19 November 2001
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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LithTech, Inc., a developer of licensable game technologies and tools, last week launched its Jupiter, Talon and Cobalt development systems. Supplying the foundation for Aliens Vs. Predator 2 and the No One Lives Forever series, the systems are said to provide game developers with a range of development solutions designed to meet their needs.
The performance-oriented LithTech Jupiter System will power the forthcoming sequel to No One Lives Forever. The LithTech Talon System, featured in Aliens Vs. Predator 2, delivers technology to licensees with aggressive production goals. Delivering a comprehensive, optimized platform, the LithTech Cobalt System is the technology behind No One Lives Forever for the Sony Playstation 2.
In 2002, LithTech plans to release its Discovery System for creating massively multiplayer games, currently being used to develop a soon-to-be-announced massively multiplayer game by Monolith Productions. An Xbox equivalent to the Jupiter system will be available in 2002 as well.
DivXNetworks last week released a new version of its MPEG-4 video codec optimized for software-based full-resolution (720 x 480) real-time encoding and high-definition (HD) resolution video decoding. DivX 4.11 also uses Intel's Pentium 4 processor to achieve up to 78% faster encoding speed when encoding video files from a YUV source, which are commonly provided by real-time capturing and editing solutions.
DivX video-compression technology reportedly enables full-screen, full-length, near-DVD quality digital video at up to 7 times greater compression than MPEG-2 files, allowing viewers to download a full-length feature film in 30 minutes or less over a broadband connection. The company estimates over 25 million total downloads of its video technology since its launch in late 1999.
In January 2002, Virtools, a France-based developer interactive 3D development solutions, will integrate Xbox specificities to provide prototyping capabilities to the games development community.
Microsoft has granted an Xbox Tools and Middleware license to Virtools for the production of its technology; a game prototyping kit for the Xbox development community.
Virtools' environment lets both designers and programmers produce games by graphically assembling "behavior building blocks." Developers can optimize workflow and capitalize on assets from one project to another, and use industry-standard formats for 3D graphics, audio and video.
Bias Inc. last week began shipping Peak DV for Mac OS X, a special edition of its digital audio editor previously available only to Final Cut Pro. The $199 software reportedly takes advantage of such OS X features such as Core Audio functionality, protected memory and the Aqua user interface.
Zona, Inc., a massively multi-player online game (MMOG) network solution provider, has joined the Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., (SCEI) Tools & Middleware Licensing Program for MMOG development.
With Terazona, Zona's network solution, developers need not spend time and money on network, server, and infrastructure issues. The Terazona servers are cross-platform, and can run on most operating systems. Within one game, Terazona, with its distributed network architecture, can reportedly support minimum of 32,000 users. Terazona’s Application Framework provides a thin-client solution on PlayStation 2 with emphasis on network security, reliability and quality of services required by most MMOG applications.
Virtools last week released its Behavioral Server 1.0., designed to provide interactive experiences on the Web.
The Virtools Behavioral Server dynamically sends or "serves" content via the Internet in response to user actions. Its architecture allows it to adapt the 3D content - in real time and according to choices made by the user - in order to deliver a game-like experience. Following the client/server structure, a Virtools Server is able to provide adaptive 3D applications by drawing from and adding to information systems that a company already has in place.
Applications include 3D games, e-learning, e-commerce product previews, and architectural walkthroughs.
Solutions developer Sherlock Systems Inc. is including the DVDBurner, Panasonic's combination DVD-RAM/R drive, with its new sherStation DVD workstation. A complete video production system for home and office applications, the sherStation DVD also features a Pentium IV processor and a family of video authoring, editing and production software at prices starting at less than $1,700.
The heart of the Windows XP system is a 1.6GHz Pentium IV CPU with a full 256MB of RAM, a 30GB hard drive and an ATI All in Wonder 128 Pro 32MB capture card. To enhance video production capabilities, the system also incorporates Intel's integrated DVMT graphics support and ADI audio codec.
To simplify video production, Sherlock includes Sonic DVDit! SE publishing tool, as well as Cyberlink's Power DVD, Power VCR and PowerDirector. Delivering real-time MPEG 1 and 2 digital video capabilities, Cyberlink's Power VCR lets users record TV, analog or digital video for later playback. The PowerDirector video-editing software includes smart video rendering, storyboard development, picture-in-picture capabilities, 3D transitions and more. The PowerDVD video decoder provides video and audio playback with low CPU consumption.
The Panasonic LF-D3l1 DVDBurner combination drive lets users read and write both 4.7 GB and 9.4GB DVD-RAM (rewritable) and 4.7GB DVD-R (write-once, play-anywhere) discs plus CD playback.
The drive's DVD-R General technology allows users to produce video discs that can be played back on most of the DVD players, DVD-ROM drives and DVD recorders in use today.
With the launch of next-generation consoles, online console gaming will evolve in the United States over the next five years, but this market won't begin to show significant revenue for 12 to 18 months, according to GartnerG2, a research unit of Gartner, Inc..
"Online console gaming revenue in the United States is projected to grow from $138 million in 2002 to $2.3 billion in 2005," said Mike Cruz, senior analyst for GartnerG2. "Although the average amount spent per online console household will drop from $167 in 2003 to $157 in 2005, the number of users will dramatically increase. Online console gaming will be a bonus feature of games in 2002, but it will become an assumed feature in 2005."
One of the more popular gifts this holiday season will be one of the next-generation consoles. The three systems to choose from will be the Microsoft Xbox, the Nintendo GameCube and the Sony Playstation 2 (PS2). Each of these consoles holds the promise of online gaming for new generations of gamers.
"Internet broadband penetration in U.S. households continues to rise, and that broadband connection combined with these next-generation consoles will enable new revenue models not only for gaming services but also other services, such as music subscriptions," said P.J. McNealy, senior analyst for GartnerG2. "This vision of additional services beyond gaming will appeal not only to the traditional hard-core gamer, but also to new users who previously had little interest in consoles or online gaming.
GartnerG2 defines online console gaming revenue as proceeds from subscriptions for online console gaming using a broadband connection. It does not include any revenue from PC gaming or any ancillary services enabled via the console (such as music subscriptions).
These next-generation consoles are positioned as not just a game console, but rather a console that has multiple entertainment capabilities. The PS2 and Xbox allow DVD playback. "This multifunctional capability is especially attractive in markets outside of the United States, such as Japan. In the United States, it's considered a bonus, but not a crucial factor," said McNealy. "However, it makes the consoles more attractive to the household buyer because the new consoles, while expensive, aren't just for the gamer in the house."
Sony has touted PS2 not just as a gaming device, but as a machine that will enable digital music subscription services, streaming and downloaded digital movie services, and communications services such as e-mail and instant messaging via a broadband adapter. Microsoft has touted Xbox as a gaming device, and it has resisted discussing other services while it focuses on its first entry into the game console market.
"The bottom line is that with a hard drive and a broadband connection, the next-generation consoles will have the capability of storage for non-gaming services," McNealy said. "However, these services are still a few years away."
Broadband access will be the key to online gaming succeeding. While household broadband penetration rates are increasing in the United States, the broadband access point is usually located near the PC, not the television. "Until wireless broadband access is widely available and reasonably priced, there will be some tripping over wires in households as broadband connections run from the PC to the TV area and into the game console," McNealy said.
Additional information is available in the GartnerG2 report "U.S. Online Console Gaming: Xbox Starts the Slow March Uphill." This report examines the opportunities for hardware vendors, media marketers and software developers in online gaming.
GartnerG2 is a new research service from Gartner that helps business strategists guide and grow their businesses. For more information, visit http://www.gartnerg2.com.
Coming in January from Realviz is MatchMover 2 Professional ($4,999 US), a tool for automatically tracking 3D. The company also announced a special promotional price of $999.00 until the end of December 2001 for its MatchMover 2. MatchMover 2 is software for tracking 3D camera data and motion from video and film sequences. MatchMover 2 Professional features automatic tracking, calibration, track cleanup, and support for matte sequences for tracking specific objects, in addition to MatchMover 2's manual capabilities. Users can start tracking automatically, and if necessary, transition to manual mode with no interruption of workflow.
Both versions share this core feature set:
MatchMover 2 Professional also features automatic track clean-up and support mattes within sequences. The benefit of loading in mattes is that confined parts of a scene can be isolated for tracking with even greater control.
Berkeley's Exluna says Entropy 3.1, the first major upgrade for its new rendering system, is currently in beta testing and will be available in January. The release will include a number of improvements such as a plug-in that integrates Entropy with Discreet's 3ds max and 3D Studio VIZ software, allowing advanced programmable shading and lighting, in addition to 3ds max network rendering. Entropy 3.1 also introduces new features such as depth of field and HDRI image-based lighting, as well as performance enhancements to significantly improve rendering speed, motion blur, and sub-pixel (true) displacement.
Entropy 3.1 fully supports Discreet's 3ds max and 3D Studio VIZ software, translating and integrating all of the native geometry, material, and lighting information. This combination takes advantage of Entropy's hybrid scanline architecture and selective raytracing to create final images faster than before. Entropy can accept RIB input and is said to efficiently handle complex scenes. Other features include global illumination, caustics, motion blur, depth of field, and comprehensive geometry support.
Entropy 3.1 also supports the built-in 3ds max Material Editor and lights, allowing artists to take advantage of advanced programmable shading and area lights.
Available on NT, Linux, and Irix, Entropy 3.1 also supports multiple geometry types, including NURBS, patches, polygons, subdivision surfaces, particles, and hair. This multithreaded hybrid scanline-raytracer has fully programmable shading and lighting, as well as RIB support to integrate into current development pipelines.
New pricing of $1750 per single or dual-CPU seat will be effective January 1, and all customers who have purchased Entropy 3.0 any time before that date will receive the upgrade to 3.1 at no additional cost.
Boxx Technologies, a provider of digital content creation systems and solutions for the entertainment and digital film industries, last week announced Juggler, a network render management solution supporting Alias|Wavefront's Maya on Windows 2000 or Linux.
Also, the company is offering a free, fully functional two-node evaluation version for download from its Web site at http://www.boxxtech.com.
The self-configuring Juggler features a centralized interface that gives users management options such as the ability to tap CPU power on desktop workstations during off-peak hours. Other Juggler features include:
New from Dosch Design is Character Designer, its 15th Dosch Textures product. The software is designed to let users create lifelike facial features and details. The 75 Photoshop (PSD-format elements include chin pores, eyelids, eye tissues, fingerprints, foreheads, lips, muscles, skin for the neck, noses, scars, skin pores, scratches, and wounds.
At the Wherehouse Music store in the Beverly Connection, West Hollywood, commencing November 21, 2001, Dynamic Digital Depth Inc. of Canada and Wherehouse will bring DDD's TriDef glasses-free 3D TV System to the consumer marketplace for the first time.
Music videos from Britney Spears, Faith Hill and Alicia Keys and movie trailers for Jurassic Park III, The Grinch and Shrek will be among the 3D content clips showcased at Wherehouse Music. All the music videos and movie trailers were converted from 2D to 3D using DDD's TriDef 3D technologies.
Coming next month from Caligari Corporation is trueSpace 5.2 with a new Facial Animator tool said to generate animated human facial muscle movements directly from speech or text input using high-level animation controls. The new version also features Key Frame Editor animation enhancements.
Facial Animator can use a generic model of a human head or a model provided by the user. The model can then be matched to a real human face with trueSpace5.2's new texture editor that uses two photographs of a human face and converts them into a textured 3D model.
The new Lip-Sync capability lets users automatically create facial animation directly from speech by generating speech-related human facial muscle movements for the face. Users can also combine speech animation with key-framed animations for high-level control of character emotions. Smiles, frowns, and expressions of anger, relief, or other emotion can be created by adjusting slider values.
The enhanced Key Frame Editor makes vertex- and bone-animation parameters available for editing in track and function curve views, and lets animation tracks be assigned to individual vertices or bones. All function curves for a single animation parameter are now displayed simultaneously.
Electronic Arts last week released The Sims Hot Date Expansion Pack, the new add-on disk to the hit PC game. For the first time, Sims will be able to leave their homes and visit an all-new downtown area that will give them a place for a romantic rendezvous or to just hang out with a friend. Send Sims out to a dinner for two at the swankiest restaurant in town, a fun-filled picnic in the park or a leisurely stroll down Main Street. Will the Sims find true love or be destined to a lifetime membership in the lonely-hearts club?
Players can take their dream dates to a customizable downtown area filled with shops, restaurants and parks. They can also invite neighbors and friends to meet at these new locales as well.
With over forty new social interactions, The Sims can flirt, play footsie, make out, gossip about the couple at the next table or chat in Simlish about new and diverse interests ...whatever it takes to keep sparks flying on their dates.
Over 125 new objects include the picnic basket, love tub, cuddle couch and lover's swing.
Sierra Entertainment, Inc. has begun shipping Empire Earth, a new real-time strategy (RTS) game that’s lets gamers take control of armies from the prehistoric ages to the near future.
Empire Earth is a real-time strategy game that covers 500,000 years of human history, from the discovery of fire to the laser battles of the future. Each player takes control of a fledgling civilization and strives to forge the greatest of all empires. Gamers control armies of cavemen, knights, Mustangs, and stealth bombers.
More information about the game, including the free downloadable demonstration version, can be found at http://www.empireearth.com/.
Activision will publish Creative Assembly’s Medieval: Total War for the PC in 2002. The sequel to Shogun: Total War challenges players to reshape the history of the Middle Ages through a combination of real-time 3D battles and turn-based empire building.
The title lets players take control of one of 12 world powers as they attempt to rewrite history through a mixture of trade, diplomacy, resource management and wars of conquest. Features include real-time 3D battles of more than 10,000 troops and more than 100 unique unit types, including knights, infantry and siege engines, in deserts, forest, plains and mountains. Players will utilize battle strategies and tactics as they unleash their forces against medieval castles and fortresses with battlefield weapons such as long-bows, muskets, cannons and catapults which can pound castle walls and buildings to rubble.
In addition to real-time 3D combat, Medieval: Total War includes a turn-based mode where players can build the empire that they need to support their war machine. From the turn-based screen, players can manage the affairs of their kingdom by forging strategic alliances, creating trade routes, researching technology, constructing castles, deploying naval power, training warriors and generals and suppressing revolts.
The player’s choice of nation will impact overall strategy as many battlefield units are culturally specific English Longbowmen will face Highland Clansmen while Teutonic Knights will charge into battle against elite Turkish Janissaries. As the game progresses nations will have to adapt or perish in the face of the technical revolution of gunpowder, which brings muskets and cannon to the battlefield. This variation between nations and cultures goes beyond the battlefield to the economics, architecture and politics of four centuries of history. Medieval: Total War also adds RPG elements into the mix with nation-specific hero units that feature unique skills and bonuses - from military giants such as Richard the Lionheart, Frederick Barbarrosa, Saladin and Kublai Khan; to warriors and rebels such as William Wallace, El Cid, Robin Hood and Joan of Arc.
Microsoft and Relic Entertainment have officially announced that "Impossible Creatures" is the new product name for their upcoming real-time strategy PC game slated for release in 2002.
Formerly dubbed "Sigma: The Adventures of Rex Chance," "Impossible Creatures" is a real-time strategy game based in the 1930s. Weaving a tale of adventure and betrayal, "Impossible Creatures" transforms the familiar into extraordinary as players combine the traits of more than 50 different creatures -- using Sigma technology -- to create fantastic animal armies that will save the world from a dastardly plot.
With tens of thousands of animal combinations possible, players' strategic sensibilities, analytical abilities and creativity are tested as they seek to employ the ultimate gameplay strategies. Featuring approximately 15 missions, "Impossible Creatures" is set in a detailed, 3D dynamic world alive with flora and fauna. Adventures take place on 12 distinct South Pacific islands.
Relic Entertainment Inc., a developer of electronic entertainment software founded in 1997 and led by Alex Garden, is developing "Impossible Creatures."
Last week Microsoft's Xbox video game system arrived on North American store shelves, and left them almost as quickly (in the hands of customers). The launch lineup included:
Nineteen games were available for Xbox during launch week, and another 10 to 15 games will hit store shelves before the end of the holiday season. More are in development from Electronic Arts, Sega, Konami, Activision Namco, and others.
The $300 console features a hard drive and a Ethernet port for broadband connectivity; broadband is scheduled to go live in summer 2002.
Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. last week released NCAA Final Four 2002 from the 989 Sports development team. New features of the basketball game include:
Nintendo fans can grab their virtual boards and hit the streets when Activision releases its hit Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 simultaneously with the launch of the Nintendo GameCube. The PS2 version was the best-selling video game in the U.S. for the week of November 3, 2001, according to NPD’s TRSTS Data. The game is also available for Game Boy Color.
Empire Interactive and Vivendi Universal Interactive Publishing have shipped Victorious Boxers for PlayStation 2. The game provides a combination of arcade and sim style boxing. Features include:
The game offers career progression through improvement, and gamers must learn new moves to progress.
The 2002 Game Developers Conference (GDC) Web site has launched at http://www.gdconf.com, enabling industry professionals to access the latest show information for the world's largest event devoted exclusively to developers behind the more than $10 billion video game market.
The annual event will take place March 21 - 23, 2002 in San Jose, Calif. Visitors can register for attendance, find contact information, obtain schedules of key dates and learn of event updates.
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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