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Autodesk Announces New Middleware and Softimage Mod Tool at GDC

On the heels of yesterday's 3ds Max 2010 announcement, Autodesk made several more announcements at GDC: new versions of its two runtime technologies for the game engine -- HumanIK 4 animation middleware and Kynapse 6 artificial intelligence (AI) middleware -- as well as Softimage Mod Tool 7.5 software (formerly SOFTIMAGE|XSI Mod Tool), the free 3D modeling and animation package for aspiring artists.

"Autodesk middleware products offer a solution to common runtime challenges, allowing development teams to concentrate on the creative work involved in authoring amazing new gameplay experiences," said Marc Stevens, former Softimage GM and now Autodesk Media & Ent. VP, games, under the new management restructuring. "For example, HumanIK helps to alleviate the burden of large clip libraries by enabling procedural motion adaption, which reduces the number of clips animators need to produce and maintain. With Kynapse, programmers can avoid the development time and costs involved in writing custom runtime solutions for universal AI issues, like spatial awareness.

"Softimage Mod Tool gives the next generation of game artists access to professional tools, so they can learn while making their own games or game mods.Game developers can also use the software to extend the life of a game by building a community of modders. Game mods can go on to become commercial games in their own right, and they can be used by developers to identify talent for recruiting purposes."

In addition, Autodesk is building advanced integration between Kynapse artificial intelligence (AI) and NaturalMotion's morpheme animation middleware engine.

"Animation and AI have become increasingly linked in modern game development, said Torsten Reil, CEO of NaturalMotion. "Pathfinding algorithms, for example, require reliable execution by the animation network; in turn, believable motion requires precise timing and steering by the AI system."

"Autodesk and NaturalMotion believe there is tremendous potential to simplify the interaction between AI and animation for game developers, and to significantly enhance the user experience," added Stevens.

morpheme is designed to give developers and animators unprecedented creative control over the look of their final in-game animation by allowing them to author and preview blends, blend trees and transition graphs in realtime. The latest version, morpheme 2.0, adds natively integrated physics support for flexible addition and authoring of character dynamics. morpheme is designed to integrate with euphoria, NaturalMotion's motion synthesis engine, which recently debuted in GRAND THEFT AUTO IV and STAR WARS: THE FORCE UNLEASHED.

Kynapse 6 key features include:

* Remote Debugger: The new remote debugging tool enables users to inspect the state of the game variables, with an interactive 3D view of the debug information. Users can also record and replay sequences, while retaining access to the data in the recorded files.* New 3D Pathfinding Technology: The "flat" pathfinding technology introduced in this release offers simplified data generation workflows, more flexible runtime data streaming, and the ability to add new paths on-the-fly at runtime. * Improved MMO support: Data resources and runtime services can now be shared across multiple Kynapse worlds, improving support for Massively Multiplayer On-line games.* Enhanced Dynamic 3D Pathfinding: With improved CPU performance and granular control over memory consumption, characters can more easily avoid dynamic, movable obstacles.* Hierarchical 3D Pathfinding: Characters can now plan paths that span the entire breadth of huge maps, even when those maps cannot be loaded in their entirety. The path is first computed at a low level of detail, and then refined opportunistically when more detailed data becomes available, keeping memory usage within set limits.

Meanwhile, HumanIK animation middleware frees animators from having to produce every possible animation clip by procedurally adapting existing character animation to game environments at runtime. Also, the technology's runtime retargeting enables developers to reuse banks of animation on characters of completely different scales and proportions. As a result, development teams can save time for more creative challenges.

In addition, HumanIK enhances animation systems by enabling characters to interact more realistically with the game environment. Characters place their feet correctly, climb walls and pick up objects, even when the game environment changes. With fewer gameplay constraints, HumanIK helps to bring games to life with more believable and immersive character animation experiences.

HumanIK 4 delivers a user guide and a new set of examples, integrated with the Trinigy Vision game engine. It also improves knee response to ankle rotations.

HumanIK 4 is now available. Autodesk anticipates that Kynapse 6 will beavailable this spring. Both middleware products are optimized for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, as well as PCs running Windows or Linux. Kynapse is also optimized for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and PSP game consoles.

Softimage Mod Tool 7.5 includes:

* New learning materials: Softimage Mod Tool 7.5 comes with training materials from Noesis Interactive. These materials show users how to create a character and export it for use in Microsoft XNA Games Studio 3.0.

* New realtime shading API (application programming interface): Softimage Mod Tool 7.5 supports the Realtime Shader API version 3.0, which helps make realtime shader development simpler and more flexible. The new version offers an architecture focused on programmable shaders (GLSL, HLSL) and file-based effects (CgFX and DxFX). With these capabilities, what game developers see in Softimage Mod Tool is what they get in the game.

* Interactive Creative Environment (ICE): ICE is an open, scalable platform that enables artists to extend the capabilities of Softimage more quickly and intuitively using a node-based dataflow diagram. Artists can now quickly create complex 3D effects and tools without writing code.

* Support for Windows Vista operating system: Autodesk Softimage Mod Tool 7.5 now supports the Windows Vista Business operating system.

Softimage Mod Tool 7.5 can export 3D models and animation for use with the Microsoft XNA Game Studio 3 framework. Fledgling or independent game developers now have access to a professional toolset for creating original games on the Microsoft Xbox console or Windows platform.

Users can also download add-ons for content export to Crytek CryENGINE 2, Epic Unreal Engine 3 and Valve Source game engines. With this professional 3D toolset modders can produce characters and props for their favorite game.

Softimage Mod Tool Pro 7.5 software is functionally identical to the Mod Tool, but has an End User License Agreement that allows users to produce assets for games sold via Microsoft's Xbox Live Community Games.

Softimage Mod Tool Pro 7.5 is available only with Microsoft's XNA Creator's Club Premium membership.

Autodesk anticipates that Softimage Mod Tool 7.5 software will be availablein April.