Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

7 March 2005
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)

--Web Crossing Launches Online Collaboration Services

--Missing Link Releases Animation Production System

--HotChalk Introduces Wireless, Web-based Collaborative Education Software
--Broadband Access Grows

--Foundry Updates Effects Tools

--O'Reilly Releases Flashcom Book
--Paraglyph Updates Game Coding Book

--Gizmondo Announces UK Street Date
--DreamCatcher's Dungeon Lords Reaches Beta Status
--Sony Plans 1M-Unit PSP Launch Shipment
--Cecropia Announces Interactive Filmgame

--Nielsen//NetRatings Says Online Searchers Use Multiple Search Engines

--NextArcade Student Showcase Announced

--Tech/Entertainment Gurus Converge at GDC

--About Spectrum



Web Crossing Launches Online Collaboration Services

New from Web Crossing, Inc. is its Site Crossing service, offering Web Crossing-based Internet message boards and other collaboration tools in two ways: as a service bolted onto an already existing Web site, or as an entire core Web site.

The Site Crossing hosted service provides an integrated complement of interactive tools, such as discussions, mailing lists, blogs, chat, calendars, podcasting, polls, etc. in a hosted service, with core capabilities for building an entire site, including Web/FTP/email capabilities. Organizations with existing Web sites can add Web Crossing-based message boards and other interactive capabilities to their site. Site Crossing hosted solutions are available starting at $7.95/month from http://www.sitecrossing.com/.

A Wizard eases configuration and online administration. Existing sites bolting on Site Crossing can add interactive elements -- such as a forum, mailing lists, blog or poll -- one at a time or by the dozen. A special, minimal "EZ theme" takes the HTML code used by a site and extends it to the Site Crossing section for a consistent look and feel. Site Crossing's single integrated user database ensures that users only have to log in once to use all the interactive tools.

For core sites built entirely in Site Crossing, an included HTML formatting bar helps create simple HTML pages without prior knowledge of HTML. Web pages, full FTP capabilities plus an unlimited number of accounts for WebMail/POP3/SMTP email provide the basic functionality to which discussions, mailing lists, blogs, polls, chat and more can be added. Additional interactive tools can be added at any time with a simple point-and-click.

All Site Crossing sites come with indexed search capabilities. Access control ensures privacy for designated areas. Site Crossing maintains the servers and software, requiring no need to keep up with upgrades.



Missing Link Releases Animation Production System

Missing Link Software Solutions GmbH recently released its Web-based production management tool Missing Link - Production Kit, developed to fill the needs of international 2D/3D-animation- and VFX productions.

The Web-based software ML|Production Kit is designed for a better workflow and an efficient project management and controlling, especially when dealing with company-wide or distributed content creation within 2D-, 3D- and VFX productions.

In comparison to many other project- or asset management tools, several processes such as communication, final acceptance are processed company wide within ML|Production Kit. The Web-based software is no classical asset management tool; it is principally specialized on animation projects.

The software lets users manage communication within the team and between production partners. The information is passed on to the person in charge and is later on archived for further analysis and performance reports.

Not data is stored on the local hard disk of the company network. Only a login to the system is needed - the project runs on a server at Missing Link Software Solutions.

The freely definable reporting system supplies the project partners automatically with necessary information. In the end, at the push of a button, the system delivers the actual state of all individual and running processes of the overall project.

In several modules it is possible to print out deadline, budget, resources and the current status report of the project for further analysis. It is also possible to circulate production feedback to the artists. The communication within the various teams happens within the discussion forum.

Key features include:

Missing Link Software Solutions offers individual solutions for projects. You can rent or buy a license of ML - Production Kit. The leasing rate is 50 to 100 EUR/month, per client license.




HotChalk Introduces Wireless, Web-based Collaborative Education Software

HotChalk's new Learning Environment is Web-based collaborative software for secondary school teachers, students and parents. The software automates administrative work for teachers and is provided to participating schools as a hosted service, along with a campus-wide wireless network and up to ten laptop computers for teachers, at no cost to the school. The solution is funded by online advertising, which schools can control by using the patent-pending HotChalk Community Standards Engine.

A recent consumer survey commissioned by HotChalk and conducted by Harris Interactive suggests that the debate is not whether corporate sponsorship of schools should be allowed, but rather how corporate sponsorship should be managed. In the survey conducted earlier this month, 76 percent of U.S. adults agreed that corporations have a responsibility to support public schools because they depend on employees having the education and skills that schools teach. Moreover, more than half of adults think that advertising in the classroom is acceptable if schools and local officials determine which ads are displayed (54 percent) and ads are restricted to after-school hours only (53 percent). By contrast, only 22 percent think that it is acceptable to show advertising inside the classroom.

The HotChalk Learning Environment includes curriculum management, lesson plan development, and secure email, as well as automated assignment distribution, collection and grading. The collaborative environment lets teachers add supporting materials so that all students have access to the resources they need, and teachers can share lesson plans and other information. No prior technical experience is necessary, but teachers must complete ten hours of free online training to become HotChalk-certified.

The HotChalk Learning Environment is a Web-based application, so it is accessible through any standard Web browser from any computer. Teachers can set up assignments so students receive reminders about their homework every time they log in. Meanwhile parents benefit from knowing what is expected from students in the days and months ahead, and can stay in touch through private, secure email with teachers about their children's progress.



Broadband Access Grows

The Internet population that accessed the Internet via a broadband connection grew last year by 24%, according to The Face of the Web, the annual study of Internet trends by research firm Ipsos-Insight, which has been tracking Internet developments around the world since 1999. The latest findings, based on interviews in 12 key global markets with 6,544 adults, including 3,304 active Internet users, show that the accelerated broadband adoption in 2004 resulted in less than a third of the Internet users relying on narrowband dial-up as their primary access point.

The year 2004 also marked the year when the U.S. became predominantly a broadband country, where close to six out of ten users accessed the Internet through a high-speed connection. The highest broadband adoption, however, was seen in France, urban Brazil and the U.K., growing by 59%, 50%, and 45% respectively. While dial-up access continues to be the prevalent access point in these economies, the broadband growth trend was particularly strong.

“As with the growing adoption of the Internet, consumers globally will continue their rapid march to high-speed services as service providers offer broadband solutions that appeal to the Internet User masses in each country,” said Nilesh Modi, the study's co-author and Senior Analyst of Ipsos-Insight. “But that is not to say it will be a while for many, before fixed-line services will be dropped in favor of alternatives such as cable or optical fiber or dial-up services in favor of fixed-line broadband options.” Currently, countries can still be divided into two camps: those relying heavily on dial-up access vs. those who rely mainly on broadband. Dial-up regions include the urban markets of Russia, India, Mexico, and Brazil and the European regions of France and the U.K. For these markets, dial-up will likely move toward fixed line high-speed options that such as DSL or ISDN.

The continued importance of fixed lines can be evidenced in DSL's adoption, which is the main connection globally, accessed by half of high-speed Users. In addition, ISDN, also accessed through fixed lines, is predominant in Germany, the U.K. and Urban India.

In North America and Urban Russia, on the other hand, cable is the predominant high-speed connection. Notably, the majority of the households in urban markets of China and India have cable television access - the highest, in fact, relative to the measured markets - 97% and 96% respectively. Due to their sheer population sizes and wide cable access, they present opportunities for future cable-broadband Internet connectivity. As these markets continue to embrace the Internet, they may indeed opt for cable Internet connectivity over DSL as is already noticeable in urban India.

Slicing the broadband market share pie, currently fixed-line owns 67%, cable owns 28%, and optical fiber owns 5%. While fixed line and cable companies continue to race for market share, wireless Internet is a formidable new contender, with 11% of users having accessed the Internet through some wireless connection in 2004. The advantages of recent wireless technologies that enable broadband Internet access, such as Wi-Fi, Wi-Max, and 3G are well positioned to propel growth in both developed and lesser-developed environments.

Modi concluded, “There will be no clear winner when it comes to the kinds of connections people will use to access high-speed Internet in the near future. However, consumers will be looking for bundled features to simplify their lives, one that combines wireless telecom to a cable or fixed-line offering, or one that combines their VoIP and wireless services. Winning organizations will be those that take advantage of the multiple platforms available, and seamlessly integrate them to offer enhanced value to consumers.”




Foundry Updates Effects Tools

The Foundry, a visual effects developer, recently released Tinder 5.0, a new version of its collection of tools for digital artists. Now supporting Discreet systems tools on both Irix and Linux, Tinder 5.0 includes 11 new plug-ins, thus increasing the total Tinder range to over 90 features.

Tinder is a suite of plug-ins designed to extend Flame, Flint, Fire, Inferno, Smoke and Burn with the new version allowing operators to take advantage of additional processors - which have been designed to work at both video and film resolution as well as multiple colour depths - and are now grouped into tools, effects, blurs, warpers and generators.

New features include:

In addition to the new features within Tinder 5, The Foundry also re-engineered some of the existing plug-ins to speed up processing times and include - in some cases - built-in roto mattes.




O'Reilly Releases Flashcom Book

Macromedia's Flash Communication Server MX (FlashCom) offers real-time communication and streaming media capabilities to Flash applications. Together, Flash and FlashCom provide a rich set of tools for creating customized applications with features such as real-time, multi-user simulations; video conferencing and interactive chats; shared whiteboards and documents; instant polls; video-on-demand with closed captions and skinnable controls; and live event broadcasts with moderated questions and answers.

"I never cease being surprised by the adoption rates for each version of the Flash player," says Brian Lesser, FlashCom expert and coauthor of the new "Programming Flash Communication Server" (O'Reilly, US $49.95). More than 500 million users have Flash Player already installed, which means end users are already FlashCom ready.

However, developers may be hard pressed to deliver real-time video, audio, and data applications to those millions of end users with FlashCom. Why? "Programming with FlashCom is unlike creating standard n-tier Web applications," Lesser explains. "And I don't think Macromedia appreciated what a challenge that represents for developers. Macromedia's documentation offers little guidance on how to build real-world applications. So that's really what 'Programming Flash Communication Server' is about: how to design and build a wide range of compelling applications with Flash and the Flash Communication Server."

As Lesser notes, "Communication applications that include live video, audio, and data make collaboration at a distance more immediate and effective." For example, working with FlashCom made it far easier and more enjoyable for five authors to collaborate in the writing of this book.

From the basics to advanced features, the book delivers coverage of FlashCom with working examples for real-life application. "Programming Flash Communication Server" helps developers design large-scale, robust, and secure applications. This book shows readers how to:

Chapter 1, "Introducing the Flash Server," is available online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/progflashcs/chapter/index.html


Paraglyph Updates Game Coding Book

Paraglyph Press announces the publication of a new edition of its game-programming book, "Game Coding Complete, 2nd Edition" (U.S. $44.99, 936 pp, ISBN 1-932111-91-3). Written by game programmer and industry expert Mike McShaffry, "Game Coding Complete, 2nd Edition" is expanded with new material on game-interface design, 3D programming, network and multiplayer gaming, sound effects and music, game scripting, game engine technology, programming event handlers and scripts, and game physics and AI.

In the new edition, McShaffry returns with many more war stories and game-programming tips and techniques. McShaffry uses his experience as a lead programmer for Origin Systems, Microsoft, Ion Storm, and Breakaway Games to illustrate real-world game programming insight and solutions, including examples from his recent work on the game Thief Deadly Shadows. The author presents the complete process of developing a professional-quality game--from creating initial designs to coding interfaces and 3D graphics to debugging and testing. He reveals insider tricks and techniques for developing a bestselling game, including key "gotcha" issues that could trip up even a veteran programmer. Highlights include:




Gizmondo Announces UK Street Date

Gizmondo Europe Ltd, subsidiary of Jacksonville, Florida-based Tiger Telematics Inc. announces an official UK street date of 19 March for Gizmondo to coincide with the opening of its flagship store at 175 Regent Street in London's busy West End, where retail units of the multi-entertainment handheld will go on sale to the public.

Gizmondo will also be available through selected retail partners in the UK on the same day.

The GBP229 (inc VAT) launch package will include the Gizmondo, a standard 1100mAh battery and mains charger, contract-free SIM card, an SD card containing music, game and movie demos, in-the-ear headphones, driver software and a 1.75m USB cable. Games will be priced at three levels: GBP9.99, GBP19.99, and GBP29.99.

A new entrant into the handheld gaming market, Gizmondo will be ramping up the production as quickly as possible to help retailers satisfy customer demand.

The Gizmondo is powered by Microsoft Windows CE operating system, with 2.8-inch TFT colour screen with a Samsung ARM9 400Mhz processor and incorporates the GoForce 3D 4500 NVIDIA graphics accelerator. It provides gaming, multimedia messaging, an MP3 music player, Mpeg4 movie-playing capability, a digital camera and a GPRS network link to allow wide-area network gaming. Additionally, it contains a GPS chip for location-based services, is equipped with Bluetooth for use in multi-player gaming and accepts SD and MMC card accessories.

The Gizmondo device and its games are in retail stores from 19 March 2005 in the UK, and in North American and Continental Europe markets from spring 2005.



DreamCatcher's Dungeon Lords Reaches Beta Status

DreamCatcher Games says Dungeon Lords, its combat RPG from D.W. Bradley and Heuristic Park, has reached beta status. The game, set to ship April 20, features: * fantasy RPG with FPS-style control system * seven playable races including humans, elves and dwarves and also a number of non-human “demi-goth” races * four schools of magic - Arcane, Celestial, Rune and Nether * cooperative multiplayer, supporting up to eight people at once over LAN or Internet * created by award-winning developer, D.W. Bradley and Heuristic Park



Sony Plans 1M-Unit PSP Launch Shipment

Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. plans to increase the initial launch shipment of the upcoming PSP (PlayStation Portable) handheld entertainment system to one million units. Consumer response to PSP on a global scale led to the company making an upward revision in preparation for its North American launch on March 24. This figure is part of the company's overall three million-unit worldwide shipment estimate by the close of its fiscal year ending March 31.

The company will release a single-SKU configuration called the PSP Value Pack for a suggested retail price of $249.99. In addition to the hardware, the pack contains a 32 MB Memory Stick Duo, headphones with remote control, battery pack, AC adaptor, soft case, wrist strap and cleaning cloth, game/movie/music video sampler UMD disc including multiple non-interactive game demos, and for the first one million packs shipped, a special UMD video release of the feature film Spider-Man 2 from Sony Pictures Entertainment.

PSP is also host to 24 launch titles in North America from Activision, Capcom, Eidos Interactive, Electronic Arts, Koei, Konami, Namco, and Sony Online Entertainment.

PSP released in Japan on December 12, 2004 and boasts 1.18 million units shipped to date. As a key device for the company, Sony hopes PSP will a new standard as an integrated portable entertainment system designed to provide consumers with an entertainment experience that includes games, music, movies, communication, and wireless networking.

Featuring graphics rendering capabilities reportedly comparable to its sister PS2 product, PSP lets users play 3D games with full-motion video and high-fidelity stereo audio. PSP also allows for digital photo display and supports digital music playback in both MP3 and ATRAC formats.

PSP features a 4.3-inch, 16:9 widescreen TFT LCD that displays full color (16.77 million colors) on a 480 x 272 pixel high-resolution screen. PSP also comes complete with built-in stereo speakers, exterior headphone connector and input/output connectors such as USB 2.0, and 802.11b (Wi-Fi) wireless LAN, enabling users to connect to the Internet and play online via a wireless network. Up to 16 PSP systems in the vicinity can also be connected to each other directly in ad-hoc mode, allowing for wireless head-to-head competition. In addition, wireless capabilities will allow software and data to be downloaded to a PSP and saved onto a Memory Stick Duo.

PSP also adopts a newly developed proprietary, compact, but high-capacity optical disc, Universal Media Disc (UMD) as its storage medium. The 60mm-diameter storage media can store up to 1.8GB of digital data -- more than three times the data held on a CD-ROM.



Cecropia Announces Interactive Filmgame

Developer Cecropia, recently introduced a preview of its first game, a "filmgame" titled The Act. The Act is an interactive comedy about relationships, deception, and the pursuit of romance.

The Act reportedly gives players the experience of playing a game that feels more like a movie. Players control the characters' emotions while they experience the interactive story. The characters' feelings are apparent through personality-centric animation, which is being animated by Cecropia's animators: alumni of Disney Feature Film Animation Studios.

The main characters in The Act are Edgar and Sylvia. Edgar is a shy window-washer, who has always been unlucky in love. Throughout the filmgame Edgar tries a variety of tactics to win Sylvia. Players have to correctly read and control the visual personality cues in the animated characters in order to move to the next level of the game. The Act becomes increasingly challenging, making it more and more difficult for Edgar to woo and win Sylvia over. The control system for The Act is a dial, said to make the game accessible to inexperienced game players.

Cecropia is based in Lexington, Mass. with studios in Orlando, Florida. The company was established in 2001 by gaming entrepreneur Omar Khudari, cofounder of the game developer Papyrus Design Group. Cecropia's approach to interactive entertainment combines internally developed intellectual properties, traditional hand-drawn animation techniques, unique game design and easy-to-use controls. The Cecropia team comprises creative and operations visionaries from Walt Disney Feature Film Animation, Pixar, DreamWorks and Blue Sky as well as video gaming industry veterans from Papyrus Design Group, Sierra On-line, Hasbro Interactive and Atari.




Nielsen//NetRatings Says Online Searchers Use Multiple Search Engines

Nielsen//NetRatings, a company that does Internet audience measurement and analysis, says a minority of searchers exclusively use only one of the top three search engines: Google Search, Yahoo! Search, and MSN Search.

According to research from Nielsen//NetRatings MegaView Search, 58 percent of Google searchers also visited at least one of the other top two search engines, MSN Search and Yahoo! Search, showing that even though Google's market share is dominant today, there is significant opportunity for its competitors to grow their share. The use of multiple search engines is not limited to Google's searchers. Nearly 71 percent of those who searched at Yahoo! also visited at least one of the other top two search engines, and 70 percent of those who searched at MSN also tried their luck at one or both of the other two.

"While it shouldn't surprise anyone that Google is the search engine to beat, it is critical that all of the major search players, including Google, recognize that they exclusively own only a minority of their users," said Ken Cassar, director, strategic analysis, Nielsen//NetRatings. "This highlights an opportunity and a threat to all of the established players in the market, and underscores the importance of continued innovation in a highly competitive market that is anything but mature."

Nielsen//NetRatings also reported the latest rankings of online search engines based on the number of search query volume. A search is defined as a query conducted at a search engine and excludes internal site searches (e.g., searching for a stock symbol). Google Search led with 47 percent of all online searches, followed by Yahoo! Search and MSN Search with 21 percent and 13 percent, respectively. More than 80 percent of all searches were conducted at one of the top three search engines. The rankings were based on searches conducted at more than 60 search sites during January 2005.




NextArcade Student Showcase Announced

TLC Industries (http://www.tlcind.com) and Full Sail Real World Education (http://www.fullsail.com) announce the opening of the NextArcade Student Showcase (http://www.nextarcade.com). The site is designed to bring public exposure to creative works being created by student developers. Participating schools include Full Sail Real World Education and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

The NextArcade Student Showcase will be on display at the Full Sail Real World Education booth, #854 at Game Developers Conference, March 9-11 in San Francisco.

For additional information about NextArcade, NextArcade Student Showcase and TLC Industries, or if you are a game developer interested in distributing your game through NextArcade, contact James Hills: jamesh@tlcind.com or call 847-534-5120.



Tech/Entertainment Gurus Converge at GDC

The theme of this week's Game Developers Conference (GDC), Future Vision, takes the form of a series of talks dedicated to the road ahead for interactive entertainment. The "vision track" will include leaders in the fields of music, video games, design and technology. GDC will take place Monday through Friday, March 7-11, 2005 at the Moscone West Convention Center in San Francisco.

Featured speakers include:

The GDC will feature more than 300 lectures, panels, tutorials and roundtable discussions across seven content tracks. For a complete list of GDC 2005 event information visit http://www.gdconf.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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