The Little 3D Engines that Could

Dateline: 12/16/98

As we all know, VRML is not the only technology capable of displaying 3D worlds on the Web. It may be the most open, the most widely used, and the only true standard but it ain't alone and that's a good thing! It would be foolish to think that VRML or any other 3D technology could satisfy all the possibilities.

Recently a few interesting 3D engines have appeared, one from Pulse Entertainment, another from Eclipse Entertainment called Hollywood using their Genesis 3D engine, one from Flatland using their 3DML markup language, and another from Oz called Fluid 3D.

The Genesis 3D engine from Hollywood, is an Active X component and functions only with Internet Explorer 4 (or above). It works perfectly well and performs, of course, better then the typical VRML world. However, creating proprietary engines is one thing but creating plug-ins for only one browser is truly a problem. The web has become balkanized enough and there are no significant reasons for content creators to use this type of format. Even more egregious the demos on their site were simply single 3D objects, most with no interactive capabilities.

Fluid 3D is not actually out and it's not really designed to work with Web browsers it's a plug-in to Real Media's G2 player. The potential here is fabulous! Real Media's G2 player is an amazing piece of technology. The new G2 player is actually a SMIL viewer. SMIL is the Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language, a W3C recommended language to describe precisely how to integrate different types of media. The folks at OZ, rather than reinventing the world, decided to use the streaming capabilities provided by Real Media. The G2 player has a plug-in architecture upon which third party vendors can develop viewers for new media types. Fluid 3D is a viewer to stream 3D animations. When it is actually out in beta I'll be sure to report on it.

The Flatland folks have codified Doom-like worlds into an interesting markup language called 3DML. They are pushing it as a simple way of authoring content, as an extension to HTML. The performance of their "Rover" engine with the sample worlds on their site is fabulous. The frame rates were easily in the 20-30fps range. The big problem (IMHO) is that it's just way too limiting, for both geometry and more importantly the interactivity. There are some nice ideas but seems to me as someone on the vrml mailing list pointed out, it might make sense as some sort of "profile" in a future version of VRML that could deal with profiles (functional subsets of the language).

The Pulse network folks have a very cool, albeit proprietary system for creating life-like talking heads. These characters can introduce you to products, take you on web tours or what ever else you like. The performance is terrific and the animation very good. Of course it's just another little plug-in to add in to the growing collection.

I suggest you play around with all these things and see what works. The capabilities demonstrated by these systems pushes VRML, and that's good. Happy surfing!

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