By Michael Burns | on October 27, 2008
Price When Reviewed: 175 . 375
Pros: High-quality effects; interactive real-time 3D previews; video streaming; online library; well-priced for students.
Cons: Web content deployment requires plug-in; no Mac support; imported 3D models required for most projects; interface and operational quirks.
DX Studio is an integrated development environment (IDE) aimed at users building real-time 3D interactive applications, simulations or games, as well as multimedia presentations, kiosks and Web sites. Its 3D engine is based on Microsoft’s DirectX 9.0c technology, so its player is Windows-only – which isn’t much of a problem if you’re creating an in-store kiosk, for example, but may be an issue if you want to distribute branded games online.
One thing that it’s not is a full 3D authoring application. There is a basic modelling tool, but the developers expect you to import ready-built 3D models into DX Studio when doing anything complex. A key point in the application’s favour, though, is the price. You can download the Freeware Edition which has no time limit, but its features are restricted.
The main versions, Standard and Pro Editions, cost £175 and £375 respectively; Pro version gives you database tie-ins, network play support and the ability to rebrand the player – which is essential if you’re creating applications or games for clients.
DX Studio offers a multi-panelled interface with a large, conventional-looking workspace in the centre.
In Version 3, this offers a live preview of the project, complete with per-pixel lighting on supported graphics cards, real-time shadows and anti-aliased text. Working with 2D and 3D scenes follows the same route – in 3D mode, resources such as fonts and bitmaps are dragged into the scene to become part of the projects object list.
In 3D mode, the tabs on the resources panel switch to include tools for working with environments and meshes. Import and export tools are included for most 2D and 3D media formats, or you can export Collada files from 3D suites such as 3DS Max or Maya. Crucially, you can bring in complete models already loaded with animations, and then drill down to edit the individual models, textures, backgrounds and sounds.
A gizmo has been included for transforming, rotating and scaling objects, though we found it clumsy
for some tasks. Also, if you’re exporting a sword-wielding warrior from an application like 3DS Max, for example, you’ll need to export the sword and the character as separate objects. This is due to how DX Studio handles coordinates and pivot points of objects differently from 3D modelling tools. It’s straightforward enough to work around, however.
The end result is a multi-layered document containing 2D UI elements and 3D interactive scenes, which are combined to produce an interactive application with a customized user interface. This can be compiled with the DX Studio playback engine and distributed as a single EXE file, and you can embed the content into any application or document that supports ActiveX controls.
DX Studio includes an integrated SOAP client for accessing Web services, and a network server application that can be installed on a Windows server. Version 3 also adds support for streaming your video into the scene at HD quality after converting it into OGV format.
As in Blend, Worldweaver provides you with a functional engine that you feed with pre-built design elements and objects, using them as scriptable resources for real-time 3D applications and presentations. Both applications act as a development tool at the end of a creative design chain.
Unlike Blend, you can’t export to Silverlight, but DX Studio is able to export its own Java-based content for the Web, though clients may baulk at asking users to download yet another Web plug-in, and excluding Mac users.
What really sets DX Studio apart from Blend, though, is a number of features that will be of particular interest to game designers. At a basic level, these include built-in camera controls. By default, the camera object that is created whenever you create a new scene is tied to the W, S, A, D and arrow keys, while rotating the camera during runtime involves pressing and holding the right mouse button. The camera properties can be further edited or scripted to add interactive functions such as following a character or object.
There’s a new procedural terrain generation tool in version 3, based on height-map values. It’s simple and feels clunky, but you can quickly customize a unique terrain, using blended textures and generator algorithms to determine the appearance of the landscape. For more dynamic environments, DX Studio is capable of adding an effect plane to 3D scenes, then applying generators such as a rippling water effect, or video to the plane. Again, this is a case of drag-and-drop, but the end result can be highly effective if it has been set up properly.
Another innovation is 3D-positioned sound effects, while for simple facial animation, morph targets offer control of expressions at the vertex level. The integrated PhysX and Bullet physics and collision-detection engines have been enhanced, allowing you to use rigid-body dynamics, pivots, cloth, character controls and, new for version 3, vehicles in your game design. Another incentive for gamers is the engine’s ability to load resources in the background without interrupting playback.
For beginners, DX Studio offers a helping hand with scripting. As well as an integrated de-bugger, if you type in a keyword, such as ‘var’ to declare a variable, the editor will automatically drop down a list of different options available to that keyword. There’s also a decent number of demo files and tutorials to get you up and running, so it’s well worth investigating the freeware version, at least.
DX Studio 3 sits somewhere between a game-design engine and an ‘interactive experience’ design tool such as Adobe’s much more expensive Director – but for interactive designers this software is more than capable of producing a multitude of types of high-level interactive media for even the most demanding of clients.