Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

22 March 2004
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)

Today's Headlines (details below)

--GarageGames Increases Game Engine Access, Drops Price

--Social Software Allows Multimedia Collaboration with IM

--cebas Releases finalShaders for finalRender Stage-1 --Aartform Ships Curvy 3D Modeler --Kaydara Updates Motionbuilder

--Kodak Shows 3D Display System --Global Haptics Announces New Gaming Device

--Review: Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance II --VUG Announces X-Files Game

--South by Southwest Web Awards Announced

--Sony @ GDC --GarageGames Previews Torque Shader Engine at GDC

--About Spectrum



GarageGames Increases Game Engine Access, Drops Price

Eugene, Oregon-based GarageGames last week liberalized its $100-per-programmer "Indie Games License" for the Torque Game Engine (TGE) to allow small, independent companies with annual revenues of less than $250,000 to publish their games anywhere, without restrictions or further royalties, other than including a Torque logo in the start up screen.

The TGE technology has powered games from commercial products such as Vivendi/Universal's Tribes 2, Starsiege, and Trophy Bass and independent titles including GarageGames' Marble Blast, Orbz from 21-6 Technologies, BraveTree Productions' ThinkTanks and the upcoming Dark Horizons: Lore from Max Gaming.

Licensing conditions:
* The license can only be used to make games.
* Any person or team that has less than $250,000 in annual company revenues can license at $100 per programmer.
* Games can be published with any publisher no limit on the number of titles.
* Torque Game Engine logo must be displayed in the title screen screens.

Additional information available regarding the indie license at http://www.garagegames.com/torque

Also, GarageGames lowered the price of the full commercial license of the Torque Game Engine (TGE) for use by any size company to only $495 per programmer seat. The commercial license imposes no publishing restrictions and is free of any royalty obligations.

The Commercial Game License of the Torque Game Engine 1.2 (TGE) was originally $10,000 per title. This new commercial license will not only allow the engine to be used use for any purpose but in addition, the number of resalable products that the engine can be used to create is unlimited.

The Torque Game Engine is distributed online with the TGE 1.2 demo and additional information available regarding the commercial license at http://www.garagegames.com/pg/product/view.php?id=31



Social Software Allows Multimedia Collaboration with IM

netomat, inc., a developer of communication software and network-based art, last week released its new, free personal multimedia communication service -- netomat 1.0. netomat spaces are live multimedia channels of communication among users. The spam-free spaces let users add photos, voice, text, links, sounds, animations and drawings, and invite friends to share ideas, post photos, exchange files using a standard browser. Not only is netomat 1.0 fun and easy to use, it's also free. A premium paid service is available for those who want more storage and bandwidth.

Because netomat is built upon open standards, formats, and protocols, viewers do not have to download the application or any proprietary plug-ins to view, interact, annotate, post, and notify.

The core technology underlying the netomat service is a new XML-based language called nml (netomatic mark-up language). nml was first introduced at the Postmasters Gallery in New York City as part of the netomat art project conceived by artist/programmer Maciej Wisniewski. The piece was reportedly downloaded by close to a million people in over 80 countries.




cebas Releases finalShaders for finalRender Stage-1

German developer cebas last week released finalShaders for finalRender Stage-1. finalShaders is the first in a series of material and shader plug-in collections.

finalShaders includes 14 advanced materials with a range of material and shader effects. The materials in finalShaders include:

For a limited time, every new copy of finalRender Stage-1 for 3ds max 4/5/6 will include a 12-CPU license Pack of finalShaders. Current users pay $185 for the same package; other quantities are available.

http://www.cebas.com http://www.turbosquid.com


Aartform Ships Curvy 3D Modeler

New from small developer Aartform is Curvy 3D, an $85 3D modeling package for Windows designed for first-time 3D artists. The software lets users draw shapes directly into 3D, sketch and paint colors, forms and bumps onto 3D models, and then export models and textures for use in other 3D software.

Other features include:
* Pose models using groups
* Create materials from painted lightmaps
* Export textures to edit in paint software.
* Export models to 3DS to animate and render in other software

Look for a review coming soon in Spectrum.



Kaydara Updates Motionbuilder

Kaydara Inc. last week released Motionbuilder 5.5 Professional, the latest version of the company's real-time 3D character-animation software.

New in Motionbuilder is support for Python Scripting, a powerful, interactive, object-oriented programming language. Support for live scripting is said to enable better integration with game studios' production pipelines, provides commands for running live scripts, and allows users to automate repetitive processes and extend features without leaving the Motionbuilder environment.

The new version also adds support for CgFX shaders and Cg, a shading language from Nvidia. CgFX allows artists to author content, visualize using advanced hardware rendering and gives them the ability to tweak shaders creating unlimited effects.

The CgFX shader support lets animators import and use CgFX shaders in all game scenes. Users can also create customized versions of the original imported shaders directly inside of Motionbuilder and have greater control of the CgFX shaders' real-time parameters, such as bump depth, color and specularity. Adding customization gives users more control and the ability to view their animation effects in real time, as they will appear in the game, without having to wait for the final, rendered version.




Kodak Shows 3D Display System

Eastman Kodak Company recently showed a commercial prototype of its Stereoscopic Imaging Display system, which lets the user experience three-dimensional images without glasses or headgear of any type. The company also plans to demonstrate the system at the Game Developers Conference this week in San Jose, California.

The Stereoscopic Imaging Display system produces a wide field of view, three-dimensional (3D) stereo image. The system is suitable for visualization tasks such as oil and gas exploration, molecular and chemical modeling, computer-aided design, entertainment and gaming, and many other applications.

The user sits in front of a system that creates a virtual image of two high-resolution LCD displays, one for each eye. The user looks into two "floating balls of light" that provide each eye a view of a magnified image of a display. The combination of the wide field of view and virtual image eliminates the sources of eyestrain found in other autostereoscopic systems. Kodak's Stereoscopic Imaging Display system also has a unique viewing zone, which lets the viewer see the "sweet spot" of an image while maintaining image quality across the entire viewing zone.

The desktop display has a field of view that measures 45 degrees by 36 degrees, and a resolution of 1280 x 1024 pixels. The user peers through large, 32mm viewing pupils that give the viewer the feeling of floating in a movie theater about 1.5 screen heights away from the screen. Kodak can adjust the scale of this system to increase or reduce the display resolution to meet various applications.

The ball lens technology behind the display is summarized in a paper presented at the 2003 Stereoscopic Displays and Applications conference. This paper is available upon request.



Global Haptics Announces New Gaming Device

Global Haptics, Inc., a developer of 3D input devices, has developed a new haptic orb design, said to improve on conventional gaming input devices for fast maneuvering in 3D games. Moreover, the new orb design is expected to cost significantly less than the 'classic' geOrb to produce, using existing technologies.

Over the past year, Global Haptics has been working with Justin Mette of 21-6 Productions, Inc., an independent producer of games such as Orbz (http://www.21-6.com). The goal of the two companies was to create a flying saucer racing game to investigate the potential of the haptic orb approach in electronic gaming. Their Flying Saucer Training Simulator was developed using the Torque Game Engine (http://www.garagegames.com).

In time trials with the new Orb design, subjects reportedly flew the saucer through a loopy 3D obstacle course approximately twice as fast as they were able to fly using a conventional PC gaming approach.A split-screen version which allows direct comparisons between game input technologies will be made available for demonstrations by July of 2004. Earlier demonstrations can be scheduled by contacting Global Haptics principal Michael Wallace at mgw@globalhaptics.com (include 'orb' as keyword in email subject line).

In a related development, Wallace (with collaboration from Mette and others, including staff from two national laboratories) led the development of perhaps one of the first applications of a video game engine for scientific analysis. For the Yucca Mountain Project, a government project to build an underground geologic repository for high-level nuclear waste, Wallace proposed and implemented a stochastic analysis of the potential for molten volcanic dikes to intersect the underground storage facility and damage radioactive waste packages (officially cited as ANL-MGR-GS-000003, Number of Waste Packages Hit by Igneous Intrusion). This was done through a new tool called DIRECT (Dike Interaction with Repository; Explicit Characterization and Tabulation). DIRECT was developed through a hybridization of the Torque Game Engine and a government - sponsored stochastic analysis code, LHS (Latin Hypercube Simulator). The new analysis reportedly provided a more defendable and understandable analysis that also supported a far lower potential consequence measure than previous analyses devoted to this subject.



Review: Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance II
by David Duberman

I recently finished Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance II, a new action RPG from Interplay/VUG for Xbox and PS2 (I played it on the latter). I make a point of saying that at the outset because I actually don't complete most of the games I begin. The reasons for this vary: One is that I have more games than I have time to play. More importantly, most games fail to maintain my interest for very long. And often, when I do want to keep playing a game, sooner or later I encounter a situation (typically a boss battle) that's so difficult to overcome that I just move on to another title. It's not that it's impossible, it's just that to get through the fight would take more practice than I have time or patience for. Games are supposed to be fun, not work.

Which brings me back to Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance II. I completed the first Dark Alliance, because I was able to, and because I enjoyed it, and the same goes for the sequel. A hard-core gamer might consider the game too easy, but for me it was just right. I played as Ysuran, the necromancer character; others include a cleric, a rogue, a barbarian, and a monk, who can't use great weapons or medium/heavy armor. Each character has its unique characteristics, but this is not a game for purists; there's a lot of crossover between the character capabilities. Ysuran, for example, is a type of mage, but unlike mages in many RPGs, he can wear heavy armor and wield weapons other than staffs. However, like most mages, he's weak on defense, so doesn't do well in close combat. But my necromancer was a wiz with the crossbow, and learned some fairly effective spells.

As in most such games, you gain experience by defeating foes, of which the game offers many, and when you achieve a certain amount of experience, you level up. This grants you a certain number of points to allocate among new feats to learn, most of which have increasing levels of effectiveness. Ysuran's feats include a variety of offensive spells, as well as those that help in other ways such as shielding you and speeding you up for a little while. I experimented with a number of these, but achieved most of my success with a mere two: one that let me summon a helper, who mostly acted as monster fodder while I continually cast the other, Enervate, which damages enemies substantially and continuously. If I didn't keep an eye on the helper and let him get killed, the monsters would then attack me, and I didn't last long. Actually, sometimes they ignored the helper (and/or he ignored them, inexplicably) and made straight for me. Fortunately, the game, unlike many console titles, offers copious save points, so I usually didn't have to backtrack very far after being vanquished. Maybe that's why the save games are so big, though; almost half a megabyte each.

One of the reasons Ysuran was so effective with the crossbow was because of the Workshop feature, similar to the ability in Diablo II to attach gems to weapons and armor to increase their offensive and defensive capabilities. BGDA2 offers 13 different gem types, some of which you can buy and others that you have to find. Each has its own characteristics, such as ruby, which is associated with blood or vitality, or diamond, associated with purity or goodness. Whenever you upgrade a weapon, you have to start with a rune stone. You can simply add a bunch of these to increase the item's basic capabilities, such as a weapon's damage rating, or one rune stone and one or two other gem types. You can add multiple gems of each type, but it's not clear whether and how doing so improves the item. I could've experimented, but I was more interested in getting through the game, and what I had was sufficient to do so.

The gameplay is fairly straightforward: fight your way through a maze-like dungeon and then battle the local boss. At any time, you can zap ("recall") to town to sell off booty and restock on supplies such as health and magic potions, and then zap right back to where you were. The story is fairly incidental, but it's nice to see from the ending that the saga will probably continue. Puzzles are relatively simple and few, but you'll want to keep your eye on the automap so you don't miss any hidden areas. The user interface is nicely designed; you can assign any four feats to the D-pad+L1, quaff a potion with L2 or R2, and switch among three weapons with D-pad [right]. And the graphics, as in the original BGDA, are pure eye candy; this is one of the best-looking games I've seen lately, even on the PS2.

With all these options, there's plenty of variety in BGDA2 to keep the experimenter happy trying different combinations for several runthroughs, or to let the more straightforward game such as myself just pick the most effective combination and blast away. The plentiful save points let you play for as long or short a period as you like, and the Recall feature ensures you don't run out of necessary goods. I enjoyed the game, and look forward to trying out some of the other characters.



VUG Announces X-Files Game

New for PS2 from Vivendi Universal Games is "The X-Files: Resist or Serve," a third-person action adventure game spanning three unique episodes created by the executive producers of "The X-Files." Developer Black Ops Entertainment describes the title as next-generation survival-horror game.

While on the path to solve the mysteries they uncover and survive the ongoing nightmare surrounding them, players as Mulder or Scully interact with characters and environments from "The X-Files" television show. Features include voiceovers from the entire cast, including David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, a haunting score and music created by the composers responsible for the music behind the television show and a storyline that fits into the timeline of "The X-Files'" seventh season.




South by Southwest Web Awards Announced

South by Southwest (SXSW) last week announced the winners of the seventh annual SXSW Web Awards, a competition for digital artists and Web developers.

Winners in over twenty categories ranging from "Best Experimental" to "People's Choice" to "Best of Show" were revealed during a ceremony emceed by John Halcyon Styn of lifestudent.com. Entry to the Web Awards was restricted to sites that were launched in calendar year 2003.

CSS guru Dave Shea won the "Best of Show" Web Award for his work on the resource site csszengarden.com. Thousands of members of the online community voted for their favorite finalist Website from the competition to win the "People's Choice" Award -- taken home this year by Blockdot, Inc. for the gaming site kewlbox.com. A complete list of categories, winners and finalists is available online at http://www.sxsw.com/interactive/Web_awards/ .



Sony @ GDC

In addition to a keynote address by Andrew House, executive vice president, Sony Computer Entertainment America, company game developers, programmers, producers and technology specialists will speak at various sessions at the 18th annual conference.

SCEA staff will be available at the company booth throughout the exposition to share developments in tools and technologies, including:
* The PlayStation2 Performance Analyzer, a development tool for conducting detailed performance analysis of games during development. Private 60-minute sessions will provide developers hands-on access as well as an opportunity to speak with experts regarding how to best utilize the Performance Analyzer.
* Experts will offer demonstrations of the expanding online capabilities for the PlayStation 2 computer entertainment system, and provide additional information for developers interested in creating online-enabled titles for the platform.
* Support engineers will be available to discuss methods for enhancing game designs through use of titles that utilize the internal Hard Disk Drive (40GB)(for PlayStation2), such as Final Fantasy XI.
* The new PlayStation 2 Debug LT, a development solution for developers who don't require the full function of a PlayStation 2 development tool, will be publicly shown for the first time. The Debug LT start-up card allows developers and artists to target the debugging station over an Ethernet connection.
* Experts will demonstrate voice over IP technology via the USB headset (for PlayStation2) as well as games that utilize a USB microphone. Support engineers will be on hand to provide their insight on the benefits and opportunities of incorporating voice in game design.
* Sony Computer Entertainment Europe will feature EyeToy, including demonstrations of the newest title, EyeToy: Groove. EyeToy enables developers and publishers to create games where the player's own movements, gestures and actions are captured via camera and transmitted to the game to control gameplay in real-time.



GarageGames Previews Torque Shader Engine at GDC

GarageGames announced today its line up for GDC where the company will be previewing the Torque Shader Engine in the nVIDIA booth #808. GarageGames is also announcing the new standalone Torque Network Library, Maya Exporter Beta for the Torque Game Engine 1.2 and Novodex Physics SDK v2 demos on Torque.

Torque Shader Engine (TSE) is built on the Torque Game Engine technology with improvements to the interior and exterior rendering engines, improved terrain rendering and additional functionality including:
* An API-independent graphics layer currently supporting DirectX 9, but designed with forthcoming OpenGL support in mind.
* Procedural generation of shaders that support: Dynamic lighting, bumpmapping, detail maps, specular, cubemapping, glow, refraction, reflection and texture UV animation.
* Shader interface allowing integration of custom shaders and effects.
* Vertex buffer and texture management, with support for static, dynamic and volatile vertex buffers.
* New lighting system.

The Torque Network Library (TNL) is a cross-platform C++ networking API intended for integration into simulations and games. Designed to be integrated into existing products, its features include:
* robust connection architecture
* multiple levels of data guarantee
* bit-level compression for optimal bandwidth utilization
* server object replication (ghosting) and management
* event and RPC (remote procedure call) framework
* extensible master server framework



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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