Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

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

--DarkTree Add-on Released
--CAT Gets 1.2 Update
--Digimation Ships 3D Facial Animation Software
--Animation: Master Updated
--Apple Updates Shake Compositor

--Virtools Used for Anatomy Education

--Oregon3D Announces Character Animation Camp

--Eidos Announces Relationship-Sim Game
--The Adventure Company Announces E3 Lineup
--Empire Earth 2 to Eliminate Furball Combat
--Square Enix Announces Final Fantasy XI Expansion
--Everquest II Beta Testing Begins in June
--Activision Releases Shrek 2 Video Game

--E3Expo Adds Analysts to Conference Program

--About Spectrum



DarkTree Add-on Released

A brand new addition for DarkTree Textures 2.5, one of our favorite graphics-software packages, is Enhance: DT. It's a set of 107 new components for DarkTree 2.5 and all its Simbionts. The complete component set allows the creation of an infinite number of different textures, patterns and surfaces. In addition, all of the texture parameters can be animated so that many different special effects can be generated.

The main features of the Enhance:DT texture components are :
* 107 new components for Darktree 2.5
* All components are compatible with all Simbionts
* Can be used with 3ds max, Lightwave, Cinema4D, Truespace, Animation Master, Renderman, SoftImage XSI and Mental Ray
* Available for Intel and AMD CPUs
* Compatible with Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000, and XP.
* Compatible with multi-threaded systems
* All component appears in eight plug-ins
* All 2D shaders can utilize planar, cylindrical or spherical mapping
* eight new color/percent/elevation gradients are included
* Color gradients can be mixed with a background using alpha maps
* All texture components have built-in turbulence, which can be animated with cycling
* All texture components have a seed input for creating different patterns

And best of all, the whole package is only $49! This is a great deal for procedural-texture enthusiasts. Look for a review coming soon in Spectrum.



CAT Gets 1.2 Update

Character Animation last week released V1.2 of its Character Animation Toolkit (CAT), a plug-in for 3ds max recently reviewed in Spectrum. It includes workflow (UI) changes, new features and bug fixes.

New features include:
* Animated Footprints - allows for creation of footprints that skid, slide, or walk on water. Footprint operations can also be applied only to selected footprints.
* Color Modes - enables the rig to be colored by an animation layer in addition to normal object color, letting the user see which layer is affecting which part of the rig.
* Expanded Rig Manipulation -limbs and tails can now hang naturally when the rig is bent over.
* Enhanced Animation Clip and Pose Loading - allows for animation clips and poses to be mirrored. Also gives control over whether the data is loaded in relative to current position or to the original data.
* Save Multiple Animation Layers - enables multiple animation layers to be saved, complete with animated blends, etc., and then be loaded onto another rig.
* Stretchy Limbs - adjust the limbs interactively, in the viewport.



Digimation Ships 3D Facial Animation Software

New from Digimation is FaceStation 2, a video-based 3D facial animation software suite. FaceStation 2 uses a computer-vision software engine to recognize and automatically track facial expressions from live video or prerecorded video clips. In real time, actual facial expressions are analyzed, captured and used to animate shaded 3D models in 3ds max or Maya with no motion-capture hardware, facial markers or offline rendering processes required. FaceStation 2 also includes Avatar Editor, allowing the creation of ready-to-animate characters complete with morph targets using front and side photographs.

FaceStation 2 for 3ds max 4, 5 and 6 and Maya 4.5 and 5, is now available for $1,995. More information about FaceStation 2 can be found at http://www.digimation.com . For a limited time, FaceStation 2 will ship with a free copy of Creature Creator, a stand-alone software application for making unique cartoon, fantasy and sci-fi characters using a library of more than 500 predefined body parts that can be tweaked and combined in different ways.


Animation: Master Updated

Good ol' Marty Hash is still at it, as evidenced by the recent release of version 11 of his $300 3D animation software, aka Animation: Master 2004. New features include hair, customizable UI, decaling, particles, and more, including stability (maybe). Get the straight poop at http://www.hash.com/am2004/ .


Apple Updates Shake Compositor

Just out from Apple is Shake 3.5, featuring new shape-based morphing and warping tools for advanced compositing and new "shape-shifting" special effects.

The new shape-based morphing and warping features use spline tools, said to make it more intuitive to create and modify effects than with traditional mesh-based warping tools.

Shake 3.5 also improves upon the Rendezvous-enabled Shake Qmaster network render manager that can now handle distributed rendering tasks for both Shake and Maya, allowing visual effects artists to distribute rendering tasks across a cluster of Apple's Xserve G5 servers or desktop Power Mac G5 computers. Also new is support for 16-bit RGB and 10-bit YUV QuickTime formats.

Artists can now choose which operations process at 8-, 16-, or 32-bit floating color bit-depth, allowing high dynamic range images to be composited with greater fidelity while still maintaining performance. Shake 3.5 also includes keyers Photron Primatte and CFC Keylight.




Virtools Used for Anatomy Education

The Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) has fused gaming and training-based simulations using Virtools Dev, and published its article Gaming Technologies for Anatomy Education. CARET's Virtual Anatomy Project at the University of Cambridge reportedly goes beyond 3D visualization to explore ways in which real-time interactive 3D can enhance anatomy education.

In an effort to surpass standard observation of anatomy models in an isolated virtual environment, CARET is investigating ways in which the interactive mechanisms found in computer games can be repurposed to engage students and improve on existing pedagogical models.

Read Gaming Technologies for Anatomy Education (http://www.virtools.com/news/pdf/2004/CARET.pdf), originally presented at IV03, the 7th International Conference on Information Visualization.


Virtual Anatomy Department



Oregon3D Announces Character Animation Camp

Oregon3D Inc., a Portland, Ore.-based school for digital arts and sciences, last week announced its upcoming six-week Character Animation Camp. Scheduled to take place June 7 through July 16, 2004 at Oregon3D, the $2,949 camp offers students a series of courses in character animation. Taught by instructors such as Mike Wellins, former director at Will Vinton Studios, the camp offers a series of six individual weeklong classes that range from the history of animation to creating a finished piece of animation


The camp aims to expand upon the typical daytime classroom experience with extended lab hours during the evenings and weekends, as well as guest speakers, field trips and Saturday seminars. Students who cannot commit to the entire six weeks have the option to sign up for courses a la carte at regular course prices, or subset of classes for a discounted rate. Students who register for the full six weeks can choose either a Maya or 3ds max specialty track Courses are as follows:
* A Brief History of Animation - June 7-11
* Storyboarding and Directing for Animation - June 14-18
* Character Design - June 21-25
* Learning Maya or 3ds max 6 Fundamentals - June 28-July 2
* Maya or 3ds max 6 Character Rigging and Animation - July 5-9
* 3D Character Animation Advanced - July 12-16




Eidos Announces Relationship-Sim Game

Eidos plc has secured the North American publishing rights for Singles: Flirt Up Your Life. Developed by the German company, Rotobee, the game is described as a life and reality simulation game. Eidos, in partnership with Deep Silver, a company of the Koch Media Group, will release Singles: Flirt Up Your Life for PC via online download early this summer.

Singles: Flirt Up Your Life places the player in the role of matchmaker. From over a dozen unique characters, the player picks two people to move into a sparsely decorated apartment and begin their adventure together as new roommates. Numerous opportunities to engage the characters in situations will make or break their relationship in the house. The player, having no idea what each individual's tastes and opinions are, must choose the character's actions as they interact and learn about one another. Anticipation and curiosity will build from learning how to collaborate on furnishing the home, to finding out what your roommate enjoys watching on television most. Of course, if someone forgets to vacuum the house, there will be trouble.

Simple interactions can uncover shy insecurities, quirky behaviors, anger fits, and flirty situations that can lead to levels beyond friendship. The successful bond the player creates between the characters is what allows boundaries to slip and attraction and physical intimacy to take over. Even the most opposite characters have a chance at romance.

The game's 3D engine allows for the apartment to act as a veritable blank canvas. Players can decorate and manipulate their environment including a bank of decorations, appliances, and add-ons to allow for new ways to spice up their home and its inhabitants. Character models offer facial expressions and "true-to-life" displays of the human body. The real-time dynamic lighting model gives the needed mood to both the characters and environments, to evolve into romantic, possibly even erotic scenarios.



The Adventure Company Announces E3 Lineup

The Adventure Company last week announced four new Windows games it will show at the upcoming E3 expo. All titles are expected to ship this summer.

Aura: Fate of the Ages, developed by Streko-Graphics: An ancient legend promises great strength, power and immortality to the one who combines the sacred artifacts of the ages with four magical rings. Players embark on a journey across four worlds in search of these hidden artifacts, unlocking new mystifying worlds as the journey unfolds.

Dark Fall: Lights Out, developed by XXv Productions: Follows the story of Parker, a young cartographer sent to work in the Cornish harbor town of Trewarthen. Falling rocks have claimed the lives of many of the town's fishermen, and Parker is sent to map the area, only to encounter great hostility from the townspeople. When the faithful light of Fetch Rock Lighthouse suddenly goes out, Parker discovers the Lighthouse hides an ancient and chilling secret. The sequel to Dark Fall: The Journal, the title offers more than 50 pre-rendered locations to explore in a ghost story weaved with multiple subplots. Players will encounter a virtual cast of characters and observe and interact with spectral beings in this adventure thriller.

Atlantis Evolution, developed by Atlantis Interactive Entertainment: The first episode of a new Atlantis series features a range of puzzles to solve across five destinations, each with its own culture and mysteries. The story is set in 1904, where our hero, Curtis Hewitt, is on his way back to New York. A young adventurer and photographer, Curtis gets himself caught in a vortex that sends him to the heart of the lost city of Atlantis. A stranger in a land of hi-tech and archaic faith, Curtis must help the people of Atlantis survive by overthrowing the mighty 'Atlantian' Gods.

Missing, developed by Lexis Numérique: Journalist Jack Lorski and his companion disappear while investigating a string of gruesome murders. Soon after their disappearance, Jack's agency receives a disturbing CD-ROM containing footage he captured during his investigation. More than just a CD, this disc is in fact the beginning of a terrifying game with a maniacal killer known only as "The Phoenix." The player will receive actual email from virtual characters and The Phoenix himself offering important clues. Players will also visit real Websites and fictitious sites created solely for the game to obtain information for solving the case.



Empire Earth 2 to Eliminate Furball Combat

Coming in the first half of 2005 from Vivendi Universal Games (VU Games) is Empire Earth 2. Developed by Mad Doc Software, the sequel will build upon the formula of its predecessor by adding features requested both by casual game players interested in a brief spin through history and by more hard core gamers who demand a real-time strategy game that will challenge them for dozens, if not hundreds, of hours.

Empire Earth 2 will add unique units, powers, leaders, and inherent bonuses to all of the game's 14 different civilizations. Cities, territories, and borders, often treated as "eye candy" in other real-time strategy games, will factor into game play and be treated as tradable resources, as in the real world. VUG promises that the game's artificial intelligence will be more reactive, dynamic, and variable than its predecessor's, able to adapt to human opponents in ways that are more engaging for the player. And ambient weather and seasons like fog and snowfall will affect game play, forcing players to adapt their strategies to the changing environment.

In addition, focus has been placed on casual gamers who often become frustrated by difficult and arcane videogame features. The citizen-manager system simplifies the player's job of assigning citizens to movement and harvesting tasks. A new, more intelligent formation system will offer attack bonuses, allow for easier navigation across maps, and reduce the occurrence of "furball combat," a confusing real-time strategy game element that can frustrate gamers. And the game's streamlined research system better mimics the actual development of technology and alleviates the need to micromanage the game during heated combat.

Multiplayer features include a new Crown System to provide temporary, but potent, rewards for players who demonstrate military, economic, imperialistic, or cultural ability. A war-planning screen will help teammates coordinate their efforts by allowing them to use a map of the world to diagram troop movements. Multiplayer competition will feature nine different game types, including new additions to the series such as "Hot Spots," which forces gamers to capture and hold positions of strategic importance. Lastly, Empire Earth 2 will include player-requested features like recorded games, improved tournament support, multiplayer co-operative scenarios, and advanced statistics reporting.



Square Enix Announces Final Fantasy XI Expansion

Scheduled to ship this fall from Square Enix U.S.A. is a new expansion to its massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), Final Fantasy XI, titled "Chains of Promathia." The first cross-platform, cross-continent MMORPG, the game lets players connect to the same world regardless of whether they are playing on a personal computer (PC) or PlayStation2 and whether they are playing in North America or Japan.

Final Fantasy XI blends sorcery and technology. The once peaceful world of Vana'diel stands at the brink of war as a power struggle slowly emerges among the three nations. The struggle focuses on the control of sacred crystals: an essential source of all creation. An unknown malevolent force rises in Vana'diel with a passion for the energy within the crystals.

The expansion expands the world of Vana'diel: new areas never before seen in maps will surface and towns, which have been spoken of but never seen, will emerge. Fabled legends will also be realized in Chains of Promathia. As some of the mysteries of Vana'diel are unraveled, additional secrets will be discovered in the expansion. The expansion will be available on CD-ROM and will not be available for download.



Everquest II Beta Testing Begins in June

Sony Online Entertainment says beta sign-ups for EverQuest II will begin in May and the beta testing program itself will begin in June. The game will be available at retail later in the year.

Longtime subscribers to SOE's EverQuest Legends service will be the first allowed into beta, followed by players that fulfilled the requirements of the Lords of EverQuest special offer. Additional testers will be selected from applications received through the EverQuest II Website. Gamers interested in signing up should visit http://www.everquest2.com/ . SOE will notify qualified Beta applicants in stages over the coming months.

EverQuest II features:
* a new online world
* voices for almost every non-player character (NPC), encompassing nearly 100,000 lines and 130 hours of dialog
* cinematic-quality 3D graphics engine
* character-customization capabilities, including armor, weapons, and items, as well as facial appearance
* 16 races, 50 levels and 24 classes with a branching system that allows players to choose their class as they advance
* no race/class combination limitations
* player-owned real estate such as apartments, homes, and guild houses
* combat, spell and skill systems
* trade skills available to all player classes
* more than 160 unique creature types, from orcs and goblins to huge dragons and menacing living statues



Activision Releases Shrek 2 Video Game

In the new Shrek 2 video game from Activision, gamers can play as the film's main characters Shrek, Donkey, Princess Fiona and Puss-in-Boots, as well as original characters created for the game. Players journey through 11 levels that include film locales and locations exclusive to the game. Shrek 2 is available for $50 on PlayStation2, Xbox, and GameCube. Game Boy Advance and PC versions are available at SRP $30.

Shrek 2 lets players control a team of four characters, mastering each one's unique skills and switching between them to complete adventures while dodging and defeating enemies. Puzzles challenge fans to work their way out of difficult situations and mini-games provide them with additional adventures to master.

In the console versions of Shrek 2, players can also experience "Hero Time," special adventures that highlight certain characters alone, focusing on that character's special skills and moves. Additionally, the console games feature a multiplayer component that allows up to four players to join and leave the game without interrupting gameplay.

Working in conjunction with the DreamWorks animation team, Shrek 2 was developed for the console platforms by Luxoflux, for the Game Boy Advance by Vicarious Visions, and for the PC by KnowWonder, an Amaze Entertainment studio. The Game Boy Advance and PC versions offer a single-player-only experience.




E3Expo Adds Analysts to Conference Program

E3Expo 2004, the interactive entertainment trade event, will offer a conference program featuring panels, workshops and special presentations. The program will feature more than 150 industry members who will share their advice, experience and insight with attendees in a 34-session program. Conference tracks this year include: The New Rules of Business; Game Development: Opportunities and Challenges Ahead; and Online, Mobile, Handheld Games: Taking Measure of Their Gaming Growth.

Special this year are three luncheon sessions, each presented by industry analysts: Wedbush Morgan's Michael Pachter will discuss the upcoming console transition; Softbank Asia's Joe Zhou will profile the fast-growing Asian markets; and Michael Gartenberg of Jupiter Research will present recent findings on the handheld and mobile gaming sectors.

The conference takes place May 11-May 13 at the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC), Los Angeles, Calif.

Other sessions include:
* Partnering with the Movie, Music and TV Industries: Profit from the New Level of Collaboration
* Marketing Games in the New Age of Entertainment: Detecting the Gen Y Consumer
* Toward an Artisan Model of Game Design
* Tapping New Revenue Streams from Traditional Game Assets
* On the Front Lines of Tomorrow's Games: Trends in the Hiring Trenches
* Hot or Not: Developers Talk About What Goes into a Great-Playing, Top-Selling Game -- Including Each Other's Participants
* Inside the Next-Generation Game Machines
* Gaming's New Look: The Importance of Interface
* Five (or Six) Rules for Creating a Great Game Today
* Coming to Grips with a Higher Standard: How Movies and Music are Influencing the Game Industry
* Surviving as an Independent Studio: Alternative Paths to Independence




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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