3D Animation Workshop: Lesson 40: Enter Cosmo Worlds
Lesson 40 - Enter Cosmo Worlds - Part 2
The SGI strategy for VRML is so ambitious that one cannot help but admire it's comprehensive vision. It can best be characterized from two different directions--the future role of VRML itself and the specific products that SGI will offer to support that role.
VRML necessarily suggests "virtual reality." This is something a little different than the general concept of interactive 3D graphics for games, commercial visualization and entertainment. Just the convention that a VRML file is called a "world" (using the .wrl extension), is suggestive of the kind of exploratory space that appealed to the original VRML dreamers. But how much commercial use is there, really, for this kind of product right now, especially over the Internet? The amount of data necessary to simulate anything deserving the name "virtual reality" is far too great for current Internet transmission speeds. Nor does the average person have computer hardware that can render detailed scenes fast enough for the illusion of real-time interaction. This will all change, of course, in the next couple of years, but VRML development needs a solid niche right now.
The opening wedge for VRML, in the SGI strategy, is small VRML windows in traditional HTML Web pages. In the new terminology, there is a continuum between "embedded" and "immersive" VRML. VRML will first make its mark, in this view, in banner ads and other small graphical windows. The advantages of VRML over other technologies in this arena is very small file size, powerful interactivity features, and audio. The VRML banner ads that I have seen thus far are simply unbelievable. They are so good that they redefine Web-based advertising.
As VRML establishes its power at the embedded level, a more immersive design approach will emerge. VRML browser windows will become large enough to provide navigation controls, and in the next few years a truly intuitive interface will be developed for Web commerce and database sites. But all this assumes that the average person will have a VRML browser installed on their computer, so that he or she can participate in all these marvels.
This is the story of the chicken and the egg again. If there is enough VRML content out there, consumers will be eager to install a browser. SGI (like Microsoft with its Web browser) is in a position to distribute Cosmo Player for free to create a market for VRML and therefore for its own VRML development tools. But can there be commercially significant VRML content development without the installed browser base able to view it? Things can only start running if content developers (read "artists") are sold on the future of the medium, and are convinced that it's worth their time and effort to learn the tools. And here is where SGI's product strategy comes in.
It's impossible to work with Cosmo Worlds for even a few minutes and not grow excited about VRML. There are other specialized tools for VRML development (called VRML "authoring" in the business), and some of them are very good. But Cosmo Worlds will probably be the dominant application. This program has been available for the SGI (IRIX) platform for some time, but it's arrival on the PC makes it available to the largest body of graphic artists and Web developers. VRML as a technology is so broad, and its powers are so varied, that it's hard to approach in a practical or creative way. Cosmo Worlds will be the defining interface between the artist and the VRML language. This application will shape both the artist and the artwork. For all it's problems, and there are many problems, Cosmo Worlds is brilliant. It will make you fall in love with VRML.
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Created: May 12, 1998
Revised: May 12, 1998