Spotnik - 3D for Dummies

Dateline: 9/22/99

Image courtesy Flatland

One of the problems slowing down universal 3D throughout the Web is the difficulty of authoring 3D worlds. A fascinating approach is being championed by the folks at Flatland. They have created a simple very HTML-like language called 3DML and have produced a web based authoring tool/site called Spotnik.

The Flatlanders are trying to solve an extremely difficult problem. How to get the mass of Web users, all those folks that create those tacky personal home pages, to create 3D pages (which will also no doubt be tacky). Simply put Spotnik presents you, the 3D author, with a space organized as layers, which go one on top of another. Within each layer you place "blocks". The blocks can be preset or customized. To author a 3D world you simply select a block and place it in a layer and voila, you have a 3D world. To view the 3D world you much (of course) have installed a proprietary browser called "Rover".

The performance of these worlds is quite good. The overall quality is also growing quite rapidly as Flatland adds new capabilities. In fact they are supporting FXT1 texture compression from 3dfx. This texture compression will be in the new Voodoo boards.

There is also the ability to control lighting, some limited forms of interaction and of course create links to Web pages. I expect the bag of block tricks to grow. The 3DML file produced after an authoring session is quite simple to read and the 3DML file format is fully published.

Spotnik represents one of the very few applications created explicitly for novice 3D authors. 3D authoring tool vendors would be wise to take a look and learn from this application.

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