26 November 2001
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Digimation, the Discreet Preferred Plug-in Publisher, is the leader in the plug-in market for 3ds max. As we enter into our 10th year, we are committed to creating innovative plug-ins that offer the 3ds max community a way to turn ideas into reality. Check our website for our Anniversary Specials. http://www.digimation.com.
MINDROVER: THE EUROPA PROJECT
'MindRover: The Europa Project', the intelligent robot simulation/strategy game from CogniToy. Players program research rovers to race around the halls, play tag, or battle it out in the quarry.
Adrenaline vault gives MindRover 5 stars: "Only once in a blue moon does a game sweep through the industry by surprise to take top honors." Demo available at: www.cognitoy.com
by David Duberman
Swift 3D V2 is an inexpensive, standalone application that lets you create vector-based animation in Shockwave Flash and other vector formats. These low-bandwidth presentations are accessible to almost all browsers, and can have greater impact than a simple GIF animation. While not the fullest-featured 3D app around, Swift 3D provides a respectable complement of modeling, surfacing, and animation tools that are easy to learn and simple to use.
The program consists of four modules or editors: Scene, Extrusion, Lathe, and Preview/Export. Most of the work is done in the Scene Editor, which consists mainly of one or two resizable windows into the 3D workspace. You can set these to show any combination of front, back, top, bottom, left, right, and perspective views. Display options are shaded, fast-shaded, outline (wireframe), and bounding box, and you can set window dimensions in pixels, inches, or centimeters.
For basic modeling, a versatile array of 3D primitives is available from an icon-based toolbar: sphere, box, pyramid, cone, torus, plane, polyhedron, and text. Clicking a primitive’s button adds it to the workspace, after which you can set various properties from a panel on the side. For instance, with the polyhedron, you can specify the family—tetrahedron, cube/octahedron, dodecahedron/icosahedron, and two types of stars—as well as P and Q settings, which determine the number of faces and vertices. With text, you can specify the font and justification, and a convenient drop-down list lets you choose special characters with the mouse.
Once you have objects in the workspace, you can move them around parallel to the view plane by dragging them in a window. If you drag in an empty space, you move the view instead, and right-button dragging zooms the view or moves an object perpendicular to the view, depending on where you click. A large trackball below the viewports lets you rotate objects or the view; nearby buttons let you lock the rotation axis and reset object position and orientation. One powerful new feature in V2 lets you position an object’s pivot independently, so the object doesn’t necessarily rotate about its center.
You can scale objects uniformly interactively, or non-uniformly with numeric settings. The scale properties remember the different amounts of scaling, and multiple undos are available for all operations. You can also group objects, and manipulate group members independently without ungrouping.
Swift 3D offers two different lighting paradigms; one senses committee-based decision-making at work here. Fortunately, each can be used by itself, or in combination with the other. You can add free or targeted point lights and spot lights from the toolbar; these are visible in the viewports, and can be manipulated like other object. Alternatively, a second trackball lets you shine distant light sources from any angle. Its usage, like most controls in Swift 3D, is fairly intuitive. The lighting buttons let you add point lights and spot lights, and delete lights. Lights don’t have an intensity setting; instead, you control a light’s brightness by its color. Additional options for spot lights let you overall angle, hotspot angle, and how quickly the illumination falls off between the two.
You can also add free cameras and targeted cameras, which are visible and manipulable in the viewports. You can pan a camera by moving it in a viewport; if it’s not visible, a handy toolbar Camera Pan toolbar performs the same function (but you can’t select objects while it’s in effect).
For those whose modeling needs go further than combining primitives, Swift 3D offers a number of options. You can import 3D objects in DXF and 3DS formats; the latter format can come in only when you use the New From 3DS command. You can also bring in 2D shapes in AI and EPS formats, with the option to retain or discard fills from the original files. Be sure to save artwork in version 8 format or earlier; Swift 3D doesn’t recognize the version 9 formats.
When you import 2D artwork, it appears in both the Scene and Extrusion editors. Alternatively, you can draw and edit shapes with the latter’s fairly rudimentary tools. Essentially, you click to place points, each of which can be corner, smooth (linked Bezier handles), or tangent (independent Bezier handles). The editor also lets you add points anywhere on an existing edge, move points, and change a point’s type. If you press and hold the Shift key after you start moving a point, you create temporary vertical and horizontal snap axes emanating from the point’s location; or press Shift before you click to use the last point’s snap axes. The latter is handy for aligning vertices.
After creating a shape, to extrude it, you simply return to the Scene editor. Here you can set the extrude depth (and overall size) as well as square edges, or various types of bevels: standard, outer or inner round, or stepped. You can also set the bevel depth, whether it appears on front or back faces or both, and the smoothness and mesh quality. If you nest shapes in the Extrusion editor, you can create cutouts.
The Lathe editor works almost identically, except that shapes are lathed around the central axis rather than extruded. Settings include sweep angle (you can't cap the ends), the number of radial segments, and a radial smoothing option. You can’t save shapes independently or even copy and paste them between the two shape editors, but they are saved with the scene.
Back in the Scene editor, you can apply materials to objects by dragging them from a palette of presets, categorized as Blue Colors, Green Colors, Glossy Colors, etc. Typically a material colors the entire object, with one exception: You can apply three different colors to an extruded object’s front, side, and bevel. You can edit materials, setting ambient, diffuse, and highlight colors, as well as highlight size and switches for self-illumination and two-sided. Texture maps aren't supported, which really isn't a problem; they're not appropriate for vector animation.
A second palette provides a selection of drag-and-drop animation behaviors, mostly of the rotation variety. These are nice in that they’re set to end in more or less the same orientation as they begin, so that animations can repeat seamlessly. For more elaborate animation, you can use Swift 3D’s relatively painless keyframe-timeline method. The only quibble I have with Swift 3D's implementation is that the timeline shows all of the selected object's properties, whether they can be animated or not. For example, you can't animate an extruded/text object's bevel, even though it appears in the animation editor.
On the plus side are more advanced features such as the ability to copy and paste keyframes and to animate materials. And real mavens can take advantage of the animation editor’s ability to set three keyframe properties: tension, continuity, and bias.
When it comes time to see the final result, you switch to the Preview and Export Editor, where the entire animation is available as a scrolling filmstrip in which you can select one or more frames. You can render a single frame, all selected frames, or the entire animation, and export in one of four formats: Flash, EPS, AI, or SVG. The seven available fill options, of which the choice applies to all objects, range from Cartoon Single Color Fill to Mesh Gradient Shading; the more elaborate the shading, the larger the output file. You can also choose to render outlines or wireframes, in which case you can set line weight and several other options.
As I noted previously, in my review of the Swift 3D Max plug-in, the renderer performs shading on a per-polygon basis, so if your objects are low poly, you can get some jagged edges between shading areas with certain fill options. Also, if you render with outlines, you get lines between all shading areas, not just on the outside edges. The RAViX renderer still isn’t the fastest around, although for most purposes it’s fine.
The informative manual comes in two electronic formats, both available from the Help menu: as a PDF file, suitable for printing, and as compiled HTML, which is better for finding a particular topic. If you buy the boxed version, you also get a printed, spiral-bound manual. I could do without the author's cutesy writing style ("Hi, my name is Nick"), but some might find it amusing.
At $159, Swift 3D represents an excellent value for those who want to create simple, Flash-format 3D animations for the Web. If you use 3ds max, LightWave 3D, or Softimage, get the respective Swift 3D plug-in instead. Ironically, the plug-ins are more expensive ($295 each for the first two, $450 for the forthcoming Softimage version), but the fact that you can use any of those programs’ far more powerful modeling and animation tools makes them well worth it. Otherwise, stick with the Swift 3D app’s low cost and ease of use, and you won’t go wrong.
Macromedia last week announced the availability of Dreamweaver Developer Certification, which validates a user's understanding of Dreamweaver, Web page design, Web authoring, and Web technologies. Dreamweaver certification is part of the larger Macromedia Certified Professional Program, which demonstrates to employers and clients a proficiency in designing and developing Web sites. For more information on the Macromedia Certified Professional Program, visit www.macromedia.com/go/certification/
The company also announced that extension developers are streamlining various aspects of authoring Web content and applications using Macromedia Dreamweaver 4 and Dreamweaver UltraDev 4. The open architecture of both products enables programmers to create extensions to simplify repetitive tasks, add scripting, use pre-built navigational elements, and build on the existing integration with Macromedia Flash.
Project Seven's Menu-Magic Kit, Paul Davis's Advanced Random Images, and Mossimo Foti's Flash Panel are examples of extensions available for the two products, and are available on Macromedia Exchange (www.macromedia.com/exchange/).
Menu-Magic Kit is a commercially available extension that enables users to make DHTML collapsible, gliding menus. The extensions come with step-by-step tutorials, Fireworks images, and complete menu designs.
Advanced Random Images lets users specify a list of images to automatically rotate whenever the page is served or reloaded.
Flash Panel builds on the ability to create and edit simple Macromedia Flash content from within Dreamweaver. Users input any text into a Dreamweaver object and the text string is automatically exported as animated Macromedia Flash content embedded in a Dreamweaver page.
ViewCast Corporation says its Osprey SimulStream software, which lets users output multiple video and audio streams settings using multiple encoding applications with independent capture settings from a single Osprey capture card, is now available as Osprey Digital SimulStream to users of Osprey-500 line of products.
For the Osprey-500 DV and DV Pro models the Osprey Digital SimulStream software solution provides cost-effective capabilities in DV and pro audio/video source distribution to software applications. The new offering creates a "virtual splitter" of video and audio from either DV or SDI sources. Users can process media from digital sources simultaneously, improving production workflow and saving time.
Streaming media content creators typically encode several different streams of the same media in order to provide streams for modems and broadband connections, as well as for different formats, such as RealVideo, RealAudio, and Microsoft's Windows Media.
The DV-compatible Osprey-500 is a video capture card designed for the capture of digital video for streaming media. The card creates end-to-end digital video for streaming and removes video-quality degradation caused by the multi-step video-conversion process of the first generation of existing capture cards and software.
Coming December 3 from Europe's Bionatics is a new release of its natFX plant modeling plug-in for Maya aimed at the 3D animation and video game markets. The software uses "bio-computing" technology for animation of complex vegetation.
New features let users not only animate a complex tree but also trim it, isolate and animate just a branch and manipulate only areas that pertain to the animation. Chop off branches or keep just a branch for a close-up. Remove bark, limbs, leaves--anything not needed--and then reload them when they are. Also, leaves and wood can shift from billboards to the finest level of detail throughout the animation.
natFX1.1 is available in two versions: natFX Base and natFX Ultimate. The latter lets users manipulate heavy scenes and complex vegetation in real time.
LightWork Design, a supplier of rendering, simulation, and visualization software, last week launched a new version of its LightWorks rendering engine. New features in version 6.5 include:
Discreet, a division of Autodesk Inc., announced last week that its newly acquired streaming software, Discreet cleaner 5.1, is available for sale at $599 and as a free download to update all current cleaner 5 customers.
The update for Macintosh and Windows platforms adds new support for Sorenson Video 3 Professional for high-quality QuickTime content, along with updated support for the latest Windows Media 8 codecs, RealSystem 8.5.1 codecs and Apple QuickTime 5.
Other features include improved reading of .AVI sources on Windows, 2-pass VBR support for Sorenson Video 3, faster encoding, and improved MPEG output. A complete list of cleaner 5 features is located at: www.discreet.com/products/cleaner/.
Roughly 36 million households in the United States own a video-game console; this is up from approximately 34 million a year ago, according to the Yankee Group's recently completed Technologically Advanced Family (TAF) Survey.
The survey results indicate that while a significant portion of next-generation video-game console sales is coming from households upgrading their video-game platform, the market is slowly continuing to expand. Families with children represent the lion's share of video-game system owners, with more than 80% of households surveyed with children ages 13 to 17 already owning at least one video-game system. On average, video-game households own 1.4 consoles per household.
"The results signal that while the industry is clearly a mature one, there is still room for growth," said Steve Vonder Haar, director of the Yankee Group's Media & Entertainment Strategies practice. "Console manufacturers are hoping that by transforming the console from a stand-alone video-game system into a home entertainment system, they will be able to jump-start console growth beyond its current 1% to 2% per year."
Penton Media's Streaming Media, Inc. last week released the findings of its third data/analysis report, MPEG-4: The Impact of the Open Standard on the Future of Digital Media.
The research report, compiled by Jon Peddie, formerly of Jon Peddie Associates, and Bill Bernat, technical editor, Streaming Media, Inc., defines current product and delivery plans for a number of vendors in the MPEG-4 market space.
Through surveys with member companies of the Internet Streaming Media Alliance (ISMA) and the MPEG-4 Industry Forum (M4IF), the report found that 65 percent of respondents expect MPEG-4 to become the standard for streaming media within three years and 93 percent expect it to become the standard for streaming media within five years.
The reports shows that a surprising number of MPEG-4 products will ship in the first two quarters of 2002, though the number of planned releases through the end of 2003 varies by product category (encoder, server, player, DRM, etc.).
A separate survey of high-level professionals in the streaming media industry aimed to separate MPEG-4 hype from reality. Both streaming media professionals and ISMA and M4IF member companies saw wireless applications as less than one sixth of the overall market. Although industry buzz indicates otherwise, both surveys suggest that wireless video is still a long way from popular usage.
A "What Matters Most" technical digest provides a concise high-level overview of the technical architecture of MPEG-4, as well as a Web bibliography of resources for those wishing to find in-depth technical resources for learning.
O'Reilly & Associates invites entrepreneurs, technologists, programmers, business developers, policy-makers, and Internet strategists to lead tutorial and conference sessions at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference (Westin Santa Clara & Santa Clara Convention Center April 22-25, 2002--Santa Clara, CA). The standard client-server architecture is evolving to new levels that connect users to users, devices to devices, services to services, and programs to programs. This event explores the growing realm of technology devoted to building distributed, wireless, and interactive networks.
Conference participants will become part of the conversation that explores and invents this new Internet structure. Any innovative application that harnesses the power of distributed computers, users or devices (in particular, distributed networking infrastructure, identity services, wireless networking, GPS/GIS location services, standards, privacy, and security), and the technical or business issues raised by such applications, are appropriate subjects for this conference.
Tracks will include business implementations and models, untethered networking technologies and applications, biological models of computing, Web services, and Peer-to-Peer. The conference program will be of interest to developers, technical strategists, IT professionals, and businesspersons.
The submission deadline for all proposals is December 12, 2001. Presenters will be notified of selection results by January 22, 2002.
For more participation details and to submit proposals, visit: http://conferences.oreillynet.com/cs/et2002/create/e_sess
For information on exhibition and sponsorship opportunities at the conference, contact Andrew Calvo at (707) 827-7176, or mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out O'Reilly's latest related release, "2001 P2P Networking Overview," at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/p2presearch/
Sony Computer Entertainment America last week released Frequency, a unique interactive music title for PlayStation2. Developed by Harmonix Music Systems, Inc., Frequency lets users mix and remix prerecorded music in an environment containing 3D graphics and video content.
The title highlights various music genres that include Electronica, House, Drum and Bass, Alternative Rock, Trance and Hip Hop from music acts such as Paul Oakenfold, The Crystal Method, No Doubt, Jungle Brothers, Orbital, and DJ Q-Bert.
In Frequency, music mixing begins with one instrument, such as drums, where players hit the appropriate PlayStation 2 controller buttons at the right time in order to match the rhythm of the song; incorrect timing will decrease players' musical time bar. Once this instrument is successfully mixed, players can move on to another instrument, such as guitar, and continue through all the instruments to lay down the song and perform all instrumental tracks before the musical timing bar runs out. Players can also compete with their friends and family by saving re-mixes they create onto memory cards and trade them with their friends as unique levels in the game mode. In addition, gamers can compete in a music jam session with up to four players simultaneously.
Just out from Activision is Star Trek: Armada II, developed by Mad Doc. The real-time strategy game challenges players to master the fleets of the Federation, Klingons and Borg across 30 levels after a Borg incursion threatens the safety of the Alpha quadrant.
Enhancements to the original's gameplay include true 3D, allowing the commander to position forces on different levels within the starfield. The new Tactical View lets players rotate the camera 360° and zoom into the action to issue orders from the front line. Players will have over 100 new ship types and base objects at their disposal throughout the game's single-player campaign and multiplayer levels. Gamers will also be able to use their fleets more effectively with a new formation feature. Depending on the command given by the player, ships will automatically arrange themselves into the optimum offensive, defensive or support configurations. Also, weapons fire can now damage different locations and sub-systems on targeted ships.
In the multiplayer game, up to eight players can compete over a LAN and the Internet as the Federation, Klingons, Borg, Cardassians, Romulans or Species 8472 factions. Several additional multiplayer game types will also be available including Team, Alliance, Capture The Flag, Collect Latinum, Colonize Planets, Defend Planet and Assault modes.
Gamers will soon be able to jumpstart their ghost-capturing careers with the release of Versus Books' official Luigi’s Mansion Perfect Guide. The guide features detailed rendered maps, reveals secret areas in the game, and includes screenshots and step-by-step and quick walkthrough notes, as well as a complete item appendix for all power-ups and collectables.
In addition to a large single-player campaign and a random-mission generator, Raven Software's Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix for the PC, to be published by Activision, will ship with Free For All and Team Deathmatch multiplayer modes. In the game, players assume the role of John Mullins, a military consultant working for a covert organization known as "the shop." As Mullins, players will travel around the globe to stop a criminal conspiracy from terrorizing the world with a weapon of mass destruction.
Multiplayer mode in Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix features over 100 unique model/skin combinations and 12 - 14 in-view weapons. Additionally, Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix's multiplayer code is designed to be easily modified by the mod community.
Built off the latest Quake III: Team Arena code base and enhanced with GHOUL 2 technology, combat features include damage modeling and animations, accurate reproductions of actual weapons and missions taken from around the globe including Prague, Colombia, Hong Kong and Kamchatka.
Throughout the game, players must tackle a wide-range of scenarios including hostage rescue and intelligence gathering, to search-and-destroy. Level design in Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix is flexible enough to allow for multiple styles of play. Gamers can "hit 'em hard" with a frontal assault or use stealth weapons for a subtle approach.
Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix will ship with a violence lock that enables players to filter out most of the mature graphics and audio in the game.
Just out from Microsoft for its Xbox platform is Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding. The title, which focuses on freestyle riding, features mountains with 1,500 jumps and rails. Players can pull over 1,000 tricks on 80 mountain runs. Land insane tricks in front of roaming camera crews to get your face on video reels and magazine covers. Get enough media exposure to become one of the world’s top 10 snowboarding superstars. And do it all to the music of over 200 core indie tracks.
Newly available from id Software is Return to Castle Wolfenstein for the PC, developed by Gray Matter Studios and published by Activision. Players take part in action, espionage, and mayhem as an American soldier tasked with single-handedly stopping the darkest plans of the Third Reich. Throughout the story-driven single-player game, players will be locked in combat with waves of Nazi storm troopers, undead Teutonic knights and the twisted products of genetic experimentation. Other features include advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and scripting.
The multiplayer mode offers series of combat scenarios. Gamers will join the fight as an axis or ally soldier and be challenged to such campaigns as storming beachheads, infiltrating military installations, holding strategic positions, and more. Developed by Nerve Software, the online component features multiple objectives spanning a variety of maps, including an Allied airbase, a war-torn German village and a secret Nazi laboratory.
SGI says its Global Developer Conference will take place February 25-27, 2002 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, Calif. The agenda will include technical presentations, discussions and tips and tricks.
The conference will host a Partner Pavilion, a Product Showcase, and events. Speakers currently scheduled to appear include SGI CEO Warren Pratt and CTO Eng Lim Goh, as well as SGI execs who will address both technical development and product strategy.
As SGI celebrates its 20th anniversary, the company has decided to revitalize a popular developer conference segment not held since the early 1990s: the hobbyist event. Any hobbyist who develops an application on the SGI IRIX platform is invited to submit it to SGI. Details and submission guidelines are available on the Web at http://www.sgi.com/developers. All qualified submissions will entitle the hobbyist to a free pass to the conference Jose. SGI will ask conference attendees to vote on which applications is the best. The hobbyist winner will receive a new Silicon Graphics visual workstation.
The conference will feature three technical tracks: optimization, differentiation, and visualization:
During a special Product Showcase event, conference attendees will be transported to the SGI campus for an evening at SGI headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. SGI products, services and solutions will be displayed specifically for IRIX developers. The Customer Briefing Center will also hold an open house for attendees, who will be invited to experience live SGI Reality Center visualization facility demonstrations. SGI engineers and senior management will be available during dinner for discussions and business opportunities.
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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