8 October 2001
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Xara Online, a provider of modular Web Services, last week released its free Microsoft FrontPage add-in, which lets FrontPage users enhance Web pages with add-ons called Xara Modules. Available features include custom Web graphics, animated photos, scrolling text effects, audio streaming, counters, trackers as well form, mail-list-management and database services.
Emuzed Inc. has added new products that enable the encoding, streaming and playback of audio and video content for Microsoft's Pocket PC 2002 software. The products include an MPEG-4 encoder, GSM-AMR speech codec and streaming stacks.
Activeworlds Corp., a provider of three-dimensional technology on the Internet, last week released Active Worlds' Version 3.2, with such improvements as OpenGL support, software-rendering support, simplified modes for new users, skyboxes, cell grids, increased visibility ranges and additional firewall support.
The upgraded 3.2 technology is designed to solve problems and limitations encountered with Versions 2.2 and 3.1. Two-dimensional backdrops, for instance, have been replaced by skyboxes, or centered 3D objects, that offer more sophisticated world surroundings. Using textured 3D shapes for skyboxes has the potential to create previously unavailable realistic horizon and sky effects.
New users can begin using Activeworlds' technologies in a "simple mode" that eliminates many of the standard controls and windows of the browser.
Version 3.2 has also enabled the creation of the instant Active Worlds plug-in. This permits users to enter the 3D environments through an ActiveX control by clicking a Web-link regardless or whether Active Worlds is already installed.
The increased visibility range increases maximum visibility from 120 meters to 200 meters. Also, users can alternate between different visibility preferences with the new Visibility menu.
For corporations, the new "tunnel server" capabilities allow user access to Active Worlds from behind various popular firewalls.
Aladdin Systems last week shipped StuffIt 7.0 for Windows. The software includes compression tools that let users create and expand archives and encoded files in a variety of formats. Features include the ability to create segmented archives, encrypted archives, and custom self-extracting archives.
StuffIt 7 introduces two new applications, ArchiveSearch and StuffIt Express Personal Edition, which combine StuffIt Browser, DropStuff, and StuffIt Expander, to let users manage and access compressed data.
askSam Systems has just released askSam 4.1, a freeform database designed to let users turn different types of information into full-text searchable databases. The product can reportedly create databases from unstructured information such as email, resumes, legal texts, government regulations, research notes, and correspondence, as well as structured information such as spreadsheets and databases.
askSam 4.1 provides new email import filters designed to ease the task of turning email into searchable databases, and new online hosting options also let users publish their askSam databases on the Internet.
Strata is shipping what it calls the Rich Media Edition of Strata 3Dpro. Version 3.6 of the application features the ability to render 3D images and animations and export them as Macromedia Flash files and other vector formats for the Web or for print.
Strata 3Dpro's new capabilities are gained by the incorporation of the Swift 3D PowerModule, which utilizes RAViX II rendering technology from Electric Rain Inc. RAViX II is the industry leading solution for creating high-quality, low bandwidth, scaleable 3D vector animations for Flash-enabled Websites.
Shipping in early November from Vancouver, BC-based Credo Interactive is Life Forms Studio XT suite. The product combines the character-animation features of Life Forms Studio 3.9 with a new set of tools including:
New from VisionTek are three cards graphics accelerators in its Xtasy line. Featuring the new Titanium graphics processing units by Nvidia Corporation, GeForce3 Ti 500, GeForce3 Ti 200 and GeForce2 Ti are the new processors driving VisionTek's Xtasy 6964, Xtasy 6564, and Xtasy 5864, respectively.
Xtasy 6964 reportedly performs up to one and a half times faster than the original GeForce3, and is aimed at gaming enthusiasts. Xtasy 6564 is designed to make GeForce3 technology architecture available to a broader audience. Xtasy 5864 is said to deliver 1 billion pixel/sec. rendering power and delivering 6.4GB/sec. of bandwidth for the first time in this market segment.
We haven't heard much in the past about Wordware, a Texas-based publisher of computer books, but based on the quality of a couple of recent titles, the company has a bright future. In this review we take a look at Game Design: Theory & Practice, and Modeling a Character in 3DS Max.
Game designer Richard Rouse III has worked on such titles as Centipede 3D and Drakan, which doesn't necessarily qualify him to write books on game design. Nonetheless, he's done a great job with his first full-length title (he's written a number of magazine articles previously). Game Design: Theory & Practice book alternates chapters on various aspects game design with interviews with well-known designers, and throws in a number of analyses of classic games for good measure.
Rouse starts out by describing what players want: a consistent, immersive, comprehensible world; a certain amount of direction; and that reasonable solutions should work. Of course, designers should also understand what gamers don't want, such as the need to repeat difficult passages, or getting hopelessly stuck. These seem pretty obvious on the face of it, but some designers are still breaking these rules to their ultimate detriment. He then delves into how to brainstorm a game, discussing the benefits and drawbacks of starting with gameplay, technology, or story. For example, the story that the designer wants to tell can determine the game genre, such as a wargame for the story of the battle of Waterloo, or an RPG for a Tolkienesque quest-based saga. Other design-based chapters cover focus, gameplay elements, artificial intelligence, and the all-important design document.
The interviews are particularly fascinating for those seeking a behind-the-scenes look at game design. For example, Chris Crawford, a member of the Vietnam generation, says he started designing war games because he wanted to understand war so that he could ultimately do something about it. He says, "I really wanted to do an un-wargame," and he eventually accomplished that with what turned out to be perhaps his greatest commercial success: Balance of Power. And Jordan Mechner of Prince of Persia fame advises, "The more … options you give the player, the more that limits the … power of the story …" The other interviewees are Civilization's Sid Meier, Ed Logg (Asteroids, Centipede, Gauntlet), Infocom pioneer Steve Meretzky, and Will Wright, who's revolutionized the simulation genre several times.
Certainly there's a crying need, especially these days, for innovation in game design, but a budding designer would be foolish to ignore past smash hits. Rouse spends a significant portion of the book in thoughtful analysis of a variety of such titles, including Tetris, Centipede, Loom, Myth, and The Sims. About the latter, he concludes that the potential of computer games is not to escape or replace real life, but to "open up new areas of thought, to be able to see the world through a different set of eyes and come back to our own lives equipped with that priceless information." Try getting that from a TV sitcom!
Rouse concludes the book with a valuable example of a design document for a game called Atomic Sam, including a bibliography of sources of inspiration for the design. The book also contains a useful glossary and a hybrid Windows/Mac CD with game-creation tools, links to online resources, and a PDF version of the book. If you're looking to get started in game design, or just to polish up your skills, consider Game Design: Theory & Practice an essential and important member of your library.
Considering that most games nowadays are in 3D, and involve human or humanoid characters, it's no surprise that there's a lot of interest in using software to create such characters. One of the most popular 3D programs used in game design is 3ds max, so it was a natural for Paul Steed to write the new Wordware title Modeling a Character in 3DS Max. Steed worked for four years at id Software, doing modeling and animation for various Quake titles, so he knows whereof he speaks.
For this single-project book, Steed offers well-considered directions for creating a seamless, 1,500-polygon female warrior named Callisto (no relation to the TV actress), who looks in the cover illustration suspiciously like Stevie Case, noted game-design babe and John Romero's girlfriend. In the first chapter, he properly covers design fundamentals, such as the need to bone up on drawing skills, and to develop a sense of proportion. This evolves naturally into Chapter 2, where Steed writes about the specific elements he considered when designing Callisto. For example, he eschews the traditional, initial da Vinci pose (arms straight out to the sides and legs spread) because it "makes it too difficult to see the character." He says this doesn't cause problems in adding bones because he weights the vertices manually.
Subsequent chapters cover guide objects, which are lines created by tracing the design drawings, and then on to modeling the head and face, hair, torso, legs, and so on. Rather than dictating to the reader exactly what to do step by step, Steed instead provides an overview of the tasks at hand and reasons for doing it his way, and then lets the copious illustrations show the way. He finishes with chapters on the all-important tasks of optimizing and mapping. The included CD provides 3D models and texture maps used in the book, a texture exporter plug-in, and a game SDK from WildTangent, Steed's current employer.
If you're using some other 3D package, check this book out in the store before plunking down your hard-earned cash. Chances are you could still learn a lot, but it is pretty specific to 3ds max. If you are using the latter program, though, consider purchase of Modeling a Character in 3DS Max a no-brainer.
From the start, the Macintosh computer was famed for its ease of use. But the same features that delighted users often proved frustrating to would-be Mac programmers wanting to "get under the hood" and create working applications. As Matt Neuburg, author of "REALbasic: The Definitive Guide, Second Edition" (O'Reilly, US $39.95) recalls, "The management of the GUI was far too daunting a task, requiring programming techniques and detailed knowledge of the computer's inner workings--its 'Toolbox'--that were much too complicated and elaborate for me. As far as I was concerned, therefore, the Macintosh wasn't a computer at all; it was just a very expensive toy. It had a lot of GUI bells and whistles, but I couldn't program it. And a computer is to program."
Then, along came REALbasic, an easy-to-learn programming environment that took care of the user interface and made it possible to create working applications quickly and with very little programming. For many programmers like Neuburg, REALbasic ushered the Mac into the realm of "real" computers.
Neuburg says of his discovery of REALbasic, "When I was first learning REALbasic--I guess I hadn't been using it longer than a week or two--I set myself to write a little game-playing program, an Othello-type (Reversi) program that I called Odummo. I called it that because I didn't intend to bother teaching the program any strategy; it was to play randomly. But it had to play legally! This was the first serious program I'd written with REALbasic; it had to have good logic embodying the rules of the game, and it had to have a decent user interface, so that a human could play against the computer by clicking with the mouse. Even though I took time out to eat, sleep, and do my laundry, I finished the program in less then 24 hours! After that, I was hooked on REALbasic. I'm still amazed at how fast REALbasic lets you write powerful applications."
In REALbasic, programmers work in an intuitive and easy-to-use IDE (Integrated Development Environment) that accesses a powerful object-oriented version of the BASIC programming language. The second edition of "REALbasic: The Definitive Guide" has been rewritten to encompass reader suggestions and the many improvements of REALbasic 3--like its ability to compile and run under OS X.
In addition to providing complete coverage of REALbasic 3.2.1 and later, "REALbasic: The Definitive Guide, Second Edition" contains an introduction to the major concepts of object-oriented programming.
Chapter 3, Objects, Classes, and Instances, is available free online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/realbasic2/chapter/ch03.html
Chapter 4, Class Relationships and Class Features, is available free online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/realbasic2/chapter/ch04.html
For more information about the book, including Table of Contents, index, author bio, and samples, see: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/realbasic2/
Activision has acquired Treyarch Invention, LLC., a console software developer with a focus on action and action-sports video games. Treyarch developed Spider-Man and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 for the Dreamcast for Activision and Triple Play Baseball, Nagano Olympic Hockey 98, Draconus: Cult of the Wyrm and Max Steel: Covert Missions for other publishers.
The developer is currently in production on several games for Activision, including Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2x, Spider-Man The Movie, Shaun Palmer's Pro Snowboarder 2, Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer and Minority Report.
Under the terms of the agreement, Treyarch becomes a wholly owned subsidiary of Activision.
Sony Computer Entertainment America last week released Okage: Shadow King, a 3D role-playing game (RPG) for PlayStation2. The game combines traditional role-playing elements with turn-based battle sequences, strategic gameplay and puzzle-solving.
The story begins in a remote village called Tenel, where young Ari lives with his family. When a ghost attacks Ari's sister, his father unknowingly unleashes Stan, the spirit of a great evil demon, in a desperate attempt to protect his daughter. Stan agrees to save Ari's sister's life, on the condition that he can possess Ari's shadow, forcing Ari to become his slave. Once resurrected, however, Stan discovers that his powers are weak and he no longer has the ability to instill fear and terror in those he hopes to rule. After learning several other demons already inhabit the world, Stan is convinced that they are the cause of his weakness and forces Ari to join him on a quest to purge the country of these imposters.
For the holiday season, id Software and Activision have released collections of two well-known PC gaming franchises with the release of Quake III: Gold Edition, Ultimate Quake and Doom: Collector's Edition.
The $30 Quake III: Gold Edition offers a Mac/PC hybrid CD featuring full versions of Quake III Arena and Quake III: Team Arena.
Also $30, Ultimate Quake includes full versions of Quake, Quake II and Quake III Arena for the PC.
The $20 Doom: Collector's Edition delivers full versions of The Ultimate Doom, Doom II and Final Doom in one package.
LucasArts Entertainment Company LLC will release the flight action game Star Wars Starfighter for Windows PC in the U.S. and Canada, January 2002. The title, originally available for PlayStation 2, engages players in a series of missions to save Naboo from the powerful and menacing Trade Federation.
The player's journey begins on Naboo and continues through the climactic assault on a Droid Control Ship. The single-player game offers the same features and scope as the original PlayStation 2 title. It features more than 20 3D starships in 14 environments set in air and space.
A special-edition version of Star Wars Starfighter also will be available for Microsoft Xbox in the U.S., November 2001. Star Wars Starfighter is being adapted for Windows PC and Xbox by San Francisco-based Secret Level. Secret Level creates tools, technology and games for the interactive entertainment industry.
Simutronics, a developer massively multi-player online games, last week released its eScape technology, said to let players worldwide interact with each other in real time using the Internet Explorer Web browser. eScape supports the Simutronics lineup of multi-player role-playing games, including GemStone III and DragonRealms. Under eScape, players utilize a user interface including multiple windows and point-and-click items to play the games. Graphics and text are integrated into game play.
Simutronics games using eScape focus on building virtual worlds online, where thousands of players interact with each other and with the game worlds. GemStone III and DragonRealms are fantasy role-playing games, where players take the role of characters in the game worlds. The games are social, not competitive, relying on player cooperation to defeat monsters, explore massive online worlds, and find treasures and magical items. Players are typically adults (median age 30) and the company claims 25 percent of its audience is female.
Simutronics games use text as the primary means of interaction. Players type commands to their characters within the game world using the English language.
The company also launched its upgraded Web site (http://www.play.net), where players can find information relating to Simutronics games, including details on hundreds of monsters, weapons, and maps of its online worlds.
Some of the most popular Marvel super heroes are set to once again wield justice and protect the innocent with the releases of Activision, Inc.'s Spider-Man for the PC and Spider-Man: Mysterio's Menace and X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse, both for the Game Boy Advance.
Spider-Man: Mysterio's Menace lets pocket gamers live the fantasy of Marvel's webslinger with side-scrolling gameplay. When Mysterio unleashes his illusory schemes, Spider-Man must stop his evil plan and restore life to normal.
X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse features Wolverine, Storm, Rogue and Cyclops in a side-scrolling brawler as they try to escape arch-villain Apocalypse. The game offers two different modes--single-player story and multi-player Versus--and over 30 other characters from the X-Men Universe.
Spider-Man for the PC is a free-roaming, 3D action/adventure game in which our hero must utilize his super strength with web-slinging, crawling up walls, agility, and "Spider-Sense" to clear his name and capture enemies such as Rhino, Mysterio and Scorpion. The game features eight main comic book locations and 30 sub-section levels.
Today WildTangent is launching new online games on Shockwave.com, GameSpy.com and GamePro.com. The titles are:
Dark Orbit puts gamers in the role of a lone pilot trying to escape the onslaught of aliens awakening from within a small mining colony in space. The pilot must collect the few resources still available and use them to build more advanced firepower. Along the way, he can find new technology that will enable him to upgrade his meager mining craft into a fighting machine.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, the follow-up to Hitman: Codename 47, is currently in development for the PC by Io Interactive. Eidos Interactive will publish the title in spring 2002.
Hitman 2’s storyline begins in a Sicilian monastery. His attempt to distance himself from his violent past is detoured as he is discovered by a Russian crime lord and tricked into returning to his trade. Caught in the middle of a ring of deception, Hitman soon discovers that he has been manipulated and is now a target himself--of an ex-Spetsnaz assassin.
New features include: a choice of first- and third-person viewpoints; mid-mission save options; a revised and enhanced inventory system allowing gamers to acquire and carry weapons and equipment from mission to mission and ending pre-game “shopping”; a new ranking system; multiple play styles allowing missions to be accomplished with the primary target as the only casualty or “blast-your-way-through,” and intermediate variations; level-design and engine dynamics providing gamers with open levels and no set path.
The player is armed with knives, handguns, sniper rifles, and explosives, as well as new non-lethal weapons including chloroform, poison darts and stun guns.
Take-Two Interactive Software last week shipped Myth II: Worlds, which combines the company's Myth II: Soulblighter title with material created by experts and fans in the Myth community. The $30 game includes an assortment of 3D battlefields with third-party mods, solo levels, multiplayer maps, and total conversions. The package also includes the official Myth II Strategy Guide in electronic format.
Among the included mods are:
Just out from Sony's 989 Sports brand is Formula One 2001 for PlayStation2. Developed by Studio Liverpool and licensed by Formula One Administration Limited, the racing simulation includes all the race teams, 22 drivers and 17 Grand Prix tracks of the 2001 FIA Formula One World Championship.
Formula One 2001 lets players choose between 11 different teams, including Ferrari, McLaren (Mercedes), Williams (BMW), Benetton (Renault) as well as choose their favorite driver. In addition, Formula One 2001 puts players in the driving seat by providing the user with each driver's unique attributes that simulate their real-life skills, whether it's being aggressive, smooth, fast in the rain or efficient in managing tire wear and car preservation. Depending on the track selection, players also have the ability to fully customize their car for optimum performance.
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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