Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News 25 March 2002
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)
--Dejima, Stanford Announce Natural Language Voice Interface --Criterion Launches Collaborative Game-Production Environment --Virtools Updates Dev Tool
--Metrowerks to Ship CodeWarrior for GBA --Essential Reality Debuts P5 Glove Peripheral at GDC
--Digimation to Distribute Entropy Rendering System --Intrinsic to Offer Free Alchemy ArtistPack for 3ds max --Softimage Expands Family of Game Solutions --Kaydara Ships Real-Time 3D Graphics with Video I/O --Toon Boom Studio v1.2 Available in Japanese --Right Hemisphere Unveils Viewpoint Media Integrator --NewTek Cuts LightWave Price
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
--Game Audio Network Guild Launches at GDC --ALA Announces Sourcebook on Children's Interactive Media
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
--LucasArts Announces Star Wars Jedi Starfighter Xbox --Activision Announces Star Trek Starfleet Command III --Blizzard Announces WCIII/Battle.net Improvements --Sony Ships Monsters, Inc. for PS2
--LucasArts Announces Star Wars Bounty Hunter
--The Sims Becomes All-time Top-Selling PC Game
--IGF Winners Announced
--GDC Choice Awards Recipients Named
Dejima, Stanford Announce Natural Language Voice Interface
Dejima, Inc., a developer of products that improve access to and use of wireless services and enterprise applications, and the Archimedes Project, a research group based at the Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI) at Stanford University, last week released the Natural Interaction Platform (NIP), an accessibility platform they jointly developed to allow people to control computer-based devices by speaking to them as they would to another person. Voice command of this rapidly proliferating class of information appliances, which includes Web browsers, smart appliances and wireless access systems, is easier for most users than keystroke commands. For the elderly, as well as other people with impaired vision or motor skills, NIP can make the difference between using such appliances and not being able to use them.
NIP combines the Dejima Direct platform, which interprets a user's spoken input and subtle cues such as hand or facial gestures to determine the user's intent, with the Archimedes Project's Total Access System (TAS) software that provides a stand-alone standard interface for computer-based appliances. NIP allows the use of additional input and output modalities, such as speech, head tracking, and eye tracking, without affecting normal computer operation.
NIP is intended primarily for the aging and disability market, as well as general human-machine interaction challenges.
Criterion Launches Collaborative Game-Production Environment
Expected in Q3 '02 from Criterion Software is RenderWare Studio, a collaborative game-production environment based on the RenderWare Platform, Criterion's middleware solution integrating 2D/3D graphics, audio and physics modules. RenderWare Studio is said to be genre and platform independent, geared toward games developers working with any genre game and on any platform, including Microsoft, Nintendo, GameCube or PC.
Virtools Updates Dev Tool
New from France is Virtools Dev 2.1, with over 20 new behavior building blocks and a new DirectX 8.1 Rasterizer. Enhanced documentation, including new resources and samples, lets users take advantage of Dev 2.1's scripting capabilities, with new behavior building blocks such as Animation Recorder, Filter Texture, Hardware Level, Lens Flare, LightMap, Volumetric Fog and ShadowStencil.
New functionalities have been added to the Behavioral Engine, and the Virtools SDK and Web Player have been boosted to provide increased control over user experience.
Other improvements include a complete list of bug fixes in the new documentation and a host of optimizations for the GUI, the Behavioral Engine and Managers, and the Render Engine.
Metrowerks to Ship CodeWarrior for GBA
Metrowerks plans to ship in April a version of its CodeWarrior development tools for the Nintendo Game Boy Advance ($1,500/seat), providing game developers with a an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and tool set for targeting the fast-selling platform from Nintendo. CodeWarrior Development Tools for Game Boy Advance, Version 1.0, was demonstrated publicly for the first time at last week's Game Developers Conference 2002 in San Jose, Calif.
The new tools will be hosted on Windows and will support Nintendo's Game Boy Advance Developer Toolkit, complementing and enhancing the existing development solution released by Nintendo of America without compromising legacy code. The CodeWarrior tools are designed for communication between the developer kit and the CodeWarrior debugger.
In addition to Game Boy Advance, Metrowerks delivers tools for Nintendo GameCube. For more information on Metrowerks' tools offerings for game developers, visit http://www.metrowerks.com/games.
Essential Reality Debuts P5 Glove Peripheral at GDC
Essential Reality, LLC revealed the final product design of its P5 glove peripheral at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Jose. Using discrete movements of the fingers and hand, users can reportedly achieve full-motion control of images, computer 3D graphics and on-screen characters as well as interactive game action.
The P5 uses Essential Reality's proprietary bend sensor and tracking technologies to enable full interaction with a 3D environment. The USB-compliant peripheral is designed for compatibility with the Microsoft Windows 98, Windows ME and MS 2000 operating systems. Additionally, the Company expects that the P5 will be compatible with the Microsoft XP, MAC OSX and OSIX operating systems, as well as the PlayStation2 and Microsoft Xbox game consoles.
Dolby Introduces Pro Logic II for PS2
Dolby Laboratories, Inc. launched its Pro Logic II technology for the PlayStation 2 console and titles at the recent Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Jose, Calif. Audio encoded with Pro Logic II carries five channels of sound in a traditional two-channel stereo audio signal, which is then decoded back to five speakers by using a Dolby Surround Pro Logic II decoder. The technology can be used on any console that cannot support Dolby Digital 5.1. The reported advantages of using Pro Logic II in game applications include minimal latency, full frequency range, compatibility with existing cables and backwards compatibility with mono, stereo, and legacy Dolby Surround Pro Logic equipment.
Digimation to Distribute Entropy Rendering System
Digimation, Inc. will distribute Berkeley-based Exluna's Entropy 3.1, which includes an integrated interface for Discreet's 3ds max software. The multithreaded, hybrid scanline/raytracing rendering solution offers features such as analytic anti-aliasing, global illumination, sub-pixel displacement, depth of field, caustics, motion blur, comprehensive geometry support, and the programmable shading with support for the RenderMan shading language.
Through March 31, Digimation customers can purchase the Entropy rendering system for $1,200 (a savings of $550).
Intrinsic to Offer Free Alchemy ArtistPack for 3ds max
Intrinsic Graphics, Inc., the developer of the Alchemy game-development platform, says it will make its Alchemy ArtistPack for Discreet's 3ds max software, available as a free download via the Web (we checked: It's not there yet).
Alchemy ArtistPack for 3ds max software provides a scene viewer that can be embedded directly within 3ds max viewports. It lets artists grasp, at modeling time, how content assets will perform on the hardware platform they are creating for. Exporting in the free version is limited to the PC.
Softimage Expands Family of Game Solutions
At the Game Developers' Conference (GDC), Avid's Softimage Co. unveiled its new Platform Development Kits (PDKs), utilities and tools to support specific games consoles; new Real-Time Shader effects technology in the company's nonlinear animation system (NLA), Softimage|XSI v.2.02; and a new release of Softimage|3D, the company's character-animation system.
Game developers and artists using the Softimage|XSI software will have access to a new set of utilities and tools for the creation of effects and animation for specific games-hardware platforms. With the new PDKs, artists can produce content interactively with each specific games platform. The PDKs contain customized versions of the Softimage|XSI Viewer for accurate real-time 3D previewing, and the File Tool Kit (FTK) for integration of the dotXSI file format to facilitate the integration of the XSI software into any interactive media pipeline. The PDKs also include add-ons for simplifying the creation of surface and texture effects.
The new Softimage|XSI v.2.02 system includes features designed for gaming environments, including integrated real-time visual effects creation and editing environment. The Real-Time Shader architecture lets artists to view and edit shader effects, including real-time multipass rendering effects, from game engines directly in the XSI Viewports, and export those effects to their game engine along with models and animation.
The latest release also offers a new Software Development Kit (SDK), enhanced polygonal modeling and character animation tools, as well as a superior data pipeline providing games artists and developers with sophisticated, open content creation and validation tools supporting every stage of the game development process - from creation through final export.
Lastly, Softimage delivered version 4.0 of the Softimage|3D character-animation product, with new features focused on games authoring including multiple UV texturing, advanced vertex color authoring and interactive editing of shading normals.
Kaydara Ships Real-Time 3D Graphics with Video I/O
Kaydara Inc. and BOXX Technologies last week announced the availability of Kaydara FiLMBOX online 3.5 (US$30,000 and up), a real-time 3D production solution with video I/O, on BOXX Technologies' 3DBOXX PC-based broadcast workstation. Featuring the integration of real-time character-based 3D content into virtual environments, and advanced video I/O options, the Windows-based turnkey system provides broadcast professionals with a solution for the production of programming for news, game shows, sporting events, awards presentations, and talk shows.
FiLMBOX online 3.5 is a real-time production system, integrating character animation, live motion capture, camera tracking, and real-time audio and video I/O in a unified authoring environment. It features the following enhancements:
* support for broadcast-quality video and audio I/O in the Microsoft Windows environment
* camera tracking with Intersense, Radamec, and Hybrid motion-tracking systems * virtual set integration with Orad and Vi[Z]Rt * improved real-time lip synchronization with broader phoneme coverage
Toon Boom Studio v1.2 Available in Japanese
Toon Boom Technologies announced at MacWorld Tokyo 2002 the launch of Toon Boom Studio version 1.2 in Japanese. Optimized for Mac OS X version 10.1, Toon Boom Studio v1.2 includes new features, including exporting animations as iMovie projects or the DV stream format, as well as a number of workflow enhancements and user interface improvements.
Right Hemisphere Unveils Viewpoint Media Integrator
Viewpoint Corporation and Right Hemisphere last week announced their new interactive authoring solution for Viewpoint Experience Technology (VET), Viewpoint Media Integrator (VMI) for Deep Exploration.
VMI is an integrated part of the newest release of Right Hemisphere's format-translation package Deep Exploration. With VMI, content developers can create dynamic VET scene interactions and animations directly from over 30 standard 3D file formats including: 3D Studio Max, Alias|Wavefront Maya, Caligari Truespace and Newtek Lightwave. The software, with its animation-sequencing tools, also has a one-step process to convert offline content to Web-ready VET digital assets.
NewTek Cuts LightWave Price
NewTek, Inc. announced last week that the price of LightWave 3D  will drop $900, from $2495 to $1595. NewTek also announced a special promotion for current LightWave users to purchase Video Toaster , its real-time, uncompressed, non-linear editing system for only $1995.
"We're trying to bring some sanity to the way high-end 3D tools are priced," said NewTek founder and chief technology officer, Tim Jenison.
"The days of 3D software that costs thousands of dollars are over, and they aren't coming back. Everyone in the industry knows this ... With the huge changes in the price/performance of computers and content-creation tools in the past few years, nobody today can say with a straight face that a higher price is somehow a magic shortcut to professional quality."
LightWave 3D includes soft-body dynamics, particles, Sasquatch Lite for hair and fur, plus unlimited render nodes.
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
Game Audio Network Guild Launches at GDC
The Game Audio Network Guild (G.A.N.G.), an organization focusing on the advancement of interactive audio and the community surrounding it, debuted during the 2002 Game Developers Conference in San Jose. Established by audio professionals in the video game industry, G.A.N.G. is a non-profit organization established to raise awareness of interactive audio by providing information, instruction, resources, and guidance to members, content providers, and users. The group intends to provide resources for education, business, technical issues, community, publicity and recognition. G.A.N.G. also supports career development and education for aspiring game audio professionals, publishers, developers and students.
G.A.N.G. is also establishing a variety of programs including annual G.A.N.G. Awards, the G.A.N.G. Seal of Approval, and various membership levels. Currently in development by Blitz Digital Studios (www.blitzds.com), the G.A.N.G. Web site will be a communications hub for members and the interactive industry at large.
ALA Announces Sourcebook on Children's Interactive Media
Coming soon from Active Learning Associates is the 2002 edition of the Complete Sourcebook on Children's Interactive Media. Contents feature hundreds of new reviews including 136 "smart toys" (microprocessor-embedded toys by companies such as LeapFrog and Fisher-Price), 365 videogames, and 535 new Windows or Macintosh CD-ROMs. A total of 5,700 products are reviewed in this book; a titles list is available at http://www.childrenssoftware.com/sbtitles.html.
Additional 2002 Sourcebook contents include: * contact information for 900+ software publishers, with phone, address, fax and Web site information.
* 23 subject listings with the highest rated software.
* a listing of 43 catalogs, both print and online, that sell software.
* listings by grade and platform of the highest rated software.
* key statistics and trends in children's interactive publishing * the Children's Software Evaluation System used by CSR.
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
LucasArts Announces Star Wars Jedi Starfighter Xbox
Coming in May from LucasArts Entertainment Company LLC for Xbox is Star Wars Jedi Starfighter. Gamers pilot the Jedi starfighter from the upcoming film Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones. The Republic's new prototype Jedi starfighter possesses advanced capabilities such as Force lightning, Force shield, Force reflex and Force shock wave.
The game provides over 20 one- and two-player cooperative story-based missions set amidst a variety of new worlds and environments from Attack of the Clones.
Players can battle in three other original craft: the Havoc, Zoomer and Freefall. Missions take place over land and in space, with players skirmishing against more than 40 starships and capital-class vessels - including some notable enemy craft from the Star Wars: Episode II film.
Activision Announces Star Trek Starfleet Command III
Coming this holiday season from Activision is Star Trek Starfleet Command III for the PC. The tactical starship simulator will be the first title in the game series to take place in the Star Trek: The Next Generation timeline.
Similar to the earlier games in the SFC franchise, Star Trek Starfleet Command III allows gamers to optimize their ship and allocate power to their ship's systems for different types of strategies such as hit-and-run maneuvers, ambushes or direct assaults. However, Star Trek Starfleet Command III simplifies this process by introducing a new interface for system management that reduces the "micromanagement" of starship control, and allows players to focus on combat. Additionally, for the first time players can customize their vessel's weapons, engines, shields and other systems. As players progress through the game, they can acquire better phasers and disruptors, stronger shields and outfit their ship with new special weapons. The new game also adds RPG elements, with officers under the player's command able to gain experience and acquire unique skills to increase ship efficiency and employ advanced attacks. Players can also recruit new and more experienced officers to maximize the overall effectiveness of their ship.
The single-player game consists of three separate campaigns where gamers can play as the Klingons, Romulans, and the Federation. Initially, players will be given command of a ship with limited capabilities, but after the completion of a successful mission, they will accrue prestige points that they can spend on more powerful ships, system upgrades or officers. In the game players will have the opportunity to control over 25 vessels from Star Trek: The Next Generation such as the Sovereign-class starship, the Romulan Warbird, the Borg Cube, and the Klingon Neghvar-class battleship, as well as several original ship designs. The campaign's progress and the state of the universe can be tracked from a large map that will reflect the political allegiance of hundreds of sectors.
The game's multiplayer "skirmish mode" lets players engage in combat as any of the three playable races from the campaign or as the Borg. Features include free-for-all and team-based games, plus an enhanced version of the Dynaverse 3 multiplayer environment. This persistent online component will feature improved AI and a new system that allows players to join the same fleet, travel together across the map and battle alongside one another for galactic dominance.
Blizzard Announces WCIII/Battle.net Improvements
Blizzard plans to implement a number of enhancements to Battle.net for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. These include: * Players are anonymously matched based on skill level.
* The anonymous matchmaking system (AMM) randomly selects maps based on the players' preferences.
* Players can choose which race to play, or they can let the service choose for them.
* Players can also select the game type, which indicates the number of allies and opponents.
* The new custom team option lets players create games that friends and clanmates can see and easily join.
* Team members are automatically allied and set to allied chat.
New Ladder System
* Battle.net's ladder system has been revamped for Warcraft III. This new system promotes active competition and maintains the ladder's integrity.
* The AMM prevents win trading and ensures that high-level players face opponents of similar skill.
* Ladder-play prerequisites have been eliminated (everyone who uses the AMM earns a ladder rank).
* Top-ranked players can compete in seasonal tournaments to determine who really is the best of the best.
* Players can join or create custom games with nonstandard game settings for added excitement and replayability. These games have a wide variety of play options, and they do not affect your ladder record.
* Play with or against computer players.
* Play on the map of your choice, including user-made custom maps.
* Anyone that you permit can join, so you can play against opponents of your choice.
* Allow/restrict observers, toggle fog of war on/off, adjust game speed, and adjust diplomacy settings.
New Game Filter: The game filter lets players determine which available games appear on the custom games list. This functionality allows them to filter out games that have maps they don't want to play. Game filters include: * Map Creator - Choose to view only Blizzard-made or user-made maps * Game Options - Play standard melee games, or play custom games with various options toggled on/off
* Map Type - Play standard melee maps, or play custom maps with various triggers active/inactive
* Game Speed - Fast/Medium/Slow
* Map Size - Large/Medium/Small
* Separate Gateways and Name Space
* Warcraft III name space is not shared with previous Blizzard games or even between gateways, so more names will be available for selection. To prevent name copying, nonstandard characters have been disabled.
New Built-in Friends System
* To help players keep track of friends, the friends list shows each friend's location (whether in or about to start a game, or on a chat channel).
* Players can easily join a friend's channel or a game ready to start.
* Players are notified when a friend enters or leaves Battle.net (this notice even appears in-game).
Sony Ships Monsters, Inc. for PS2
Sony Computer Entertainment America last week released Disney/Pixar's Monsters, Inc. for PlayStation2. The action-platform game offers colorful environments and graphics, exploration, puzzles, funny/scary activities and gameplay throughout eight large environments from the film.
Enhanced DVD features include cut-scenes from the movie, a collection of Pixar artwork and sketches, a behind-the-scenes look at Pixar Animation Studios, and interviews with Pixar's John Lasseter and the Monsters, Inc.
LucasArts Announces Star Wars Bounty Hunter
Jango Fett, a mercenary from the Star Wars galaxy, will make his interactive debut this fall in the LucasArts title Star Wars Bounty Hunter for PlayStation 2 and GameCube. Inspired by events between Star Wars: Episode I and II, the game brings players into Jango Fett's sinister and seedy world, where thieves, assassins - and worse - thrive. Using his cunning and a host of deadly skills, Jango Fett ventures into the rarely explored dark side of the Star Wars universe to track down the elusive leader of a mysterious and deadly cult. All the while, he'll compete against a brutal rival from his past in a quest to capture the ultimate bounty, dead or alive.
Gameplay emphasizes combat and physical action in the pursuit of prey across six worlds and 18 levels. Fett faces off against an onslaught of the worst scum in the universe, including crime lords, corrupt politicians, enemies of various species, and a ruthless competitor from his own mysterious past. He is equipped with an arsenal of powerful weapons such as dual blaster pistols, a flamethrower, missiles, and a jet pack.
The development of Star Wars Bounty Hunter utilizes the talents of LucasArts' sister companies Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Skywalker Sound. This marks the first time other companies in the Lucas group have been involved in the production of a LucasArts game. ILM is generating cinematics for Star Wars Bounty Hunter, and Skywalker Sound is creating sound effects for the game.
The Sims Becomes All-time Top-Selling PC Game
Electronic Arts says it has shipped over 6.3 million copies worldwide of the computer game, The Sims, making it the best-selling PC game of all time. The game, which lets players create a neighborhood of simulated people (Sims) and control their lives, was the best-selling PC game of both 2000 and 2001. Translated into 13 different languages, The Sims also remains a top seller worldwide.
The Sims has insinuated itself into pop culture consciousness since its release. In September of 2000, the game inspired New York City-based band Electric Funstuff to release a Sims-inspired anthem, titled Sim-Hilarities, about a player of the game who finds odd parallels between his life and the lives of his on-screen characters. A take-off of "Simlish," the unique language of The Sims was featured in last year's season opener of ABC Television's, "Drew Carey Show," as well as game footage depicting the office antics at Winfred-Louder Department Store, Drew's place of employment, in its April Fools episode. Most recently, a takeoff of The Sims was featured in an episode of Fox Television's "Malcolm In The Middle." Malcolm recreates his own family in a computer game called "The Virts" with disastrous results.
IGF Winners Announced
The 4th Annual Independent Games Festival (IGF) announced top honors during last week's awards ceremony at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose.
The $15,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize for Independent Game of the Year was awarded to the development team, DreamingMedia, for "Bad Milk," a hallucinatory puzzle game using live-action video.
The IGF recognized:
* Seumas McNally Grand Prize - "Bad Milk" by DreamingMedia * Innovation in Game Design - "Insaniquarium" by Flying Bear Entertainment * Innovation in Visual Arts - "Banja Taiyo" by Team cHmAn * Innovation in Audio - "Bad Milk" by DreamingMedia * Technical Excellence - "Ace of Angels" by Flying Rock Enterprises * Audience Award - "Kung Fu Chess" by Shizmoo
All winners also received development tools from Microsoft's DirectX team, the Technical Excellence winner received a Pentium 4 workstation from Intel, and the Innovation In Game Design winner received Playstation 2 Linux Development Kits. A cash prize of $1,000 was awarded to each craft and audience award recipient.
GDC Choice Awards Recipients Named
The International Game Developers Association (IGDA) last week announced the recipients of the 2nd Annual Game Developers Choice Awards, game development's highest honors. The awards were presented during a ceremony at the San Jose Civic Auditorium during this year's annual Game Developers Conference (GDC).
The celebration honors innovation as well as technical and artistic achievement in interactive entertainment. The nominations were open to all game developers.
The recipients are:
* Game of the Year - Grand theft Auto III (DMA Design/Rockstar Games) * Rookie Studio of the Year - Bohemia Interactive Studio for Operation Flashpoint
* Original Game Character of the Year - Daxter from Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
* Excellence in Audio - Marty O'Donnell & team for sound effects in Halo: Combat Evolved
* Excellence in Game Design - GTA3 team for game play in Grand Theft Auto III * Excellence in Level Design - Fumito Ueda & team for level design in Ico * Excellence in Programming - Richard Evans for artificial intelligence in Black & White
* Excellence in Visual Arts - Fumito Ueda & team for art direction in Ico
Game Innovation Spotlights
* Black & White (Lionhead Studios)
* Grand Theft Auto III (DMA Design/Rockstar Games) Ico (Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc.) Majestic (Electronic Arts) * Rez (United Game Artists)
Three special honors, selected by the Game Developers Choice Awards advisory board, were presented at the awards ceremony: * Lifetime Achievement Award - Yuji Naka, president and CEO of Sega's SONICTEAM, for the innovative and award-winning work he has produced during his career, including the creation of SEGA mascot, Sonic The Hedgehog .
* First Penguin Award - Hubert Chardot, for his risk-taking work on Alone in the Dark, a game that started the "survival-horror" genre.
* IGDA Award for Community Contribution - Jeff Lander, for his writings on game development, community building efforts and student outreach.
More information on the awards and recipients can be found at www.IGDA.org/Awards.
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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