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It’s been five long years since Macromind metamorphosed into Macromedia and launched Director 4 upon an unsuspecting public. While previously a popular animation tool for the Mac, version 4 was a breakthrough product thanks to its cross-platform authoring and delivery capability, and the advanced interactivity that Lingo offers.
Bearing in mind that in 1994 the Internet was still mainly the province of Unix beardies in academic research establishments, Director 4 was firmly slanted for CD-ROM and multimedia presentations.
Of course, we all know what has happened to the Internet since then, and Macromedia has been one of the smartest companies to strap itself to the Internet rocket, most notably by releasing Shockwave as a way of distributing Director movies online. Macromedia has confirmed this trend with the release of Director 7 – the most Internet-centric release of Director yet.
While Director’s suitability for CD-ROM based applications or multimedia presentations remains undiminished, (and there are a number of significant enhancements in these areas) it is for developers wishing to create multimedia content online that Director 7 really takes off. It’s no surprise that the bundled box is called the Director Shockwave Internet Studio, featuring Fireworks for Web graphics and Peak LE with Streaming Audio Xtra for Internet ready sound. However, I would have like to have seen Flash included as well.
There are so many new Web-oriented features that it’s hard to cover them in depth in the space permitted, so I’ll run through the highlights. First of all, you can integrate HTML content into a Director movie, and a range of Web protocols are now supported, not only HTTP but also HTTPS, CGI and XML. This means that whether you’re creating a Shockwave movie to play online within a browser, or an application that will run on a desktop, you’ll have a greater level of Internet communication than ever before. You can build an Internet chat engine in Director, or an online store, utlizing multimedia content far beyond the confines of HTML forms. A multi-user server also makes dynamic multiple user environments – such as online games, collaborative working and chat forums – a possibility.
Web-friendly media such as QuickTime 3 and Flash are now further integrated into Director, as are animated GIFs. Java export has also been updated and refined. This just leaves the completely new Shockwave 7 – the all-singing, all-dancing play back engine for the Internet. Movies are now automatically streaming, and can start playing almost instantly. Shockwave 7 can be installed to be auto-updating, so that any upgrade will be automatically installed on users’ Macs, and Xtras can be downloaded as required into an Xtras folder – thus helping to reduce file size.
Display text is something that has troubled Web designers for years – the current situation is still one of an extremely limited number of fonts for use as body text, and thus the use of bitmaps such as GIFs for titles and headers. Director 7 features a comprehensive number of ways of handling fonts, but perhaps the most significant of these is the ability to duplicate or create a subset of a font and embed it as a cast member into a movie – ensuring that it will be available to any text cast members using that font. I was sceptical of the new text features in Director 7, but they work well. You can even select portions of text and make them clickable hyperlinks, further entwining Web and Shockwave content.
But it’s not just the Web side of things that has seen improvements. A number of general enhancements, some long overdue, make Director 7 not only a more productive and expressive working environment, but make it easier for beginners to learn. The most significant of these is the improved interface for behaviours.
Now that anti-aliased text is here with the superb embedded font feature, Macromedia has finally done the same with graphics. Now you can import graphics that have alpha channels, such as native Photoshop files, and preserve their transparency – which essentially means perfectly anti-aliased graphics, whatever the background. This has been achieved by incorporating the Photocaster Xtra into Director. Experienced developers will be familiar with this Xtra but it’s a shame that it is the LE version – which only lets you import one layer properly.
One of the biggest new feature in Director 7 is a new media type called a vector shape. This is created in a window similar to the Paint window, but with drawing tools more akin to an Illustration program such as FreeHand or Illustrator. These let you create simple shapes, which are vector-based. The advantage of these shapes is that they’re small in file size, and can be scaled and rotated on the stage with perfect quality. Sprite rotation and skewing can now be applied to elements on stage, but when applied to bitmaps or text the results look jagged. I would like to see the ability to enter text as a vector shape. Otherwise, if you want to be able to scale, rotate and skew text that looks good, you have to resort to creating text in Flash and
importing into Director.
Version 7’s playback engine has been seriously improved. This is shown by the number of sprites available on the stage at any one time – 1,000 compared with Director 6.5’s measly 500. Also as playback can be set as high as 999 frames, Shockwave movies play faster. Stand-alone projectors made for multimedia and CD are also leaner, with a much lower minimum size – great for making little applets for distribution via email or floppy.
With this release Macromedia has hit the ball right out of the park. Any nagging doubts I had using previous versions have been resolved with this release. While £299 is a lot to pay after shelling out for Director 6.5 six months ago, who ever said progress was going to be cheap? Macromedia has not only grabbed the Internet rocket, it appears to be steering the damn thing