14 May 2001
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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PictureIQ Corporation last week released PictureIQ TransForce, which it describes as a high-performance server appliance.
Configured in a 1U, low-power, rack-mountable package, the unit is designed to integrate into existing network infrastructure. It incorporates Adobe PhotoShop technology and automates Web graphics production tasks by dynamically preparing and optimizing images on the fly based on a variety of real-time factors including network traffic conditions, connection speeds, and device type. Target platforms include PDAs, mobile phones, PCs, WebTV, dial-up, and broadband.
SpeechStudio Incorporated has begun shipping SpeechStudio C++ 1.7, a new application that lets developers voice-enable new or existing application programs using Microsoft Visual Studio C++ and the Microsoft Speech API (SAPI).
The voice-interface development tool lets developers describe conversations and their program interactions. The SpeechStudio XML Grammar Editor is said to hide the unnecessary complexity of the authoring process, yet retain the power of SAPI XML grammars in manageable pieces that are directly related to program actions. SpeechStudio C++ supports SAPI 5 initialization, dynamic grammar creation, recognition parsing, automatic What Can You Say generation, voice recording, and text-to-speech.
Included is SpeechPlayer, a freely redistributable runtime system that coordinates interactions between the voice recognition engine, voice-enabled application programs, and the end user. SpeechPlayer initializes and controls the speech engine while its GUI provides a standard display with hints about what to say, feedback from the voice recognition engine, online help, and a standard interface for short dictation, correction, and system configuration.
LaCie last week launched a 180GB external desktop drive. Featuring a rotational speed of 7,200 rpm, LaCie's new $2,500 3.5-inch hard drive reportedly achieves transfer rates of up to 75 MB/sec in RAID and 47 MB/sec as a single drive. The drive is equipped with an Ultra 160/LVD SCSI interface--the fastest SCSI interface available--and LaCie's "bullet-proof" casing for added heat and shock resistance.
Ultra160 SCSI is compatible with Ultra2 SCSI (wide) and previous generations of wide SCSI.
Zondigo Inc. last week launched the first online community developer's zone located at http://devzone.zondigo.com.
The zone provides users with free access to build and test new wireless and voice applications using Zcore, Zondigo's application development software. Zcore can be used to create a range of applications from enterprise business applications to wireless games and sweepstakes.
Zcore's single, open interface gives developers full control to use any programming language(s) (e.g., C++, Perl, VoiceXML, WML and XML) or third-party technologies and services to build applications. By shielding developers from this complexity, Zcore is intended to decrease the resource and capital requirements needed to create wireless and voice applications.
The developer's zone has tutorials, industry references, news and an exhibition area where community members can share their applications with the public. It will also feature chat rooms, message boards, and online development support services.
Zcore software enables developers to build applications that utilize technologies such as SMS messaging, text to speech, mobile e-mail, voice recognition, interactive voice response, and content delivery access. It includes built-in support for Internet-enabled phones (e.g. WAP, iMode), Palm, Pocket PC and RIM platforms, as well as the standard voice phone. Additionally, Zcore provides access to third-party technologies and services, such as those provided by MobileSys, Simplewire and Voxeo.
How to protect free speech and enforce copyright protection for digital media will be the focus of The Internet Security Conference's (TISC) CEO Roundtable entitled, "Digital Rights Enforcement."
To be held from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00: p.m., Wednesday, June 6, at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, California, the TISC CEO Roundtable will be moderated by Ian Poynter of Jerboa Inc. and Diana Kelley of Safewww Inc.. The roundtable will discuss the issues surrounding copyrights of digital material and the challenges entertainment and all media face today in enforcing them.
The TISC CEO Roundtable will include discussion of the current events, technologies and constitutional rights debate surrounding the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) as it relates to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Leading experts in digital copyright enforcement and cryptography will join Poynter and Kelly including: Paul Schneck, Paul Abbott and Talal Shamoon.
See http://www.tisc2001.com/symposium.html#s18 for Roundtable and speaker info.
"Content producers, including film studios and the record industry, have a vested interest in 'getting it right' when it comes to digital rights management and digital distribution," explains Poynter. "Yet, how will artists feel if they see that digital distribution is going to help them, but that industry is not approaching it in a realistic way. We may be on the brink of a fundamental shift between the artists and the rest of the industry."
The TISC CEO Roundtable is part of the TISC Open House that includes the TISC CLUE Award presentation and TISC Exhibitor Product Showcase. The TISC Open House is free and open to the public with advance registration prior to May 31, 2001. See http://www.tisc2001.com/open_house.html for more TISC Open House information.
Communications company Compass Rose Media recently completed a project for Xilinx, Inc., a provider of programmable logic solutions, in which the company endorses the Bluetooth Special Interest Group for standards in wireless home technology. The project is said to be unique in that it tells a story about how Xilinx’s use of Bluetooth technology fits into everyday life, using sophisticated animation via Macromedia Flash.
By using Flash to develop a character and create animation design, Compass Rose Media was able to deliver a project that demonstrates Xilinx’s technology message in the Bluetooth wireless program through the use of humor, illustration, sound effects, and music.
NewTek, Inc., last week released LightWave [6.5]b, a maintenance upgrade said to enhance the software's speed and stability of LightWave [6.5] as well as provide new features and functionality.
New features include:
Arete Entertainment Inc. last week released Digital NatureTools v3.5 for Softimage 3D/Extreme. New to DNT v3.5 is a Curved Wake Feature and Enhanced Bump Map Anti-aliasing Algorithms.
Digital NatureTools v3.5 for Softimage is composed:
Though artists through time may have denied the possibility that a machine could create art, artificial intelligence now challenges this with the public introduction of AARON the cyberartist, a software application that continuously creates original artwork on a computer screen.
The program has been in continuous development for nearly 30 years, making it one of the longest continuous development programs in computing history. AARON, a “Monet of the robot world,” is now available at www.KurzweilCyberart.com to create limitless artwork on the computer screen.
The AARON Cybernetic Art software was created by Harold Cohen. Already an accomplished artist with an international reputation when he started working on AARON in the early 1970s, Cohen has spent nearly three decades teaching the AARON software how to draw, his theory of color, and the secrets of composition.
“It’s an outstanding example of artificial intelligence in action,” said Raymond Kurzweil, CEO of Kurzweil CyberArt Technologies, which has exclusively licensed the AARON software. “I’ve been deeply involved in artificial intelligence research for nearly forty years, and for most of that time I’ve watched Harold Cohen create the most sophisticated “cybernetic” art program that I’m aware of. If a human created paintings like AARON, we would regard him or her as an acclaimed artist.”
Hard copies of AARON paintings have hung in museums around the world, including London’s Tate Modern, Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Washington Capital Children’s Museum. Paintings created by the AARON software have sold for thousands of dollars each.
“I’ve had a copy of AARON running on a large panel display in my lobby for the last two years, and it never fails to elicit enormous interest,” Kurzweil added. “It’s often hard to get people to leave the lobby to start our meetings. So we exclusively licensed Harold’s remarkable art software, and my very capable software team has created a polished product.”
History of AARON
In its 30 years of development, AARON has undergone a series of progressions expanding the program’s ability to create artwork. Originally, AARON was hooked up to a robotic drawing machine, to which Harold Cohen later added an ability to actually mix and apply colors. In its current form, AARON creates paintings right on the computer screen, which can be printed out on a color printer. AARON has progressed from distinguishing between figure and ground, closed forms and open forms and performing various simple manipulations to creating today’s museum quality work that includes complex mixtures of colors and drawings ranging from human forms to plant scenes.
With AARON's artificial intelligence, the program will never produce the same picture twice. AARON paints much as a real painter would, including its use of brush strokes, rather than simply filling in pixels.
The application allows users to save up to 16 AARON paintings at any given time, as well as to send AARON paintings to a friend via e-mail. The friend does not need to have the program, and upon receipt, the paintings render on the screen, line by line and stroke by stroke, just as they were originally rendered on the sender’s computer.
Originally developed in LISP by Harold Cohen, the Kurzweil CyberArt Technologies software team created a Windows application which includes a screensaver that continuously creates one original painting after another. In addition, users can review archived paintings, print them out, and send to friends.
A fully functional version of AARON is available for a free, 30-day trial at KurzweilCyberArt.com. After that time, users will have the option to purchase a license to permanently enable the AARON program for a one-time cost of $19.95.
Given its ability to deliver high-impact experiences, even over low-bandwidth connections, Flash has become the standard choice for several hundred thousand multimedia Web developers worldwide. Flash 5 now includes a new object-oriented programming language called "ActionScript," used to control animation and multimedia within Flash. In his just-released book, "ActionScript: The Definitive Guide" (O'Reilly, US $39.95), author Colin Moock introduces both programmers and non-programmers to the new language by first describing fundamental programming concepts and then delineating in detail the components, syntax, and usage of ActionScript.
The book is divided into three sections:
Chapter 13, "Movie Clips," is available free online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/actscript/chapter/ch13.html
For more information, including Table of Contents, index, author bio, and samples, see: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/actscript/
Mary-Margaret.com, an international game industry recruiting firm, has opened a new office in Seattle, which will be headed up by founder Mary Margaret Walker. The company also has added three new recruiters - Phaidra Harper Vega, Kirsty Lee and Matt Hemeyer. In addition, Heather Waldon joins the company to provide research and market analysis.
Harper Vega joins Mary-Margaret.com's Austin office, bringing extensive experience in working with professionals in game development and human resources. Most recently at Human Code, an Austin-based game developer, she managed the general human resources duties and implemented a staffing and recruiting process.
Lee joins Walker in the company's new Seattle office. She previously lived in Australia, where she recruited professionals to the Curtin University of Technology through the Equal Employment Office, providing an interface between the university and people from non-English speaking backgrounds, women in non-traditional areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and people with disabilities. Lee is currently working on her master's thesis, which examines the first-person shooter in terms of death, control and power.
Prior to joining Mary-Margaret.com, Hemeyer served in the human resources department at Microsoft, where he worked with a variety of HR personnel, providing a link between Microsoft's internal recruiting efforts and those of external recruiting partners.
Fla.-based NorStar Group, Inc., last week entered into an exclusive distribution agreement through its subsidiary, (http://www.veearecity.com) with Styland Limited. The agreement gives Styland Limited the right to distribute Norstar's proprietary product The Cybervisor in Macedonia. The contract is worth USD$1.625 million to NorStar over five years. The Cybervisor is NorStar's wrap-around visor-styled virtual-reality entertainment system designed for home, school, business, and the military, which can be used to display virtual reality or three-dimensional products.
NorStar's goal is to implement Web based virtual reality single/multi-player game sites and to produce realistic digital worlds where computer-generated avatars become stand-ins for actual people and surround sound audio will emulate real-life noises.
Ubi Soft Entertainment last week shipped Myst III: Exile for PC and Macintosh. The continuation of the series, developed by Presto Studios, adds a 3D engine for 360-degree view of the stunning. The title offers five new ages to explore, each with a different theme.
The new adventure begins 10 years after Riven ends. Atrus and Catherine, the husband and wife characters whom players rescued in the first two games, have re-established contact with the D'ni civilization. Atrus pledges to help the D'ni rebuild their once-great civilization, which has been torn apart by prejudice and greed. Unfortunately, Atrus' plans for the D'ni go awry when a remnant from his own past resurfaces.
The mysterious new villain, played by Brad Dourif (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), plans to destroy all that Atrus holds dear. He seeks revenge for the destruction of his own world -- and once he shows up in Exile, only the player will stand in his way.
Electronic Arts (EA), a top independent video game software publisher and developer, said last week that it will develop games for Nintendo next-generation GameCube console system.
EA's worldwide studios have plans for 10 GameCube titles.
Some EA titles in development for the Nintendo GameCube include SSX snowboarding, NBA Street basketball from EA Sports, and the best-selling sports video game franchise, FIFA soccer. Madden NFL 2002 will be featured in EA's booth at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles on May 17. Last year, Madden NFL 2001 was the top-selling sports video game in the world.
GameCube will launch in Japan in September 2001 and in North America in November 2001.
At E3 this week, Eidos Interactive will present several new titles from developers including Crystal Dynamics, Core Design, Ion Storm, and Pyro Studios. Titles include:
Commandos 2: Men of Courage: Tactical strategy/action game from Pyro Studios set against the backdrop of World War II for the PC, the Sega Dreamcast and the PlayStation 2. From the heart of the Third Reich to the most remote islands in the South Pacific, Sergeant “Tiny” McHale and his elite group of commandos must utilize their combined expertise as they venture deep into enemy territory and attempt to change the course of the war. Ship date: Fall 2001.
Project Eden: Action/adventure game for the PC and PS2, in which gamers will lead a rescue team into the depths to investigate the disappearance of a technical crew sent to repair malfunctioning machinery at a factory. Ship date: PC, PS2 – Fall 2001
Soul Reaver 2: Action/adventure game for PS2 created by Crystal Dynamics. Gamers join Raziel as he emerges from the chronoplast time portal, and returns to different eras of Nosgoth’s past. Ship date: Fall 2001
Trade Empires: Created by Frog City Software, this strategy game is for the PC. Beginning at the dawn of human civilization and progressing through the 19th century, Trade Empires is an episodic, transport and trade simulation about creating a profitable merchant empire through trade. Ship date: Fall 2001
ThunderStrike: Operation Phoenix: Core Design’s arcade/action game for PS2 puts gamers in the pilot’s seat of an artillery-laden gunship. Ship date: Winter 2001
Wave Rally: Watercraft racing for PS2. Ship date: Winter 2001
Praetorians: Troop-based strategy game for the PC from Pyro Studios set in the time of the Roman Empire. Gamers utilize strong strategic skills, take command of the Roman Army and complete campaigns to forge the Roman Empire. Ship date: Spring 2002
Republic: PC strategy game from Elixir Studios in which the gamer plays the role of a faction leader intent on becoming the president, by fair means or foul. Ship date: Spring 2002
Tecmo Inc.'s "Monster Rancher 3", a monster breeding and battling game for PlayStation 2, will be the first U.S. title to feature Sony Electronics' PictureParadise technology.
The software comes built into the game and allows the player to take an existing image from a Sony digital camera or camcorder and import it into "Monster Rancher 3" via the standard USB cable. How the picture would be used wasn't made clear in the press release.
"Monster Rancher 3" lets players breed, train and fight with the monsters they control. New monsters are bred by pairing two existing ones or spawned from music CDs, movie DVDs or game discs. Players train and care for their monsters, much like a virtual pet. Later, they enroll their monsters into tournaments, where they battle for prizes and fame.
Square Electronic Arts will show two new titles to be showcased at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) to be held May 17-19 in Los Angeles.
For Playstation: Final Fantasy Chronicles: Final Fantasy IV & Chrono Trigger (July): Compilation package will include updates of two older Squaresoft role-playing games, formerly available for SNES. New Final Fantasy IV features include a "dash" feature, allowing players to move quickly through towns and dungeons; a "two-player mode" allowing two players to participate in battles together; and a new, improved localization of the original unedited story. In addition, it contains new cinematic sequences and includes all the original monsters, abilities, items and scenes that were not included in the SNES version.
For PlayStation 2: Final Fantasy X (early '02): The main character, Tidus, is a star player of blitzball, a popular full-contact sport. After surviving the destruction of his homeland, he awakens among ruins. He befriends a young woman named Yuna on her journey through the world of Spira. As a summoner, Yuna must travel to distant temples and learn the secret arts of summoning aeons -- powerful spirits of yore, in order to defeat Sin. Tidus learns that a thousand years in the past, mankind lived in spectacular cities and relied on machines for everything, until Sin suddenly appeared and destroyed all civilization. Now, people shun technology, and no one knows when Sin will strike next.
Headbanger alert: Inspired by metal godfather Ozzy Osbourne, Ozzy’s Black Skies transports players to an fantasy world created from the singer's music and imagery. A 3D flight combat game, Ozzy’s Black Skies offers an flying-action creature experience. Featuring single-player mission-based gameplay and multiplayer battles, players maneuver 24 fantasy dragon beasts in dozens of otherworldly environments. Game developer iROCK Interactive brings the title to the PS2 and PC for holiday 2001.
The title focuses on aerial combat where the player rides large flying beats such as dragons, griffons, demons and other fantastical creatures. The gameplay sensation is said to be different from piloting a plane or machine; instead the feel and motions are organic and simulate riding a living creature.
The game's platform-independent RFEngine reportedly features advanced object/scene/memory management support, audio/video components, and low-latency network capabilities. Game features include expansive outdoor environments, a dynamic water system, and weighted skeletal animations.
TDK Mediactive announced last week the list of titles showcased at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). The lineup includes offerings for the Game Boy Advance and Xbox consoles, including:
"Shrek Fairy Tale FreakDown" (GBC, May): Comical fighting game provides silly slapstick combat moves.
"Lady Sia" (GBA, September): Set in a fantasy world inspired by Japanese anime. Lady Sia, a young, courageous warrior princess, attempts to save her beloved homeland from the cruel and heartless beastmen, the T'soas. In a perilous journey through four action-packed worlds, she must collect weapons and magical powers to defeat increasingly formidable foes as she prepares to confront her archenemy, Onimen.
"No Rules" (GBA, November): Details TBA @ E3
"Wendy: Every Witch Way" (GBC, September): After accidentally reversing gravity, Wendy rushes to set things straight by recovering four little Moon Stones hidden in Moon Stone Castle. With her magic wand and powers of gravity-reversal, she must confront 21 different enemies through four standard levels, four bonus Flying Broom levels, and the final boss level.
"Casper Spirit Dimensions" (PS2, October): The ghost goes head-to-head with the evil Kibosh and his henchmen to defend the spirit world in this adventure game. Casper ventures through portals to worlds riddled with ghostly minions commanded by powerful bosses. Levels include medieval castles, freaky amusement parks, forbidding old factories and a haunted pirate ship.
"PRYZM Chapter One: The Dark Unicorn" (PS2, November): Action/adventure role-playing game. Pryzm, a bold young winged unicorn with magic powers, and Karrock, a troll-mage, embarks on a quest to find the source of an evil plague that has infested the Troll Mountains, Elfin Forest, Gnome Hills, and the Nymph Marshes, transforming the inhabitants into grotesque shadows of their former beauty. Pryzm carries Karrock on her back as they search for the source of the curse. Together, the unlikely duo use their magic spells to ward off attacks and restore to health the mutated sorcerers, warriors and monsters they encounter throughout their journey.
"Shrek" (Xbox, Fall): Details TBA @ E3
In a further assault on the massively multiplayer online role-playing game market, Sony Online Entertainment will offer "EverQuest: Trilogy," an anthology that includes the original game and two expansion packs, this fall. With over 375,000 subscribers, "EverQuest" is reportedly the most successful MMORPG ever.
The trilogy--the original title, plus the Ruins of Kunark and Scars of Velious expansion packs--comprises five continents, 13 races, and over 400 supporting characters from snow orcs to giant scorpions.
Fishtank Interactive, a division of Germany's Ravensburger Interactive, says Etherlords for the PC will hit stores November 2001. The game's combat system combines trading-card game play and strategic resource management.
"'Etherlords' is a 3D turn-based strategy game geared towards dynamic multiplayer combat," said Jerry Wolosenko, head of Fishtank Interactive activities in North America.
Key game features include:
LavaMind, a producer of business simulation games, has revamped its online presence to focus on highlighting its core business-simulation games: Gazillionaire, Zapitalism and Profitania. This includes direct access to the products under the domain names www.gazillionaire.com, www.zapitalism.com and www.profitania.com, as well as a Web-based store and online entertainment.
While the "Utterly Outrageous Recipes" has been given a face-lift and integrated into the overall site, LavaMind has shed many of its older offerings, including closing the Lava Zone, Molten Mag and Talk of the Town.
As part of the redesign, LavaMind upgraded the "Virtual Pet Cemetery" (www.mycemetery.com), the subject of a widely publicized (and apparently unsuccessful) dump attempt on eBay.
The $6 billion video game industry continues to show growth. According to
marketing information provider The NPD Group, retail sales of U.S. video games hardware, software and accessory sales increased 18% in first quarter 2001, compared to first quarter 2000.
While the total U.S. video game industry showed substantial growth in dollar sales, there was also an increase in unit sales. According to NPD, unit sales of video games hardware, software and accessories rose 5% in first quarter 2001, compared to one year prior.
Console hardware produced the biggest sales gain in first quarter 2001: 146% in dollar terms and 49% in unit terms. The continued growth of the console category was driven in part by next-generation console Sony PlayStation 2 and decreased price points of the Sega Dreamcast system. However, console software was down 7% in dollars and 3% in units. Also, portable video hardware was down, but its software was up.
Red Sky, an interactive solutions provider, won a Silver Pencil in the Interactive Demo category at the annual One Show last week for its design of the Sutter Home MoodMaker. No Gold prizes were awarded, making Red Sky the overall winner in the category. The prizes were presented at an awards ceremony held in New York City.
Red Sky's Sutter Home MoodMaker was developed to enable wine lovers to create virtual wine country experiences. An example of what Red Sky refers to as friend-to-friend marketing, MoodMaker transports users to Napa Valley in growing season, Shenandoah Valley during harvest time, and a St. Helena vineyard in winter.
Explains Joel Hladecek, executive creative director, broadband and entertainment, "Users can shape all the elements, from choosing the music to picking out animal sounds, even regulating the weather. It's what we call 'applied entertainment' - entertainment that builds brand relationships by bringing independent value to the user."
The One Show is designed to acknowledge creative standards for the advertising industry, rewarding excellence in concept, art and design, copy, and functionality. Winners receive Gold, Silver and Bronze Pencils.
Sierra On-Line, Inc., a division of Vivendi Universal Publishing (VU Publishing), announced last week the addition of two executives to its management team.
Thomas K. Hernquist has joined the company as president & CEO, reporting to Vivendi Universal Games CEO Hubert Joly.
Hernquist joins Sierra after four years with Nabisco, where, as senior VP marketing, he was responsible for the company's $4 billion retail cookie and cracker business. Hernquist previously served as VP marketing for Nabisco's Lifesavers division.
Michael A. Ryder has joined Sierra as COO and senior VP product development, reporting to Hernquist. Ryder most recently was the CEO of SOCO Corp., a software-development company targeted at the next-generation mobile online market. Prior to SOCO, Ryder held the position of VP and GM for Electronic Arts' Seattle organization and was also senior VP and GM for the largest publishing unit within GT Interactive Software, Inc. Prior to its acquisition by GT, Ryder was co-founder and CEO of Playstation developer SingleTrac Entertainment Technologies.
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