Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio
Let’s start with the big addition to Director – Shockwave 3D. This is the biggest thing to happen to Director since the Flash Asset Xtra back in version 6.5. The new 3D features in Director 8.5 allow you to import 3D objects, animate them, make them interactive, and then export them as part of a Shockwave movie. Director is able to bring 3D to the Web by incorporating Intel’s Internet 3D Graphics software, an adaptive geometry- and rendering-engine developed by Intel for the deployment of 3D graphics at low file-size. The architecture developed by Intel features a multi-resolution mesh. This allows it to scale to the performance and bandwidth of the user’s machine, by scaling the number of polygons that are rendered – as well as surface subdivision – to keep file sizes low, but add detail at the rendering stage. The architecture also incorporates systems such as particle effects – used in most high-end modelling tools, allowing the simulation of complex natural phenomena, such as smoke or explosions. All this is delivered online through the latest version of the Shockwave Player, which includes the 3D engine needed to render and display the 3D objects embedded into the Director movie. An object’s geometry, textures and environments can all be streamed, keeping download times to a minimum. While other Web3D plug-in technologies – such as Cycore’s Cult3D and Viewpoint’s 3D technology – have gained only small numbers of users, Macromedia can leverage the huge installed base of Shockwave users. While Director might now sound like a 3D tool, it’s not. Just as there are no video-editing tools in Director, even though Director supports digital video, there are no 3D modelling tools in the Director itself – other than a simple text extrusion capability. Director 8.5 simply supports a special new type of 3D file format, called Shockwave 3D, with the W3D file extension. You will still need to use an existing 3D-modelling application to create your 3D models in the first place – or license them from a third party. Currently, the only application that has an export option for Shockwave 3D is Discreet’s 3D Studio Max, which will be a disappointment for Mac users. However, the situation is rapidly changing, as exporters are released for more 3D applications, including Mac-friendly ones such as Cinema 4D, Amapi, Maya, Lightwave and others. The text extrusion capability is very easy to apply to any existing text cast member, which instantly turns it into a 3D object. You can then define the parameters of the 3D object using the extrusion tab of the Property Inspector. There are few things I hate more than animated spinning 3D text, but this program seems set to give us them in spades. 3D interactive
Applying interactivity to 3D objects within Director can be done either using Lingo, or by using the number of 3D behaviours that come with 8.5. Firstly, you apply 3D actions to your 3D sprite, for instance to zoom the camera in an out, and then a trigger that will instigate that action, such as a key press or mouse movement. You can apply a number of actions to an object, and then set up a number of corresponding triggers, so that you could make your 3D scene completely zoomable, pannable or rotatable – all through different key and mouse combinations. A Shockwave 3D model within Director may consist of a number of objects or groups of objects, and these can also be manipulated individually by Director. It gives you the ability to set certain objects as clickable – for instance in a 3D model of a group of buildings, you may want each building to be a clickable link to information about that building. The supplied Behaviors are fine for simple interactivity, but more advanced control than this – for instance, to create a button onscreen to rotate your object 360 degrees – will require some knowledge of the new Lingo commands in Director 8.5. The learning curve for this is steep. I counted over 320 new Lingo commands – or existing commands that had additional function when applied to 3D sprites – which is why the 8.5 manual of new Lingo commands is over 500 pages thick. Thus, it’s not for the fainthearted, but it does give you a much greater degree of control, whether it’s to build interfaces to control the interaction with your 3D scenes, or for more complex actions such as detecting collisions between objects. You can even use XML to use dynamic data to send to your 3D objects – for instance, 3D bar-charts. If you want your 3D objects to obey the real laws of physics – such as friction, collisions, gravity and elasticity – then your mechanics knowledge from A-level maths is really going to come in handy. Fortunately, there’s also an Xtra (Havok Physics Engine) available, which provides a real-time interactive physics-engine for realistic motion and interactions without all the pencil chewing. Gaming action
With Director 8.5 new to the market, it’s too early to predict in what ways its 3D capabilities will be used. One thing that is certain, is that games designers will be able to utilize the 3D engine in Director to create fast and furious Web-enabled games. There’s already a playable Quake level that’s been coded in Shockwave 3D, so things like Virtual Pool or Tomb Raider clones can’t be far away. And all can be delivered over the Web in a browser. Published Shockwave files that contain 3D objects are viewable only with the new Shockwave 8.5 player. The file size is very compact, and the 3D objects stream as well. This is a remarkable achievement. While the 3D features make up the bulk of the new features in Director 8.5, they are not the only ones. Perhaps the most significant of these is the support for Flash 5 files. Director 8 supports Flash 4 import only via it’s Flash Asset Xtra, which means that you have to ensure your Flash movie is written using only Flash 4-compatible code. With Flash 5 support, all the ActionScript commands and dot syntax from Flash are now recognized within Director. The Flash 5 support also features a few new commands to increase the amount of communication between the Director movie and an embedded Flash SWF. One of the most important of these is the Telltarget function, which gives you the ability to control the timeline of a movie clip with the Flash movie – previously you would have had to import each movie clip as a separate sprite within Director. Another Lingo addition is the XML command, which provides allows structured data exchange between the Director movie and Flash. While undoubtedly welcome, the Flash integration could be greater, especially with respect to targeting movie clips. Only a small number of commands are supported – you can set properties for instance, but not variables. You will almost certainly need to think creatively, and adapt your Flash movies prior to import into Director. Director 8.5 now supports RealMedia import, covering both audio and video, and will enable designers to develop front-end RealMedia players. To wrap up the rest of the Shockwave Studio, you’ll find the Shockwave Player 8.5, Shockwave Multiuser Server 3, the graphics application Fireworks 4, and the sound application Peak LE. Mac and Java
With Multiuser Server 3 you can create Shockwave applications that allow up to 2,000 users to access a movie simultaneously. One of the most obvious applications for this is the creation of interactive chat-engines. Using the Multiuser server allows the creation of rich environments – with real-time interaction. In a nutshell, this works far better than any other Java based real-time chat you’re likely to come across; and the best news for Macintosh users is that the server is totally Mac compatible. All you need to be able to serve Multiuser applications is an externally accessible IP address. The new version also supports the UDP transport protocol as well as TCP, which apparently makes for faster traffic and improved server-side scripting – allowing more of the data-processing to happen at the server processor rather than the client-side. There’s little to add about Fireworks 4, except to say that it compliments Director perfectly. Image assets in Director can be edited directly in Fireworks, and you can launch just the image-export component of Fireworks to speed things up further.
If you’ve still not discovered Director as a multimedia-authoring tool, then buying the Director 8.5 Shockwave Studio will be like Christmas. It remains head and shoulders above any other multimedia application. Flash may be creating the biggest buzz at the moment, but you can do more with Director, and, of course, you can always embed your Flash movies. For existing users, the upgrade’s Flash 5 support is a bonus, while Shockwave 3D will either be the best thing you’ve ever used, or something you’ll never look at.