1 October 2001
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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By David Duberman
I've been indulging in retro-gaming recently--going back and replaying some of the great old SNES RPGs I never got all the way through the first time around. Games like Zelda 3, Illusion of Gaia, and Secret of Mana are still fun, but their graphics, while pretty, aren't exactly state of the art. On the other hand, the graphics in ICO, Sony's newest PlayStation 2 title, go a level beyond anything I've ever seen in an electronic game to truly enhance the experience. You can have the ultra-realism of a game like Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec, impressive as it is; for evocative gameplay I'll take the surrealism of an ICO any day.
ICO tells the story of a young boy who's been banished from his village because he's different: bull-like horns sprout from his head. In the real-time opening sequence (the game is on CD-ROM, not DVD), villagers escort him to an ancient fortress-like structure, lock him in, and leave him to die. All he can do is explore; this is where you begin to see the work that went into this game (a two-year development effort). The space is huge, and the painstaking design, modeling, and texture mapping, along with atmospheric effects, like shafts of light penetrating the murky air and dust plumes blossoming where he jumps, make you feel like you're really there. Ico (the boy) soon finds a mysterious, wraithlike girl suspended in a cage. He rescues her and then tries to talk to her, but she speaks a strange language he (and we) don't understand. She seems friendly enough, though, and accompanies him through the rest of the adventure. Which is a good thing, because he wouldn't get very far without her--her one power is the ability to break the seal to the next area.
At its heart, ICO is a 3D platform game, although one unlike any I've experienced. At first, it seems, Ico can only walk, run, and jump. After he rescues Yorda (the girl), we learn about additional moves. He can pick things up; the first is a stick that he can then wield against the bad guys, who show up at inopportune moments and try to steal Yorda away. These humanoid and arachnoid monsters are imaginatively designed; instead of the usual sharply drawn polygonal entities, they consist of thick, black, smoky shapes with large, glowing eyes, which move as menacingly as any interactive villains I've seen.
Other moves useful in solving the game's many puzzles (most of which involve getting Yorda to the next area) include climbing drainpipes and ladders, swinging on chains, edging along thin ledges by hand and on foot, and tossing bombs. Speaking of movement, the animation of both characters is top-notch; for example, when Ico calls Yorda, he waves his hand impatiently, just as a 12-year-old might in real life. And when Yorda hears something behind her, she looks around to see what caused it. Even better, when they run holding hands, he pulls her along with utterly convincing tugs. And when he's atop a platform that she can't quite reach, he'll lean down and help her up.
One feeling I've noticed while traveling through ICO's world is a pang of regret when moving from one stunning area to the next, because I know I'm that much closer to ending this marvelous adventure. But Sony does claim up to 30 hours of gameplay, so I've got a ways to go yet.
If any of this sounds remotely enticing, I encourage you to get ICO; you won't regret it. It's refreshingly different, the gameplay is addictive--the puzzles are challenging, but not ridiculously difficult as in Myst/Riven--and the eye candy is constant. Even when you finish, you'll want to keep it around to revisit this enchanting world and show your friends why you spent $300 (or more) on a game machine. ICO isn't perfect: Objects occasionally interpenetrate, and the PS2's aliasing is all too evident. Also, the camera positioning is sometimes less than ideal. Nevertheless, it's one of the best games of 2001 on any platform.
Anark Corporation has developed an integrated media platform that combines 3D and 2D graphics, video, audio, text and data into an interactive, television-quality presentation. The Anark Media Platform consists of software solutions: Anark Studio for content authoring, Anark Server for content streaming, and Anark Client for real-time display and interactivity.
Starting today, Anark has launched its public beta test program for Anark Studio. Beta participants are invited to test drive Anark Studio for free for a limited time and take advantage of such features as:
The program and the beta license of Anark Studio will terminate on October 31.
Texas Instruments (TI), Ingenient Technologies, Inc. and RidgeRun, Inc. recently announced the availability of an embedded Linux operating system for TI's imaging digital signal processor (DSP) solution, said to ease development of streaming-video multimedia devices. RidgeRun will provide its DSPLinux operating system and Board Support Package (BSP) for the TI imaging platform and Ingenient will integrate its MPEG-4 technology, a streaming-media standard.
The new offering is designed to let developers of multimedia portable appliances, such as digital cameras, digital video camcorders, portable media players and Webpads, to use the DSPLinux platform with Ingenient's MPEG-4 streaming media technology. The Ingenient solution harnesses the image-processing functions of TI's C54x-based TMS320DSC24, a low-power, programmable DSP imaging platform, while DSPLinux offers developers an easy way to access MPEG-4 and other multimedia algorithms running on the DSP from the Linux kernel.
The TI DSC24 demonstration platform, featuring the RidgeRun BSP, includes the DSPLinux software development kit (SDK), Linux OS, drivers and cross-development tools. The environment includes the full suite of embedded Linux development tools: the GNU compiler, linker, assembler and debugger tool chain, as well as the Appliance Simulator, which lets developers develop and test their embedded software in a workstation environment and is useful for tasks such as user-interface development.
Trilogy Studios recently announced its new technology software package that gives consumers a convenient way to control how they view movies. The software will provide viewers with the opportunity to determine the rating of the movie they view, as well as add interactive enhancements and educational options.
Trilogy Studios' proprietary technology has the capability to overlay visual and auditory elements, such as special effects, 2D images, 3D models, and enhanced 3D audio. Each of these processes is accomplished without copying or altering the original DVD source.
The entertainment application is proprietary software developed by Trilogy. The application consists of two main software products: The first will let consumers create files that contribute to the entertainment value of digital movies. The second enables the consumer to interact with a DVD product and choose the comfort level at which they view movies.
Nokia says its new Multimedia Terminal Gateway will enable mobile operators to deliver multimedia messages to non-multimedia terminals, also referred to as legacy phones. The gateway will also let mobile handset users store multimedia messages in personal albums.
The Nokia Multimedia Terminal Gateway, an application gateway, complements the earlier introduced Nokia Artuse MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) Center and will be available for mobile operators during fourth quarter, 2001.
The legacy phone support provided by Nokia Multimedia Terminal Gateway will enable mobile users to participate in multimedia messaging right from the start of commercial services, regardless of the terminal type. Users of legacy phones will get multimedia message delivery as a short message notification including the URL address and the password for retrieving messages by using a Web browser. They will also be able to reply with a Web-created multimedia message or forward a received multimedia message to an email address.
Autodesk division Discreet last week released its gmax game-development platform and free game-content editor for consumers derived from technology within the company's 3ds max animation and modeling software. gmax is available both to consumers and developers in the gaming community. Also available online is gmax tempest, currently offered as a beta program, a prototype game pack that lets gamers create custom content for the popular game Quake III Arena from id Software.
The consumer version of the gmax platform is a free download for game players, enabling them to create and customize in-game content by editing levels, materials, 3D objects, characters and animations. Content created with gmax software can also be traded and shared online. Officially launched at the Game Developers Conference in March 2001, the gmax product includes 3D modeling, animation, texturing and character-building tools for game players.
gmax dev, the developer version of the product, lets game-development companies integrate gmax functionality into existing pipelines.
gmax tempest, a game pack developed internally at Discreet, is also available as a free download beta to consumers to personalize their game play of Quake III Arena. tempest lets enthusiasts build custom game levels. gmax development licensees will receive gmax tempest in source-code format, which will be provided to illustrate the process of creating gmax game packs, and integrating gmax dev into the game production process.
In addition to gmax tempest, other game titles incorporating the use of gmax technology are underway from such companies as Microsoft, Microids, and Gas Powered Games.
Kai lives! Coming this month from Corel division procreate is KPT effects, a collection of nine new Photoshop-compatible plug-ins designed to add effects to digital images. KPT effects, for Mac and Wintel, features the following new plug-ins:
Just out from Global Information Group is GIG3DGO Version 3.3, Linux-based software for 3D modeling, animation and rendering. The $495 product, a solids-based 3D graphics system and photo-realistic raytrace renderer, is based on past Unix software used to produce music videos, create virtual TV sets and provide 3D visualization of CAD/CAE designs
GIG3DGO, which will be marketed under the tagline "Render Reality," is believed to be the only solid-modeling 3D graphics software currently running on the Linux platform. Version 3.3 offers the following:
Coming in November from Corel Corporation is Graphics Suite 10 for Macintosh, designed to run on Mac OS X and classic Mac operating systems 8.6 to 9.2. The product includes CorelDraw 10, Corel Photo-Paint 10 and Corel R.A.V.E., which introduces vector-animation technology for creating Macromedia Flash (SWF) animations
New and enhanced features include:
Just out from Maxon Computer is Cinema 4D Dynamics, a real-time physics simulation plug-in for Cinema 4D XL R7.2 upwards. The software provides object interaction accounting for mass, rotational mass, gravity, friction, springs, elasticity, wind, and soft bodies.
Other features include:
Also, Maxon last week announced the winners of its Ultimate Plug-in Contest, which provided users the opportunity to win cash for top enhancements to the company's 3D packages CINEMA 4D XL and BodyPaint 3D. German developer Paul Everett took top honors for LightPro2, a utility for managing multiple light sets in Cinema 4D XL. Everett was also awarded best expression for WormWalker, which causes objects to follow a target in a slinky fashion. Everett will receive a combined total of $2,500 (US) for his two wins.
Other category winners included Ben Johnson, Iván Felipe Alfaro Olaya, and thorn. Particle Trails, the top plug-in by Ben Johnson, creates splines according to the path of particles as they interact with wind, gravity, and other forces within an entire particle system. Olaya’s FA-Layout GUI enhancement provides customized layouts for modeling, animating and rendering. A BodyPaint 3D brush set by thorn provides 29 custom brushes, including many that take advantage of Wacom’s Intuous Tablet. Each category winner will be awarded $1,000 (US).
Ohio State University’s John Phillips was awarded a special prize for his student submission, an enhanced coordinates dialog for Cinema 4D that supports spherical, polar and cylindrical coordinate systems. Phillips will receive a Cinema 4D Production Bundle.
Developers can create enhancements to Cinema 4D and BodyPaint 3D using C.O.F.F.E.E., MAXON’s integrated cross-platform scripting language, or a special C++ SDK. GUI enhancements, including additional language support, as well as BodyPaint 3D brush sets can be made from within the program or with standard text- and image-editing tools.
NewTek has released a maintenance update for LightWave 3D version , a month after the original's release.
New features in LightWave [7b] include
Turbo Squid has launched a beta version of its browser software for OSX. The new software lets Mac users to browse the asset collection of over 75,000 3D models, motion-capture files, textures and shaders available through Turbo Squid’s online marketplace.
Turbo Squid is a digital marketplace where 3D artists and animators can buy and sell content online. The software is free and membership requires only a password and an email address. Artists can host their work on the Turbo Squid system for free, maintain control of their work, and receive royalties monthly for the sale of their assets.
SGI-owned Alias/Wavefront recently released Maya for Mac OS X. With this release of the $7,500 program, all of Maya Complete becomes native to the Macintosh. Features unique to this version include support for QuickTime, tear-off menus in the hot box, and a fully Aqua interface.
The Art Institutes International at San Francisco is offering new bachelor's degree programs in Game Art & Design and Multimedia & Web Design.
The Game Art & Design bachelor's degree program is designed for students who want to prepare for entry-level positions in the game development field. Students will learn character animation techniques, complex modeling, computer mapping, game level design and how to script within the game. Students also will create interactive game levels and learn to make computer game animation come alive with movement, color and action characters.
The Game Art & Design program is geared towards 3D animation and game level design. Students will apply knowledge of video and animation to produce game products using 2-D software to create backgrounds, 3D modeling and animation software to create game art, and 3D software to apply textures. The students also will receive a broad-based education that will include classes in art history and the humanities. By exposing students to classic art forms, they are able to incorporate more variety into their writing styles and animation sequences. The curriculum will show game developers how to produce story lines and animations that are filled with creativity.
The new bachelor's degree program in Multimedia & Web Design integrates visual design, digital image manipulation, audio and video techniques, Web site design, scripting languages, authoring software and basic animation principles. General education courses also are included to add critical thinking and fundamental knowledge. Graduates are prepared for entry-level positions in industries such as interactive communications, publishing, entertainment, training, marketing, gaming and education.
The school also offers bachelor's degree programs in Media Arts & Animation, Graphic Design and Fashion Design. Associate's degree programs are offered in Animation Art & Design, Graphic Design, Multimedia & Web Design and Fashion Design.
HTML has been the workhorse of the Internet for so long, performing all kinds of roles that it was never meant to play, that we almost expect every new technology that bursts on the scene to do the same. The reality is that there are many powerful technologies that excel in doing just what they were meant to do. For example, Java gives us platform-independent code; XML gives us platform-independent data. They are two very different technologies that complement one another, rather than compete. "One weakness of Java is in its ability to process text," explains Eric M. Burke, author of "Java and XSLT" (O'Reilly, US $39.95). "For instance, Java may not be the best technology for merely converting XML files into another format, such as XHTML or Wireless Markup Language (WML). Using Java for such a task requires skilled programmers who understand APIs such as DOM, SAX, or JDOM." This is where Java and XSLT enter the picture.
XSLT, or Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations, transforms XML data into some other form, usually HTML, XHTML, or another XML format. As Burke explains, XSLT makes it possible to define clearly the roles of Java, XML, XSLT, and HTML. "Java is used for business logic, database queries and updates, and for creating XML data," says Burke.
"The XML is responsible for raw data, while XSLT transforms the XML into HTML for viewing by a browser. A key advantage of this approach is the clean separation between the XML data and the HTML views."
"Java and XSLT" shows programmers how to use XSLT in Java programs. The heart of the book demonstrates how to put XSLT to work programmatically--how to develop and debug applications that make use of transformations, how to optimize the performance of applications by using caching and compiled stylesheets, how to use XSLT and Java together to implement complex interactive Web sites and wireless services, and many other useful techniques.
An article by the author, "Top Ten Java and XSLT Tips," can be found at: http://java.oreilly.com/news/javaxslt_0801.html
Chapter 5, "XSLT Processing with Java," is available free online at: http://oreilly.com/catalog/javaxslt/chapter/ch05.html
For more information about the book, including Table of Contents, index, author bio, and samples, see http://oreilly.com/catalog/javaxslt/index.html
Cambridge Animation Systems, developer of Animo 2D software used by more than 3,000 animators, has been purchased from Japanese investment bank Nomura by a digital media consortium that includes an original founder of the company. The new owners are moving the company to a new and larger facility in Cambridge.
Over the past 18 months a new management team placed in the company by Nomura has completely reorganized Cambridge Animation Systems. The new management expanded Cambridge's line of products and set up a growing reseller network worldwide. The restructuring of the business and the promise of growth made the company an attractive investment, according to Peter Florence, leader of the purchasing consortium and a founder of Cambridge Animation Systems in 1990.
Moving to new facilities in Cambridge Research Park will enable the company to continue new product development. This year Cambridge has released a new version of its Inkworks 3D cartoon rendering program, new software called Swiffworks that delivers Macromedia Flash output to 3D animators, and Animo 4, an upgrade of the company's flagship software.
The newest game from Sierra is Throne of Darkness, developed by San Francisco-based Click Entertainment. The PC game is described as an action-oriented role-playing experience, with magic, weaponry, and cunning. Combining Japanese mythology and fast-paced multiplayer mayhem, Throne of Darkness takes the action/RPG model pioneered by Diablo in a different direction with a unique storyline and a new multi-character control interface.
Based on Japanese mythology, the single-player game casts gamers in a fight to overthrow the Dark Warlord and his army of the undead. Seven distinct samurai are ready to challenge the evil that stalks the land. Lead up to four of these characters into battle with the unique Play Calling system for controlling the computer AI. The multiplayer game allows up to eight gamers to battle for supremacy in this ancient land.
Midway Games last week shipped an all-new remake of its 1980's action-racing game, SpyHunter, for PlayStation 2. Features include a 3D design, high-tech weaponry, and a sleek new vehicle (the G-6155 Interceptor). The player maneuvers through 14 missions, which play out in a variety of exotic worldwide locations. And, of course, there's the classic Peter Gunn theme, present here in two new versions from Island Gold Recording act Saliva. The Memphis, Tennessee rockers also recorded a music video containing behind-the-scenes footage of their recording session, which will be available in the SpyHunter videogame DVD feature.
The G-6155 Interceptor has offensive and defensive weapons including 25mm cannon machine guns and heat-seeking missiles, and morphs on the fly into a high-velocity speedboat, a turbojet watercraft, and a supercharged motorcycle. Locations include Panama, Key West, England, Germany, France, the Middle East, and Venice.
Coming this holiday season from Activision is Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, a skateboarding game for Nintendo GameCube.
Pro Skater 3 lets players once again ride as Hawk or one of 12 other pros. Players can perform hundreds of tricks and combos in locations such as Los Angeles, Canada and Tokyo. Players navigate through eight levels that include obstacles like intelligent traffic and pedestrians. They can also create custom characters with the Create-A-Skate feature. Character options include height, weight, skin tones, accessories and tattoos.
TDK Mediactive last week shipped Lady Sia for Game Boy Advance. The anime-style adventure features the warrior princess, Lady Sia, who uses her sword and her wits to save her magical world from a violent race of beastmen.
The game features:
Nokia Game 2001, an interactive all-media adventure provided by Nokia, will be played November 4-23 in 28 countries in Europe and the Middle East simultaneously. During the game, players will take on the identity of the main character and solve a mystery. Players must complete various challenges and solve puzzles based on clues planted in the media landscape around them. A number of SMS messages, short TV movies, websites, radio announcements, newspaper and magazine ads, email, and mobile phone calls guide players through the game, providing them with information, clues and tasks to perform.
There is no participation fee to participate in Nokia Game. To play, participants need to have access to the Internet, an e-mail address, and a mobile phone with the capacity to receive short messages.
This year players can play longer and collect points before being dropped out of the game. Players win points by visiting websites, playing online games, finding information, and answering questions, for example. The players with the highest final scores will be able to participate in the grand final of the game. During the game, players can view their own scores on their personal game website page. At the end of the game, the 50-100 best players in each country will win a special new Nokia phone.
Players can register for the game at http://www.NokiaGame.com between October 4 and November 3. Game developments can also be followed on this site.
Stream Theory, Inc., a broadband-based distribution platform company for software publishers, e-tailers, and enterprises, and eGames, Inc., (OTC Bulletin Board: EGAM) a publisher of family entertainment and personal productivity computer software, recently launched "eGames Streaming Arcade," an online rental game site featuring eGames' family-oriented PC games. Stream Theory's streaming technology lets users run PC game software over the Internet almost instantly and without installation or downloading product software.
Customers will have a choice of both free-play and subscription channels of family-oriented games. "Stream It" buttons identify the streaming games throughout the eGames Streaming Arcade. After registration, customers choose a game, click the Stream It button and, after a brief "jumpstarting" period, play the game. Titles include Bingo, Casino, Crossword Mania, Fishing, High Roller, Spooky Castle, and Mahjongg Game of Four Winds.
The 1.9MB Stream Theory Player resides on users' PCs. Because the software is streamed to the user's desktop, there is no installation, no downloading, and no uninstalling of files.
James Bond fans will now be able to carry the experience of being the world's best-known spy in the palm of the hand. EA has released "The World is Not Enough" for the Game Boy Color video game system, the first licensed Bond title published for the platform. The third-person-perspective arcade action title follows the movie's storyline and features characters from the movie including Dr. Christmas Jones, M and Renard. Each of the movie-based arenas and levels contain missions and objectives. Mission accomplishments require the utilization of an array of Q-lab weapons and gadgets such as boots that protect the wearer from electrical damage. The game also feature power-ups in five separate forms including access cards, health, ammunition, weapons and gadgets.
"The World is Not Enough" for the Game Boy Color was developed by 2n Productions under the EA Games brand. EA is the publisher and distributor.
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