Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

3 November 2003
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)

--Book Review: Secrets of Figure Creation with Poser 5
GRAPHICALLY SPEAKING --Digimation Releases 3D USA Collection
--Marlin Studios Releases Low-poly Vehicles Collection
--BitJazz Updates SheerVideo Codec
--Alias Releases Maya 5 Bonus Tools Booster Pack
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER --Sybex Releases Maya/Facial Animation Book
--Acacia Announces Game Development Tools Market Survey
DEALS --Eidos Strikes Deal with Dutch Developer
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY --Activision Releases Tony Hawk's Underground
--Sony Online Ships PlanetSide Expansion
--Activision Ships True Crime: Streets Of L.A.
--Vivendi Announces New Leisure Suit Larry Title
--Mythic Ships Dark Age of Camelot Expansion
DIGERATI ILLUMINATI --O'Reilly Announces Mac OS X Innovators
--Webbies Announce Business Awards Finalists
HAPPENINGS --2004 Game Developers Conference Announced
F.Y.I. --About Spectrum


Game Review: Jak II

It's a platform game! It's a GTA3 clone! It's two--two!--two games in one! In truth, Jak II, a recent release from Sony Computer Entertainment America for PS2 only, is a platform game, with elements of GTA3 thrown in for good measure. The game is designer Naughty Dog's follow-up to its Jak and Daxter, in which we first met the adventuresome duo and learned the sub-story about how Daxter was transformed from a human into a furry, wisecracking critter. This doesn't really figure in the sequel, but one big difference between the two games is that in the original, Jak's taciturnity was noteworthy; here, he actually speaks once in a while.

In Jak II's opening sequence, Daxter rescues Jak from a two-year "scientific" experiment/torture situation into a populous city controlled by Jak's erstwhile captor, an evil baron. The pair then gets involved with various underground figures who send them on various missions, some of which involve piloting a hovercar through the twisting city streets at breakneck speeds. Various models are available, from small, zippy, and fragile, to big and slower but relatively sturdy. You can drive at two heights: low, where you can mow down pedestrians, or high, where you can crash into other vehicles. The main GTA similarity is that you can grab someone else's vehicle when it flies over you, but you should try to highjack only civilians.

If you hit or try to highjack one of the many patrolling cops, they instantly issue a citywide alert and try to gun you down. At that point there's no use in fighting, because they just keep coming. All you can do is to hide until they stop looking for you (easier said than done), or let yourself get killed and restart near where you died. During other missions in special levels, if you lose all your hit points, you restart at the beginning of the level. This happens quite often for several reasons: You don't have many hit points, and most missions have far more vicious enemies than health power-ups. Jak II is fun but difficult.

You start out with no weapons but a couple of offensive moves. Eventually you get a gun, and then upgrades. You also get, thanks to the baron's experimentation, access to Dark Jak, who can perform some special moves. These also get upgraded, by collecting orbs from vanquished enemies and taking them to an in-game character.

The third-person game takes place in a variety of environments, but you'll be spending a fair amount of time in the heart of the city, which is nicely modeled and simply teems with traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. Naughty Dog really seems to be pushing the PS2 technology further than ever with an amazing number of animated polygons, to great effect; you feel as though you're in an actual city. The level design also shows a lot of care, with plenty of platform-based puzzles and enemies that suddenly appear out of nowhere to make your life difficult but not impossible. But there's no denying that Jak II is a dark game, in a number of ways, but particularly in the design of its forbidding, oppressive environments. This isn't a game for young kids.

When Jak is outdoors, the lighting reflects the time of day in the game world; it's brighter when the sun is up and dimmer at night. But even during the daytime, the screen can be quite dark; this is not a game you'll want to be playing in a well-lighted room, especially since it's important to be able to see enemies, which can be relatively fast, coming at you. Speaking of which, there's no way to quickly point the camera in the direction Jak's facing; I'm surprised Naughty Dog left this control out. Instead, you turn the camera manually with the right analog stick, but by the time you get it oriented properly, Jak could be (and often is) dead. There is a first-person view mode, but it uses the same orientation as that of the camera when you enter it.

Overall, Jak II is a worthy successor to the original, albeit a considerably harder one. It's not a game to be played casually; you'll want to be relatively alert with all your faculties intact. Some of the puzzles are fairly clever, and there are a number of secrets if you're seeking extra credit. Suffice it to say a lot of your playing time will be spent trying different approaches after the first one (or two, or three, or …) doesn't work. And with over 50 missions, you get your money's worth and then some, especially considering SCEA's commendable policy of keeping first-party games at a list price of $40. Naughty Dog has done an excellent job with Jak II; let's hope they keep going with the series while maintaining the quality of the first two entries.


Book Review: Secrets of Figure Creation with Poser 5

The first impression you get when you pick up a copy of Focal Press's new Poser 5 book is that, for a relatively small book (281 pages), it's quite heavy. Then, when you open it, the feeling of quality is furthered by the sight of all the great-looking co lor illustrations. Of course, initial impressions can be misleading, but in this case they're borne out. Aptly (self?) named author B L Render, who, as principal of 3Dmenagerie.com, can be considered a true Poser pro, has done a great job of making this c omplex and highly versatile software accessible to those who wish to master its intricacies. The book also deals explicitly with Posers 3 and 4, as well as Pro Pack.

As evidence of the fact that Secrets of Figure Creation with Poser 5 is intended for relatively advanced users, the first chapter deals not with posing but with morphing, which you use to change body shapes rather than positions. Did you know that Poser has not only three morph types but also three morphing categories? Render covers these and more, such as the Grouping tool, in this extensive chapter.

Next comes a chapter on joint parameters, in which we learn the all-important dictum "Children Affect Their Parents," followed by a protracted dive into the depths of the Poser library format in the form of the CR2 file. This quickly becomes quite complex, so if you're not one to roll up your sleeves and pop the hood on your software, you might want to skip ahead to the Figure Creation chapter. Here you learn about topics such as how joint areas such as shoulders and buttocks can be adversely affected by limb positioning, and what to do about it. This chapter also describes how to create clothing so that it faithfully follows character posing rather than fighting it. Here and elsewhere, Render serves the reader well by depicting errors that can occur so you can easily see if your models exhibit the same misbehavior.

The penultimate chapter deals with Poser 5's extra tools such as hair, materials, and dynamic cloth, with a great deal of helpful, useful information. And, because things can and do go wrong, the final chapter, Trouble-shooting, deals with problems such as disappearing hair when loading a beard, unbending props, invisible figures and parts, non-conforming clothing, and many more. The rest of the book provides a gallery of great-looking illustrations, plus an appendix, and the included CD-ROM provides all the example files.

Make no mistake: This is not a book for beginning users. In order to take advantage of Render's advice, you should have considerable experience with the software, and you should also be willing to study the book's content intensively rather than perusing it. If so, and you want to take your Poser skills to the next level, the book could be exactly what you need.



Digimation Releases 3D USA Collection

Newly available from Digimation is 3D USA, a $3,995 collection of 48 detailed 3D terrain models and satellite maps of the continental United States.

Digimation describes the models, which come in Maya (.mb), 3ds max (.max), .3ds and .obj formats (all on a single CD), as detailed yet polygon-efficient. Polygon-reduction techniques remove unnecessary polygons in constant-slope regions while preserving polygons in rough terrain areas. Boundary vertices in adjoining models match, allowing seamless fits between neighboring states.

TruEarth 1km satellite imagery, elevation-colored, and grayscale shaded relief maps are included for use as texture, bump and displacement maps with the corresponding 3D models.

More information and a free sample model can be found at http://www.digimation.com/models/3DUSA.aspx .

Marlin Studios Releases Low-poly Vehicles Collection

Graphics studio and publisher Marlin Studios last week released a new hybrid model/texture library entitled Traffic - Low Poly Pretextured Vehicles. The $299 product contains 60 low-polygon, textured 3D models of cars, SUVs, and pickups in MAX, 3DS, OBJ, and LWO model formats. The vehicles can be animated using basic 3D animation software, with wheels that can turn and rotate. Four separate levels of hierarchical detail include body, glass, interior and wheels/tires. Also included with the library are five bonus parking configurations, with up to 90 vehicles per lot.

Sizes of the vehicle models range from 2,000 to 2,500 polygons, and the texture maps are as large as 1800 x 1400 pixels. Also included in the pre-mapping are reflection maps and bump maps. A variety of body colors represents the colors available on contemporary vehicles. Textures and maps are presented in JPG format.

Traffic also includes a program for searching the textures and displaying thumbnails and animations. The library can be used on all major platforms: PC, Mac, Alpha, and Unix.


Complete sample thumbnail images and artwork created with the textures can be viewed and free sample textures can be downloaded at http://www.marlinstudios.com/samples/samptraf.htm .

BitJazz Updates SheerVideo Codec

Just out from BitJazz Inc. is SheerVideo Pro v1.2, the latest version of its nondestructive software video codec, which it claims is the fastest in the world, for the production and archiving of professional film and video. Designed to overcome the obstacles of space and time blocking the use of studio-quality uncompressed video and film, SheerVideo doubles both the capacity and speed of storage and transmission devices while encoding and decoding on the fly, reportedly with perfect fidelity. Version 1.2 offers enhanced support for native video (Y'CbCr[A]) formats.

In QuickTime 6, SheerVideo v1.2 can now export or capture Y'CbCr formats directly through the Sheer encoders, without using the Sheer transcoders. This gives programs that don't support transcoders access to SheerVideo Y'CbCr, and simplifies the use of programs that do. And for applications that prefer transcoders, the Sheer Y'CbCr transcoders are still included.

Video-capture applications such as BTV Pro and Hack TV can now capture component video in real time directly to all Sheer Y'CbCr formats, including 4:4:4 and 4:2:2, as well as to Sheer RGB formats. By digitizing video to slim Sheer formats instead of to the corresponding obese uncompressed formats, users can take advantage of slower, cheaper disks, while capturing twice as much uncompressed-quality video in the same amount of disk space.

Using the latest release of SheerVideo with QuickTime 6.4, applications can now display Sheer Y'CbCr[A] 4:4:4[:4] video even without hardware support for Y'CbCr[A] 4:4:4[:4] formats. So users can now view Sheer Y'CbCr[A] 4:4:4[:4] frames without first restoring the uncompressed video.


Alias Releases Maya 5 Bonus Tools Booster Pack

Alias Systems last week released the free Bonus Tools Booster Pack for Maya 5. Developed to enhance the Maya software, the Bonus Tools Booster pack contains more than 100 mini-features in the form of plug-ins, scripts and UI enhancements.

This latest version of the Maya Bonus Tool set was developed by the extended Alias product specialist team and provides new Trax commands, new UV tools, new tools for polygon history and new procedural textures. Once downloaded, the Bonus Tools Booster Pack will install a new menu pull-down section within the Maya user interface.

The updates in the Bonus Tools Booster pack provide users with improved Trax workflow with clip trimming and easier access to characters and weight curves; enhanced polygonal texture mapping, enabling the user to unfold and layout UVs for multiple objects into the same UV space without overlapping and warping images with different UV sets; enhanced polygonal modeling, with a function to copy tweaks between similar meshes; the ability to delete construction history while maintaining the skinning of the model; and a total of 10 procedural shaders.

Visit the Alias online community at http://www.alias.com/community and become a member to view the six demo movies that show how to use the most popular bonus tools. The demo movies can be found at www.alias.com/maya/bonustools .

The Bonus Tools Booster Pack is for both Maya Complete and Maya Unlimited running on Windows, IRIX, Linux and Mac OS X platforms.


Sybex Releases Maya/Facial Animation Book

New from publisher Sybex is an animation book "approved by" Alias, maker of Maya 3D animation and effects software. Stop Staring: Facial Modeling and Animation Done Right offers readers a guide to the evolving technology of facial animation.

Author Jason Osipa takes models in a variety of styles from design and modeling to rigging and animation. According to Sybex, the book provides professional-quality examples and deep discussion, and applies to 3D work in a variety of software packages, focusing on Maya for software-specific examples.

The book includes a CD with software created by the author, plus scripts to automate the setup of interfaces for facial animation. It also includes models, lip-synching samples, and practice audio, completed animations, and Maya Personal Learning Edition software.

Says Osipa, "The companion CD shows various iterations of the setups, and scenes created using those setups ... It is almost impossible to understand the huge impact the workflow makes on opening up artistry, while increasing output speed. You can get [further], better, and faster for cheaper and easier."

Osipa has served as the supervising technical artist at Mainframe Entertainment and has taught CG animation and production at the Vancouver Film School. He currently works at Maxis, maker of myriad Sim titles. His professional credits include ReBoot, Max Steel, Barbie in The Nutcracker, and Casper's Haunted Christmas.


Acacia Announces Game Development Tools Market Survey

In a recent Acacia Research Group survey of amateur and independent developers, more than 8% of these often-overlooked customers said they spent more than $500 over the past 12 months, while another 49% had spent between $100 and $500. Thirteen percent reported spending of more than $1,000 over the past five years, with 23% spending between $500 and $1,000 and 38% spending between $100 and $500. Piracy, on the other hand was relatively low, with about 16% reporting more than $1,000 in illicit versions of tools and nearly 72% claiming none at all.

While traditional, hard-core, coding and content creation continues to grow, we're seeing an upsurge in the use of RAD products, "game languages," and 4GLs for serious game development. These, combined with standardizing platforms and APIs and an increased interest in new platforms such as handhelds, mean that the bedroom coder and small team developers of the world are going to represent a growing influence on the tools market.

Coming in mid-November is Acacia's new research report, Amateur/Independent Game Development Tools Market 2004-2008. The report presents the data quoted above and more along with analysis of this crucial and growing market segment. It also looks at new opportunities and product strategies for toolmakers. Tools covered include 2D and 3D art, audio, miscellaneous content creation, RAD systems, game languages, 4GLs, advanced OO compilers, and other coding tools.



Eidos Strikes Deal with Dutch Developer

Game publisher Eidos Inc. has signed a development deal with Guerrilla, which is developing a third-person action game for Eidos to be released for PS2, Xbox, and PC in summer 2004. Formerly known as Lost Boys games, Guerrilla was founded at the beginning of 2000 as the result of a merger between three established Dutch game developers. The developer is part of the Media Republic group and is based in central Amsterdam, the Netherlan ds. http://www.eidos.com


Activision Releases Tony Hawk's Underground

New from Activision is Tony Hawk's Underground for PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube, developed by Neversoft Entertainment, in which the player poses as a skateboarder working her way to the top in a plot-driven story that lets players explore their environments and achieve goals both on and off the board.

Players can design their own game by creating original tricks, goals, decks, and custom skate environments. The PlayStation2 version lets the gamer import a photo of her face onto the character. The player's creations can be shared with friends online or via a memory card.

Players skate as themselves and go from an unknown local skate punk to becoming a superstar skater. Along the way, they get off the board and explore eight levels by running, climbing or driving a variety of vehicles to complete enhanced goals. When gamers import their own face into the game, they are featured in both the cut scenes and in the gameplay. Alternatively, a more sophisticated Create-A-Skater feature enables new levels of customization if players choose to have a fictional character represent them in the game.

Players can further tailor their experience using the new Create-A-Trick, Create-A-Goal and Create-A-Deck features. Gamers can design an array of original tricks, goals and skate decks that can be used in in-game levels as well as novel environments that they develop using the enhanced Create-A-Park editor. The tricks and goals can then be named and passed along to friends to challenge their skills. In addition, gamers can go online to check out stats and rankings.

Cut-scene animations are rendered by the game engine in real-time, the use of new facial animation techniques give characters in the game much more lifelike features and players also experience realistic time-of-day changes and weather effects.


Sony Online Ships PlanetSide Expansion

Sony Online Entertainment Inc. last week released PlanetSide: Core Combat, the first expansion for its massively multiplayer online first-person action game, PlanetSide. The $30 title offers new underground war zones, additional weapons, vehicles, and enhanced empire bonuses.

Features include:
  • expanded game world with six new war zones
  • new ancient alien technology, vehicles and weapons available to all empires and players
  • head-to-head urban warfare in subterranean cities
  • alien complexes to explore and conquer
  • new underground environments from volcanic lava flows to ice caverns
  • ancient technology for all empires to upgrade existing surface-level facilities


    Activision Ships True Crime: Streets Of L.A.

    Scheduled for release November 4 by Activision, Inc. on major consoles is True Crime: Streets of LA. The gameplay combines high-speed driving, martial arts fighting, and double-fisted shooting. Gamers take on the role of Nick Kang, an Elite Operations Division operative, tasked with taking out the merciless Russian and Chinese crime syndicates terrorizing the City of Angels. Fans race through 240 square miles of L.A. listening to an epic West Coast Hip Hop soundtrack provided by Vybe Squad Records that includes 50 original songs from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Westside Connection, Warren G., and Coolio and more.

    Snoop Dogg, the "Dogg Father" of hip-hop, is an unlockable, playable character in the game. When players unlock his character in "Dogg Patrol" mode, they can play as Snoop and roll through the streets in a custom convertible, complete with hydraulics, while looking for random crimes to solve and criminals to take down.


    Vivendi Announces New Leisure Suit Larry Title

    Scheduled for release on next-generation consoles and the PC in late 2004 by Vivendi Universal Games is the next installment in the Leisure Suit Larry franchise, Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude.

    The LSL franchise began in 1987 with The Land of the Lounge Lizards, the first of seven games in the series. Since then, the Leisure Suit Larry games have sold millions of units worldwide and, according to Vivendi, its games are considered collector's items.

    Developed by High Voltage Software, the upcoming title is a coming-of-age story about Larry Lovage, nephew of Larry Laffer, the series' original loser. Lovage starts as a pathetic loser enrolled at Community College who spends most of his time in his dorm room, or on campus striking out with women. After hearing about a reality TV dating show visiting his college campus, he resolves to revitalize his life and win. Over the course of the game, Larry sets out on an epic search for love (or its equivalent) and finds that things don't always go as planned.


    Mythic Ships Dark Age of Camelot Expansion

    Just out from Mythic Entertainment, developer and publisher of the massively multiplayer online role-playing game Dark Age of Camelot, is the expansion pack Trials of Atlantis.

    Trials of Atlantis is designed to challenge high-level players by introducing a new advancement system. As players move sequentially through each of the nine trials, they achieve a corresponding master level with new Atlantean master abilities, each with its own unique capabilities and skills. Emphasizing group play, the trials will have to be tackled by groups of players. Players are able to travel by boat, explore islands within the ruins, swim to submerged dungeons, and battle new creatures in underwater caves. Additionally, Trials of Atlantis features three new races, dozens of original monsters, as well as quests to discover and treasures.

    Graphical upgrades utilize NDL Gamebryo graphic engine so the game is now DirectX 9 compatible, giving it access to the new graphical spell, world, and underwater effects. Many of these graphical upgrades extend to the game's original lands as well as the new Atlantis continent, including high-definition terrain textures and new high-definition trees. Additional graphics upgrades in "Trials of Atlantis" include a new user-skinable interface, new high-polygon monster models, and new spell and lighting effects.



    O'Reilly Announces Mac OS X Innovators

    Independent software developers can't help themselves--they keep creating cool, useful, even beautiful applications for the Macintosh platform. Proof can be found at the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference, where the winners of the third and final round of O'Reilly's Mac OS X Innovators Contest were announced last week (http://www.macdevcenter.com/mac/developer). The contest rewards innovative Mac OS X applications, plug-ins, user interface widgets, or other creative original software.

    Entries are judged on innovation, ease of use, adherence to the Mac OS X Human Interface Guidelines, and use of Mac OS X technologies.

    Contest winners are:

    First Place, US Category
    OmniOutliner, http://www.omnigroup.com: OmniOutliner is a program for outlining and organizing information. It helps you kick-start your creativity, hatch new thoughts, and gradually organize a collection of preliminary ideas into a cohesive plan--anythin g from a grocery trip to a complex business proposal. The user can maintain multiple to-do lists, manage tasks, track expenses, take meeting notes, and monitor project status.

    Second Place, US Category
    Sarat Kongara, iBlog, http://www.lifli.com: iBlog is a desktop Weblogging application. The user need not be an expert database administrator or a Perl programmer.

    First Place, International Category
    Boinx Software, Oliver Breidenbach, iStopMotion, http://www.istopmotion.com: iStopMotion is a stop-motion animation (Claymation) and time-lapse recording software for the digital hub. Used in education, by movie professionals, and at home, iStopMotion exploits QuickTime, Cocoa, Quartz Extreme, OpenGL, and other Apple technologies.

    Second Place, International Category
    Alan C. Smith, ACSLogo: ACSLogo is an interpreter for the Logo programming language. Logo is a highly graphical language--by programming a turtle to move around a computer screen (drawing as it goes), the user can learn programming skills such as using procedures and recursion. This highly graphic nature is particularly suited to OS X--ACSLogo uses OS X features such as transparency, anti-aliased lines and text, standard color and font palettes, as well as providing help through the Apple Help Viewer, and drag-and-drop functionality. Pictures can be exported to TIFF, animations can be exported to Quicktime movies, and vector graphics can be exported to SVG.

    Honorable Mention
    Philippe Mougin, F-Script, http://www.fscript.org: F-Script is a lightweight, object-oriented scripting layer specifically designed for Mac OS X object system (i.e. Cocoa). F-Script provides scripting and interactive access to Cocoa frameworks and custom Objective-C objects. It aims to be a useful and fun tool for both beginners and experts, allowing users to explore, test, and use Cocoa-based objects and frameworks.

    Webbies Announce Business Awards Finalists

    The International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences last week unveiled its list of finalists for The 1st Annual Webby Business Awards.

    The Academy launched the Webby Business Awards last fall as a separate awards program aimed at recognizing the best business practices online


    Spotlighting blue-chip companies like UPS www.ups.com (Best Cost-Cutting), Sprite Remix www.spriteremix.com (Best Food & Beverage), and Cisco Systems www.cisco.com (Best IT & Technical Services), as well as and upstarts like POM Wonderful www.pomwonderful.com (Best Branding & Design) and Orange Exposure www.orangeexposure.com (Best Online/Offline Experience), the roster of finalists reveals how companies of all sizes and in all industries have built profits, increased market share, and reduced costs by making the Web a pillar of their business.



    2004 Game Developers Conference Announced

    The 18th Annual Game Developers Conference (GDC) has announced the speaker and session line up for the March 22-26, 2004 event in San Jose, Calif. Conference session descriptions and registration are now live at http://www.gdconf.com

    . The GDC is the largest event exclusively for game-development professionals driving the $10 billion+ computer and video game industry. Attendees can participate in more than 300 lectures, tutorials and roundtable discussions that cover all aspects of game development. Companies exhibit at the GDC Expo demonstrating the tools and technologies developers will use to create the games that will be on store shelves two to three years from now. Visitors to the site can register for attendance, review course content and obtain schedules and event updates.


    About Spectrum

    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/online-development tools and end product for review.

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