Games go 3D. (computer games) (Compute's Getting Started with 3D Graphics)
by David English
What's the latest thing in entertainment software? It's 3D graphics.
Many of the hottest games at January's Consumer Electronic Show (CES) featured fast-moving 3D-polygon objects. With today's inexpensive 486 computers and fast video cards, game designers have revved up the action with 3D. Some of the games use bit-mapped graphics for the backgrounds and reserve the 3D graphics for the main action elements, such as characters, cars, planes, or ships. Others use so many 3D objects in both the foreground and background that they require a fast processor and megabytes of memory.
To give you a quick tour of what's on the market, here's a look at five recent entertainment programs that stretch the limits of 3D graphics. Each has changed the look and feel of what we can expect from computer entertainment.
When I first saw it in the spring of 1992, I couldn't believe my eyes. The entire landscape was rendered in 3D, yet the simulated hills and valleys moved quickly beneath me as I maneuvered my plane. At the time, the people at NovaLogic didn't know what kind of game they would eventually release, they only knew they had developed a new technology that quickly renders landscapes in real time. The first result of this exciting new technology is Comanche: Maximum Overkill (NovaLogic, distributed by Electronic Arts Distribution, 1450 Fashion Island Boulevard, San Mateo, California 94404; 800-245-4525; $69.95). While it may not be the most challenging of flight simulators, it certainly has the most dramatic landscapes.
If you thought the game, Out of This World, had realistic 3D characters, wait till u see Alone in the Dark (I.motion, 1333 Ocean Avenue, Suite J, Santa Monica, California 90401; 800-443-3386; $59.95). Developed by the same programming team that gave us Out of This World, Alone in the Dark is a full-screen 3D adventure game with eye-popping 3D character animation. Your main character moves with very human-like lurches and hesitations. I was told by an I.motion representative that the company achieved this lifelike motion with rotoscoping (that's when you film a person and convert the film's frame-by-frame movement into a series of drawings). In this case, the frames of human movement were converted into mathematical formulas and applied to the 3D character. However they did it, Alone in the Dark represents a giant leap forward in representing human movement in real time.
X-Wing (LucasArts Games, P. O. Box 10307, San Rafael, California 94912; 415-721-3300; $69.95) is a new space combat simulator that's based on the Star Wars movies' X-Wing, A-Wing, and Y-Wing starfighters. The game recreates the Star Wars film experience by combining smooth 3D-polygon graphics for the Imperial and Rebel spacecraft, a rousing musical score based on John Williams' Star Wars film scores (if you have a General MIDI module or synthesizer, X-Wing's music will sound positively symphonic), and actual sound effects from the Star Wars movies. It's a great example of how 3D graphics and realistic sound will someday make computer games indistinguishable from a Hollywood movie.
Speaking of Hollywood movies, Stunt Island (Walt Disney Computer Software, 500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, California 91521-6385; 800-688-1520; $59.95) lets you combine many of the 3D world-making features of Virtual Reality Studio 2.0 with a full-featured flight-simulator program. Create your own action-packed movies by using one of the 34 pre-built movie sets (including a canyon, castle, and large city) or build your own movie set with more than eight hundred 3D objects,. You can film the action with as many as eight cameras, edit the sequences together, and add sound, optical effects, credits, and voice-over. In short, Stunt Island is like having your own miniature film studio.
Finally, you can experience the ultimate in plastic model kits with Power Modeler (Revell-Monogram, 8601 Waukegan Road, Morton Grove, Illinois 60053; $70). It's a CD-ROM program that lets you view your plastic model as a fully rendered 3D graphic. Animate the model as a series of parts to aid in its construction, paint the model onscreen to try out various color combinations, and race the model in a realistic driving or flight simulation game.
The program comes with one model car or plane kit, but contains the software to support three additional cars or planes, which you can buy at most hobby shops. Best of all, the 3D graphics look great. If this had been available when I was a kid, I might never have graduated from grade school.