Spectrum Reviews: Interactive Media & Online Developer Product/Service Reviews
16 November 1998
Written and edited by David Duberman
for editorial/ subscription inquiries, send mailto:email@example.com
It's been a while, but we always promised Spectrum Reviews would return
some day, and now it has. We still can't promise the biweekly schedule with
which this publication launched, but we'll try to keep it going more
regularly from here on in. We resume with a review of Matrox's remarkable
Millennium G200, an excellent 3D modeling plug-in from Digimation, a game
and several books.
Today's Reviews (details below)
--Matrox Millennium G200 AGP Review
--daVinci 3D Review
--Web by Design
--3D Studio MAX 2 Effects Magic
--Photoshop 5 Artistry
--The Project Cool Guide to Enhancing Your Website
--Web Pages that Suck
--About Spectrum Reviews
Matrox Millennium G200 AGP Review
What can you say about a graphics card? When it comes to the Matrox
Millennium, you can start with a bit of history. The original Millennium,
introduced in 1994, was one of the first consumer-level cards to feature
hardware 3D acceleration. Most of the card's silicon was developed in-house
at Matrox, which until then was best known for its non-linear video editing
systems. Unfortunately, hardly any application software took advantage of
the Millennium's proprietary 3D hardware, partly because of a lack of
standards in those days. But that was okay, because the card featured (for
the time) blisteringly fast 2D graphics. It sold scads of units at retail
and was OEMed for years by practically every computer maker around. Then
came the Millennium II, also a big success.
End of story, until earlier this year, when Matrox came out with the
Millennium G200, available in 8MB and 16MB configurations, again based on a
proprietary graphics accelerator chip (the G200). The G200's specs are
impressive. For example, its design uses two independent 64-bit buses that
operate in parallel inside the graphics chip to effectively double the raw
performance of most 2D operations. According to Matrox, this 64-bit
granularity means that for frequent copying of small bitmaps and fonts, the
G200's performance beats that of traditional 128-bit architecture.
Additionally, Dual Command Pipelining permits read and write phases of
consecutive commands to be overlapped and executed simultaneously. The
tests bear this out: On my system, in Ziff Davis' Business Graphics WinMark
98, the G200 returned a score of 146, and in the High-End Graphics WinMark
98, the G200 returned a score of 187. These tests were performed at 1024 x
768 and 16 bits/pixel on a Pentium II/266 with 128MB of memory.
Unfortunately, I don't have anything to compare this with, but it's quite
fast. Video playback tests at 320 x 240 yielded frame rates of up to 200
fps, and up to 70 fps at 640 x 480.
Text is remarkably sharp and clear at all resolutions, and colors are
bright and saturated. In my system, using the 8MB G200 with a ViewSonic
G790 monitor, the highest resolution available at 24 bits is 1600 x 1200,
and at 32 bits is 1280 x 1024, both at 75 Hz refresh rate.
G200 and 3D
But how is the G200 for 3D gaming? In a word, it smokes! The first game I
tried out with the card was a Direct3D title, Motocross Madness from
Microsoft. At 640 x 480 resolution, the action was silky smooth, with an
apparent frame rate well over 30 fps. Even at 800 x 600 things looked
great, although the graphics started getting a bit choppy at 1024 x 768. It
works impeccably with every other D3D game I've tried, as well. In
particular, Psygnosis' texture-laden G-Police, which supports AGP (the G200
uses AGP 2x), looks sensational, and loads new levels almost instantly.
When I put the card through its paces with 3D Winbench, it performed
admirably with a WinMark (cumulative) score of 828, again, at 1024 x 768
and 16 bits/pixel on a Pentium II/266 with 128MB of memory. Unfortunately,
I was unable to compare this with any other D3D cards, but I know it's a
high score. The only test it failed was Mirror Texture Addressing, and
performance was weak with several Z-buffer tests, as evidenced by visible
landscape seams in some games.
Some of the best 3D games, based on the Quake/Quake II and Unreal engines,
don't support D3D. They work primarily with OpenGL cards, and 3Dfx's Voodoo
family. But Matrox has gone the extra mile and made available, on their
Website, a D3D "wrapper" that maps OpenGL calls onto the Direct3D driver of
the G200. This works only with games based on the Quake/Quake II engines
(including Sin, just out from Activision), but does so admirably well.
Running Quake II at 640 x 480, I achieved an average frame rate of 25 fps,
and at 800 x 600, a still-respectable 17 fps. It also worked well with
Hexen II. Some titles come out looking very dark, but fortunately the
wrapper download includes a freeware utility for brightening game palettes.
Because the D3D wrapper is specific to Quake-engine games, it doesn't
support other applications that use OpenGL. For instance, I tried using it
with 3D Studio MAX 2.5, but the program simply crashed at launch time. MAX
2.5 also supports D3D, so I tried that display option, but it didn't seem
to accelerate the display. Simply 3D, which comes with the Millennium G200,
can use the D3D hardware acceleration. It's fairly speedy, but again the
Z-buffering problems are in evidence, with polygons jumping in front of and
behind each other depending on the view angle. The card is great for games,
but I wouldn't recommend it if you mainly need hardware acceleration for 3D
As for Unreal, publisher Epic Megagames now supports D3D; check it out at
http://unreal.epicgames.com/Versions.htm. It works very well with the G200.
Support for these and other 3D games is available at
http://www.matrox.com/mga/drivers/patch_demos/home.htm. On the downside, if
your favorite game supports only 3Dfx hardware using the Glide drivers,
you're out of luck.
One of the keys to success in the high-tech business, whether for hardware
or software, is adaptability, and the G200 features this in spades.
Available add-ons include a flat panel daughter card; the Rainbow Runner
video editing card with hardware Motion JPEG video capture and TV tuning;
and a hardware DVD video daughter card for hardware accelerated MPEG-2
video playback. The G200 does not support MPEG-2 video playback in software.
How much for all this performance? Less than you might think. The list
price for the 8MB version, bundled with several applications--Micrografx
Picture Publisher, Micrografx Simply 3D, Netscape Communicator, PointCast
Client, and Imagination Software IMAGinE--is $169, although you can
typically find it for $20-$30 less. If you don't care about the apps, a
recent search on CNET found the OEM version (without bundled software,
except for control programs and drivers) at $99 from Micro X-Press
If you're looking for the perfect holiday gift for your computer
graphics-loving friend or relative, this is one to consider seriously. Just
be sure to get the right version. Try asking a vague question, like, "So
what's all this about AGP, anyway?". If the intended recipient claims not
to have an AGP motherboard, get the PCI version (the G200 SD PCI, scheduled
for release later this year).
Find more at http://www.matrox.com/mga/
daVinci 3D Review
If you want to create an organic 3D shape from life, your best bet is to
use one of the new laser scanners, such as Polhemus' nifty hand-held
device, Minolta's portable Vivid 700, or Real 3D's RealScan. Of course, if
you don't happen to have the $30K or so required to purchase one of those
devices, or if you need to create an object that doesn't exist in the real
world, you're back to modeling. Kinetix's 3D Studio MAX offers a number of
alternatives for organic modeling, including spline-based patches and
NURBS, plus Peter Watje's excellent Surface Tools plug-in. None of these is
terribly easy to use, so Digimation has lowered the organic modeling
learning curve with daVinci 3D, a new 3D Studio MAX plug-in developed by
daVinci 3D's manual describes the plug-in's modeling paradigm as the
creation of "minimal" surfaces: the smallest, smoothest surface that passes
through its boundary conditions. You start by creating a flat membrane,
which can be a rectangle, a circle or an ellipse. In wireframe views, the
shape is depicted as a skein of irregular, medium-sized triangles,
surrounded by a curve whose points can be manipulated by dragging them up,
down or sideways. The technical term is "triangular elastic membrane
surface," or TEMS.
Next, you would typically add a point or a spline-like curve (the latter
drawn point by point), which give you additional control over the shape of
your surface. Moving a individual point away from the surface affects the
membrane's shape, while a curve, by default, is "free," which means you can
move it (and its points) around the membrane's surface without affecting
the latter's shape or structure. But once you embed the curve into the
surface, the membrane's mesh redefines itself in an intelligent way, giving
greater resolution where needed at areas of greater curvature.
Unfortunately, as you drag the curve, the plug-in tries to redefine the
membrane in real time, slowing down feedback. It would have been preferable
to give the user a "redraw on release" option for reduced response time.
The embedded curve thus becomes part of the membrane's structure, and if
closed can actually define a hole in the membrane.
To allow a curve to actually affect a membrane's shape, you set its type to
Pivot. Now, when you move the curve or its points, the membrane deforms
itself in an intuitive way, forming "minimal" contours between the
manipulated entity or entities and other curves and points on the membrane.
If you need to be able to further shape these contours, you set the curve
type to Clamp. Thereafter, you can access tangent points attached to the
curve, which let you modify the membrane contours by dragging them in
Once you have a Pivot or Clamp curve, you can add a child membrane inside
the curve, and you can continue building in this way. Thus you can create
complex hierarchical membrane objects such as a humanoid figure. Other
controls let you determine the display and render precision, which affect
only how the membranes display, as well as alter the underlying mesh
density. You can also set which types of entities (e.g., points, curves)
are visible. A membrane actually has six different types of sub-objects,
and you're typically switching rapidly among them when modeling with
daVinci 3D. Keyboard shortcuts would have helped make this process smoother
In addition, you can add control points to curves, and clone curves. You
can define a curve as a hole, trimming away the surface inside or outside
the curve's bounds. daVinci 3D takes advantage of MAX's multi/sub-object
material capability by letting you assign different material IDs to the
area inside each curve. You can specify a curve's stiffness, which
determines how flat or curvy the membrane it controls is, and use the
Tessellation Distance parameter to influence the number of TEMS elements
along a curve in a given distance. Also, the Tess Angle setting lets you
control tessellation in areas of high curvature.
But that's not all, folks! daVinci 3D can convert MAX meshes that form a
single open sheet, such as a hemisphere or NURBS surface, into a membrane.
It can also convert closed curves in MAX to membranes. There's even a
Membrane Select modifier for selecting membrane sub-objects for further
modification. And snapping to membrane points works like snapping to any
other such element in MAX.
All in all, daVinci 3D fulfills its promise as a new way to easily model
and animate organic objects. The software is well-designed and robust; it
didn't crash once while I was using it. It's relatively simple to use, but
there's a lot of power under the surface. Digimation and New Technologies
are to be congratulated with their introduction of this highly useful 3D
Studio MAX add-on.
Find more at http://www.digimation.com
New PlayStation titles are coming out in droves these days, but MediEvil,
from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, stands out from the pack as an
excellent action/adventure title with a flair for the macabre. The "hero"
is a gangling knight/skeleton named Sir Daniel Fortesque, a braggart who
died in the first charge against Zarok the evil sorcerer. As in many such
stories, the sorcerer is defeated but returns to conquer again. Sir Dan is
resurrected, minus an eye and his face (as well as the rest of his flesh),
this time to single-handedly foil the bad guy's scheme. The player must
guide Sir Dan through various spooky locales such as graveyards and
mausoleums, while taking out comically animated zombies, dodging giant
rocks, recovering goodies and more.
The first thing you notice in MediEvil is the three-dimensionality of the
game world. This is a true 3D title, in which you can go just about
anywhere (if you have the key), and view Dan from any angle. The level
designers took advantage of their freedom and created a world with hilly
exteriors and multi-level interiors. The color schemes are varied, and the
music, composed Danny Elfman-style by Andrew Barnabas and Paul Arnold, fits
the game well. Then there are the little touches that add so much, such as
the disembodied "Thing"-type hands that run around the graveyard looking
for their owners, and the fact that Dan is forced back when he strikes a
solid object like a wall. Speaking of force, the use of vibration (in
force-feedback controllers) is understated yet effective, if slightly
The game designers worked hard to keep the player's interest active, and it
shows in various ways. As Dan moves through the game, his progress is
tracked by a horned statue who sounds like Tolkien's Gollum. Digitized
voice is also used for other characters, including Dan (who mumbles badly,
due to his lack of a tongue and lips) and the heroes (about which more
shortly). Voice characterizations are competent, except for the actor
voicing the evil sorcerer, who sounds like he was late for a massage.
Another design praise for the use of in-game clues, presented in
pedestal-mounted books found in each level. A slight annoyance is that you
have to stand directly in front the book to get the clue.
There's more to the game than just moving steadily through levels. Each
time you dispatch an enemy, a chalice, whose location can be tough to
discover, fills a bit more. When the chalice is full, if you find it, Dan
can then visit the Hall of Heroes, where he chats briefly with a hero, and
then receives a prize, such as a rapid-fire crossbow. Dan's ultimate hope
is to end up in the Hall himself, where he can rest in peace. The gameplay
is nicely balanced--not too easy, not too hard--and loading times between
levels are minimal. If you like real-time 3D action mixed with your virtual
adventuring, I recommend MediEvil highly.
Web by Design
Web by Design, recently published by Sybex, is subtitled The Complete
Guide; at 901 pages, there's little doubt. Author Molly E. Holzschlag
covers the five key elements of Web design: designing for the screen,
controlling layout, using color and graphics effectively, making sound
typography decisions, and taking advantage of multimedia and Internet
programming. Other topics include information management, accessibility,
and navigation. The content is highly informative without being dense, the
tone of the writing is intelligent, and there are plenty of examples, both
graphical and textual. The book doesn't include a CD-ROM, but a color
reference section illustrates the 216-color Web-safe palette; a selection
of preset color swatches such as Natural, Southwest, Shocking and Sporty,
with applied examples; and a subtractive color wheel for interpreting
colors found in nature. Web by Design is a terrific all-around book for
anyone undertaking an online venture.
See the book's companion Web site at http://www.designstudio.net/.
$39.99! Save 20% at Amazon.com
3D Studio MAX 2 Effects Magic
New Riders is probably the foremost publisher of books about 3D Studio MAX,
and their latest effort, by Greg Carbonaro et al, is aimed at intermediate
to advanced users who want to exploit the program's potential for producing
special effects. The book is divided into four sections: Water Effects,
Space Effects, Atmospheric and Terrestrial Realism, and Natural Disasters.
Tutorials are presented recipe style in the full-color book, with
numbered-step instructions for re-creating such effects as rocket-engine
glow, a bubbling caudron, Star Trek's beaming effect and many more.
Unfortunately, there are few explanations, and with instructions like,
"Create a standard cylinder primitive at x = -0.14, y = 42.573, z =
-6.808," users may end up doing more typing than learning.
It's obvious that the writers simply set up the scenes the way they liked,
and then wrote down all the coordinates, rather than starting out to create
tutorials that would be fun and easy to follow. Certainly, you can learn
the techniques by following the directions while thinking about what you're
doing (and possibly experimenting with different settings), and that's
probably the best way to use this book. But be sure to have a cup of your
stimulant beverage of choice handy, because vibrant writing isn't exactly
3DSM2 Effects Magic's forte. And get something heavy to prop open the
stiffly bound book.
Save 20% at Amazon.com
Photoshop 5 Artistry
If you've just bought the latest version of Adobe's top-of-the-line imaging
software and can't do a thing with it, this new book by Barry Haynes and
Wendy Crumpler may be just the thing. Even if you're just curious about
Photoshop 5, the accompanying CD-ROM contains a demo version of the
program, as well as Adobe ImageReady. The book's content has been revised
to cover such new features as color management, layer effects, history, and
Magnetic tools. As is appropriate for a book covering such a
color-intensive application, the illustrations are in color.
Most chapters take you through an entire project that emulates a real-life
situation, such as South Africa in Focus, where you build a flexible
multi-layered file to create various composite screens for multimedia use,
using layer masks, adjustment layers, clipping groups, text effects,
filters and actions. Each instruction carefully explains what's going on,
and presents alternative scenarios. This is an excellent way to learn
Photoshop 5, even if you already think you know it pretty well.
$44.00! Save 20% at Amazon.com
The Project Cool Guide to
Enhancing Your Website
Project Cool (http://www.projectcool.com) is an online resource for
Webmasters and wannabes founded by Teresa Martin and Glenn Davis. Last
year, Wiley Computer Publishing published Martin's and Davis' book The
Project Cool Guide to HTML, and this year they've come out with The Project
Cool Guide to Enhancing Your Website. The book addresses nine areas or
Dynamic HTML, and Cascading Style Sheets. Chapter 2 is a great way to get
started, because it talks about ways to enhance a site without adding
anything, such as taking advantage of browser caching, and optimizing
graphics. The authors then proceed to discuss such vital topics as meta
tags, search engines, interaction and more. These two know what they're
talking about, and you'd be wise to heed what they say. There's no CD-ROM,
but you can follow along with the exercises at the Project Cool Website.
$23.99! Save 20% at Amazon.com
Web Pages that Suck
If you've ever looked at a poorly designed Web site and said to yourself,
"I could do better than that!", you know where authors Vincent Flanders and
Michael Willis are coming from with this book, published by Sybex. The
authors, a Webmaster and graphic designer respectively, have done a great
job of explaining by example what should and shouldn't be online. They
start out by examining reasons to create a site (e.g., "... to Stroke Your
Little Ego," "... to Make Money"), and figuring out who the target audience
is. Next, they address the need for the home page to be a site guide,
navigation issues and more. They're unstinting in their scorn for poorly
designed pages, with such comments as, "I'm in a lot of freaking pain"
after visiting the Pepsi site. But they carefully explain what's wrong with
each, and how it could be improved. The art of Web page design is still in
its infancy, but if enough people read this book and follow its advice, we
could achieve adolescence in our lifetime.
The CD-ROM contains various Web tools such as HomeSite 3, GIF Builder, Web
Razor and more. The book is lavishly illustrated in color; if only the
authors had eschewed all the pictures of themselves--these guys aren't
$31.20! Save 20% at Amazon.com
About Spectrum Reviews
Spectrum Reviews, a sister publication to Spectrum, is published on an
irregular schedule for the interactive media professional community by
Motion Blur Media. It offers original reviews of software, hardware, books,
Web sites, events and more. Software categories covered in Spectrum Reviews
include Web authoring tools, content creation tools (e.g., 2D/3D graphics
apps, audio/video production/editing tools), Internet email and Usenet news
clients, multimedia clients such as RealSystem, consumer multimedia titles,
and, of course, games, both local and online. In the hardware realm, we
cover 2D and 3D graphics accelerators, game controllers, mass storage
products and more. If you would like to submit a product for coverage in
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