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by Douglas Dixon
Video games for PCs have the image of adolescent (or
younger) boys with twitching trigger fingers, flying at hyperspeed
over a hostile terrain and blasting away at whatever comes into view.
The video game industry has thrived for years on these kinds of action/adventure
shooting games. The hot new gimmick is the force-feedback joystick,
so you can feel the recoil from your guns and the shock when you are
But in the past year a shock has reverberated through the PC video
game industry. All of a sudden top selling games are not just action
games like Flight Simulator and Quake, or adventure games like Myst
and Riven, but new genres of games for grown-ups and families.
The top-seller lists from sources like PC Data now include slower
and simpler games like Bass Fishing. These lower-cost games are driving
the industry crazy, not only with their lower prices as impulse items
for the check-out lines at Wal-Mart, but also with simplistic graphics
and calmer play. No more blasting away; instead you sit peacefully
under a tree casting your line. How pedestrian!
A second invasion from the low end has come from traditional family
games migrating to the PC. Hasbro Interactive had become the No. 3
PC games publisher, based on dollar sales in 1998, driven by interactive
games based on traditional board games like Monopoly and Scrabble.
Hasbro even has extended these games for play over the Internet. More
dynamic party games have become popular, along the lines of Trivial
Pursuit and the raucous You Don’t Know Jack.
The last straw is the ascent to the top of the charts of games and
creative activities for girls, led by Mattel’s Barbie, Barbie Photo
Designer, Barbie Riding Club, Barbie Nail Designer, etc. The video
game stores at the mall are being taken over by shelves full of pink
The next step in this evolution comes from a Princeton company, Millennium
RUSH, which has developed a PC application called Dance Studio that
combines creativity and interactivity in a game for everyone. Dance
Studio uses proprietary real-time character animation technology to
allow you to choreograph a dancer’s natural movement and then direct
a fully interactive music video of the final performance.
In Dance Studio, you create your own music video. You first choose
the music and then select a dancer for a particular dance style like
country or disco. The dancers are fully animated three-dimensional
characters, so you can change their clothing and nationality. Finally,
you select the 3-D environment in which your character dances, which
can range from the streets of London to a hip-hop subway scene.
Now you can choreograph the moves of your dancer. The key to the character
animation is the ability to have the dancers automatically move naturally,
in the style of their dance and to the music. You don’t have to specify
the movement of each arm and leg or individual joint, but instead
you can concentrate on guiding the general movement of the dance and
the "intelligent" dancers will follow your direction in their
Once the dance is choreographed, you become the video director and
control the camera angles and lighting effects during the performance.
Since the dancers and the scene are full 3-D objects, you can move
the camera anywhere in the scene to see the dance action from any
point of view. You can record a movie of your final performance to
share with friends, or mix and match the music and dance styles to
see what happens.
"This is the first time that characters inside a computer have
intelligence, and know how to act on their own," says Chris Gentile,
president of Millennium RUSH.
After receiving a BS in engineering from Syracuse University in 1981,
Gentile worked as a design and product manager for nuclear power plants.
In 1986 he co-founded Abrams Gentile Entertainment Inc. where he supervised
research and development for consumer products and theme park designs.
He invented and managed the development of the Mattel Power Glove,
which generated over $200 million worldwide. He also was contracted
by Hasbro to be the chief technical officer for development of a $40
million home virtual reality system.
Gentile foresees expanding Dance Studio to include multiple dancers
performing together in swing and ballroom styles. You could even dance
with a partner over the Internet, because the information that needs
to be transmitted to guide the intelligent dancers is very small.
The technology could be used to animate ice-skating and other activities.
Millennium RUSH LLC is a subsidiary of KATrix Inc., "the production
house showcasing the KATrix real-time behavioral animation technology,"
says Gentile. In the past year Millennium RUSH also has completed
a theme park virtual reality attraction for the new DisneyQuest pavilion
in Orlando, Florida. Its Dance Studio product, a Windows PC CD-ROM
application, was released last October by MetaCreations Inc. and costs from $29 to $49.
KATrix and Millennium RUSH have approximately 20 employees in an 8,000
square foot facility next to Princeton Airport. They are privately
funded by four partners and are currently in the midst of raising
capital for moving their technology to the Web for E-commerce.
Gentile’s animated characters can respond independently to your actions
and activities, providing assistance or guidance or entertainment.
"We are at the beginning stages of interactive characters on the
Web," predicts Gentile, "not just triggered canned animations."
— Douglas Dixon
609-921-8211; fax, 609-921-8011. Home page: http://www.mrush.com
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