Editor's note: Spectrum will take next week off for the Veteran's Day holiday, and will return with more news and reviews November 22.
___________________________________Today's Headlines (details below)
--Accelerating Change 2004
--4D Releases Beta 1 of 4D 2004.1
--Virtools Exporter Available for Softimage|XSI
--nPower Software Updates Power Booleans
--Maxon Announces C4D, BodyPaint Enhancements
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
--Turbo Squid Announces Maya Training DVDs
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
--Sony Set to Ship Ratchet & Clank Sequel
--World of Warcraft to Ship November 23
--DreamCatcher Set to Ship Painkiller Expansion
--Eidos Announces Hitman: Blood Money
--Game Developers Conference Moving to S.F.
The Institute for the Study of Accelerating Change (ISAC) is a small, nonprofit group whose goal is to explore "accelerating scientific and technological processes and the ways the interface with business and social environments." To this end, ISAC last weekend hosted Accelerating Change 2004, a conference "dedicated to a multidisciplinary understanding of the opportunities and challenges of accelerating technological change." The aim of the two-day conference, held at Stanford University near San Francisco, was to introduce attendees to "broadminded, synthetic-thinking practical futurists and change-makers" and, to a large extent this promise was kept, thanks to a star-studded roster of speakers including Will Wright, David Brin, and Doug Engelbart. Of course, there was also plenty of opportunity for networking, one of the principal side benefits of such an event.
For the most part, the conference, attended by about 300, took place in a single room in Stanford's Tresidder Memorial Union, although there were several parallel breakout sessions held in another room as well. The three major tracks--Physical Space, Virtual Space, and Interface--took place in that order. Launching the Physical Space track on Day One was Helen Greiner, cofounder and chairman of iRobot, whose motto is "Business Mechanisms to Accelerate Change." The company started up doing research in 1990 and seems successful so far: Its revenues increased by four times during 2002-03. In a talk entitled Mobile Robots - Saving Time, Money, and Lives, Greiner discussed and demonstrated iRobot's best-known product, the Roomba line of consumer-level, self-guided robotic vacuum cleaners, which has sold over a million units. She also showed lesser-known efforts such as a toy dinosaur that has yet to reach market (the AC2004 attendees liked it a lot).
But among the most significant of the company's products is PackBot, developed in conjunction with the U.S. Defense Department. This small robot is currently being used in unsafe areas such as caves in Afghanistan to let soldiers explore without directly risking life and limb. The lowest-priced version ($54K) can send audio and video back to operators via wireless or wired links, while costlier units (up to $108K) can also use sensors such as gas and chemical to detect less-obvious hazards. It's a bit surprising that the company has sold fewer than 100 PackBots, considering the machine's potential for saving lives of American and allied soldiers. Greiner concluded by listing coming trends such as CCD commoditization and multiple cores on a CPU. She also pointed out that robotic toys aren't just for kids, citing a statistic that a third of Furbies were sold to childless adults as entertainment devices.
The next speaker was Shai Agassi, a high-energy young member of the board of German enterprise-software monolith SAP, who also told us about a number of trends, using Wired magazine's Wired/Tired/Retired format. Among these (in W/T/R sequence) are: services platform, database, file system; event centricity, transaction, batch; devices (e.g., RFID), clerks, not knowing; and mobility, desktop, terminal.
The first breakout took the form of an address by David Brin, a physicist and self-described curmudgeon who is also a well-known writer of science fiction and non-fiction. In a less-than-fully-coherent but fascinating talk, Brin railed against the recently renewed administration while describing two ways of looking at the past and the future: romanticism, in which the golden age took place in the past, when people were closer to the gods, but then fell from grace; and a second, which views the golden age as a potential phenomenon in the future, which our grandchildren might build given the opportunity. However, with conservatives in charge, the chances of this coming about are reduced, if not eliminated. Brin described the term "eternal verities" (as used by conservatives, I guess) as an "atrocious, vile phrase" because we can't really see objective truth.
In further discussing the recent election, Brin stated, "Rural America has declared war on urban America," and gave a possible reason for this as well as 9/11: When we treat people with contempt, we only fire their ovens. He also suggested a possible solution for the former, using love: Urbanites should invite rural folks to visit them in the city (thus conceivably broadening their horizons) in exchange for a country vacation. Hmm … not sure how practical that would be. At any rate, Brin's talk was quite interesting, although he tried to cover too much ground in the time allotted to him; for further info, visit www.davidbrin.com. Also, by all means read Brin's novels if you haven't already, especially Startide Rising.
Brin also took part in a subsequent debate with Brad Templeton about transparency vs. privacy. In case you're wondering who took which side, Templeton is chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, while Brin is the author of a book entitled The Transparent Society--'nuff said. I haven't read Brin's book, and his opening sally was about as coherent as his earlier talk, so I didn't get a very clear idea of the basis of his argument, except that he's particularly an advocate for transparency in government. On the other hand Templeton spouted such coined phrases as "Privacy is freedom," "A watched populace never boils," and "Anonymous communication is the foundation of free societies." Both sides, very friendly toward each other, agreed on many points, so the debate wasn't conclusive one way or the other.
The second track, Virtual Space, kicked off with an address by Cory Ondrejka, principal of Linden Lab, developer of a multi-user online community called Second Life. The recent recipient of $8 million in new VC funding, Second Life is described this way in a press release: Second Life is a 3D online digital world in which you can create, experience and become almost anything you can imagine. Residents are building everything from skyscrapers and medieval castles to games to vehicles of all kinds to clothing lines to nightclubs, in a richly immersive 3D landscape that is growing daily. Designers, entrepreneurs and developers will discover an amazing environment with real business opportunities - each month Second Life users currently buy and sell goods and services valued at over US$1 million.
Ondrejka began his talk, Meatspace Is Over, by recommending that his audience read John Perry Barlow's Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace (I haven't, but here's a link: http://www.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html). He went on to describe the four building blocks of Second Life, the first of which is (of course) the Internet, a foundation of large-scale, distributed creation, of which Wikipedia is a canonical, current example. However, the Internet as such has no sense of place. The second building block, adding this sense of place, is the multi-user dimension/dungeon (aka MUD), the first text-based world and the forerunner of today's MMORPGs. The remaining two blocks are creation (i.e., of art assets and behaviors) and virtual reality, of which Second Life is an example by virtue of its 3D nature. Second Life solves the creation issue by leaving it up to its users, thanks to its open system and scriptability. And apparently it's a success: Second Life currently racks up 15,000 user-hours per day.
Further tidbits from Ondrejka's talk: creation as communication/community, an example of which was a protest demonstration organized by users demanding a new version of the physics engine used by Second Life that took place near where new users appear in the world; when creation is easy, people will explore and play. Sounds like fun; I can't wait to try it!
Following this was a talk by Keith Halper, principal of Kuma Reality Games. Kuma's main product is a series of online 3D games, essentially squad-based war simulations, based on current headlines. Halper describes it as "using virtual spaces to tell real-world stories." Development takes a matter of days; the Iraq War is an obvious platform, but the company also exploited news stories in the recent election by putting players in John Kerry's swift boat during the Vietnam War.
The Virtual Space track continued on the morning of Day Two with a fast-paced talk by Will Wright, creator of countless simulation games including Sim City and mega-hit The Sims. Wright began his talk, Sculpting Possibility Space, by describing the range of game types between interactive and story-type, with The Sims at one end of the range, Myst at the other, and games like Half-Life falling in between. The topology of a fully interactive game is dense, while that of a story-type game is linear, and the narrative of an interactive game is controlled by the player, while that of a story-type game is controlled by the developer. Wright went on amusingly to describe his recent experiences with the recently released Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which tries to guide the player through its developer-created story, but lets the player simply hang out with his homies if he prefers. Coming back to the range of game types, the appeal of an interactive game is agency--that is, the player's ability to go in and change the gamescape--while that of a story-type game is empathy, as in movies, where you relate to the actors.
In further addressing the appeal of interactive games, Wright talked about how players parse the symbolic language in a game, pulling out nouns (the things in the game), adjectives (their descriptions such as "big" and "little"), and verbs such as "kill," "race," and "manage." In The Sims, which appeals to casual players much more than do most games, first encounters typically occur around the experience of shopping, with which most people feel familiar, and from these the players learn more about how the game works and can get more deeply involved. Wright went on to discuss in more technical terms how he thinks about and develops games, describing, for example, how Sim City uses a cross between system dynamics and cellular automata (e.g., the game of Life), and suggested that an offshoot of AI research called complex adaptive systems shows lots of promise for future game development. In addition to being a skilled and highly successful game designer, Wright is an excellent public speaker; if ever get a chance to attend one of his talks, I encourage you to go.
Who better to keynote the Interface track than Doug Engelbart, the man who invented the computer mouse? At 79, still a visionary and progressive futurist (his current efforts are toward his Bootstrap Institute http://www.bootstrap.org/), Engelbart gave a talk about Collective IQ, the gist of which was this: If we don't get collectively smarter, we humans are likely to be demolished as a race. We're facing complex problems, and we must deal with them in intelligent ways if we're to overcome them. Basically, Engelbart is the antithesis of the current administration. He's also the sweetest public speaker I've ever heard; go see him if you get a chance.
Following Engelbart was Richard Marks, an R&D scientist working for Sony on PlayStation. Marks's pet project is EyeToy, a low-cost video-audio input device that recently passed the five-million-sales mark. Marks talked about his job and how he helped create EyeToy; one of his major points was that he is not a game developer and that EyeToy was successful at least in part because the games were created by game developers, not researchers such as himself. He showed some fun demos of future EyeToy applications, including one of his young son controlling a flock of butterflies by waving a colored ball on a stick. Coming, but probably not real soon, is a new version of EyeToy that uses infrared to sense depth so that games can involve three-dimensional play, rather than the 2D overlay that current EyeToy games use.
Marks's conclusions, certainly worth passing along, were these:
Also in the Interface track was a short but lively talk by Google's Peter Norvig, entitled Web Search as a Force for Good. Norvig showed off Keyhole, a fascinating online tool recently acquired by his employer, which uses satellite imagery to let you zoom in from outer space to a specific street address. He also showed Lovegety, a lighthearted new tool from Japan. It's a handheld device into which you program personal info, which then beeps if you pass near another Lovegety owner with whom the software determines you might be romantically compatible. Norvig concluded by describing prototypes of upcoming Google projects, including the ability to personalize searches on a sliding scale, use semantic understanding for more intelligent searching, and use machine translation.
For the sake of (relative) brevity, I've skipped over entire sessions in my report, but you can find out lots more at the ISAC Website: http://www.accelerating.org/. According to ISAC president John Smart, streaming video of the AC2004 sessions will be available soon at the above address. And, by all means, plan to attend next year's conference. You won't regret it.
4D Releases Beta 1 of 4D 2004.1
4D, Inc., publisher of the 4th Dimension RAD/RDBMS Environment, 4D Business Kit and 4D WebSTAR Server Suite, today released the first beta of 4D 2004.1. The update features over 70 bug fixes and new enhancements, including new commands and an updated interface.
4D 2004.1 builds on the over 120 new features introduced in the 4D 2004 release with ease-of-use enhancements as well as a number of new commands. 4D 2004.1
Virtools Exporter Available for Softimage|XSI
Virtools, a provider of interactive 3D authoring tools, today announced a technology alliance with Softimage Co. that lets users export characters, scenes, objects and animations created with Softimage|XSI directly into the Virtools Dev 3 environment, using the new Virtools exporter (public beta stage) for XSI software.
Virtools and Softimage demonstrated the exporter at the Montreal Game Summit, November 3-4, as well as during both user group meetings (XSI Montreal User Group, November 4, and the Virtools User Day, November 5).
nPower Software Updates Power Booleans
New from nPower Software is release 3.0 of its Power Booleans modeling plug-in for 3ds max and Autodesk VIZ. The new version incorporates user-requested enhancements as well as support for the new version 7.0 of 3ds max and Autodesk VIZ 2005. The new Power Cutter tool is designed for creating objects that explode, fall apart, shatter, or need to fit together like a 3D puzzle. It also facilitates creation of section views, assembly views and construction sequencing.
An overview of new features:
Power Booleans scripting provides improved integration with production environments for game development, architectural visualization, etc. where much of the design process can be automated. Power Booleans scripting can assist you in automating and optimizing your design process.
Maxon Announces C4D, BodyPaint Enhancements
Maxon / Archvision announce immediate availability of an RPC plugin for Cinema 4D R9. Users can import content from the ArchVision object libraries of people, trees, cars, etc. to add photo-realistic content to their scenes.
RPC objects are images made with imaged-based rendering. Images can be placed in 3D environment and behave like 3D objects, viewable from all perspectives. Animation, like walking people, is also possible. Image-based rendering has the advantage of virtually no real geometry, so the editor remains fast and render times are short.
Also, Maxon has released a free update to exchange data between BodyPaint 3D R2 with Maya release 6. This lets Maya users employ BodyPaint's 3D painting features.
A recent Slashdot Games posting describes Auto Animation, a new tool created by Zoran Popovic and Aaron Hertzmann that extrapolates a person's movements from a single sequence of motions. Popovic says that a clip of only 20 or 30 frames is enough information to give the system a good sense of how a person tends to move. The tool has been licensed by Electronic Arts for game development.
Turbo Squid Announces Maya Training DVDs
New from Turbo Squid are training DVDs from Digital-Tutors for Maya users. The first 11 products are now available and range from basic training for the new user to advanced training. Products include:
Pricing starts at $34.19.http://www.turbosquid.com/Training
Sony Set to Ship Ratchet & Clank Sequel
Coming soon from Sony Computer Entertainment America is Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, an online action platform game for PlayStation2 created by Insomniac Games.
The third installment of the Ratchet & Clank franchise returns gamers to Planet Veldin to battle Dr. Nefarious, a robotic supervillain who has devised a diabolical scheme to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy. To fight back, Ratchet and Clank recruit Captain Qwark out of retirement to lead the Q-Force, an unlikely band of heroic space cadets. The team sets off on an interstellar romp to uncover the schemes of the sinister Dr. Nefarious and keep the galaxy safe for organic life. Players can explore 29 single-player locations filled with perilous combat spanning vibrant jungles, arid, craggy deserts, and treacherous, icy caverns. Players will be able to earn up to 20 weapons (including online and offline) with up to five levels of upgrades for most weapons during the first playthrough, plus seven new high-tech gadgets.
The multiplayer online mode accommodates up to eight players over a broadband connection. Voice communication is supported online via the USB headset and SOCOM headset allowing players to communicate with fellow team members during online games, either in-game or in the main lobby. Additionally, up to four players can compete offline via the multiplayer split-screen function utilizing the Multitap (for PlayStation2).
Ten new levels featuring Siege, Capture the Flag and Deathmatch modes are introduced for online play. Commandeering multiple vehicles such as the TurboSlider or Hovership further encourage strategic co-op gameplay by allowing players to work together. Two players can team up to operate vehicles simultaneously as one person controls the vehicle's direction while the other shoots enemies in battlefield missions.
World of Warcraft to Ship November 23
Blizzard Entertainment says its massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft will be in stores in North America on November 23, 2004. World of Warcraft will launch simultaneously in Australia and New Zealand, and is planned for release in Korea, Europe, and other countries throughout Asia shortly following.
In the game, based on a monthly subscription, players assume the roles of legendary heroes and interact with other players online as they explore and adventure across a vast world. Journeying together or questing on their own, players will engage in battles, develop friendships, forge alliances, and compete with enemies. The game features customizable character classes with thousands of weapons, spells, and abilities.
World of Warcraft will be available for Windows 98/ME/2000/XP and Macintosh formats at SRP US$49.99, and will include a free one-month subscription. After the trial, players can continue under one of three different subscription plans. The month-to-month subscription plan costs $14.99 per month, the three-month plan costs $13.99 per month, and the six-month plan costs $12.99 per month.
DreamCatcher Set to Ship Painkiller Expansion
DreamCatcher Games' Painkiller: Battle Out Of Hell, an expansion pack for the Windows-based FPS Painkiller, will begin shipping to North American retailers November 11 and will begin releasing across Europe November 24.
Picking up where the original's story left off, Painkiller: Battle Out Of Hell includes an additional single-player chapter with 10 levels as well as new multiplayer modes, maps and models. It also offers more weapons, bigger bosses, and the map editor Software Development Kit.
Painkiller uses the Havok 2.0 physics engine for physics-based gameplay while the latest version of the “PAIN Engine” provides features such as heat and haze distortion, light blooms, pixel mapping, new shader effects, tweaks for the latest video cards and an improved networking core. Developed by People Can Fly, Painkiller: Battle out of Hell is rated 'M' for Mature in North America and has a “16+ PEGI” rating in Europe.
Download the Painkiller demo at www.PainkillerGame.com
Eidos Announces Hitman: Blood Money
Eidos plc announces the return of its virtual assassin in Hitman: Blood Money. Developed by Io Interactive, Hitman Blood Money will be released worldwide in spring 2005 on PlayStation2, Xbox, and PC.
When assassins from Agent 47's contract agency, The ICA, are systematically eliminated in a series of hits, it seems a larger, more powerful agency has entered the fray. For Agent 47 it's business as usual, until suddenly he loses contact with The ICA. Sensing that he may be the next target, he travels to America, where he prepares to make a killing.
Agent 47 is back and this time he's paid in cold, hard cash. How the money is spent will affect his passage through the game and the weapons at his disposal. The game is powered by a new version of Io's Glacier engine.http://www.hitman.com
Game Developers Conference Moving to S.F.
The 19th Annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) has announced the speaker and session lineup for the March 7-11, 2005 event in San Francisco, Calif. Conference session descriptions and registration are available at www.gdconf.com .
The GDC is for game development professionals who wish to expand the resources, tools and technologies they use to create games. This year's conference will bring a fresh start, making a move to San Francisco and introducing a new conference director, Jamil Moledina, former editor-in-chief, Game Developer magazine.
The 2005 conference is debuting a series of talks called the Vision Track; creative artists from a wide range of cultural media, such as film, music, design and games will discuss their vision for the future of interactive entertainment. information visit http://www.worldmerge.com
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