In 2000 I started to learn Virtools and my dream was to work with that technology fulltime. In 2001 I started to work on VR stuff for a PC-based 'CAVE'-like technology based on VRML. At daytime I did 3d content and scripting for it and at night time I was enjoying the power of Virtools.
In 2003 I met for the first time Roland Wagner – the guy that wrote the magazine article about Virtools where I first ever read about it and which made me download their demo. In 2004 my dream came true and I joined Roland's team and worked full time on projects using Virtools.
I had the desire to push Virtools as much as possible – often developing at the edge of it's usability. For example we probably did the first commercial project in Virtools 3.0 where, for several outdoor scenes, every single object was using a shader.
This enthusiasm of course revealed a lot, lot design shortcoming and bugs. And of course one never stops learning Virtools … even now after so many years!, but there were and are still real issues. Already some years ago I talked to many advanced developers that felt the same frustration like me: we were able to see the full potential of this technology if issues would be addressed. Some things improved over time, but not as fast and intensive as we wished. Often we wondered why it didn't progress faster … at some point it was clear that Virtools was lacking manpower especially since they started the complete rewrite that was named: mp. mp, the tech that addresses all issues!
In meanwhile Virtools prices started to climb and climb, while other technologies appeared on the horizon. After the web3D area, where still only a few used 3D and mainly for simple interactivity, more people wanted to do 3d games and content. Some open source engines like OGRE3D and Irrlicht got larger communities. Quest3D also became an established alternative to Virtools (except for those that used Virtools already).
Suddenly Virtools was no longer the best option …. Other solutions had suddenly features that where not available in Virtools – or not to that degree. Even when Virtools was still the more productive environment, pricing difference made other solutions attractive.
A good example is Unity3D. It has physics and publishing for free. But script-code development is actually much slower in my opinion (compile time, no breakpoints and no stepping etc). It also has less features on one hand, but on the other hand features that Virtools doesn't have: modern shadow system, terrain engine, more advanced script languages (JS/C#). This becomes so attractive that people like Matthew switched and I … I am at least learning it at a slow pace. Bogengang, the company i am still working for, nearly bought UnityPro for a first project, if I would not have been too busy with other projects. But I am certain, it's a matter of time and we will use Unity for *some* projects in the future too.
Already 2 years ago, I told my boss that we need to introduce an alternative as 'Plan B'. As you can see, it's not fast and easy to do for us who are now used to develop quite effective with Virtools – especially with customized export & build pipeline. But even this time-saving might not always be enough to make 3d things available for attractive prices – at least in the sectors where we are mainly active.
3D is going mainstream. And this does not happen because Dassault Systemes is doing "3D For All" or "3dvia ". Technology is evolving extremely fast and even more and more young people are enthusiastic about games and digital creativity. In addition to that, key-companies like Microsoft, Nvidia and Sony know that they need many new talents for their markets. Therefore they are giving away tools and technology for free.
A good example is XNA Game Studio and XBox Community Games from Microsoft. Also free is Microsoft's Dark GDK for Visual Studio Express. NVidia of course has also tons of free tools: FX Composer, Mental Mill, NVSG ... Sony recently announced that they are going to release a free engine for the PS3 called PhyreEngine. Maybe Intel will follow one day with releasing the Project Offset Engine to push Larabee.
There is a fast growing Indie Game Scene producing a lot of new 3D content. The Casual Games market actually grew so much that it's no longer an Indie thing only. Not everything is free but accessibility to 3D content generation is facilitated by lowering costs: the Wii Kit is said to be costing less than 2000$ US and PS3 development could start with less than 1200$ US according to Sony!
Now I wonder where in all this is Virtools? Where does Virtools position itself in this market nowadays? mp is about to be released – instead of being a replacement of Virtools DEV its a new product, probably aiming a AAA multi-million budgets. So what is now the official role and position of Virtools DEV I wonder?
I already don't develop any plugins in my spare time for Virtools anymore because it 'feels' like an dead-end, lost time. If it's true or not, it doesn't matter… if you
know what I mean …. the enthusiasm I had for it is no more – that's a key difference. And probably I am not alone …. the Virtools IRC channel was never very crowed – 14 ppl. at peak times .. but now? EMPTY! Go and do a visit in Unity3D's IRC channel … see the difference?
The recently published Gamasutra article 'Nine Paths to Indie Greatness' mentions a lot of tools and technologies (bottom of page 3). Among them Unity but not Virtools. In the current issue of Digital Production, which is THE 3D magazine for digital content creation in germany, has articles about Unity3D and Quest3D – about Virtools I haven't seen any for ages.
Guys, change strategy … open Virtools to the masses, now that you have mp. It's no longer 1999 or 2000. Become Skype of the 3D sector! There are now so much more people knowing about interactive real-time 3D content creation!
Unity3D might not be perfect but it feels like a real alternative! Blade3D is still very, very young but who knows. There's also StoneTrip's Shiva or DXStudio. And one day Flash will have 3D too, they already started with Astro. Director11 comes DX9 rasterizer plus PhysX. Choices are starting to become available …