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Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

13 Sep 2004
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
For editorial/subscription inquiries, send mailto:spectrum1@broadviewnet.net
Search the Spectrum archives at http://www.3dlinks.com/spectrum
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Editor's note: Spectrum will take next week off, and will return September 27.
- David Duberman

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Today's Headlines (details below)

SPECTRUM REVIEWS
--Texture Layers 2 Review

WEBMEISTER
--No Starch Press releases "The Web Programmer's Desk Reference"

GRAPHICALLY SPEAKING
--Luxology Launches modo 3D Modeler
--Curious Labs Releases Shade 7
--Boris FX Introduces Boris Blue
--New Mexico Software Releases Taos 1.0

THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
--Report: Gaming to be Key Contributor to Wireless Data Usage
--Research and Markets: Digital Content Creation
--Research and Markets: Console Wars II: The Battle for Mainstream
--Research and Markets: Global Animation Industry: Strategies, Trends and Opportunities

GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
--Nintendo Releases Pikmin 2

F.Y.I.
--About Spectrum

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SPECTRUM REVIEWS

Texture Layers 2 Review
by David Duberman

Of the various crafts involved in creating virtual 3D worlds, texture mapping is arguably the most important. You can create utterly masterful geometry, animation, and lighting, but without convincing textures you might as well have built your scene out of lumps of clay. You might suppose that, with 3ds max's capable built-in mapping tools UVW Map and Unwrap UVW, that there's no market for add-on modifiers, but you'd be wrong. At least, that's the likely reasoning behind the recent release of Texture Layers 2 by developer Mankua Software (i.e., Diego Castano).

Texture Layers 2 can be regarded as an enhanced version of 3ds max's UVW Map modifier, with a number of distinct advantages over that venerable worthy. It starts with all the same basic mapping options: planar, cylindrical with optional cap (that is, flat mapping on the cylinder ends), spherical, shrink wrap, box, and so on. But it goes on to offer several useful new mapping options.

Of these, character artists might find Pelt mapping to be the most useful. It's pretty complex, but to perhaps oversimplify, it automatically stretches out a complex mesh so that the UV coordinates don't overlap. It also gives you an editor with control points corresponding to the vertices on the edge of the mapped region. You can transform these control points using standard tools. Moving a point works like soft selection: It has the greatest effect on nearby texture vertices, and the effect diminishes with distance. You can also add and delete control points, and transform symmetrical points in tandem. The software does a pretty good job of determining symmetry, but you can also define symmetrical pairs manually. Unlike max's Unwrap UVW editor, the Pelt editor doesn't let you view the texture map under the vertices, but any changes are reflected in real time in the viewports. For those grappling with texturing difficult organic surfaces, Pelt could be the answer to your prayers.

Another impressive mapping type is Spline. As its name suggests, Spline uses a user-defined spline to specify mapping. In effect, it's a cylindrical mapping method that can switch directions as often as you like, and change size over the length of the spline. Thus it's easy to use a single texture over the length of a unevenly sized tree branch, say, without having unrealistic texture scaling changes on parts of the branch. Spline lets you use three graph curves to control U tiling (around the circumference), V tiling (along the length, and U offset (the seam placement). The latter curve lets you vary the placement of the seam from point to point along the length of the cylinder, so it can twist or meander as you like.

The other two unique mapping types are Free Form and UVW Frame. Free Form uses a 2D version of the familiar FFD (free-form deformation) lattice with the same interactivity; transforming points changes the mapping in real time. One particularly nice feature of Free Form mapping is that it can inherit the shape of the previous mapping type, such as cylinder or sphere, although it's still just a planar mapping that's wrapped into that shape. And UVW Frame deforms the modified object's mapping space based on the mapping space of another object. It's pretty powerful, but a bit difficult to come to grips with. There's also a UVW Data mapping type that lets you save and load UVW data in a disk file.

So far, you might be wondering why the modifier is called Texture Layers. That's real power of this tool: In a single modifier, you can apply as many different mapping types to an object as you like, using the Select Faces sub-object level (and other methods) to specify where on the object each group should go. However, the face-selection mode doesn't let you ignore back-facing faces, so you're better off pre-selecting face groups as named selection sets, and then calling each up for the different mapping groups.

Fortunately, Texture Layers 2 has a special command to get named face and edge selection sets from below it in the stack. You can also specify edge selection sets for use with the Pelt map, for defining the borders of texture groups. The manual refers to a script written by MAXScript guru Borislav (Bobo) Petrov for automatically selecting edges from material ID groups, and says it's available on the Discreet support Website, but apparently it's no longer there. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a copy of the script from Bobo, and reprint it here for your convenience:


macroScript SelMatIDEdges category:"ForumHelp"
(
on isEnabled return selection.count == 1 and classof selection[1].baseobject == Editable_Poly
on execute do
(
theEP = selection[1].baseobject
edgeSelArray = #()
eCount = polyOp.getNumEdges theEP
for e = 1 to eCount do
(
 theFaces = (polyOp.getFacesUsingEdge theEP #(e)) as array
 if theFaces.count == 2 then
 (
 if polyOp.getFaceMatID theEP theFaces[1] != polyOp.getFaceMatID theEP theFaces[2] then
 append edgeSelArray e
 )
)
polyOp.setEdgeSelection theEP edgeSelArray 
max Modify Mode
modPanel.setCurrentObject theEP 
subObjectLevel = 2
)
)

To use it, copy everything from "macroScript" to the final close parenthesis (inclusive) into a text editor and save it as "3dsmax6\UI\MacroScripts\SelMatIDEdges.mcr" (no quotes). Substitute the directory name in which your copy of 3ds max resides for "3dsmax6," if necessary. Then run max, go to Customize > Customize User Interface, access Category > ForumHelp, and assign the script to a hotkey, menu bar, etc.

Here's Bobo's explanation of how it works:

Speaking of Editable Poly, I discovered that Pelt mapping requires that an object be editable poly format only, and not have been editable mesh at any point in its life. I tried using it with a head model created elsewhere that loaded as an editable mesh, and even after converting to editable poly I couldn't get Pelt to work with it.

Back to the layers aspect: Texture Layers lets you specify as many different mapping groups as you like, each defined by a mapping type applied to a specific selection set. Of course, you can set standard parameters such as tiling and transforms to each group's mapping, but you can also specify attenuation. This feature lets you define where, within the mapping coordinates a texture should start fading out, and the overall distance on each axis (U, V, and W) it takes to fade out completely. Thus it's relatively easy to blend among many different surfaces on different parts of an object's surface. You can specify the attenuation within the modifier, for each group, or within a special map type included with the software.

So, overall I'm favorably impressed with Texture Layers 2, but it's not without flaws. While working with the modifier I discovered a couple of bugs, confirmed by the developer: You can't animate its transforms, and you can't undo keyboard edits of numeric parameters (no problem undoing spinner changes, though). These should be fixed in a month or two. Also, in the Pelt editor, you can delete the control points one at a time only. I also encountered some minor stability issues: random crashes, and rendering blank frames.

Unlike max's UVW Map gizmo, the Texture Layers 2 mapping gizmo changes appearance when you change the Tiling parameters. If you increase tiling, the gizmo shrinks to show the area of actual mapping, as opposed to repetitions of the mapping due to the tiling. This is helpful in that sense, but it does tend to make the gizmo harder to find.

The reference manual is sketchy in parts, but overall it's pretty helpful. I found the tutorials to be less so, though. They're long and detailed, but they don't go into much explanation, and they don't touch on some of the more difficult aspects of the software that really could've used some detailed, hands-on instruction. There are also some lame mistakes like telling the user to press the 3 and 4 keys for shaded and edged-face display, when it's actually the F3 and F4 keys. But if you're using software like this, you should be pretty familiar with the basic concepts of texture mapping and max usage in general, and probably won't have much trouble coming to terms with Texture Layers 2's extraordinary power.

In sum, Texture Layers 2 is good software, and could possibly help with some mapping situations that might otherwise be insoluble. With a bit more work, it could be great. Hopefully Mankua will create a demo version so you can give it a try before spending $300 on an unknown product.

http://www.turbosquid.com/FullPreview/Index.cfm/ID/205477/Action/FullPreview

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WEBMEISTER

No Starch Press releases "The Web Programmer's Desk Reference"

HTML, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), and JavaScript are the three basic programming languages that Web programmers use to build functional, attractive, and interactive Web sites. HTML creates the text, images, and other content on a Web page; CSS formats and positions those elements; and JavaScript adds interactivity to Web sites by responding to user choices.

"The Web Programmer's Desk Reference" (No Starch Press, Sept 04) is intended to serve as a single point of reference to all three primary Web programming languages.

Written by the father-son team of Lazaro Issi Cohen and Joseph Issi Cohen, "The Web Programmer's Desk Reference" shows how to use virtually every HTML element and attribute, event, CSS style, behavior, filter, JavaScript property, JavaScript method, and JavaScript object. The book also contains a reference of HTML+TIME elements and their attributes, properties, and methods. It begins with a Web programming primer that gives beginning and intermediate programmers an understanding of the core elements of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The bulk of the book is organized as a reference that lists every element of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Each listing contains:

-A brief description of the element -The element's complete syntax -An example that shows how the element works in practice -A list of Internet Explorer and Netscape browsers the element is compatible with -A list of all other elements that the element can be used with

Table of contents: http://nostarch.com/wpdr_toc.htm
Sample pages from the book: http://nostarch.com/download/WPDR_sample.pdf

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GRAPHICALLY SPEAKING

Luxology Launches modo 3D Modeler

Shipping this month from Luxology LLC, a developer of 3D content-creation tools, is modo, its next-generation 3D modeling system. The software combines a real-time subdivision surface modeling engine with a customizable interface and includes hundreds of production-oriented tools that can be repeatedly modified to handle various modeling tasks. Luxology

Feature highlights include:
* Artist-driven workflow: Dynamic workflow with fluid user interface allows users to constantly evolve modo to perfectly fit their specific method.
* Added flexibility: Tool composites enable artists to use tools easily and independently with any combination of modifiers to create a nearly limitless set of advanced modeling tools.
* Advanced help system: Comprehensive, integrated help system provides users with training video clips to cut the learning curve.
* Seamless pipeline integration: modo is designed for smooth insertion into existing 3D pipelines.

Luxology has also launched the modo product Web site that provides up-to-date information, including feature descriptions, education and training for modo, and purchase information. For more information visit http://www.luxology.com

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Curious Labs Releases Shade 7

Curious Labs, Inc. last week released Shade 7 for the US and Canadian markets. Shade is an all-in-one 3D graphics suite for designers, illustrators, and architects. It provides Bezier curve/surface modeling for 3D design generation, an integrated set of plug-ins to detail and complete projects, and a global illumination renderer for radiant imagery. Shade has been a longtime market leader in Japan since 1986, with over 200,000 users and over 70% market share in the hobbyist user, product design and architectural design markets.

Shade 7 feature highlights include:

http://www.curiouslabs.com

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Boris FX Introduces Boris Blue

Coming early next year from Boris FX, a developer of integrated effects technology for video and film production, is Boris Blue. The standalone application renders 3D compositions in real time regardless of the complexity of the 3D scene or materials. Boris Blue allows users to combine innovative "pixel shaders" to paint objects with bump maps, noise patterns or natural materials along with light reflections and 3D shadows.

Boris Blue combines Boris Red's titling and vector tools with the real-time performance of Open GL. In addition, Boris Blue includes all the features of Boris Red such as motion tracking and vector paint.

Key new features include:

The software includes hundreds of presets and online documentation, plus image-processing filters such as Glows, Lens Flare DeGrain, Match Grain, DeNoise, DeInterlace, Motion Blur, Glow Matte, and Wire Remover.

Boris Blue is expected to ship in Q1 of 2005. The initial release will support Windows only. Macintosh support will be added in a future release. Boris Blue will be available through the reseller channel and direct from BorisFX for $1,995 US SRP.

http://www.borisfx.com/

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New Mexico Software Releases Taos 1.0

New Mexico Software, Inc., a provider of digital lifecycle management solutions, last week shipped Taos, a digital photo database application for PC users. Taos is available for purchase on the Taos3D Web site http://www.taos3d.com/ and will be available in select retail locations in October. A special video 3D presentation created by Anark Software shows how the product works.

The OpenGL 1.5-enabled application provides a database engine that lets the user organize, print and catalog images based on color and shape. Other than 3D gaming products, Taos is said to be one of the first applications to harness the capabilities of a PC's GPU rather than the central processing unit (CPU) to deliver image processing at speeds up to 64 times faster.

For digital photos, Taos gives users added control over photo editing and manipulation by supporting the advanced shader technologies enabled by 3D engines. Special visual effects, such as edge detection, blur, brightness, gamma, noise and red eye reduction can be done easily and effectively.

http://www.taos3d.com/

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THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER

Report: Gaming to be Key Contributor to Wireless Data Usage

With good momentum already in the United States and worldwide, In-Stat/MDR (http://www.instat.com) believes that mobile gaming, while remaining a niche market, will continue its rise as a key contributor to wireless data usage and revenues. The high-tech market research firm estimates that by 2009, mobile gaming services in the United States will generate $1.8 billion annually, or approximately 4.4% of total wireless data revenues. Additionally, by 2009, 78.6 million wireless subscribers in the United States will play mobile games, and gaming downloads will increase more than tenfold from 2003 levels.

In-Stat/MDR's recent Consumer Mobility Study revealed that, at present, 6.5% of U.S. wireless subscribers are extremely or very interested in purchasing mobile gaming services. According to Wheelock, "This level of interest clearly identifies mobile gaming as a niche opportunity for wireless carriers, application developers and content producers."

In-Stat/MDR also found that:

The report, "Mobile Gaming Services in the U.S., 2004-2009" (#IN0401659MCD), includes survey results and analysis from In-Stat/MDR's Consumer Mobility Study, including willingness to purchase mobile gaming services, as well as preferences for specific gaming genres. The analysis includes detailed demographic and behavioral profiles of mobile gaming intenders. The report also analyzes trends in mobile game content development, as well as key elements of the gaming user experience. An in-depth investigation of emerging technology trends is also provided, including: user interfaces and handset form factors, gaming-centric devices such as N-Gage, multiplayer capabilities, location-based gaming, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi integration, 3D graphics and removable media. The report contains a summary of U.S. wireless carrier mobile gaming product offerings and five-year U.S. mobile gaming forecasts, including 2003 estimates and 2004-2009 forecasts for gaming users, downloads and revenues.

http://www.instat.com/catalog/Wcatalogue.asp?id=230

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Research and Markets: Digital Content Creation

Research and Markets (http://www.researchandmarkets.com) has released a new report on Digital Content Creation. This report provides an overview of the digital content creation (DCC) software market for applications running on PC-based computer platforms or Unix workstations.

Digital content creation software enables the creation or modification of digital content, such as animation, audio, graphics, images or video, as part of the production process before presentation in its final medium.

Digital content is audible or visual material stored in a binary format represented by one of the following data classifications:

  • Time-based material stored as pixels per time interval or samples per time interval, such as animation, audio, film or video stored as frames per second (fps).
  • Raster-based material stored as fixed pixels, such as images, pictures and photographs, in a variety of formats including bitmap, jpeg or targa files.
  • Rendered-based material stored as a mathematical equation or numerical dataset, such as 2D and 3D designs, models and objects or spatial audio, in the form of vectors or a scene graph.

    The report covers DCC software in the following segments (in alphabetical order): -- 3D Modeling and Animation -- Audio Editing and Compositing -- Digital Video Editing and Compositing -- DVD Authoring -- Dynamic/Interactive Content Authoring -- Graphics and Image Editing

    The PC-based computer platforms include: Workstation, Performance, Mainstream, and Value PC.

    Potential end users for DCC software applications fall into two primary groups:

    For more information visit http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/c4815

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    Research and Markets: Console Wars II: The Battle for Mainstream

    The competition for gamers between Sony's PlayStation, Microsoft's Xbox and Nintendo's GameCube has been fierce, but the next battle may be even more ferocious as the three leading console manufacturers vie to capture the mainstream audience with a new generation of online 'networked' games.

    The Console Wars II spotlight report looks behind the graphics and action of video and console games to provide an in-depth look at this vast and burgeoning market, which was estimated to reach nearly $24 billion worldwide in 2003, with spending projected to grow faster over the next four years than any other entertainment or media market. The report is aimed at game developers and publishers, internet access providers, portals and entertainment sites, marketers and advertisers.

    Electronic Arts, the leading video game maker, is now the fourth largest software company in the world, behind only Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. The average American spent 75 hours in 2003 playing video games, double the time spent in 1997--only Internet usage is growing faster.

    The growing adoption of broadband Internet, the popularity of console gaming and the emergence of 'next generation' mobile technologies are all converging to drive the video game market to dizzying new levels.

    The Console Wars II Spotlight Report addresses these questions:

    http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/c3558

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    Research and Markets: Global Animation Industry: Strategies, Trends and Opportunities

    Research and Markets (http://www.researchandmarkets.com) has added Global Animation Industry: Strategies, Trends and Opportunities to its offering.

    The rapid advancement of technology has made computer animation available to the masses, and the animation industry is one of the fastest-growing industries. The demand for animated entertainment has expanded with the increase in broadcasting hours by cable and satellite TV along with the growing popularity of the Internet. In the past, animation series were aimed at children aged nine and below. In recent years however, TV stations have been producing animation series for teenagers, adults and the whole family. Animation series like The Simpson's and King of the Hill have been successfully aired on primetime TV. The major markets include the United States, Canada, Japan, France, Britain and Germany.

    Licensing operations for T-shirts, caps and other items have also been a major source of revenue for animation companies. In Japan, several successful computer games have crossed over and have become animated series like Pokemon, Monster Farm, Power Stone and Detective Conan. More broadly speaking, animation is increasingly used in video games, and movies are also increasingly reliant on animation and computer graphic special effects.

    Another key trend that is been witnessed is the outsourcing of animation content to Asia. North American film and television program producers are increasingly tapping this market. The major factor behind this shift of computer animation production to the Asia/Pacific region continues to be the availability of low cost, powerful computer animation platforms and much lower labour rates in the Asian and Pacific Rim countries compared to North America and Europe. The bulk of the outsourcing happens for 2D animation content with some amount of 3D content.

    Report contents:

    For more information visit http://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/c4702

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    GAMES PEOPLE PLAY

    Nintendo Releases Pikmin 2

    With their heads sporting leaves, buds and flowers, the alien Pikmin might be mistaken for garden plants. But this is one hyperactive garden club. A single whistle mobilizes a multitude of Pikmin to gather treasure, fight enemies and solve puzzles.

    The only place these tiny, hard-working creatures can be found is in Pikmin 2, a video game released last week for Nintendo GameCube. In the sequel, Captain Olimar and his assistant, Louie, must find valuable objects to save their company from bankruptcy. They enlist hordes of Pikmin to help.

    Players can switch control between Olimar and Louie to expand the action and find new ways to solve puzzles. They also will encounter two new types of Pikmin: powerful purple and poisonous white.

    Unlike the first version, the game has no time limits, so players can fully explore the world of the Pikmin at their own pace. Time even stops when players enter the new cave environments, but the underground areas offer their own tactical challenges: Players can't grow new Pikmin there, so they must marshal their forces strategically to fight the various enemies. Pikmin 2 has a new split-screen battle mode that lets two players compete to see which of the Pikmin armies has the most skillful commander.

    Best known for iconic video game characters like Mario and Donkey Kong, Nintendo game developer Shigeru Miyamoto created the world of the Pikmin. The first installment, which launched in December 2001, won the 2002 award from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences for Innovation in Console Gaming.

    http://www.pikmin.com

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    F.Y.I.

    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.

    Send your interactive multimedia business, product, people, event, or technology news by email only to: spectrum1@broadviewnet.net.

    If you contact companies or organizations mentioned here, please tell them you saw the news in Spectrum. Thanks.


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