30 October 2000
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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The new extensions include:
Expected to ship in November from Macromedia is the $1,099 Flash 5 Generator Studio. The product combines the authoring capabilities of Flash 5 with the content delivery functionality of Generator 2 Developer Edition.
By automatically producing graphics using external data and graphics to fill in a template, Generator is designed to reduce the need for individual designers to make edits and updates. Production tasks, such as creating versions of site graphics for multiple languages, can also be automated. Generator can also produce graphics in Macromedia Flash (SWF), GIF, JPG, PNG, Apple QuickTime formats. The company says Generator's open architecture and its flexible connectivity options for accessing content ensure it can be integrated with any company's existing Web architecture.
DigiScents, a developer of digital scent technology, launched its ScentWare Web development kit (WDK) at last week's Fall Internet World in New York City. The ScentWare WDK features ScentWare ActiveX control, Netscape plug-in, and Flash presentation support.
"Digital scent will be added to streaming media, e-mail, online games, e-commerce, and advertising," states DigiScents CEO, Joel Bellenson. "You'll be able to watch scented Flash presentations, send scented greeting cards, download aromatherapy tracks, and design your own smells and flavors."
Mountain View, Calif.-based Intrinsic Graphics Inc., developer of next-generation graphics software environments, last week shipped Intrinsic Alchemy v1.0, its multi-platform game development and run-time environment. The platform is said to offer hardware and operating system independence without sacrificing performance or flexibility.
The first release of Intrinsic Alchemy supports PlayStation 2 and PC; upcoming versions of Intrinsic Alchemy will also support Nintendo Game Cube, Microsoft X-Box and other emerging hardware devices.
ImaginOn, Inc. is offering a free Windows version of its ImaginAuthor tool at the company's Web site. Developers should go to http://www.imaginon.com and click on the link named "Revolutionary Drag and Drop Authoring Tool."
The free version contains a subset of the ImaginAuthor features of the pro version now being used for development of content for ImOn.comTV Internet television stations and Sony PlayStation2. The interactive features let viewers control video branching in real time and hot link from video to Web pages with a mouse click. ImaginAuthor Lite lets developers build content by dragging and dropping video clips, subtitles and Web addresses onto ready-made graphic diagrams.
The free version of ImaginAuthor comes complete with a tutorial and two project examples. In addition, the tool can be used to create prototypes of Sony PlayStation2 titles. Finished content can be exported to a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM disk or exported directly to a Web server for on-line use. The initial release of ImaginAuthor Lite supports interactive streaming based on movie clips in the Apple QuickTime format, while future releases will support both Microsoft MediaPlayer and RealNetworks formats.
Be Inc. announced last week that BeIA, its OS for Internet appliances, passed Sun Microsystems' certification requirements for PersonalJava technology. This allows Web appliance device manufacturers building devices based on BeIA to provide their customers access to Java applets on the Internet.
According to Be, for the Internet to reach its full potential, easy-to-use specialized devices intended to access services and content available on the Web must become mainstream. These devices are dedicated primarily for Web browsing, email and e-commerce transactions. PersonalJava is designed specifically for these types of systems that are often compact and low-cost with simplified user interfaces.
The PersonalJava application environment (PJAE) is a Java application environment that executes software written in the Java programming language. The PJAE addresses the software needs of networked applications running on personal consumer devices such as Internet appliances, set-top boxes and smart phones, rather than desktop computers.
BeIA is an integrated package of client-side software, development and customization tools, device management services, and third-party services and technology designed to deliver an Internet appliance solution to device and service providers and consumer electronics companies. Functionality includes a Web browser, support for popular streaming media formats, application support and remote device management in a compact footprint.
Autodesk division Discreet last week released character studio 3, the newest version of the extension to 3d studio max for 3D character animation.
New features include an advanced crowd and behavioral-based animation system, faster physique skinning and enhancements to the inverse kinematics (IK) tools, with animatable pivot points for natural hand and foot movements. Other enhancements improve studio workflow, including advances in non-linear animation and track operations.
The Crowd toolset is designed to animate large groups of both human and non-terrestrial entities such as the "flocking" of a swarm of bees or a school of fish. Crowd members can be assigned a blend of customizable behaviors such as wandering, seeking goals, avoiding obstacles, or following surfaces or paths. Animators can optionally write their own behaviors using Maxscript.
Advances in the product's inverse-kinematics technology include the ability to manage animated transitions between IK pivots across different parts of the feet and hands.
MGI last week announced two new "immersive" imaging tools, MGI Photovista 3D Objects and MGI Photovista Virtual Tour, and the launch of MGI Web Tools, a developers' site for authoring immersive content using MGI tools.
Photovista 3D Objects stitches together a series of still images taken at various points around an object to create a three-dimensional image object of the item. Developers can use any off-the-shelf digital camera to take pictures of an object by placing the object on a turntable. The resulting image object can then be posted on the Web, enabling visitors to click on and rotate the object to see it from all the vantage points, simulating the experience of holding and examining a real object. Used in conjunction with MGI ZOOM Image Server, site visitors can zoom into image objects to view fine details, enabling a compelling and confident examination of any product. An example of a product demonstration using Photovista 3D Object is viewable at a Sony Web site in Japan at: http://www.jp.sonystyle.com/Style-c/P1/Scene/scn01.html (you pretty much need to be able to read and write Japanese to use this site).
Photovista Virtual Tour includes both MGI Photovista 2.0 and MGI Photovista 3D Objects, plus a virtual tour maker component, which allows the developer to link panoramas with hotspots: areas where a viewer can click to jump to other panoramas or image objects. Again, through integration with MGI ZOOM Image Server, virtual tours can be enhanced with high-resolution detail. An example of a high-resolution virtual tour using MGI's Web tools was created of Oracle's campus headquarters based in Redwood City, California, and is available at http://www.oracle.com/start/virtualtour/intro.html.
The MGI Web Tools site, at http:// www.mgisoft.com/Webtools, offers product information plus information about third-party developers, interactive agencies, immersive imaging photographers, and hosting sites.
Havok, a provider of real-time physics technology, is working with Microsoft to provide the Havok dynamics technology to developers for Xbox, Microsoft's video game console scheduled for release in fall 2001. Havok is in use currently as a physics platform by game developers and is working with them to enhance their titles.
"Good game physics provide freedom from scripted motion and repetitiveness, giving the player a deeper sense of reality within a game." said Drew Angeloff, tools program manager for Xbox.
Havok develops and markets real-time physics software for digital entertainment and Web-based applications. Havok is working with media companies to help create a new 3D Web platform (Shockwave 3D), interactive entertainment (Universal Studios, Valve LLC, Digital Anvil) and movies (Blizzard, Blur Studios). The software offers integrated rigid-body, soft-body, fluid, cloth, aerodynamics and particle dynamics on consumer-level hardware platforms including PC, Mac, Linux, PS2 and the upcoming Xbox. Havok also provides designers and artists with dynamics tools in 3D modeling systems including 3D Studio MAX. Worlds can be designed, tested and interacted with in real-time.
SynaPix, Inc. recently released SynaMatchNT Version 1.7, its 3D matchmoving application. The product reportedly reduces the labor and cost of matchmoving by recovering 3D camera path and scene reference points from film or video, allowing visual-effects artists to generate sub-pixel-accurate 3D solutions on a variety of shots. SynaMatch eliminates the need to build wire-frame CG models for frame-by-frame visual alignment and supports direct export of 3D camera path and scene points to animation systems including Maya, LightWave, 3D Studio MAX and SoftImage.
Workflow improvements in the new version include consolidation of the workflow to two primary modes of operation; Track and Solve. Feature improvements include a faster, more sophisticated auto-tracker that provides Batch mode auto-tracking (in addition to the two unique types of semi-automatic tracking), magnification of the region of interest, controls for setting the target and search areas, a redesigned caching scheme that provides even better performance and interactive manipulation of high-res images. Additional improvements were also made to the Timeline, Import/Export capabilities and the Solver.
MGI, a provider of visual media software products and infrastructure, last week unveil its Internet imaging product strategy through a new imaging server platform, MGI ZOOM Image Server 4.0. The software is a scalable platform that integrates with existing Web infrastructures to manage and serve up all images that display on a Web site.
MGI's new platform has a modular architecture that enables e-businesses to plug in a myriad of additional imaging applications beyond pan-and-zoom functionality. The server reportedly lets Web developers create, store and manage a single high-resolution image that can be rendered on the fly for any need. Images can be dynamically resized, cropped, and adjusted for color saturation, brightness and contrast.
Zoom and pan capability continue to be fundamental to the image server, which provides user navigation of streaming high-resolution images and 360-degree panoramas, enabling users to interactively zoom in and examine the fine details.
MGI ZOOM Image Server 4.0 has been enhanced with a report generator that can track image usage. It runs on Microsoft Windows NT, Sun Solaris, and Linux, and has also been integrated with Oracle 8i and IBM DB2.
The first available add-on imaging application is MGI Slingshot, an intelligent Java applet that enables image editing and image preparation for remote uploading, addressing a need required by online auction sites, virtual marketplaces and photo communities. E-businesses can support the posting of photos by their user community. It provides users with the ability to preview and adjust images before submitting, and ensures that the images will be correctly prepared for receipt in an MGI ZOOM Image Server.
Graphics studio and publisher Marlin Studios has announced the release of its $179 "Seamless Textures 7 - Great Textures of Europe" two-CD-ROM set, created by texture artist Geoff Holman. The product is the 10th in a series of photorealistic texture libraries created for use by 2D and 3D graphics artists.
Typical textures in the royalty-free library of 800 seamlessly tileable textures include building walls, windows, entryways, doors, surfaces and a collection of textures containing transparency. These transparency textures, sometimes called "clip maps," contain such images as a lion's head doorknocker and a peaceful, old-world fountain. Also included is a collection of over 240 photos taken during Holman's trip, suitable for stock image applications and 3D backgrounds. The texture library also includes a detailed, royalty-free Viewpoint Digital 3D mesh of a European Mission, which retails for $595.
The package features 815 textures and an equal number of bump maps (elevation maps), all presented in three resolutions: large (app. 1600x1200), medium, (66% of large) and small (33% of large). The transparency textures area presented in both 32-bit Targa and JPEG format.
Complete product information is available at http://www.marlinstudios.com/products/st7/st7.htm
Free sample textures can be downloaded and sample thumbnail images and sample artwork created with the textures can be viewed at http://www.marlinstudios.com/samples/sampst7.htm
Eos Systems last week released PhotoModeler Pro 4.0, a new version of its $795 software program that uses photographs to build 3D models and measurements. New features include full NURBS curves, edges, constraints, new surfacing functions, improved single photo project capabilities, enhanced referencing, projections, field camera calibration, and automated referencing functions. Continuing features include automatic camera orientation, surface drawing, enhanced file export, enhanced photo-texturing, cylinder modeling, and multimedia tutorials.
New from Disney Interactive is the Magic Artist 3D CD-ROM. The $30 title provides an wide array of art tools and techniques that let users create objects, characters, backgrounds and scenes, which can then be "sculpted" in various ways and manipulated in a real-time 3D environment. Artists' renderings can be posted to their own Web sites or emailed as a QuickTime movie, JPEG or AVI file.
LifeFX, a developer of interactive, photo-realistic, 3D digital humans for the Internet, recently launched LifeFX.com, a Website that offers LifeFX "Stand-Ins" for Internet communications. The digital human "Stand-Ins" will be available for download by end of fourth quarter.
LifeFX "Stand-Ins" -- 3-D digital humans -- interact in real time to serve as virtual salespersons, site guides and customer service representatives. "Stand-Ins" for email will be available on the LifeFX Web site during 4th quarter 2000, soon to be followed by "Stand-Ins" for instant messaging and chat rooms.
Geometrix, a supplier of online 3D marketing experiences, last week announced its new solution that lets individuals "wear" products online in 3D. E-businesses can acquire 3D models of customer faces, and then display those faces realistically combined with merchandise such as eyewear or cosmetics over the Web. Geometrix uses ordinary cameras together with automatic 3D capture software.
Intel recently demonstrated its new Play Computer Sound Morpher. The $50 toy includes a detachable microphone allowing children to record sounds and voices while away from the PC. Once the toy is reattached to the PC, children can use its software to morph and mix their personal recordings and create funny new sentences and sounds. The software features preset sounds, effects, animations, morphing tools like "echo" and "monster," and a text-to-speech feature. It also lets children create animated creatures that "talk" and move to the child's recordings. The creatures can be sent as email postcards.
How and how much do you charge for your content? Steve Outing of Content Exchange invites input for his survey on content pricing. He'll present results at an upcoming conference and in a white paper. "Till now," he says, "it's been guesswork for many. If your Web site or e-pub sells digital content, then please take this brief survey, which asks about criteria you use to set pricing for your paid content. As incentive for answering a few questions, you'll be eligible to purchase the final white paper for 50% of the normal rate (which hasn't been set yet)."
Macromedia Inc and Intel Corporation announced last week that the 3D technology they are co-developing has gained the support of 3D software developers Maxon, Newtek and Right Hemisphere. Supporting companies already include 3D vendors Alias|Wavefront, Discreet, Havok, NxView Technologies Inc, Shells Interactive and Softimage. These companies reportedly serve more than 80 percent of the professional 3D animators, based on market share.
In July, Macromedia and Intel announced they are integrating Intel's Internet 3D Graphics technology into a future version of the Macromedia Shockwave Player, enabling the player to display 3D graphics on the Internet. Intel claims its Internet 3D Graphics-enhanced Shockwave Player will enable the next generation of bandwidth-friendly, interactive games, entertainment and online shopping. The combined technologies are designed to bring interactive, streaming, multiuser 3D capabilities online.
Sony shipped its new PlayStation2 computer entertainment system last week, right on schedule, if in smaller numbers than originally promised. Customers waited in line overnight and longer to pay $299 for one of the half-million machines available at launch.. A reported 26 titles were available at launch, costing about $50 each.
Sony says it plans to ship approximately 100,000 additional units per week on average during the holiday season, and that it will have shipped three million units by the close of fiscal year 2001, ending March 31, 2001, which is part of the company's total 10-million-unit worldwide production estimate for the product within the same time period.
We stopped by a Toys R Us over the weekend, and they told us (unofficially, of course) that no more units would be available for two months. We also heard from a customer that the unit can use the PSX memory cards, but only for PSX games; the PS2 games require the new 8MB memory card ($34 SRP), which Sony says transfers data up to 250 times faster than the current memory card.
The PlayStation 2 not only plays game titles, but also DVD movies and audio CDs. It offers a bay for a hard drive that will allow broadband connectivity in 2001, allowing for an Internet connection that will eventually allow the system to serve as a network platform for e-commerce applications and network gaming capabilities.
Activision's primary PS2 launch title was Orphen: Scion of Sorcery, one of the first action role-playing games for Sony's new platform. Based on a popular Japanese anime television series, the game challenges players to unravel a host of mysteries in order to escape the enigmatic island of Chaos. As they embark on their quest, players assume the role of Orphen, a powerful but lazy sorcerer. As the game progresses, they are able to play as five additional characters and unlock three different storylines, each with its own world, monsters, traps and trials.
Developed by Shade, Inc. and produced by Kadokawa Shoten and ESP Inc., Orphen: Scion of Sorcery immerses gamers in a fantastical story in which they must run, climb and jump through a variety of 3D environments including underground caverns, giant castles, and dark forests. Players encounter 30 different detailed monsters and nine bosses, each with their own unique attacks and strengths and weaknesses. The action-packed gameplay is laced with hundreds of puzzles and secrets that challenge players to utilize over 30 spells and weapons.
Available at the PS2 launch from Eidos Interactive was TimeSplitters, created by Free Radical Design of Nottingham, England. In the FPS, players maneuver characters through detailed levels spanning a century from 1935 to 2035. A disparate bunch of human heroes and villains find they share a common foe in the title characters. This evil race, roused from an ancient sleep, manipulate the fate of humanity using shards of crystal to sow fear, greed and conflict throughout history. The Mapmaker feature lets gamers create and edit their own deathmatch arenas, insert items and bots, change tile sets and add in-game music. Hundreds of maps can be saved onto a single memory card.
Out just in time for Halloween from Fox Interactive is the new PlayStation game Alien Resurrection. The action/adventure title combines first-person gameplay with problem-solving, strategy and action elements. Players explore 10 large levels featuring multiple walkways, galleries, rooms and underwater areas. As Ripley, Call, DiStephano and Christie, players utilize weapons from the alien world including the pulse rifle, flamethrower, electric gun and grenade launcher. Aliens move fluidly between floors, walls and ceilings and communicate telepathically in order to stalk, swarm and decimate their prey using multiple attacks.
The game features a full 360-degree, first-person 3D polygonal engine with real-time lighting, visual effects and a destructible, interactive environment. The film's design team created the title's digital sound effects and ambient background audio.
Interplay division Digital Mayhem last week released the racing game Super Runabout: San Francisco Edition for Dreamcast. Developed by Climax Studios, the title lets drivers race around a detailed model of San Francisco. Game objectives range from saving the president to delivering baseball players in time for the big game, and features include 25 different vehicles and 16 different missions. Detailed game vehicles include sports cars, motorcycles, racecars, tanks and a number of exciting hidden vehicles.Each vehicle has unique handling characteristics providing an advantage in certain missions.
If you're among the lucky new PS2 owners, but are sickened by the high software prices, consider four new/old PS2 titles from Digital Leisure. The company has released Dragon's Lair, Space Ace, Dragon's Lair II, and Hologram Time Traveler for PS2, all at $30 SRP.
Dragon's Lair has generated more than $107 million in revenues and is one of only three games ever admitted to the Smithsonian Institute (the other two being Pong and Pac Man). Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp, the sequel, brings more challenges as you travel through time to save Princess Daphne from the evil wizard Mordroc.
Space Ace, the arcade follow-up to Dragon's Lair from Rick Dyer and former Disney animator Don Bluth, takes players on a intergalactic adventure as they play Ace on his quest to defeat the evil Commander Borf. And the newest addition to Digital Leisure's line-up, Hologram Time Traveler, which sold over $18 million in its arcade debut, remains the first and only holographic arcade game.
Microsoft Corp. last week signed a deal with interactive entertainment publisher Infogrames Inc. to obtain the exclusive worldwide publishing and distribution rights to the best-selling "Oddworld" game series, created by Oddworld Inhabitants.
Beginning with "Munch's Oddysee," the unreleased newest title in the series, Microsoft will exclusively publish the next four installments in the "Oddworld Quintology" for its Xbox video game console. Scheduled to launch in fall 2001, "Munch's Oddysee" will be available only on Xbox.
Since its debut, the "Oddworld" game series has sold more than 4 million copies worldwide. The two previously released chapters, "Abe's Oddysee" and "Abe's Exoddus," were lauded for their mix of graphical artistry, unique personality and compelling gameplay.
The sole PS2 launch title from Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc. was FantaVision, an action-puzzle game that lets players create, control and detonate fireworks displays. Players use an on-screen cursor to select color combinations of fireworks that are launch onto the screen and then detonate them to create chains of explosions. The more impressive the display, the more points that are awarded, allowing players to move onward to advanced levels and to unlock bonus rounds. The colorful title incorporates 3D graphics and real-time lighting effects.
Roundpoint, whose technology is designed to let Web developers, integrators, and consultants publish one Website to multiple devices, has completed its second round of financing with $5 million venture capital. VC firm ThinkVentures led an investment group that includes Arthur D. Little, Inc., Brainstorm Ventures, and Silicon Valley businesses.
Aside from allowing companies to maintain sites that function across all Internet devices, Roundpoint gathers accurate client-side metrics for those who employ it. For example, Roundpoint is able to determine the level of interest of the user by distinguishing reading hits from skimming hits. This allows Website operators to better evaluate the functionality and popularity of their site.
Predictions of the burgeoning wireless market show that 8.5 million units of "information appliances" will ship in 2001 vs. 15.7 million PCs. By 2003, Strategy Analytics estimates that 400 million mobile phone subscribers in the United States and Western Europe alone will use their phones to access the Internet. According to IDC, Net TV is expected to reach 81.3 million devices by 2004.
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