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发表时间 : 2007-10-14 22:27:56 | 浏览 : 3921    评论 : 0
Technology Comparison - Cult3D vs Shockwave3D vs Viewpoint
Demicron's WireFusion 4.1

Introduction

During the last months of my tenure as Creative Director for Cycore North America, I prepared a wish list for the Cult3D development team that reflected my needs as a Cult3D user. Unfortunately, shortly after that time Cycore downsized it's entire workforce and essentially closed-up shop.

If my wish list had ever been implemented, the result would look a lot like Demicron's WireFusion product.

Basics

WireFusion's developers have clearly taken a hard look at the successes and failures of earlier companies such as Cycore, Viewpoint and Macromedia. As a result, WireFusion represents some of the best elements of all the Web3D products that have come before it.

At its core, WireFusion is a 2D presentation tool that offers 3D as an extension to its core toolset. Like Shockwave, the media management, logic and interface elements are implemented at a core level; they are not tacked onto the 3D engine as an afterthought.

The render engine looks a lot like Viewpoint's lightmap-based renderer, but more standard renderers are available as well ( Phong, Gouraud, Wireframe, etc...). The renderer is software based (not Java3D thankfully), and as a result should offer consistent viewing across platforms and configurations. They have also implemented a baseline procedural shadow, with a very user-friendly interface.

The authoring tool is clearly patterned after Cult3D's Designer tool, with various data-type views and a drag-and-drop programming interface.

Extended programming is made possible through the use of Java.

      
Main Selling Features:

WireFusion's key selling points are plug-in and price, two issues that have long been stumbling blocks in the web3D community.

Demicron's approach to plug-ins is simple, they don't have one. WireFusion presentations are Java 1.1 compatible and will run any machine that is Java-enabled. The advantage to Demicron is that they don't have to waste valuable development time trying to extend their product onto every new system configuration, allowing them to focus on core development. For the user the advantage is also clear, end users have no pesky plug-in screens or configuration issues. This also solves another issue common to the web3D community, disappearing plug-ins. Many of us have content that can no longer be widely viewed because the appropriate plug-ins are no longer being published. Even if Demicron goes under, WireFusion content should be viewable indefinitely.

Price has always been a concern for web3D developers. For most, a straightforward software purchase is a well-planned and carefully considered choice. For the last five years most useful web3D applications have required complex and highly over-priced license fees. Demicron offers a variety of authoring packages depending on the feature set you choose. They range from Educational (US$99) to Enterprise (US$1995). Most serious commercial web3D producers will want either the Professional (US$995) or Enterprise versions. This brings Demicron in line with Macromedia's Shockwave3D (US$1199), which until now had been the only cost-efficient tool available.

About the Engine


Since the engine is Java-based, each presentation download includes the viewer. From the looks of it, this can range from 30kb to 100kb depending on what features your presentation uses. WireFusion has more overhead than most (Cult3D ~4kb, Shockwave3D ~13kb), but this is a reasonable tradeoff considering the plug-in issues that it solves.

The core 3D format is a sub-set of VRML that is extended, compressed and re-compiled before publishing. This makes it very easy for users to quickly produce new content or convert existing content. Virtually every 3D authoring platform in existence offers some sort of VRML export, and if not command-line converters are easily found.

I won't go through every feature in detail, since most of the specifications are what you would expect from a web3D tool (vertex/matrix animation, collision-detection, multiple renderers, lightmaps/refmaps, alpha-channels, etc..). Some of the notable exceptions are extensive anti-aliasing options (auto/full/edge), and easily controlled automatic content streaming.

The navigation controls address the most common types of web3D interaction, object-based and world based. When you insert an object you select either the object-mode or the world mode. Both types of interaction are can be customized and you can even save out your navigation preferences.(!)

WireFusion boasts at least one innovation that has yet to be seen (to my knowledge) in any other web3D app. It is possible to apply controllable Photoshop-style effects over all or part of a 3D scene. It doesn't seem to affect performance either. I'm not sure how they do it, or what I will use it for, but it is easily the coolest new web3D feature in a long time.

A note on compression

None of the examples shown in this article have been optimized for size or download. Compression is always a concern to web3D developers, and WireFusion does offer a number of compression and streaming tools. Textures can either be compressed internally or streamed as individual files. The 3D import tool allows users to set object and texture-coordinate compression and view the results and file size details in real-time, very handy. All of this is great, but it means re-thinking my typical approach to file compression before I can get optimal results.

About the Authoring tool

As I've already mentioned, the authoring tool layout is similar to Cult3D. In addition to the Drag and Drop interface are a series of data-view windows that vary depending on the properties of the individual objects. There is a layer view that allows you to sort the order of stage elements; the folder view allows you to create sub-assemblies of logic and display data and the property window allows you to quickly tweak object properties on the fly.

Programming is accomplished by connecting various types of interface, media and logic objects to create data flow paths. Each object has in and out ports that can be quickly connected to create functionality. For example: Connecting the 3D touch sensor outport to the URL object's 'load URL' in port tells the program to launch a web page when the user clicks on the specified 3D item.

Other great elements are a debugging tool, excellent documentation and a live update feature. It should be noted that the tech support is also quick. I had an issue publishing content, after a couple quick posts on the user forum I had a bug fix delivered via live update.

What I like

What I appreciate about WireFusion is that it is so easy to pick up. Demicron has clearly looked carefully at the web3D market and tried their best to facilitate the most common web3D tasks. I was surprised to find that most of the things I wanted to do had been anticipated and the default values for most things were reasonable. What I really liked was that all of these short cuts and defaults are not hard-wired, users can customize or tweak just about everything. A good example of this is their approach to collision detection. By default everything is collision enabled, but collisions can be enabled or disabled on a per-object basis. There are also no special requirements for cameras either; it was quite simple to create an avatar from my default camera. Unlike Cult3D's all-or-nothing approach, or Shockwave's complicated Havok programming, collision detection in Demicron can be implemented quickly and extensively modified if necessary.

I am also pleased with the 'no plug-in' approach; it makes it much easier to commit to a platform in these uncertain times.

What I liked most though, was that WireFusion is more-Cult than Cult. Cult3D did a lot of things right five years ago; unfortunately the technology did not progress. WireFusion feels like a natural progression from Cult3D to the next level.

What I didn't like

There are definite performance issues surrounding WireFusion. The render engine is Java-based, and will always suffer from the performance issues surrounding Java. Anything produced in WireFusion will need to be carefully optimized and streamlined in order to achieve a reasonable frame-rate. Granted, the models I am testing are fairly texture and polygon intensive, but the thing that was wonderful about Cult3D was its ability to push around very high-poly models (100,000 - 300,000 polys) at a reasonable frame rate. However, these issues are not insurmountable, WireFusion's performance is certainly comparable to Viewpoint or Shockave3D. It is important to note that since WireFusion is a software renderer, performance on the Macintosh is much better than most hardware renderers (Shockwave3D).

I also have a problem with Java being the programming option for advanced scripting. I understand that Demicron chose Java for the same reasons as Cycore did (quick implementation and a large community of skilled programmers), but I would like to see more authoring tool-level scripting features. As I learned working with clients at Cycore, Java may be a great programming language, but not for web3D users. Most users are single-person creative teams, without access to a Java-programmer. This makes it difficult to make truly customize or streamlined content.

Lastly, I am concerned about the 'anticipate the user's needs' approach of the authoring tool. Although this makes many operations quick and easy, it can also stifle new development. Cult3D suffered a similar problem when users got bored of simply producing spinning objects. Whether this is ever an issue remains to be seen.

Recommendations

I have organized my recommendations based on the assumption that the reader is currently using one of the top web3D development tools. If you are not currently using a web3D tool and are looking to get started, I happily endorse this product. This product is a great tool for users looking to create 2d/3d product presentations and virtual walkthroughs. For more seasoned web3d vets:

Cult3D users: Switch, trust me. Not only is the authoring environment/Java setup familiar, you will find a ton of new features that you have been begging Cult3D for. Unless you are using Cult3D to view high-poly IGES data, this tool will take you to the next level.

Viewpoint users: If there are still any Viewpoint holdouts, take a look at this product. The lightmap based shader and procedural shadows will be familiar to you and the authoring environment is a whole lot more friendly. Viewpoint does boast an XML based structure, but I have yet to see anyone actually make use of it.

Shockwave users: If you are using Shockwave for product presentations, this might be worth switching to. It is very quick to take a model from your 3D app to the web, and the 'no plug-in' approach will certainly help market penetration. If you are using Shockwave3D for games or applications, this product may not have the toolset or IK support that you need.

Personally, I am would like to get my hands on a copy. Mostly to re-publish some of the game-engine environments I have produced over the last year. I have already done one and was amazed at how quickly and simply it was accomplished. Now, who wants to lend me $2000?

[ 本帖最后由 maz 于 2007-10-14 10:42 PM 编辑 ]

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