Asymetrix Web3D 1

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Budget 3D graphics program lamely trying to clamber onto the net  bandwagon.

Asymetrix Web 3D 1

Don't get too excited. The word "Web" undoubtedly catches the eye, but not everything to do with the net is bleeding edge technology. Asymetrix's Web 3D for example, has nothing to do with the latest developments in VRML and using it won't suddenly turn your home page into an exciting virtual world for others to explore. Instead the program has a more mundane but still worthy aim - the creation of striking and consistent 3D web graphics.

The heart of the program lies in its 3D modelling and rendering. Inevitably working in three dimensions is far more complex than working in two, but Asymetrix have tried to make the process manageable. While it is just about possible to create your own simple models from scratch, adding text or extruding existing 2D shapes for example, the emphasis is instead placed on the use of pre-designed building blocks.

This clipart is available from the catalog window that runs along the bottom third of the screen. To create your 3D image you simply drag the desired elements, such as models or backdrop, onto the scene preview window. This gives a camera-eye view of the imaginary landscape and, using the position palette, it is possible to move, resize and rotate the objects into the overall arrangement you are after.

Once the elements are in place, the next step is to increase their realism. Textures or colours can be dragged onto the object's surface and lights positioned. As the complexity of the scene increases so does the difficulty of controlling it, and the scene contents window comes into play. This gives a detailed list in outline form of all the components in the image. Right-clicking on an object's name allows all of that element's features to be customised, for example to change the bevel edge on a single letter.

When the scene is complete it is possible to generate a snapshot image. There are various options for controlling the size, number of colours and quality. The highest settings allow the production of 24-bit, anti-aliased, ray-traced scenes complete with shadows, reflections and fog. Be warned though, at this quality, each rendering is likely to take minutes. Once the snapshot has been produced it can be saved to a file and, by saving as a GIF, the image is ready to be incorporated into your web page.

At this stage you might well be wondering what it is about Web 3D that makes it web specific. After all, the same page elements could be produced by any other 3D program that can save to GIF. The answer, for what it's worth, lies in the provision of a separate catalog dedicated to web-orientated graphics. Various themes are included such as the walnut look of polished wood or the futuristic look of the cyberian outpost. Each scene consists of a title bar and buttons sharing the same textures, colour and lighting to produce a consistent appearance.

Admittedly, it's not exactly revolutionary, but if it was carried through it could still be worthwhile. Unfortunately the implementation isn't even half-hearted. There are only seven themes to choose from giving a grand total of around 5Mb of dedicated files. Even being generous this couldn't have taken more than a day to knock up. With about 300Mb of the CD left unused there really are no excuses for not providing a few more buttons, particularly when competitors like Visual Reality are offering their customers complete virtual cities.

The most likely reason for the limited number of samples becomes clearer when you realise just how cumbersome it is to personalize the graphics. To produce your own Web images you will almost certainly have to change the text - unless your name happens to be Steve Snyder - but this process is surprisingly awkward. Rather than just directly replacing the existing text in the scene, the user must select the text from the list in the scene contents window, then call up the Modify Text dialog. However, if all the text is now replaced, the original formatting is lost so the initial letter must be left at first and only removed later.

Even more disappointing is the control over the bitmaps that are to end up in your web pages. To keep a consistent lighting effect between title bar and buttons you have to edit the scene as a whole, but you cannot select just one element to output. Instead you must output the whole scene and then use your own paint program to isolate the section you want. If you want to produce an image map such as a toolbar with various links again this must be done in an external program, though Asymetrix do add the rather charming disclaimer that although "this operation is not necessarily difficult it cannot be done in Web 3D."

Web 3D is an adequate general purpose 3D program at a budget price. With a little effort and some workarounds it can even be made to produce some striking graphics for your home page. On the other hand, Web 3D is definitely not a dedicated program for producing these graphics and should not pretend to be.

Features

3

Ease Of Use

3

Value For Money

4

Overall

3

ratings out of 6

Tom Arah

February 1998


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