Friday Flashback #79

I found this screenshot in an 1999 interview on

Sumatra multibot

Here’s the interview:

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with some representatives from Softimage about their new versions of Softimage 3D and Sumatra and their uses for game developers. The following is taken from a recording of a phone conversation with Michael David Smith (Program Manager 3D Model), Gareth Morgan (Program Manager of 3D Interactive Media Tools) and Véronique Froment (Public Relations Manager) as a precursor to an interview we’ll be conducting at the GDC.

GDNet: A lot of our readers probably know you by reputation as a leader in the 3d modelling and animation world. For those who aren’t familiar with your products, which are you targeting to be used by game developers?

SI: We’ve got a new product coming up called Sumatra that we’ve been working on for a few years and that’s going to have some pretty good stuff in it, both for game development and our more traditional work.

Actually the game market has become quite a significant part of our focus and we’ve been very successful in the Japanese game market.

GDNet: Do you think that’s because the Japanese market is more console oriented and they have more budget for their games?

SI: That may be true, I don’t know exactly the real reason, but we are working with a number of game companies in North America, but perhaps we are more successful with companies in Japan.

GDNet: You’re starting to do a game SDK, for plugins for exporting data from Softimage. Can you tell us a little about that?

SI: We’ve had an SDK for plugins for Softimage for a few of years now, and a number of games companies told us it was too low level. So responding to that we produced the GDK (Game Development Kit), which is closely tied into C++ to provide powerful access to data that can be used in a game.

There are a whole bunch of functions for optimizing and filtering the data, as well as ASCII based file formats with a host of parsing functions. For low level the SDK goes a lot deeper, allowing people to implement their own topologies as well as tool interfaces.

GDNet: Have you thought about in the future as hardware evolves, possibly providing any kind of real time engine support as well as your content creation tools?

SI: As time goes on and the systems get more powerful, we can do more things on-target, but its not something we are looking at doing in the short term. We’ve always done on-target viewing on the Nintendo and PSX, so developers could see it there using a playback engine. That is a very different thing than having a full game engine though. So, we have experience with on target platforms, and have a good idea on how to do that, but right now our focus is on getting the new generation of our tools out there.

GDNet: Sounds like a good plan, you guys are already doing a great job with your content creation so far; from the feedback I’ve gotten Softimage is considered the premier high end content creation tool. One of the issues I know of is that the tools are priced over what a lot of people can afford, are you looking at doing any different pricing models to open up the availability for more users?

SI: In the new technology we will have the opportunity to do something with this as its much more modular. We don’t have any specific plans right now, as we just want to roll it out, but it will be easier to do this with the Sumatra technology than in the past.

With Sumatra you can manipulate larger amounts of data, without having to deal with all the underlying details and this will also allow us to work with the modular system. It can be used separately for people with limited experience to do animations.

GDNet: For people who only get updates at the conventions every year or so, what would you say are the biggest changes for your software in the past year?

SI: The Sumatra tools and some high level animation tools that allow character animation to be created in a shorter period of time, with a higher level of control. We are now developing ways to get that high level of quality for video, down to working in a way that can be used for the game platforms. We’re concentrated on creating a set of tools and a file format for rich interactive media and game file formats, to take information from Softimage or Sumatra and import it into the game with parsers. We offer lots of examples that are designed to help game developers get things into their games quickly. In terms of what’s coming, we are on the verge of shipping Beta 3 of Sumatra which looks like its going to be the final beta.

An example of how Sumatra is going to help with gaming is that you can use a variety of scripting languages to get in and massage the data that is created. Because the Sumatra architecture is modular, you can use the tools more easily with your pipeline. Sumatra allows you to integrate your data into your pipeline by taking just the information that you need which will help game developers transition into using it easier.

GDNet: Thanks for taking the time for the interview, I’m sure our readers are looking forward to hearing more about your products and seeing an evaluation review as well!

Interview by Geoff Howland.

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