13 March 2000
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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After months of rumors, Bill Gates announced at last week's Game Developers Conference that Microsoft is entering the video game world with the introduction of a video game console, currently code-named X-Box. Scheduled to ship in fall '01, the unit includes these features and specifications:
Key performance measures:
Tel Aviv-based Waves Ltd. last week released MaxxStream, a hardware and software suite for streaming live audio signals over the Internet. MaxxStream, in conjunction with Waves' PCI sound cards based on Motorola's ONYX DSP chip, can reportedly encode eight audio channels simultaneously on a single computer.
To prepare audio for live broadcast streaming, MaxxStream includes MultiRack, a real-time application in which the user creates a processing chain consisting of Waves' audio plug-ins, such as the L1 Ultramaximizer and MaxxBass. AoIP is the protocol that interfaces between MultiRack and a communication channel like the Internet. AoIP can transmit each channel stream in multiple formats and resolutions. AoIP currently supports Real G2 (and prior versions) and Microsoft Media Technologies 4.01.
Features and capabilities currently include:
• automatic loudness control
• voice intelligibility enhancement
• noise reduction
• equalization and digital filtering
• peak limiting and dynamic range control
• stereo, 3D, and bass enhancement
Numerical Design Ltd.'s new version 3.0 of its NetImmerse 3D game engine for PC, PlayStation 2, and MacOS platforms features curved surfaces, character skinning and continuous level of detail (CLOD). Software rendering has been added to improve performance on low-end PCs. Beta evaluation copies 0 have shipped and the full product is scheduled for release in March.
PlayStation 2 developers can reportedly use the NetImmerse 3.0 rendering pipeline to take advantage of both vector processors, the graphics synthesizer, the DMA controller and other important PSX capabilities. For Mac developers, NetImmerse 3.0 is Carbon-compliant, includes AltiVec enhancements, and will run natively on MacOS X.
In addition to supporting three major hardware platforms, NetImmerse 3.0 is said to provide features to develop any style of game from any player perspective, including first-person, third-person and massively multi-player Internet games.
The new curved-surface module addresses the different memory requirements for game consoles versus PCs. Objects can be stored in a compact, curved-surface representation that maximizes the performance of the PlayStation 2. The curved surface module also integrates with character skinning, continuous level of detail, and terrain modules.
Autodesk division Discreet plans to release key character-animation technology as Open Source code for selected features of its 3D Studio MAX R3 software. Through Open Source, Discreet plans to facilitate and accelerate the integration of the authoring environment with the runtime game engine.
"You can't deliver a black-box 3D content creation tool to a game development team and expect innovation," says Jeff Yates, games industry manager at Discreet.
Core features of 3D Studio MAX R3.1 whose source code will be released include:
Discreet will launch a new Open Source Website for the download of Open Source code designed to promote the use of 3D Studio MAX for game development. Games programmers will be able to download, use, modify, and optionally upload relevant source code and related technology for Discreet's game-authoring tools.
Discreet says it will provide original samples according to the industry-accepted terms and policies of Open Source development (http://www.opensource.org) -- namely, developers are free to use, modify, and integrate the samples into any application without restriction. Discreet's new Open Source Website location/URL will be announced via the Game Zone at http://www.discreet.com/gamezone.
MathEngine PLC, a specialist in software for physics-based interactive simulation, last week introduced Dynamics Toolkit 2.0 and Collision Toolkit 1.0. Dynamics Toolkit 2.0 has reportedly been reengineered to run up to 30 times faster than previous versions of the SDK. Collision Toolkit 1.0 is a commercial collision package.
The Collision and Dynamics components are designed to work together or separately with existing components.
Coming this summer from Alias|Wavefront is the Maya Real Time SDK for creating interactive content on next-generation games platforms. Based on real-time versions of Maya's various 3D algorithms, available scene elements include: geometry and animation, character behavior and deformations, particle effects, collisions and dynamics, as well as complex lighting, texturing, and shading. Based on a specially built Maya plug-in, an OpenGL version of the Maya Real Time engine running on the artist's desktop provides "in-context" verification of changes to 3D content appearance and behavior, without requiring recompilation of the game.
The SDK also includes a node-based scene graph that initially mirrors the exported Maya software artwork, and can be extended to incorporate overall game play, AI, sound and any custom nodes or specialty solvers. Computationally intensive elements of the Maya Real Time SDK are implemented in device-specific code for targeted platforms, said to prevent the need for low-level device optimization.
Initially targeted systems are PlayStation 2 and OpenGL graphics processing units (GPUs) that offer hardware-based transform, lighting and shading capabilities.
Multi-title source code site licenses will be available, with pricing starting at $200,000 USD for the OpenGL Base system license. The PlayStation 2 option will be available for an additional $150,000 USD. (International prices will vary outside of the U.S.)
Metrowerks plans to ship a beta version of its CodeWarrior Analysis Tools for game developers using CodeWarrior for PlayStation2 Version 1.5 later this month. Metrowerks will also make available a set of APIs that will allow developers to write custom analysis tools based on the Analysis Tools framework.
The CodeWarrior Analysis Tools will include a code coverage tool, which locates "dead code" -- code not being adequately tested and accessed - and a graphical, hierarchical profiler that analyzes and diagnoses code optimization opportunities.
The CodeWarrior Analysis Tools and Framework APIs for PlayStation2 will be generally available in the third quarter of this year. Pricing has not yet been announced.
Conversa's new Web Conversation Development Kit 1.0 (CDK) is designed to let game developers add speech interaction to browser-based games, as well as voice communication during multi-player games.
The toolkit is an extension of Macromedia Dreamweaver objects and behaviors. Speech-enabled game examples can be found at www.conversations.com, which contains Conversa's conversational applications, trial downloads, partner and developer information. The Conversa Web Conversation Development Kit carries a suggested retail price of $299 and is expected to ship this spring.
Proksim Software's new NetZ is a programming toolkit for developing multiplayer online games. A pre-release version is available at the Proksim Website, and the finished product will be commercially released in the second quarter of 2000.
Features include fault-tolerance, load balancing and data extrapolation. Fault tolerance, based on a proprietary duplicated-objects architecture, works as follows: As players join a game and create game objects, copies of those objects are propagated to all other machines in the game. At any given moment, all machines in the game have the information they need to continue the game if the game host or other players drop out. Through a transparent election process, a new game host is chosen and orphaned game objects are migrated to other machines in the game.
Last week at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) 2000, Microsoft previewed for software developers the next version of its game-development DirectX application programming interface (API). Advances include real-time rendered music, photo-realistic graphics and the addition of voice technology. The new version is scheduled to ship in late summer 2000.
In response to developer feedback, the DirectSound and DirectMusic APIs have been combined to create a new unified audio architecture.
The DirectMusic synthesizer will be upgraded to support DownLoadable Sounds Level 2 (DLS2), a next-generation technology for music and sound generation. Prerecorded music can be utilized interactively.
On the networking side, the DirectPlay API will feature a new scalable architecture for massively multiplayer Internet games. The introduction of DirectPlay Voice, Microsoft's new voice communication API, will allow developers to implement real-time chat in networked games.
The latest version of DirectX, DirectX 7.0a, is available for free consumer download from the DirectX Home User Downloads Web page, at http://www.microsoft.com/directx, or by using the Windows Update feature in Windows 98. Likewise, the DirectX SDK can be downloaded and ordered from the DirectX Downloads Web page at http://msdn.microsoft.com/directx.
Softimage Co., a subsidiary of Avid Technology, Inc., last week announced a new membership program for third-party developers. The new Developers Program is targeted at companies that create plug-ins and complementary technology or hardware products for Softimage applications. The program will let third-party developers take advantage of customization and extensibility features of Softimage products, as well as co-marketing support services.
The new Developers Program includes four levels of membership: Basic, Silver, Gold and Platinum.
Softimage also announced that its software developer kit, SOFTIMAGE|SDK, has been expanded to include the SOFTIMAGE|XSI Viewer SDK which provides developers with the tools to write plug-ins for the Viewer Plus, to plug .xsi file support into their own products, customize the file format, and support the reference previewing tools. The source code for .xsi file parsers is included, making it feasible to support .xsi as a solution for any 3D media art pipeline.
The SOFTIMAGE|XSI Viewer is available free of charge and provides basic support for .xsi files. SOFTIMAGE|XSI ViewerPlus is a licensed product that supports plug-ins, thus enabling customers to add proprietary effects and middleware companies to extend its functionality.
For additional inquiries or to request an application kit, contact the Softimage Developers Program at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
After significant delays, Newtek has begun shipping LightWave  for NT. LightWave began life about 10 years ago as the 3D graphics component of the Video Toaster, a breakthrough product for Amiga computers. The company says the new version is the most significant upgrade to LightWave in the history of the product. It adds character animation tools, groundbreaking rendering capabilities, a new modeling paradigm, new and improved architecture and a refined work environment.
New rendering technologies include:
The new character animation tools called IntelligEntities, which consist of Skelegons, Endomorphs and Multi-meshes. Other new character animation features include a hybrid inverse/forward kinematics engine and vertex grouping for bone assignments, plus a rewritten curve editor with multiple tangent types including Bezier, Hermite, TCB, Linear and Stepped that can coexist on a single curve.
Coming next quarter from New Zealand's Right Hemisphere is Texture Weapons ($495) texturing and painting tools for Deep Paint 3D.
Texture Weapons includes Right Hemisphere’s MercatorUV technology, a set of functions for automatic and manual UV map editing of complex 3D polygonal models. It allows different parts of a model to be separated into discrete regions on the material bitmap. MercatorUV includes traditional spherical, planar and cylindrical UV mapping tools, and it lets the user apply these different mapping types to different parts of the same object or model. For example, a head can be spherically mapped but problem areas, such as the ears, can be separated and mapped with traditional planar or proprietary MercatorUV projections.
MercatorUV incorporates functions for scaling, moving, shearing, and rotating UV coordinates with a "dragnet" to create smooth and even textures around complex surface features.
Also included in Texture Weapons is Right Hemisphere’s new projection paint feature, which lets the user paint from any position in 3D space through an unlimited number of different planar projections with brush and texture size unaffected by UV coordinate variations. It compensates for the UV distortion, such as is found on the top of a sphere, by distorting the painted bitmap when it is projected onto the object's surface.
Electric Rain's new $139 product, Swift 3D, will enable the creation of 3D imagery within the Macromedia Flash software. The product will be unveiled and released at the upcoming Flashforward2000 event on March 27 in San Francisco.
The software lets designers create or import 3D images and animations and export them to the Macromedia Flash (SWF) file format. It enables creating, editing and animating 3D images. These images can be created from fonts and basic 3D primitives within Swift 3D, or imported from other popular applications like 3D Studio (3DS), Adobe Illustrator (AI) or any program that exports encapsulated PostScript files (EPS).
Swift 3D allows control over the extrusion, rotation, coloring and animation of 3D images. Pre-built drag-and-drop animations and keyframe animation let users apply motion to new or imported images. These images are then converted into a vector format and exported as SWF files. Swift 3D supports four levels of export -- outlines, meshes, flat shading and gradient shading -- giving users control over image quality and size.
Swift 3D v1.0 will be available for the Windows platform with plans for a Macintosh version to follow.
Newly available from 3Dlabs, Inc. is the Oxygen VX1-16, a $149 workstation graphics accelerator that sports the company's GLINT R3 processor. Features include Virtual Texturing, said to let the 16MB card seamlessly manipulate up to 256MB of textures, plus hardware-based OpenGL 1.2 functionality including volumetric texturing and 3Dlabs' multi-threaded PowerThreads OpenGL drivers that take advantage of multiple CPUs to boost 3D performance.
Thanks to Josh Duberman for this tip: A recent article on the Nolo Press site, entitled Getting Permission to Publish: Ten Tips for Webmasters, starts out like this:
Think you can use someone else's work on your website without a licensing agreement? Think again.
You can find the rest at http://www.nolo.com/encyclopedia/articles/pct/pub_permission.html?e=b05b0001203.
From Nicole Kidd comes this info about an article that suggests a way to ensure a site's links always work:
Building a better hyperlink: Researchers Thomas A. Phelps and Robert Wilensky have outlined a way to create permanent links among Web pages that will remain functional even if documents are edited or moved to a new location. The technology is called "Robust hyperlinks," and would work by augmenting standard URLs with a "signature" derived from the referenced document that could then be submitted as a search engine query.
ATI Technologies Inc. last week revealed to game developers the details of two new 3D graphics hardware technologies.
The Charisma Engine is a geometry processing unit and incorporates game character acceleration for 3D skinning and key-frame character animation.
The Pixel Tapestry Architecture features a "GigaTexel" rendering engine, and includes support for deep multitexturing and new 3D effects such as metals, liquids and wood and their interaction with lighting and shadows.
BOPS, Inc., a leading programmable DSP core provider, disclosed its MO-RAY family of scalable floating-point array processor cores at last week's Game Developers Conference in San Jose. The family extends the 3D graphics performance of the BOPS ManArray architecture. The company also disclosed information about its BOPS Software Development Kit (SDK) used to develop applications based on the new cores.
The new MO-RAY cores accelerate a wide range of geometry processing functions such as curved-surface tessellation and transform and lighting. The programmable architecture accelerates rendering and animation algorithms to allow for more complicated graphics.
BOPS MO-RAY cores target semiconductor companies who are developing 3D graphics controllers for PCs, workstations and game consoles.
The MO-RAY family of cores has reportedly been optimized for advanced geometry processing through the addition of dual-issue floating-point multiply and add capability. This single architectural addition provides a 2X improvement in geometry performance with a negligible increase in die size when compared to BOPS standard family of cores. The first instance of the MO-RAY family, BOPS2040DF, transforms 50M triangles per second at 200MHz clock while consuming only 600K logic gates.
The SDK for MO-RAY cores extends the capabilities of the ManArray SDK by providing optimized geometry libraries and assembly-level optimization support for the MO-RAY core family.
Thirty one short courses (tutorials) on designing user interfaces to computers and to the World Wide Web will be offered at this year's CHI 2000 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Among the highlights of the tutorials are courses on user interface design for the World Wide Web (WWW), user-centered design, drawing on the right side of the brain, and interface design for interactive television.
These courses range from basic classes, such as "Human-Computer Interaction: Introduction and Overview" to narrow advanced topics, such as "Cognitive Factors in Design: Basic Phenomena in Human Memory and Problem Solving". Other examples of the range of offerings include "Usability Techniques for Web-based Services: Diversity and Technology"; "Enabling Technology for Users with Special Needs"; and "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain", a one-day version of Betty Edwards' famous drawing course.
Tutorials concentrating on the Web include "Styling the New Web: Web Usability with Style Sheets", "Web Sites that Work: Designing with your Eyes Open", and "Design and Rapid Evaluation of Usable Web Sites".
CHI is a forum for the exchange of information on how people interact with computers. The annual conference on human factors in computing systems features presentations, tutorials and vendor exhibits. Researchers, practitioners, educators, and students from around the world join in exploring and creating the future of computer-human interaction.
Approximately 2,200 professionals from over 35 countries will examine the future of human-computer interaction from 1-6 April at the Nederlands Congress Centre in The Hague, The Netherlands.
Interactive media developer Human Code last week signed a letter of intent to acquire Interactive Imaging, a real-time 3D graphics technology company based in Rochester, Minn. The acquisition will reportedly let Human Code integrate high-resolution, real-time 3D graphics for platforms including Internet browsers, PC games, next-generation consoles and interactive TV. John Talley, president of Interactive Imaging, will join Human Code as 3D technologist and director of a Rochester-based development team.
The Interactive Imaging approach uses parametric meshes rather than polygons to provide curved surfaces, high levels of detail and unlimited resolution. Human Code says this will support more realistic simulations in e-learning and e-business applications, which typically are delivered through Internet browsers, and will enhance Human Code's capabilities in high-performance game development.
Sony Computer Entertainment America last week released Hot Shots Golf 2 for the PlayStation game console. Developed by Clap Hanz Limited, the new title offers six different modes including Match Play, Stroke Play, VS Mode, Training Mode, Nine Hole/Par 3 course, plus a new Tournament Mode that lets players win upgraded golf gear as they compete through a tour schedule. Gamers are able to earn up to 13 different playable characters with distinct abilities. Each character has his or her own humorous idle, par, bogey and eagle animations. There are seven different hazard-laden courses.
Additional features include:
UK-based games developer Creature Labs, best known for its "Creatures" games, has announced the development of Beasts, a real-time strategy game based on their exclusive Artificial-life technology.
Beasts boasts 3D environments inhabited by Yeti - individual creatures said to think and act for themselves. Beasts, the company's first 3D title, is scheduled for release in Q2 2001.
The game's objective is to guide and control the actions of a small group of Yeti who must overcome a crisis that threatens their existence. A large mining company has started up operations near the Yeti. Players must drive the mining company out by any means necessary.
The Yeti tribes feature dominance hierarchies, realistic mating habits and complex social structures. To win, players will need to deal with a number of time-pressured missions. Between missions, they will have a more general responsibility for their charges, ensuring that their Yeti prosper and multiply and are ready for the next challenge. Multi-player options range from death-match conflicts between Yeti tribes, to open-ended play, in which players can observe their beasts interacting with no set goals. Using a third-person "God's-eye" view, the game also provides ecosystems with annual cycles and growth patterns. Individual Yeti are controlled by their biochemical drive systems and neural net brain structures which allow them to learn and adapt to situations.
Spectrum is an independent news service published every Monday for the interactive media professional community by Motion Blur Media. Spectrum covers the tools and technologies used to create interactive multimedia applications and infrastructure for business, education, and entertainment; and the interactive media industry scene. We love to receive interactive media and online development tools and CD-ROMs for review.
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