Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News 30 September 2002
Reported, written and edited by David Duberman
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Today's Headlines (details below)
FEATURE GAME REVIEW
--Icewind Dale II
--Virtual U 2.0 Source Code Released to Public --Openwave Announces Multimedia Content Manager for Java Phones
IN THE INFOGROOVE
--Viewpoint Media Player Reaches 55.7% of U.S. Web Users
--Electric Rain Launches Swift 3D 3
--mental ray for Maya 1.5 Public Beta Available
--Eastgate Updates Tinderbox
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
--O'Reilly Updates Dynamic HTML Reference --Essay Available: Gaming Our Way to a Better Future
--NCsoft Announces Publishing Deal with NetDevil --Microsoft Buys Rare
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
--EA Ships The Sims Unleashed Expansion Pack --Vivendi to Publish Crave Title
--SCEA Ships Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus --Sierra Ships Casino Sim
--3DO Ships Heroes of Might and Magic Expansion --GoD Ships Stronghold Crusader
--Sega, Michael Crichton to Create New Game
--Alias|Wavefront Awards Maya Masters
FEATURE GAME REVIEW
Icewind Dale II
Icewind Dale II is the best Bioware game not made by Bioware. The Canadian developer created the Baldur's Gate series, probably the most popular PC roleplaying games at present. Black Isle Studios, Interplay's in-house RPG developer, used Bioware's game engine to create Icewind Dale, which was such a hit that they made a sequel. I've played most of the Baldur's Gate titles, as well as the first IWD, but I have to say that of all of these, IWD2 is my favorite. Why? It might have something to do with the streamlined playflow, such as the useful ability to set up four different weapon-shield combinations for each party member and then switch among them on the fly. Or it might be that the game uses the AD&D third-edition rules, which enhance gameplay flexibility significantly. But at the end of the day, the real reason is it's just so darn playable. At the default difficulty level, it's not that easy, but it's not as hard as the earlier titles, and gameplay is more linear, which is a big plus for those of us who don't have all day to play (cf. Morrowind).
In IWD2, as with its predecessors, you guide a team of six player characters through a world fraught with challenges both physical and mental. You can start out with one of several nicely balanced preset parties, whose characters the designers have taken pains to imbue with interesting histories, or you can roll your own. In the single-player game, you can control any or all of the characters directly and use A.I. scripts for the rest, and in multiplayer mode, humans control each party member.
The new classes made available by the third-edition rules are Barbarian, Monk, and Sorcerer. The Barbarian is a fast-moving fighter, so fast that they cannot be flanked. They can use the Rage ability once a day, which makes them a fiercer fighter, but quickly brings on fatigue, at which point they can no longer fight. The Monk is also a fighter, and can use weapons, but is best suited for fighting barehanded. As long as you don't equip a monk with weaponry, he'll level up quickly. He can't cast spells, but gains special abilities such as immunity to poison and fatigue. And the Sorcerer is closest to the Wizard, but can't learn spells from scrolls and doesn't have to memorize spells. As a result, she doesn't learn nearly as many spells, but all spells she knows are available at any time. For example, if a sorcerer knows the level 1 spells Magic Missile and Mage Armor, she can use any combination of the two up to N times (the number increases with level) before having to rest. The limited spell selection really isn't a problem; I'd guess that most CRPG players generally don't come near to taking full advantage of the wizard's broader palette of powers. The fireball spell, for instance, is eminently useful.
The story is a good one. You start out at a goblin-infested port city, fight a few nominal battles, report to the commander, and learn the rest of the story as you complete his assignments. I won't presume to spoil it for you in any way, but rest assured the plot twists keep you interested and wanting to see what comes next. As with most such games, the gameplay's the thing, and as long as you keep your wits about you, the battles are eminently winnable. This is where the Bioware engine shines: you can fight in real time, which saves time if your party is much stronger than the enemy, or you can pause at any time to issue commands, which are then carried out as soon as you resume the game.
IWD2 might be the last big PC RPG with two-dimensional graphics, which is a pity. The designers took full advantage of their ability to use pre-rendered backgrounds, resulting in some locales of breathtaking beauty.
The recent 3D RPGs with a similar vantage point--Dungeon Siege and Bioware's Neverwinter Nights--look nice, but not as good as this. However, although the 2D graphics should be less of a burden on the CPU and graphics card, the game does bog down occasionally, especially when many characters are on the screen.
As for flies in the ointment, there aren't many. Pathfinding isn't the best: Sometimes, when you click on a destination for the party, one or two characters at the back decide to take the long way around rather than wait for those ahead of them to move. If you aren't paying careful attention (not always easy with six party members to keep track of), they'll end up on the other side of the current map, perhaps getting slaughtered by an unknown enemy. Similarly, a party member will move out of the way of a single player-directed character, but not if someone else is in his way.
Characters seem not to respond to in-battle commands sometimes. And the process of choosing new spells for the Sorcerer when leveling up could be clearer; I ended up giving mine spells I didn't really want a couple of times until I figured out what was going on. But I did get the fireball!
Also, the spoken responses that result from clicking on characters can get old quickly. The manual is small-box sized, and thus uses tiny print, but that's preferable to omitting important information. I like that the manual uses a single spell list, rather than subdividing spells by class, so it's much easier to find a particular spell. Of course, the game offers thorough explanations of all resources, so you might not even have to use the manual.
All told, Icewind Dale II is a fine, big roleplaying adventure, with lots of gameplay variety and surprises around almost every corner. Because of the many choices available, there's good replay value, but you never get lost. Bottom line, it's a fun game; what more could you ask for?
Virtual U 2.0 Source Code Released to Public
The source code to Virtual U 2.0, a university-management simulator, is now available to the public on the Virtual U Web site (http://www.virtual-u.org). The 2.0 version of the source code gives programmers, simulation designers, game developers, and others access to all the new features and formulas used in Virtual U. The second version of the source code also features improved readability and documentation.
Virtual U is a complex simulation of the day-to-day management of a university system and is in use at numerous universities. Players must balance budgets, set admission policies, ensure sufficient availability of classes, and encourage professional growth among the faculty. The goal of the product is to introduce managers to the complexities of university management and to provide a new way for university administrators and stakeholders to explore their own approaches to university management.
Source Availability Details The first pass of the public source code has been posted to the project's Web site
(www.virtual-u.org/publicsource.php). The public source code will allow academics and programmers of all backgrounds to look at and learn from the project's unique modeling engine, which was developed by Enlight Software (www.enlight.com) and Massy's Jackson Hole Higher Education Group (www.jhheg.com).
Virtual U is published under a public source license that provides free use of the source code for any non-commercial project without the Sloan Foundation's consent. All modifications to the source code as published must also be provided to the project's community.
Openwave Announces Multimedia Content Manager for Java Phones
Openwave Systems Inc. last week announced Mobile JAM Plus, a multimedia content manager for mass-market Java technology-enabled mobile phones.
Available for phones shipping in mid-2003, the new product will provide manufacturers using Openwave Mobile Browser with a way to implement and integrate Java technology.
Product features include:
* Content and Applications Catalog: Mobile Operators can publish a catalog that resides on the handset, making it easier for users to find and download content so that specific carrier-selected content can be promoted.
* Standards-compliant content-download manager using Mobile Information Device Profile (MIDP) 1.0, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) Download and WAP Digital Rights Management (DRM) and plans to be compliant with MIDP 2.0 upon finalization of the standard. Content can be securely downloaded and sold without risk to content owner intellectual property rights.
* Photo previews, zooming and enhancements, plus integration with messaging and camera software on the handset, providing users with a consistent way to manage and share photos.
Mobile Browser version 6.1 is based on standard technologies and supports the WAP 2.0 specification, as well as the XHTML Mobile Profile and Wireless Cascading Style Sheets (WCSS). Enhanced graphical user interface (GUI) features let application developers adapt PC-based interfaces to mobile devices.
IN THE INFOGROOVE
Viewpoint Media Player Reaches 55.7% of U.S. Web Users
According to Viewpoint Corporation, a recent report from research firm Ipsos-NPD says that 55.7% of Web users in the United States have Viewpoint Media Player active and installed on their machines.
Viewpoint's graphics operating system platform has been licensed by Fortune 500 companies for use in online, offline and embedded applications serving a variety of needs, including business process visualizations, marketing campaigns, rich advertising and product presentations. The company also provides cross media digital solutions for film, broadcast television and games.
Electric Rain Launches Swift 3D 3
Electric Rain last week released Swift 3D version 3.0, a standalone application allowing designers to build and export 3D animations to the Macromedia Flash (SWF) file format, as well as other major vector and raster formats.
RAViX III Vector Output Options
* transparency - renders individual objects with opacity settings respected by Flash
* reflectivity - supports reflective materials to create realistic vector and raster effects
* advanced specularity - gradated highlights add depth to low-bandwidth output styles
* multiple shadows - overlapping shadows from any light source increase visual accuracy
SmartLayer technology works in conjunction with the Swift 3D Importer plug-in for Macromedia Flash MX, letting users render 3D scenes to a proprietary file format. Files can then be imported directly into Flash MX libraries with various aspects of the scene broken out into individual layers.
* Render separate layers for colors, lines, shadows, highlights, reflections and transparencies for better integration with design projects * Create separate layers for stationary and moving objects to eliminate duplication of static frames and reduce the overall size of files * Insert Swift 3D renderings directly into Flash MX libraries for better workflow when moving between applications
The EMO Ray Tracer enables the use of bitmap textures within 3D scenes, and supports output with transparency, reflection and refraction. Swift 3D V3 exports raster images and animations to the JPEG, BMP, PNG, TIFF and TGA file formats, as well as Macromedia Flash (SWF). SWF files are cropped on a per-frame basis to ensure small files.
* path animation for shape morphing of extrusions and lathed objects * convert text to paths for font customization and morphing * scene hierarchy for creating parent/child relationships and complex animations
* auto-shape tools for easy extrusion modeling
mental ray for Maya 1.5 Public Beta Available
The mental ray for Maya 1.5 free public beta version for Windows and IRIX operating systems is now available for download to Maya 4.5 customers from Alias|Wavefront. The free public beta will be available for Linux and Mac OS X operating systems soon.
The public beta version contains support for new Maya 4.5 features such as the Maya Fluid Effects Ocean Shader and also supports features available in the new standalone mental ray 3.1 renderer.
Eastgate Updates Tinderbox
Eastgate Systems has released Tinderbox 1.2, a new version of its personal content management assistant for Macintosh computers. Tinderbox helps people make notes, analyze them, and share them in Weblogs and news sites.
The update offers a wide variety of enhancements.
Features in the new release include:
Local disk files can be associated with any note.
spell checking and text smoothing (OS X) New attributes let agents do even more, including setting the type notes that match its criteria. Prof.
Tinderbox integrates with WebDAV, allowing .MAC subscribers to update Web sites in a single step, and Tinderbox's intelligent HTML export conserves time and bandwidth for FTP users as well.
The software run on MacOS X (including Jaguar) as well as MacOS 9.
THE DIALS & LEVERS OF POWER
O'Reilly Updates Dynamic HTML Reference
The book includes:
* cross-referenced indexes for finding interrelated HTML tags, HTML/SHTML validation support, style attributes, and document object model methods, properties, and event handlers.
* an introduction to creating dynamic Web content that addresses the cross-platform compromises inherent in Web page design and encourages developers to adopt the W3C standards.
Chapter 2, "Cross-Platform Compromises," is available free online at: http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/dhtmlref2/chapter/index.html
For more information about the book, including table of contents, index, author bio, and samples, see http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/dhtmlref2/
Essay Available: Gaming Our Way to a Better Future
Spectrum reader Ben Sawyer of Digitalmill writes to tell us of "Gaming our Way to a Better Future" by his associate David Rejeski, recently published on Avault.
The opinion piece follows on an earlier paper by Sawyer, titled "Serious Games: Improving Public Policy through Game-Based Learning and Simulation" (http://wwics.si.edu/foresight/game/index.htm), published by The Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.
These efforts are meant to evangelize and educate the public, game developers, as well as public policy leaders and administrators about how interactive game-based simulations, produced by the same people who create products like Tropico, Capitalism, Civilization, and Age of Empires, can be of use in improving government and other non-entertainment-focused organizations.
NCsoft Announces Publishing Deal with NetDevil
NCsoft Corporation of Seoul, South Korea, which claims to be the world's largest online game company, says it will publish a massively multiplayer (MMP) game currently under development by NetDevil studios. Wreckage (working title) will offer post-apocalyptic car combat in a future-Earth setting. Players will have the ability to arm and upgrade their own vehicles, group with friends and take on other players in a full-fledged auto war. Wreckage is scheduled for a 2004-2005 launch date.
Microsoft Buys Rare
Shortly after Nintendo released U.K.-based game developer Rare Ltd from its clutches (i.e., Rare returned big N's 49% share), Microsoft Corp. purchased the company for its Xbox division. Rare created popular Nintendo-based titles such as GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie, and Donkey Kong 64. Under terms of the $375 million cash transaction, Rare will begin creating games exclusively for Xbox.
Rare co-founders Chris and Tim Stamper and their team of game developers and designers will continue to work out Warwickshire, England. Rare was founded in 1985 as a partnership between the Stamper brothers and Joel Hochberg, now Rare president.
Rare grabbed the attention of the video game world in 1994 with its creation of Donkey Kong Country for SNES. Selling more than 8 million copies, the game went on to become the biggest-selling 16-bit title in history.
Rare became one of the premiere developers in the world, with sales averaging 1.4 million units per title and nearly 90 million games sold since the company was founded. Five of the top 20 all-time-best-selling N64 titles were developed by Rare, including GoldenEye 007, the second-best-selling game in North America, with worldwide sales topping 8 million.
Rare's first Xbox title, Kameo, is expected to reach store shelves next spring. Also under development is the sequel to Perfect Dark. The company is expecting to develop at least five games over the next two years in a variety of genres, including racing, shooters and platformers.
GAMES PEOPLE PLAY
EA Ships The Sims Unleashed Expansion Pack
Electronic Arts last week released The Sims Unleashed, a new add-on disk to the top-selling PC game. Players can now add pets to their Sims families. A new, expanded neighborhood features parks, pet stores, cafes, and markets.
The Sims can visit a pet adoption center or pet store and bring home a variety of creatures, including a dog, cat parrot, turtle, iguana, or fish, as well as an array of pet accoutrements that are fun for their pets and the whole family.
The Sims Unleashed gives players new social interactions and expands their neighborhood with 30 new residential and community lots featuring new homes, parks, an Internet cafe, shops, and a farmer's market.
Sims can teach their new dog old tricks or hire a pet trainer to do all of the dirty work. Sims can also enter their kitties and canines in the local pet show. Sim pets try to impress the judges for prizes that can be displayed in an all new trophy case.
Also new to The Sims Unleashed is gardening. Sims can now grow a variety of vegetables including tomatoes, carrots and green beans in their own backyard plots using seeds purchased at the local garden store. Proper care of the garden will yield a crop that can be picked and stored in the new kitchen pantry or sold at the local farmer's market. The pets can help chase away the pesky rabbits, gophers, and mice.
The expansion pack adds five new career paths with 50 new jobs. Sims can enter the world of fashion, become a chef, take care of the neighborhood's pets as a veterinarian, teach others as an educator, or run away and join the circus. Over 125 new objects for pets and people, dozens of new character skins and an all-new decorator set with a New Orleans French Quarter theme round out the new offering.
Vivendi to Publish Crave Title
Vivendi Universal Publishing (VU Publishing) and L.A.-based Crave Entertainment last week signed a publishing agreement granting VU Publishing's Games division (VU Games) exclusive rights to the multi-platform release of Whirl Tour. Scheduled for launch in Q4 '02 on Gamecube and PS2, the game reportedly combines action, extreme sports and adventure-based gameplay.
In Whirl Tour, players assume the role of Wasa B., the roadie for the rock band Flipside. After the band is mysteriously kidnapped during a concert, Wasa B. must rescue his friends and uncover the mystery of their capture.
The action takes players through eight levels, including a castle, a theme park, a movie set, and a floating city.
Players will utilize a variety of gas, electric, and rocket powered scooters to navigate through the game levels. Throughout the game, the player will collect CD-style icons that will add the music tracks to an in-game "jukebox" which functions as a customizable play list.
SCEA Ships Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
New for PS2 from Sony Computer Entertainment America is Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, created by Seattle-based developer Sucker Punch Productions. The action-adventure platform game is designed with the look and feel of a traditional cartoon. The development team employed toon-shading technology to create characters that are simple in color and shape but have distinctive outlines, allowing them to pop clearly out of the painted background.
Sly Cooper ... follows the story of a charming thief, Sly Cooper. A gang of ruthless villains broke into his home, overpowering his father and stealing a family heirloom splitting it five ways. Now, 10 years later, Sly Cooper is ready to track down the bad guys and reclaim what is rightfully his.
Gameplay options include stealth, platform, vehicle races, boss arenas and mini-games. Gamers sneak through the day and night, engaging in rooftop chases, dodging security guards, jumping ninja-style through windows, doors and across buildings, and making narrow escapes through diverse landscapes.
Sierra Ships Casino Sim
Sierra Entertainment last week shipped Casino Empire for PC. The game challenges gamers to build and manage their own Vegas empire.
Set against the colorful world of "Sin City," players build, manage, and compete in an effort to rule the empire. Each level provides players with a new story and an opportunity to win big and increase their wealth and status.
Along the way, gamers meet humorous characters, host special events, and have access to a range of resources to attract and entice their growing clientele. Wholesome activities include milking the high rollers, positioning the most popular slot machines near the cash machines, and adding décor and ambience to eight unique casinos.
3DO Ships Heroes of Might and Magic Expansion
New from 3DO is its game expansion, Heroes of Might and Magic IV: The Gathering Storm for PC. Features include: * six new campaigns with more than 20 new maps * four original fantastic creatures
* 16 new artifacts
* new campaign editor features, including new creatures and artifacts * new additions to the hero classes for the campaigns * new music soundtrack
* multiplayer update, including six new maps
GoD Ships Stronghold Crusader
Publisher Gathering of Developers, owned by Take-Two Interactive Software, last week shipped U.K.-based FireFly Studios' Stronghold Crusader" for PC.
The "castle sim," set in a distant Arabian land, combines aspects of the city builder and real-time strategy genres. The player's challenge is to build and defend medieval desert fortresses and lay siege to enemies. As European nobles or Arabian warriors, players must conquer the harsh terrain during the legendary Crusades of the 11th and 12th centuries.
Sega, Michael Crichton to Create New Game
Sega of America will partner with best-selling author Michael Crichton to develop a new video game based on an original concept to be created by Crichton in association with Sega, currently scheduled for release in 2004.
Additional information on the game has not been announced.
Alias|Wavefront Awards Maya Masters
For the second year, Alias|Wavefront celebrates the achievements of talented members of the 3D industry with the Maya Masters awards.
Launched in 2001, the Maya Masters program recognizes industry leaders who work with Maya software and to provide a means to mentor other artists, particularly students. Masters are nominated by their peers and evaluated on the basis of their contribution to the industry, samples of their work and breakthrough use of Maya technology. New Maya Masters are honored each year during the annual Siggraph computer graphics show and become lifetime members of the Maya Masters community.
Awarded and profiled at this year's annual Alias|Wavefront AWGUA@Night user group held at Siggraph, Maya Masters came from a range of industries including, for the first time, from the medical community. The 2002 Maya Masters are:
* Alceu Baptistao, Vetor Zero, Brazil
* Emmanuel Campin, France
* Dr. Court Cutting, New York University Medical Center * Bryan Ewert, Radical Entertainment(r), Vancouver * Jason Schleifer, Weta Digital Ltd., New Zealand * Kenneth Huff, Florida, USA
Each Maya Master is profiled on the official Maya Masters Web site. There you can read a biography of each Maya Master, view his portfolio and read an interview covering such topics as his career history, views on the future of the 3D industry and how he has learned and used Maya in his projects.
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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