Web3D

Yesterday I came across this :

(…) Canvas 3D JavaScript library (C3DL), (…) aims to facilitate the development of browser-based interactive 3D graphics with JavaScript. It is highly experimental and is still at a relatively early stage in its evolution. 

(…)

Interesting perspective!!

Also interesting to me is "the effort to implement SMIL for Firefox". But 'interesting' in a different way as I actually once did a SMIL project … many years ago during my studies. Hmm … *thinking* … no idea when, maybe in 2000?? I don't know. What is SMIL, you may wonder? It's a W3C standard … 

The Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL, pronounced "smile") enables simple authoring of interactive audiovisual presentations. SMIL is typically used for "rich media"/multimedia presentations which integrate streaming audio and video with images, text or any other media type. SMIL is an easy-to-learn HTML-like language, and many SMIL presentations are written using a simple text-editor

Back then there were no freely available players that actually implemented the whole specification. We tried the Quicktime-Player and the RealPlayer. I know that there was a 3rd one, but I think you had to buy it. Quicktime had support for a really small subset and Realplayer was actually not fully compatible. We had to use not so few 'RealPlayer only' tags, but at the end we were actually able to do a little"rich-media" presentation and watch it using the RealPlayer.

The project was something like a simple web-based SMIL editor. Very simple. We had a HTML front-end where you were able to add media, transitions etc. Then the data was saved as SMIL. The editor was able to load SMIL back for further editing.

I am not sure, if there is nowadays really a need for this. Flash or the combo "HTML, CSS, JS" does the trick.

This posting could be considered to be a response to this comment of RS. He mentions esperient Creator and Maya Real-Time SDK and asks for opinions… here we go:

Maya's Real-Time SDK

I remember the news about Maya's Real-Time SDK but I never had a look at it in order to see what actually it is, at that time. After so many years (6 – 8?) it doesn't seem to have had any impact or long-term visibility. I guess it's ok to say, that today it's not a real option. A good documentation and a good online community helps a lot during production, thus these are things to consider. So let's have loot at the other product mentioned …

esperient Creator – intro

esperient Creator actually was once Cosmos Creator by Radish Works ( in 2003?). I remember that I once downloaded a trial and had a look at it. I felt more comfortable with Virtools therefore I never dived deeper into it. Already at that time it had plenty of toolbars! Here's a screenshot from it that I found on the old Radish Works site. Compared to the actual version, it looks nearly the same:

cosmos creator

Later it became acquired my Righthemisphere in 2004 and renamed to Deep Creator. I think they raised the prices, too. GameDev.com has a little review about it: Deep Creator 2.2 

In 2007 rights were transfered back to the original author(s) and they released in 2008 esperient Creator 3.0. Recently they released 3.5. So this thing is under active development.

Here, a part of the little story behind the name (taken from their blog):

The name is based on the Latin, Spero, meaning ‘I hope’ that has come into present day French as ‘Espere’ (vb) and Italian as ‘Speranza’ (n). So, in addition to meaning that we provide hope to our customers that we can solve their content and publishing problems, it also has the similarity to the word ‘Experience’ which is a great reflection of the team!

Now let's go into product details, we start with the …

Impressions from the online marketing material

Interesting aspects extracted from the available online material

  • cheap seat prices (currently around 500 US $)
  • free runtime viewer (no additional publishing fees): PC and webplayer (IE only)
  • C-like scripting
    • looks like it has break points (p.s. I was wrong, it's macro recording)
    • syntax highlighting
  • powerwall support
  • built-in physics (Newton engine)
  • upcoming feature: procedural image creation ( with CUDA support?)
  • built-in primitives
  • real time reflections, SSAO, advanced render to texture, object grips on 2D and 3D objects
  • HLSL Shaders
  • Animation Timeline Editor

Ok so far for the theory and the promotion material. Let's have a hands-on their demo!

Editor Window Management

The GUI has a standard windows look. It uses a couple of toolbars, that are rearrangeable. Very nice is that it uses docking panes, so you can arrange your layout like in Visual Studio and other modern application. Right-click on the title region of a pane allows to convert it to a register tab, a floating pane or a docked pane. Making there the pane to tab, puts it into the main, central position as tab. But you can also manually drag a pane into a center of another pane in order to add it there as tab. Tearing off docked panes requires a long drag off, which is a bit less intuitive.

On the left side you have a docked toolbar that allows to show/hide specific panes like script editor, scene materials etc.

esperient creator UI docking

The modified layout is automatically saved and used on the next startup. Moreover you can save and load UI layouts to/from files. In addition to that you can use different MS Office themes. I guess it's using a 3rd party MFC extension that brings all this functionality. Unfortunately none of the themes is really appealing to me. The grey of the default theme is not dark enough (I guess especially here under vista). The "Office 2007  Obsidian" style is dark but the toolbars are using a brighter background colour and therefore pop into your eyes – distracting. I guess adding a couple of variations around this theme might be very satisfying. 

dark themed GUI

Viewport Navigation

The viewport navigation is pretty easy:

MMB = Pan
Alt+MMB = Rotate
RMB = Zoom

I like it. In addition to these there navigation icons are on the right top corner of the 3D window. You hold LMB on such an icon in order to do the viewport translation. Similar to Lightwave and maybe also Cinema4d (?).

To change the view to another perspective you can use 3ds max like shortcuts like (P)erspective and (F)ront. The viewport can be switched to a 4-view mode using the space key. Dragging the middle of the 4 views allows to resize the views on the fly. You can also easily drag them to a border and get 2 views this way – works better than in 3ds max, hehehe 😉

several 3d views

I haven't found a "rotate around selection" mode. There is a "focus/zoom on selection" command but it's not bound to any key. You can define it via the settings, though you don't have total liberty of what key (-combo) to use. But CTRL+F, as example, works.

Selections

There are several selection modes like single-object, rectangle, cycle, polygon etc. Using the 'q' keyboard key, you can toggle between the currently active transformation tool and the selection mode, but you can also select while using the transformation too.

Area selection tools seem a bit hard to use because if they hit an object right on the first click, they select that one and ignore the dragged area. If you are in transformation mode you actually start i.e. moving the object under the mouse. Thus it makes area selections not that solid.

Selections can also be done in the "Secene Objects" window. Selections in the Viewport and the "Scene Objects" window are in sync.

Transformations inside the Viewport

The editor has 3d gizmos for doing in place transformation like scale, rotate and translate. The gizmo itself acts a bit like a "universal gizmo" – arrow-heads
do translations, dragging the white connectors enables the rotation mode and using the center does a uniform scaling. Something very good is, that they have handles for 2-axis manipulation, too. I think it's save to say that it's more like "3ds max" than Maya.

There is also something called "grippers" and which are similar to 3ds max's "manipulators". They are gizmos that allow to modify object properties inside the viewport. For example the angle of a sliced sphere or it's resolution/tessellation.

Transformation gizmo and grippers

Several snapping modes are available: grid, face, edge, vertex, pivot, angle etc. When snapping to a face or edge, it's not always clear what's going on – some visual cues would help.

Changing between different modes otherwise is not always intuitive. Sometimes I got into the pivot-move mode although it was not intended.

There are two coordinate-systems: world and local. Local transformations via the gizmo seem not always to work properly.

Material Editor

The material editor allows you to edit and create new materials. On the left side there is the list of materials and on the right side are the properties of the selected material. Unfortunately is the right side not scrollable, so if you dock that window at the bottom with not much height, you won't be able to access all the properties.

Nice is that you have a quick access to the textures via a texture-browse. Unfortunately it seems a bit slow and there is no mechanism to classify your texture content (which could speed up loading times, too). It combines all texture directories, i guess. Using the asset browser you have a better overview and control.

A material consists of several "stages" which can be added at will (up to 8). This is nice because if gives probably more flexibility and control than i.e. the old Virtools Texture-Effect approach.

Material Editor and colour picker

Something that I do not understand is why they use biiig buttons for the colours. There is a coloured, filled rectangle showing the actual colour, why not use that as button and have this big thingy taking screen space? Also, choosing a colour inside the colour-picker dialog does not change the colour of the material immediately, one has to close the dialog with OK. Interactive colour tweaking is thus not possible and makes adjustments more time-consuming.

Final words on the editor

The editor has some strong points: transformations gizmos, layout and theme customisation etc. Although they have a pop-up slider widget for interactive number adjustings, colour adjusting is not interactive. Moreover some areas require a minimum space which reduces the editor layout flexibility artificially. Funnily, there is no "recent files" list. On the other hand there light-setups presets! Thus "not perfect, but the overall impression of the editor GUI is good!".

Number slider

Ok, that was a lot of talk about the GUI editor itself. But this is how I approach such products. If you are under time pressure, you need solid tools and workflows. Best is, if you can "re-use" some of your knowledge from other tools. In this case being 3ds-max-like or Maya-like, in some areas, helps

Scripting

I am kinda sorry, but this section is going to be very short.

There is an interesting looking script editor. I think it uses the free source code editing widget called Scintilla. Thus it's probably going to be a smooth editing experience. Scripting can be done in Lisp or CScript. If you look at the image below, you can see in the top left corner a list of callbacks. On the top right, there are global variables. For example you can reset your variables inside the the "SceneBegin" callback.

script editor

I was looking for a way to add "custom scripts" to objects but it seems that there is no such concept like attachable scripts or components. Besides using the callbacks, you can add something called "animations". Here, animations are not only keyed transformation data, but also "behaviour" code. For each scene object, there is an "animation" register tab. You can add new 'animation behaviours' from a list of pre-made behaviours.

animation behaviours

I am not sure, but it seems that you cannot script custom 'animation behaviours'. Thus you need to combine callback scripts with the pre-made animation scripts. In addition to that you can add "separators" to divide the list into sections, but not do any real grouping to create re-usable components.

If you look at the scripts you may notice that there is a lot of state checking going on. This clearly shows the problem of not having a higher level logic-management, or not being able to attach custom behaviours that can be enabled or disabled from a 3rd, a 'managing', component.

Non-programmers probably can create some basic interaction without the need of programming knowledge as the 'animation behaviour' parameters allow to select events and targets. But I guess at some moment things can get a bit messy. For scripters, the environment looks a bit inflexible, restricted. You can add custom c++ plugins, but I don't know how much this helps.

Please note, that all these are personal impression – I might be wrong OR the way it works is just fine for you,

Resume

I am not sure for what kind of target audience this is aiming for. It's a bit of everything: a bit of 3D DCC (Digital Content Creation) like 3ds max and a bit of interactivity authoring. It certainly a couple of times cheaper than Quest3D or Unity3D and plenty times cheaper than Virtools. Thus it might be a solution for little projects that only need basic interactions.

If I made mistakes, please correct me. If you are producing with this product, please feel free to tell us about your experiences. For all the others, I hope was an interesting read and helps.

Surprisingly only a few months after start, Google now announced to stop Google Lively. On their blog it says:

[…] It has been a tough decision, but we want to ensure that we prioritize our resources and focus more on our core search, ads and apps business. […]

This is understandable but also a bit strange. Maybe they re-did some maths and came to the conclusion that this topic doesn't pay the bills or identified stronger competitors? I've no idea …

Surely, with Second Life's Hype plenty people jumped onto this bandwagon – and now after the initial euphoria, people maybe realize that it is not that easy – as promoted – to make money with 3d online communities? One thing is sure, the most successful online (3d) communities are actually MMO games! 2.8 million units sold in 24 hours, while the german industry suffer a deep crisis due the lack of car sales, crazy!

:)

Gamesindustry.biz titles "Google Lively to become online games platform" and quotes from an interview with Kevin K Hanna who works at X-Ray Kid, the company that was contracted by Google to produce during 2 years 3D content for Lively. Kevin says:

There is a longer term goal of opening up the API so the architecture of Lively could be used as an online games platform

Moreover he states

I'd like for it to be invisible, where when it makes sense to have 3D aspects of the web, that everyone will have already downloaded the plug-in, it's one of the first things you do when you install your machine, and you're able to just jump around and play in a creative space

Now, Kevin is not working at Google directly but both statements can be considered as a clear intention/vision. If this is the direction, they will try to create a big user base and enable the platform over a period of time.

… Beta-Style … 😉

In the late 90s and early 2000s we had Web3D like Pulse, TurnTool, Blaxxun etc etc where in most cases the interactive experience was very limited. Virtools with it's webplayer and it's hierarchical graph behaviour engine was ahead of it's time. I believe that nowadays we a have a new generation of web3d. So many companies come up with web3d applications and more and more of them are of complex interactivity like online 3d games. In addition to that more and more 3d authoring systems with webplayers are available or in the works.

The integrated 3D Gfx Intel chips still hurt as we see in the casual HW market stats published by the Unity3D guys. But it might be that with more and more available interactive 3D content, Intel has to deliver more performant integrated solutions. Larabee might do the job.