26 November 2000 (Holiday edition)
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Editor's note: If you're interested in XML, be sure to read Howard Dyckoff's special report from XML DevCon 2000 at the end of today's Spectrum.
We learned last week that France-based 3D-graphics toolmaker NeMo, which was previously named Virtools, has had to return to its original company name because of a legal decision. Its product line, also named NeMo, has been renamed Virtools as well.
Hypnotix, an American game development company, used Virtools to create its first 3D production of the Deer Avenger series. Development of the Deer Avenger 3D reportedly took five months. When asked why they selected Virtools, Mike Taramykin, CEO of Hypnotix replied, "After having great success with our prior Deer Avenger 2D titles, we wanted to create a 3D version. However, we only had an extremely short amount of time and needed a stable program to work with. After scanning the market for an efficient development tool, we found that Virtools … was easy, quick and allowed us to jump right into production."
Headquartered in Paris, Virtools produces a suite of behavioral 3D development tools. Creation permits non-programmers to create interactivity through graphs and behavior building blocks, and Dev gives game developers access to the underlying code for additional power, flexibility and control.
For more information, phone +33(0) 1 42 71 46 86, or mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tiny Software Inc., a developer router and firewall software for small to medium size networks, last week released version two of its popular Tiny Personal Firewall. Free for personal use, Tiny Personal Firewall v.2 is designed to prevent unauthorized access, offer high security for computers and is based on the award winning, ICSA-certified WinRoute Pro security technology.
Tiny Personal Firewall v.2 can be set to run manually or as a service and includes a desktop administration utility for full configuration of the security engine either on the same computer or remotely. Users can choose from low, medium or high security settings, and different configurations of the security settings, using its packet-filtering feature, can be assigned to specific applications.
Tiny Personal Firewall v.2 is compatible with Windows 95, 98, Me, 2000 and NT 4.0. It is free for personal computer use and pricing starts at $39 for business use.
Last week Salon.com celebrated its fifth anniversary. Launched in November 1995, the site has grown from a weekly arts and literature e-zine into an award-winning Internet news and entertainment site, with over 2.6 million unique users and 45 million page views per month.
The site, originally called Salon Magazine, was founded by David Talbot, former arts and features editor at the San Francisco Examiner. Talbot brought together five journalists--Gary Kamiya, Laura Miller, Joyce Millman, Scott Rosenberg and Andrew Ross--along with art director, Mignon Khargie, and launched Salon on November 20, 1995.
Dedicated in its early days to cultural reviews and criticism, Salon began moving towards a daily publishing cycle and newspaper format. A key turning point in Salon's development was the coverage of Princess Diana's death in September 1997. Salon quickly assembled its reporters and commentators around the globe to cover this major eventSalon continued to invest in national and international news, grabbing a bigger spotlight with its reporting on special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's investigation of President Clinton, its investigative features on the Clinton impeachment hearings, Rep. Henry Hyde, the White House drug office, the Columbine High School massacre, Los Angeles Police Department corruption and more. Salon's coverage of the 2000 presidential race and election has driven its circulation in November to an all-time high.
Salon's offline brand extension includes the publication of three books: "Mothers Who Think: Tales of Real-Life Parenthood," published by Villard Books, a division of Random House; "The Salon.com Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors", published by Penguin Books; and most recently,"Salon.com's Wanderlust: Real Life Tales of Adventure and Romance," also published by Villard.
As of September 2000, the site received 2.6 million unique users per month and 102 million page views for the quarter. Its biggest traffic day ever was the day after the 2000 presidential elections, with 1.9 million page views.
Salon.com's board of directors and advisors includes Norman Lear, the creator of some of television's most successful shows, including "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons"; Jim Rosenfield, former President of CBS Television; Brian Dougherty, Founder & Chairman of interactive television leader Wink Communications; Leonardo Mondadori, Chairman of Italy's largest publishing company, Mondadori; and Don Ohlmeyer, currently the executive producer for ABC's "Monday Night Football" and formerly President of NBC West Coast.
Informative Graphics Corp. last week released of Myriad V5.0, the latest version of its document, drawing and 3D model view and redline program for enterprise Web-enabled collaborative product commerce and intranet-based document systems. The new release unites the company's visualization product line, bringing 3D models to Brava! for the first time. Engineers and their design teams can share information via Brava!'s thin-client architecture, adding comments, annotations and hyperlinks to 3D model data using "3D ViewSets."
ViewSets are small views of 3D model assemblies, pre-authored in Myriad to the area of discussion interest, using advanced visualization features such as cutaways, exploded views, etc.
Myriad 5.0 also extends the use of HTML publishing to include 3D model ViewSets. Users can create standard orientations or custom views to static HTML pages for easy
view-only use by any standard Web browser.
Additional enhancements to 2D and 3D functionality, include:
iMove Inc.'s new $495 Multiview Production Suite converts standard digital video into interactive video. Content developers can add audio, text, and Website hotspots inside the video. Content developers can create three types of Multiview Interactive Video for the Internet or interactive TV:
iMove content can be produced for CD-ROM, DVD, and Web delivery. iMove's RedCarpet Web-streaming provides a progressive viewing experience. Full streaming support will be available in first quarter, 2001.
Americans with a Webcam and a political opinion have a new way to be heard and seen as Oediv unveils its Vidville.com video message board community today at http://www.vidville.com.
Vidville.com offers similar features as text-based message boards, except that all of the posts are in video, the lingua franca of modern society. Anyone with a Webcam or a DV camera and RealProducer Basic software (http://www.realnetworks.com/products/producer/info.html) can post clips up to one minute long to Vidville.com. Users can post to a variety of categories, such as politics, health, technology, movies, music and sports, or start a new topic. RealVideo is required to view the posts. Windows Media Player and Quicktime versions of Vidville.com are in development.
Interactivity is encouraged on Vidville.com and empowers users to express their opinions about hundreds of topics. When a member’s post is responded to by another member, an e-mail notifies them to return to the site and post again, creating an ongoing, many-to-many video dialogue.
Vidville.com is the first product of Oediv, a Los Angeles-based video application service provider (VASP) creating broadband and communications solutions for the corporate, educational and government markets.
mp3Collaborator last week launched an interactive music portal where artists and entertainment industry professionals can collaborate.
Users can create music, mixes or other projects securely using the mp3 compression format. No extra software is required to collaborate on the site, which also provides free Web pages, software, classified ads, ShopTalk message boards, fan feedback and other features. Original material uploaded to the site is archived and date-stamped. Projects such as music videos are also recorded.
The Media Z Lounge, just unveiled in NYC's New Museum of Contemporary Art, is a new, free-admission space dedicated to the exhibition and exploration of technology and art. The opening exhibit features the work of South African artist Candice Breitz.
One of the country's only museum spaces devoted exclusively to emerging video art forms, Media Z Lounge, co-developed with Zenith, features digital art, experimental video and sound works, displayed on equipment such as flat-screen monitors, multimedia computer stations and plasma panels.
The delay between the generation of a computer event and its realization can be frustrating. Two examples: when you're playing an interactive game and you turn a steering wheel, you expect the vehicle on the screen to turn instantly. When you're using a MIDI keyboard and you press the key, you expect the sound to occur immediately. When these things don't happen quickly enough, you have a latency problem.
If you're using Linux, you might find this article on reducing Linux response times interesting. It includes a number of easy-to-implement adjustments said to create near-instantaneous response times on Linux systems.
Low Latency in the Linux Kernel
By Dave Phillips
Dave Phillips maintains the Linux Music & Sound Applications Web site (http://www.bright.net/~dlphilp/linuxsound/), and has been a performing musician for more than 30 years.
Armchair empire builders can get their latest civ fix from Activision's new game Call to Power II. Producer Parker Davis says, "Call to Power II … blends classic themes and play styles of the empire-building genre with improvements in pacing, balance, and combat. Innovations in city growth and management, more powerful diplomacy and trade, and unique AI personalities provide even greater strategic depth and immersion."
The sequel offers several new diplomatic options for budding emperors. To help in their bid for world domination, players will be able to send proposals and counter proposals to neighboring nations to create strategic and economic alliances. A player's diplomatic strategy will play a large role in the development of their empire, as enemy states will survey the diplomatic landscape before attacking or forming their own alliances. Players can also win the game by uniting the various empires and sustaining a world- wide alliance.
For gamers who prefer diplomacy by other means, units now have armor and damage attributes in addition to traditional attack and defense scores, creating a greater balance for the units across the ages. Also, combined arms will play a much larger role in combat. Players who diversify their armies into the three principal unit types, melee, flanking and ranged, will now receive a higher relative rating in combat than a larger army comprised of less diverse units. Additionally, unconventional warfare rules have been modified to give the player more options.
Players who prefer a more hands-off approach can have the game's mayors handle the day-to-day tasks of managing the player's cities. Additionally, the new UI gives players a better overview of important factors like trade, army status and the efficiency and happiness of the labor force.
For players who want a quick fix, the game features three scenarios. Players can try to conquer the world in Alexander the Great, prevent World War III in the Nuclear Detente scenario or unite various clans as a Samurai warlord in feudal Japan with the Magnificent Samurai scenario.
Sierra Studios and Rewolf Software last week released Gunman Chronicles, a new stand-alone PC title powered by Valve's Half-Life engine. The game reportedly combines a wild-west sensibility with a high-tech theme to create a visually unique first-person shooter.
Developed by Rewolf Software, Gunman Chronicles is set in the western spiral of the galaxy, five years after a horrifying alien infestation. The adventure leads players to four unexplored planets with a variety of habitats for enemies, features 40+ hours of gameplay, new customizable weapons allowing for 32 variations of arsenal, original sound and music, and 30 new monsters. The game includes multiplayer modes for up to 32 players via LAN and Internet connections.
Founded in 1997, Rewolf Software is a digital entertainment group comprised of artists, designers, and programmers from around the world, who met online.
The preposterous pair of a bird and bear from Banjo-Kazooie is back with dozens of new characters, puzzles, graphics, and a witch's brew of mini-games in the new title, Banjo-Tooie for N64. Developed by U.K.-based Rare Ltd., the game again features Banjo, the honey-bear, and his wise-cracking, red-crested breegull partner, Kazooie, as they continue their battle against the evil undead witch Gruntilda.
Banjo and Kazooie can now separate, play as one character, or as a combination of both. They can also transform into a number of different creatures, each with abilities to perform specific tasks that are impossible in their native form. Banjo can become a submarine or washing machine, but he's always wearing shorts and blue backpack. Also controllable in the game are Mumbo Jumbo, the shaman, and his bag of spells. In all, Banjo-Tooie features more than 125 new characters, plus the welcome and not-so-welcome return of a few favorites. New technical features include refined textures, Dolby Surround Sound, 16:9 enhanced widescreen mode, real-time lighting, an expanded interactive soundtrack
Activision shipped its 3D action/adventure game, Spider-Man, for Nintendo 64 last week. The title received generally favorable reviews in its previous release for the PlayStation platform. Based on the popular superhero, Spider-Man challenges players to employ Spidey skills including web-slinging, wall-crawling and agility as they gather information and battle against seven bosses. Gamers must utilize Spider-Man's super strength and superior wit to protect the innocent as they solve a variety of puzzles and defeat old and new super villains.
Developed by Edge of Reality, Spider-Man for the Nintendo 64 features an original storyline that gamers can experience through 34 levels. From police chases and brawls with lizard men to stealth missions, gamers battle through familiar Spider-Man comic book locales including the Daily Bugle, Times Square and a New York bank. Players will utilize all of the classic Spider-Man Web defenses from trapping and yanking to impact Webbing, as well as new weapons including Web doming and Web spikes to battle enemies. In addition, players can swing from place to place, ambush enemies from above or below, crawl on buildings, ceilings, or walls, and use the handy "Spider-Sense" to detect danger from afar.
Eidos Interactive last week shipped Hitman: Codename 47 for PC CD-ROM. Players must use stealth and tactical problem-solving to enter, execute and exit assignments. Devious devices are available for a price, but how the player uses them will determine if she retires as a millionaire or gets permanently retired.
Features include artificial intelligence, a 3D engine with physics, deformations, weapons modeling, and character animation.
Activision last week released Marvel's vampire hunter, Blade, to the PlayStation game console and Game Boy Color. As a prequel to the Blade movie, the game lets players assume the role of the day walker in a new vampire-slaying rampage.
Played from a third person perspective, Blade for the PlayStation immerses players in the macabre world of modern day vampire lore. Throughout the game's 21 environments including the Gothic City Museum, City Sewers, Cargo Ship and Chinatown, players face down 32 creature variants from the Vampire Ninjas to the giant Night Beast. Weapons include swords, guns with special silver tipped ammo, ultra-violet grenades and a variety of lethal hand-to-hand moves. An auto-aim system is designed to keep combat focused on reactions and weapon selection rather than pinpoint accuracy. Additionally, cinematic cut-scenes provide the player with options that will affect the path of the game for unique gameplay experiences.
Blade on Game Boy Color features seven levels of side-scrolling mayhem. Gamers utilize three fighting styles as well as machine guns, shotguns, swords, "boomerang" blades, knives and throwing syringes while fighting 18 enemy types and seven bosses.
Blade was developed by HammerHead Ltd. for the PlayStation game console in conjunction with Activision. Blade for Game Boy Color was developed by HAL Corporation for Activision.
Standard, a developer of branding solutions for visual media, announces a multimedia design exhibition to be held on November 30, 6:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. at Standard Stage, 606 Moulton in downtown Los Angeles. Join media designers, television executives, producers, Internet "e-vangelists", marketing and promotions gurus, and industry leaders to view works by painters, architects, electro-kinetic artists, experimental film and video artists and unclassifiable interdisciplinarians installed within Standard's recently unveiled sound stage / production facility in the loft district of downtown Los Angeles.
While Hollywood scrambles to add interactivity to TV's traditionally passive fare, interactive television is alive and well in the form of the game console, a medium that has been around for over a decade. As console graphics become increasingly faster and better, broadband enters into the picture, console devices expand their capabilities, and the market continues to broaden. How will the classic video game genres evolve, and what new genres of entertainment will emerge? Join the panel at USC on November 30 at 7 pm for a look at the present and future of video game consoles.
Location: University of Southern California, Davidson Conference Center, 3415 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0871
(Parking available across the street on Figueroa)
Free to the public; no reservations required
By Howard Dyckoff
This latest instantiation of XML DevCon in San Jose was a good, focused, small conference with a distinct developer orientation.
The organizers of the DevCon series of conferences have maintained that focus over recent years with features such as "night school" sessions for working technical people. This allowed over 2,000 developers to attend. Attended experienced solid keynotes and technical presentations, and received both printed proceedings and a CD copy.
The best keynote occurred at noon on the second day. Tim Bray, one of the founders of the XML movement and a long-time contributor to the W3C, delivered what was originally titled "We Haven’t Finished Building the Web" but in fact was a humorous wink-and-a-nod treatment of the perennial question "How can we spot the next big thing and actually make some $$$ on it??"
While there really are no absolute rules, Bray used historical examples such as Netscape to highlight what it takes to create a buzz and a business. Other historical examples were the MAC and Lotus Notes: things that shift the paradigm, make a difference to people, and are accessible by real users, not just another marketing plan to exploit the web. The counter examples are in current headlines, Bray noted, and flashed a slide of the Pets.com homepage with its recent goodbye customer notice.
Bray methodically reviewed all of the current marketecture models -- B2C, B2B, CRM, and P2P, and pronounced them all wanting. Each will generate significant revenue according to Bray, but none will change the world. He put emphasis on reviewing P2P efforts, particular Napster and its clones, but concluded that the model was flawed both for business and for the user experience since it still required the mediation of a database.
Bray indicated the P2P paradigm will mutate further before crystallizing into something world changing. Then he noted that Groove.Networks could be headed in that direction. With regard to XML, Bray telegraphed his view in a single slide: "Standards do not change the World, Software does."
He tooted his own horn at the end by giving a demo of 2D/3D Internet mapping technology, created by his company anarcti.ca, which presents topical areas as regions and cities on a map that can be flown over in a VRML manner. This is a totally new way to present meta-information about the 'Net and enhances the user experience beyond traditional search. Individual sites are represented as points or buildings or skyscrapers depending on the depth of information and popularity of the site. That demo is currently at http://map.com and is well worth the trip.
(Since the demo uses the new standard for Scalable Vector Graphics -- SVG -- IE 5 is the only browser that can be used until the new Mozilla browsers are available.)
In an different impressive keynote, John Goodson of Merant presented "Real World XML" which highlighted the problems of early adaptors. He shared war stories and put emphasis on good practices when adopting new technology. Using a feature checklist doesn’t work for real enterprise projects because vendors always exaggerate. Rather, he suggested, use new technologies in small projects where implementation details and scalability don’t matter much.
And scalability is a big issue: In an XML project, documents become data and legacy documents are always bigger than expected and there are always more of them. Most vendors implement features for developers, but do not test for large scale performance. One international bank he cited started ahead of its rivals but still cannot implement their system because transactions take far too long.
XML transformations are also still a problem. This can be XML <==> SQL and even XML <==> XML since some standards are forged in particular vertical industries.
Collaboration and Distributed Authoring Using WebDAV
This presentation by Greg Stein created a bit of buzz. WebDAV stands for "Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning"; it's a mechanism for authors to create and manage documents on a Web server. The goal is interoperable tools for distributed authoring, turning the World Wide Web into a writeable medium. The WebDAV protocol is specified by RFC 2518 as an extension to the HTTP protocol, utilizing XML for client/server interactions and communication of metadata.
Greg Stein, who used to work for Microsoft, is an software developer working with open-source projects, such as Python and WebDAV for Apache (mod_dav). His talk gave an overview of WebDAV with a discussion of the available tools, applications, and APIs. Stein did admit that there was little in the way of versioning now, but that he was working with other open source developers on that issue.
With WebDAV, an author no longer needs to use FTP and also know how the file system maps to the URL namespace on the web server. Only the exact URL is needed. In addition, DAV provides mechanisms to manage existing content on the server – moves, copies, and deletes are possible.
DAV is built upon the HTTP/1.1 protocol. DAV adds new headers and methods, plus provides additional semantics for some existing HTTP/1.1 methods. The new headers are: DAV:, If:, Depth:, Overwrite:, Destination:, Lock-Token:, Timeout:, and Status-URI:. The new HTTP methods are: COPY, MOVE, MKCOL, PROPPATCH, PROPFIND, LOCK, and UNLOCK. New semantics are provided for GET, PUT, POST, DELETE, and OPTIONS.
Microsoft Office 2000 and Web DAV
The Microsoft Office product has been DAV-enabled with the "2000" release: the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint applications all support DAV operations, allowing a user to type a URL directly in the "Open" dialog while file will be locked on the server, fetched, and made available for editing. When the file is saved, it is saved directly to the web server.
Simon St. Laurant on Browser XML Cross-Compatibility
In the session, St. Laurant, a well-known speaker on the Java and XML circuit who authored "XML: a primer" and other books, explored the variations in XML support for current browsers and highlighted some major inconsistencies:
IE provides limited support for XML display with CSS1, as well as support for XML display with its own flavor of XSL. IE also provides "data islands" inside HTML documents, though this approach uses an illegal (in XML) element named "XML." IE includes DOM support as well, but no support for XLink.
Still in preview release, Netscape 6 appears to be supporting XML plus a large chunk of CSS1 and 2, DOM, and simple links from XLink. Mozilla has provided the core of Netscape 6, but its own browser releases adds support for MathML, SVG, and XSLT.
Opera, the third most popular browser, supports the display of non-Unicode XML documents using CSS1 and 2. Its DOM support is still in development, but some XLink support is possible through its extensions to style sheets.
There is some overlap -- XML 1.0 (in a limited set of encodings) and most of CSS1 appear to be supported universally. This is mostly adequate for documents, except for tables. But HTML must be used for links.
Notes St. Laurant, "The W3C envisions the Web evolving into a system of computers where meanings are exchanged, not just documents. HTML was the original inspiration for that dream, but is now more of a roadblock."
Another good technical session was "VoiceXML- Overview, Opportunities and Challenges" which explained VoiceXML - the upcoming standard for distributed
voice-based applications.. The session highlighted how VoiceXML compares with the other initiatives in the mobile world such as WAP/WML
Sun and Microsoft handed out developer CD-ROMs with sample products and tutorials. The Microsoft "XML Jumpstart" included a printed handout of the tutorial and XML FAQ while their CD included both MSXML 3.0 and the SOAP toolkit . The Sun CD included tutorial, sample tools and evaluation copies of full products.
XML Spy is the first GUI-based IDE for XML/SML. It combines an XML document editor with an XSL stylesheet editor and it looks slick. Free CDs were available at the expo, but you can download a sample copy from http://www.xmlspy.com. Also consider the broader features of XMLMate, available for download trial at http://www.xmlboutique.com -- it supports conversion of MS-Word documents.
XIXIA’s TeXtML server is Windows NT/2K based and features ASP and COM tools for developers. It is programmable and supports VRScript, Python, PERL, Cold Fusion scripting. Version 1.5 "lite" is downloadable without timeouts (http://www.ixiasoft.com/) .
Several book publishers were present and held author signings. O’Reilly gave away their handy, pocket-sized XML Reference Guide. One joke passed around held that there were more XML books published than XML standards; that's typical for a rapidly emerging field.
This was certainly a good technical conference and is worth putting on the calendar. Just remember to pack your own snacks and bottled water.
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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