market. Technological advances will create new opportunities to improve existing toys with electronic feature add-ons as well as for cross-licensing opportunities.

Home console -- Home console manufacturers will have to make increasingly large investments to build the next-generation video game console that will occupy the dominant position in the digital living room of the future.

The report was researched and written by Deloitte's Telecommunications, Media and Technology (TMT) Group and Deloitte Research. Input was provided by clients, leading industry and financial analysts, and the 5,000-strong global Deloitte TMT team. The report is available at http://www.deloitte.com .



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.

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