The Web3D and Beyond Conference: A Summary for the SFWEB3D

By Larry Rosenthal SFWEB3D

On October 16th and 17th 2002, the Acacia Research Group held a two day conference in San Jose to discuss the topic of Web3D and it's future. The attendees, approximately 35 top level representatives from the major companies providing web3D related services and products, sat and interacted at one of the many tables provided and each in turn during the two days, took their place on one of the many panels held during the conference.

Most panels were structured to be gladly "less canned demo" and more " open discussion" as moderated by one of the members of the Acacia Research Group and occasionally another, such as a reporter from CGI magazine. The topics were wide ranging but all centered around 3D if not web3D, it's current uses, future uses and at times, due to the passion of many of the attendee's, its colorful past.

Between many of the panels a few companies were invited to demo via slideshow and active product demos what they do and offer in the web3d arena. Such demos were given by companies such as Intel, Microsoft, and SGI and for the most part were "overviews" of each companies interest in "3D" and "web3D."

The conference came at a very interesting time, and suggested that a very new time is ahead for web3D, and that many of the players, both new and old, have looked closely at the past of web3D and many have adjusted their plans accordingly. Some though, seem intent on their business plans as set out over two years ago, pre- bubble burst, and their success remains to be seen.

Summarizing the topics and presentations, it became clear that these subjects were the clear conference "buzz" topics surrounding web3d/3D.

1. Games
2. Instructional presentations
3. Handheld devices
4. Open Standards- X3D spec. launching.
5. CAD enters web3d- The new working group
6. New, easier tools for developers now here.


Games:

Led by Wild Tangent's evangelistic founder, Alex St. John, "Games and web3D" became one of the more colorfully discussed of topics at the conference. Arguing that "immersive" and "interactive" games are the best use of 3d as shown by current usage and past experience, Alex found allies who concurred and a few opponents who felt the use of web3D for product presentations was just as strong. The discussion became one of media type and usage as bandwidth grows. Many felt that "spinning a product in 3d" could now and would soon be just as strong a presentation using video instead of meshed based 3d. The point that "3D" is just "part" of a successful web presentation was made by Anil Sabharwal, the Viewpoint representative, as a rebuttal to Alex's "only games" mantra. This tempered attitude toward the use of web3D seemed to go over with many at the conference. But with some very large budgeted games such as SIMS ONLINE, Star Wars Galaxies, and Disney's Toon Town coming online soon, it became obvious to many that playing "games" would lead web3D and that in fact they already have.

Instructional Presentations:

All discussions of technology and the web eventually come to the question of the "killer app". Web3D conferences are no different. Brought up in a panel question by Acacia Group moderator Samantha Staples, the area of "instructional" or "informational " presentations and graphics utilizing a strong 3d component was a target for web3D. Most agreed that this was just beginning to catch on and that other than "games" this could be a "killer app" for web3D. Indeed both Cult and Viewpoint, who led the "product presentation block "at the conference opened up and agreed that it was this particular nature of presentation that benefited from 3d the most and that made the most compelling argument for business's to use web3D on their web sites. They both suggested that their own "expertise" in this area is what made them successful with their "clients" and was the service they saw expanding the most for their business plans in the future. With new devices such as handhelds and even set top boxes growing it became clear that "multimedia" presentations, especially ones featuring 3d examinations of products and processes had possible "killer app" written all over them.

Handheld Devices:

Though a few of the presentations and companies represented dealt with set top boxes and ITV type interfaces and 3d as interface, it was clear that the handheld device and it's use for, games and mapping functions ( Augmented VR) was a conference favorite for new uses of 3d. Mike Pell of Microsoft summed up the issue when he went to Microsoft's handheld resource pages on the net for currently offered games. Only two showed up;) He then made a "plea" for 3d games for handhelds. Hi Corporated showed a few 3d game demos and its 3d engine specifically tuned for handhelds and its Telco clients. The issue of "how" to get games "published" and make money on them in this new media came up. Though no one could claim being "rich" yet, it was clear that handheld 3d games that rivaled Playstation style graphics were coming very soon and the problems would be more about various platforms and compatibility, rather than people's desire to play and pay for them.

Augmented VR, or services that help tell you "see" where you are, what's "around you" and "link you" to services also looked to be an audience favorite. Similar to "informational presentation", it was clear that this area for 3d was just waiting to be developed as handheld's become color and have 3d graphics chips built in.

Open standards-X3D:

The voice of open standards was represented by keynoter Tony Parisi, Don Brutzman, and Neil Trevett (in one of his many hats at the conference.). Our own SFWEB3D Joe Williams, showed up the second day of the conference to add his voice to this groupJ. Released as spec at Siggraph, the X3D spec is the future offered successor to VRML97, and offers via the "xml-zation" of VRML, a more open, extensible 3d format for the web. It was clear at this conference that VRML was a "past" and that X3D wanted to be a "future" for web3D. Some attendees voiced concern for the "standardization" of web3D, even before, as they felt, any true business had been successful in it. Some recanted their bad past with VRML and its "non" adoption by the developer community. New "tools" companies such as Anark also voiced concern for an open standard, while another new tools company MindAvenue, which already exports VRML97 from its Axel product, offered a more interested view of X3D additions and its possibilities in making web3D more ubiquitous. Many of the X3D proponents had the longest history in web3D via VRML, and thus had made some of the original mistakes dealing with VRML, but at the same time have the experiences and time spent dealing with developers and clients, to make their voices ones that offer importance. It was clear that the door is open for the X3D standard by many of the attendees, but that this time the Web3D consortium and X3D need to provide an organization that truly lets the developers in and doesn't just play to corporate news releases and interests of a few. ( As Roman Ormandy of Caligari presentation reminded us all;)

CAD- The Open CAD group:

While X3D as an open format has finished a 2 year cycle (spec. was released at Siggraph 2002). And is getting ready to seen by developers via new X3D viewers, another faction of 3D users has now entered the web3D realm. While X3D and VRML before it was targeted at the "presentation" developer using 3D, the CAD designer and their more technical specs for 3D data had no open format to assist in their development process. In development this year and forming as part of the Web3D Consortium, the CAD Developers Group has begun to address this issue. Represented by panelist's from Intel, Techsoft, and other CAD centric attendees, the discussion of re-purposing of 3d assets led to it's own panel. Separate from Games and Web-centric presentations, the area of CAD and technically accurate 3D data became for the first time at this conference an area of a possible "split" in the web3D community and usage. The "first" web bubble was composed of many "presentation" efforts and web3D was offered in VRML and a myriad of other proprietary formats and business strategies. It's possible that the "next" web bubble will be of a more "technical" and inter -business nature. In that arena an open CAD format can flourish. But with X3D ready to go it will be interesting to see if the two can learn to live together within the means and public interest of web3D over the next few years.

The New Tools:

While Cult and Viewpoint talked of "clients" in terms of web3D, others such as Anark, MindAvenue, Discreet, Curious Labs and others spoke of "customers". These companies represented at the conference were clearly interested in selling "tools" and "programs" to developers and designers. For most members of the SFWEB3D group, it's these companies that make the tools you'll buy and use to make projects for your clients. The conference offered a set of views about web3D from each of the main tools players. Macromedia offered Shockwave3D and Director-Lingo as a web3D solution, Older players like Pulse and Eyematic veered away from general web3d developer tools and entered specific corporate needs and sales. Familiar 3D rendering tool companies such as Curious Labs, Newtek, Maxon, and Caligari each made clear their specific export capabilities for various web3D formats such as .w3d, viewpoint, Axel or cult formats. Each suggesting a possible migration path for its users from traditional rendered 3d animations, to real-time web3D.

Discreet spoke of its new web3dD application, Plasma, which currently is tied to Flash and Shockwave3d export, but as of the conference has also added Cult export.

Two "new" companies offered two new tools that target developers to do and present web3D as never offered before. Anark, the first of these companies, impressed the audience with its ability to tweak directx8.1 effects to create a visual style of broadcast graphics not scene before on the web. While MindAvenue, makers of AxelEdge, spoke of it's application as the first Macintosh and PC web3D authoring tool that also provided a no programming environment for making interactive web3D content as easy as Flash makes 2D content.

Summary:

The Web3D and Beyond Conference was an interesting two days. It was a forum and an opportunity for the "makers" of web3D tools and a few of the leading service providers to get together and see where we are as an industry hoping for a second chance. The timing was important and should be a cue to groups like us at the SFWEB3D. As a representative of a developer based group like the SFWEB3D, it was a great opportunity to see where everybody is, listen to their rationales and more importantly, to secure guest speakers for the full next year of meetingsJ You should all know, that the web3D "world" is "new" again. Many organizations and companies that may have let you down in your attempts to use and sell web3D to your clients in the past are either changing or completely gone. The new players, especially some of he toolmakers make now the software at a price and platform that allows you to create web3D that's affordable and compelling. Over the next year the SFWEB3D meetings will bring the tools and developers together, so please join up and show up Thanks to the Acacia Group for putting on the conference, we should all look forward to the next one.

For more info contact us at: sfweb3d@cube3.com