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Manifest Technology

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

hit.

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

boxes!

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

style.

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

Millennium RUSH LLC, 31 Airpark Road, Princeton, NJ 08540,

609-921-8211; fax, 609-921-8011. Home page: http://www.mrush.com

Does your business have technology that is transforming our personal

or business lives? Send your suggestions to U.S. 1 Newspaper, 12 Roszel

Roard, Princeton 08540, fax 609-452-0033, or E-mail info@princetoninfo.com.


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