The Times (London)

October 11, 1999, Monday

3D's new dimension

Nigel Powell
451 words

Mention the words 3D and most people think of violent shoot 'em ups with blood, gore and guns blazing at menacing opponents. But a surprising amount of 3D-based software now in the development pipeline has as little in common with Quake as Superman does with Noddy.

These new titles are taking advantage of the huge advances in 3D software "engines" - the core parts of the game that make for spectacular environments and intelligence - to deliver products in new and untapped markets. The engine from one of the most successful games of this year, Unreal from Epic Games, is now being adapted for general use in applications as diverse as real estate selling and martial arts training.

Part of the appeal for software developers in using off-the-shelf software like this is that it offers a fast route to market. Rather than re-invent the wheel and program complex lighting and architectural effects to build an environment, the developers can spend time perfecting other equally important aspects of their product.

US developers Digitalo Studios did just that when they used the Unreal software and editor to create a beautifully rendered walk around the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The team, which included specialists from Gifu University in Japan, took six months to complete the project and is currently engaged in producing a virtual model of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The walk is in early demo stage, but even so the visual quality of the presentation is stunning.

Another American company promoting the use of this type of 3D game engine for business is Perilith Industrielle, which is marketing its version of the Unreal engine as Unrealty. It has already produced a photo-realistic walk-through demo of the Heartland Business Park in New York and is targeting its service at architects and property developers who want to provide fast and visual 3D models of their projects.

"We can produce a house in about 20 hours or a full-blown building in three weeks," says Vito Miliano of Perilith. "We work from blueprints, photographs and existing CAD drawings if available. The more information we have the more we can do with the end result."

One of the most recent titles to hit the shelves that uses Epic's engine is Dr. Brain from Knowledge Adventure, an edutainment title designed to grab nine-year-olds' attention while they learn how to crack tricky puzzles using geometry, physics and principles of mechanics.

Copyright 1999 Times Newspapers Limited