Cream of the Tech-Top

The Year in Multimedia


Top Ten Multimedia Happenings of 1995

Dave Evans, Vice President of Digital Voodoo, Inc., an Austin online content developer, and 1994-95 President of Austin Area Multimedia Alliance, an organization formed to promote and support multimedia professionals in Austin.

1. $20/month Internet access for all Austin residents.

2. SXSW Multimedia Festival sets attendance record; attracts national sponsors.

3. The release of Microsoft's Windows 95, as much for the operating system as for the higher de facto hardware standard implied and its benefit to multimedia developers.

4. The release of interactive online technologies, including Java, OLE, and Shockwave

5. Austin hosts WebEdge Internet Developers Conference.

6. The emergence of multimedia friendly Internet browsers such as Netscape's Navigator, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, and Sun's Hot Java.

7. Leslie Jarmon's first ever "UT/Austin Thesis submitted on a CD ROM."

8. Human Code's sweep of the New Media Invision Awards, again!

9. Origin's Wing Commander IV

10. Austin Technology Incubator adopts Big Fun, its first multimedia company, and the opening of Discovery Incubator, Austin's first Multimedia Cafe.


Significant Internet Enhancements of 1995

Lindsey Allen, System Administrator at Advanced Micro Devices, writer for Connected (formerly TechConnect), and membership director International Interactive Communications Society.

Netscape Modifications. Everyone in the PC world seems to be traversing the World Wide Web with Netscape as their surfboard, also available for the Macintosh and UNIX communities. The most popular estimates say that 70-80% of people accessing the Web use Netscape and new versions seem to appear each week as yet another enhancement is added or a bug is fixed. Depending on the speed of your computer and modem, the Navigator allows you to see and hear presentations that were until now the domain of far more sophisticated and costly programs. With Navigator (and its cousins like the several incarnations of Mosaic), you can see and hear film clips from such American icons as the Walt Disney Studios, Windham Hill Records, and Sony Corporation of America with outstanding sound, graphics, and animation.

The Creation of Java. Even more exciting is a new programming language called Java, developed by Sun Microsystems to run under Windows 95 and NT, OS/2, UNIX, and on Amigas. The language, as complex as C++, will be somewhat difficult for the ordinary programmer to use, but its richness lies in that complexity. Imagine visiting a Web site and being greeted by a talking head that describes the contents of the site and chats with you like a human, or being able to do The New York Times crossword on your computer every morning. In time, Java will allow all this and more. Already, Microsoft, Borland, and Spyglass have signed license agreements with Sun and with big players like these in the game, its future is virtually assured.

VRML. What if you could glide through the Internet the way you do through games instead of pointing and clicking from page to page, talking to virtual 3D people you encounter as you wander from site to site? That time is nearly here and the vehicle providing the capability is called Virtual Reality Modeling Language or VRML.There are already virtual worlds on the Internet that can be visited today but you have to have the right equipment - one of the new VRML browsers that typically only work under Windows 95 or NT PowerPCs, all of which need at least 16MB of RAM and large amounts of empty hard disk space.


Top Ten Restaurants to Eavesdrop on People Talking about Multimedia

Mary Flanagan, Producer at Human Code, Inc., has just finished SkyTrip America, an interactive flying adventure through U.S. History for The Discovery Channel.

1. The Bitter End. Brew pubs are full of us technogeeks and our shop talk.

2. Mars. It's got that intergalactic-let's-talk-about-technology-and-life-on-other-planets-feel to it. For Human Code, especially, talk of Marsbook and pyramids on the surface of Mars lies close to the heart.

3. Thai Kitchen. Most heard here will be talk of 3D modeling to go with the beautifully sculpted vegetable dumpling appetizers.

4. El Sol y la Luna. The tables are close enough to pick up discussions about the latest CD presser you've been longing to buy.

5. Z Tejas. Plenty of Margaritas to accompany megabyte mentioning.

6. Little City Cafe. Espresso is certainly the fuel of any multimedia development group. Plus, the desserts are great.

7. Austin Java Company. It's centrally located, yummy, and a popular high-tech hangout - down the road from Human Code.

8. The Dog & Duck Pub. Spot the overstimulated multimedia developers staring into their dark beers after a long day at work.

9. Clearwater Cafe. Terms like "gold master" and "beta testing" float down to the shoppers on Whole Foods first floor. The gossip you'll hear will be the latest, primarily centering on Web-related phenomena.

10. Magnolia Cafe. One of the few good places to eat when you're working really late (or early). Scores of multimedia people flock in to get breakfast at any time since their circadian clocks are more than likely askew.


Top Ten Multimedia Developments

Kurt Dillard is Project Director at Go Go Studios.

1. Defeat of the Clipper Chip. But watch out for Clipper II.

2. Defeat of the Exon communications censorship legislation. But watch out, its close cousin is before Congress right now as part of an omnibus telecommunications "reform" bill.

3. Development of VRML, a way to make 3D environments as accessible over the Internet as the World Wide Web. In a couple more years computers powerful enough to really cruise VRML sights will be mainstream.

4. Java from Sun Microsystems. This powerful tool allows developers to write a single software program that will run on all computers that can download it via the WWW.

5. Netscape's decision to team with Macromedia. Thus expanding the flexibility of Web pages; simple animations and other graphical effects are easy to add to Web documents with their latest tools.

6. Microsoft's decision less than two weeks ago to totally revamp its online strategy. MS has decided to swim with the overwhelming current, rather than against it by embracing open technology. MS is going to make its MS Network fully Web compatible, making it easier for everyone involved in developing online product.

7. SXSW Multimedia Fest. (good spot in this month's Wired)

8. E3, another software convention in Southern CA. The buzz about the successful E3 is very enthusiastic, much better than for the Consumer Electronics Show which had previously been the best place to introduce new software.

8. Windows 95 living up to most of its promises, and also not having very many bugs.

10. Purchase of NexGen by AMD. This will help AMD to close the gap between themselves and Intel in developing PC central processing units. AMD will rely heavily on work done by NexGen engineers in getting its K6 chips to market by the end of '96, hopefully resulting in even cheaper and faster computers for all of us.

Top Five Games This Year:

1. Hexen: Beyond Heretic
2. Magic Carpet 2
3. Mechwarrior 2
4. Battle Arena Toshinden (Sony)
5. Sony PlayStation (Sony)


Top Ten Events in Consumer Technology

Ellen Guon, President of Illusion Machines Incorporated, a local entertainment software development group and organizer of the Austin Game Developers.

1. Who knows? What's coming in the next few years: global phones (Motorola), modems that simulate high-bandwidth IDSN lines over ordinary wires (AT&T), wild competition that will translate to lower prices for all the electronic services you can get now (Telecommunications Act). What's already here: Internet cash and credit cards (Digicash and First Virtual Holdings), a watch that you hold up to your computer to fill it with data (Timex), and 2-way pagers (SkyTel).

2. Windows 95. No, it doesn't slice, dice, and make julienne fries, but it is a great operating system. Microsoft does plan to rule the world, but it'll be a world where all of our computers network well together.

3. The Telecommunications Act. The best and worst legislation of the year in one package. will revolutionize the companies of this industry and how they do business. But this Act includes the Decency clause, a horrendous infringement on our freedom of speech.

4. The slow, painful, lingering not-quite-death transformation of the Macintosh computer. Apple's greatest assets are the amazingly loyal Macintosh users who have continued to buy this overpriced (but admittedly excellent) computer. I predict Apple will be sold in the next year, and my expectation is that they'll become a superb software division for a major hardware company.

5. The Edutainment software field. Disney Interactive is publishing a variety of titles based on their popular animated movies, and they're not alone, as toy companies (such as Hasbro), media companies, and children's book publishers all are getting into the act.

6. The Death of the Floppy Disk. As of this year, finally, at long last, we don't need to sell software on floppy disks. You can hear the sighs of relief echoing across the industry.

7. The Online Revolution creates a Networked World. Earlier this year, I ran a software project remotely from the Scottish highlands. The year before, I managed a project from a beachfront apartment in Israel. Still can't connect from the archaeological ruins in Petra, Jordan, but I'm sure I'll be able to soon.

8. The Explosion of the Internet. This goes hand in hand with number nine below.

9. As of 1995, it's cool to be a computer nerd. Thank you, Wired magazine.

10. The Games Business Comes of Age. Legitimacy as an entertainment business and as an acknowledged entertainment field is happening as we speak. Hit games 7th Guest and Doom make the leap from computer game to book and film, the latest in a string of similar successes. Microsoft has released the Game Software Developers Kit, which makes a Windows 95 computer into a hot gaming machine. Publishers have finally bid a sad farewell to 16-bit game development and are embracing the future. All that venture capital pouring into our industry is awfully darn nice, too.

Top Ten Computer Games this Year:

1. Battle Arena Toshinden (Sony).
2. CivNet (Microprose).
3. Ridge Racer (Sony).
4. Psychic Detective (Electronic Arts).
5. Zhadnost (Studio 3DO).
6. Descent. (Interplay).
7. PuttPutt Saves the Zoo (Humongous).
8. Tempest 2000 (Atari).
9. Phantasmagoria (Sierra Online).
10. Wing Commander IV (Origin).


Top Ten of the Online World

Laxman Gani, Online Services Director for the Austin Chronicle.

1. Cyberhype=cybercash. If you thought the buzz was bad last year, there's no end in sight as Internet players go public to cash in on the frenzy, and as corporate America realizes the necessity of doing business on the Net. At these speeds, we're due for some nasty crashes on the I-way.

2. Culture clash. Despite passionate protests from the Net community, the laughable and misguided Communications Decency Act may yet turn most Net publishers into criminals. What's afta-NAFTA: CompuServe's run-in with German authorities is a sure sign of things to come.

3. Suck. A daily dose of grassroots criticism with a sharp tongue. A bitter pill, but the perfect antidote to rosy Net-futurism scenarios perpetuated by careless marketers. http://www.suck.com/

4. Plug-in frenzy. The Web turns delivery-agent for a flurry of proprietary, real-time audio and video streaming software. Too bad the telcos and cable-ops still don't have reasonably priced connections fast enough to make these things work.

5. Free at last. Austin Free-Net and MAIN found harmonious goals and have begun installing public Net terminals and providing free Web space for nonprofits. Right on!

6. Identity crisis. Web publishers like Outside Online and HotWiReD finally realized people don't read magazines if they have to give their name and password at the gate. Meanwhile, with poor schemes for counting heads, advertisers are dazed by the reality of paying for ads that go to immeasurable audiences.

7. Beginning of the end. From bulletin boards to online networks, private subscription services with closed content areas (like CompuServe and America Online) are scrambling to find a home in the Net-centric universe of open protocols and a la carte Internet service providers.

8. Welcome, sports fans. Truth be told: Most sports fans are true geeks. So it was only natural that ESPN, SportsLine USA, and the NBA brought stats-addicts the best way to goof off at work. Austin American-Statesman owner Cox Newspapers knows the score: their first Web offerings in Atlanta and Austin don't yet cover local news, but instead offer the 1996 Olympics, Major League Baseball, and UT sports.

9. Where the Girls Are. The gender-reveling company Girl Games creates smart multimedia for young and adolescent females. President Laura Groppe brought the whole operation to town from Houston just before year's end.

10. HTML++. A gaggle of new browsers from IBM, Microsoft, and others are following Netscape's lead and adding their own "extensions" to the language that powers the Web. Who wants to have to keep five browsers on hand just to get at the information you need?


Heavily Game-centric Top Multimedia Happenings

Warren Specter, Senior Producer,Origin Systems.

1. The growth of the World Wide Web. A year ago, only the geekiest of the geeks who now rule the world were thinking about the Internet. Now, more people have more access to more information than anyone really knows what to do with. There's gaming, commerce, and (god knows) advertising all over the Web - entirely new forms of entertainment are being created right now. (If you haven't checked out The Spot at http://www.thespot.com I urge you to do so.) And when was the last time a movie ad didn't feature an invitation to visit the distributor's Web site? Anyway, the Web has already begun to change the way lots of people interact with each other and the world. And the best is yet to come. Soon, you may find yourself spending a lot of time in a virtual world populated by a couple thousand of your close personal friends. Just think - another excuse not to deal with reality!

2. Everyone Into the Pool. Multimedia mergers were all the rage this year - Disney and ABC made the most noise, but Time Warner and Turner and NBC and, well, every other media giant had to prove that it could be as "multi" as the competition. In fact the established industry giants (Electronic Arts, Broderbund, Sierra, Spectrum Holobyte, and others) now find themselves staring at the kneecaps of such goliaths as Viacom, Virgin, Disney, Sony, Paramount, MGM, and Warner. Everyone's gone multimedia and they're all competing for Your CD-ROM Dollar. But wait, there's more - in addition to the big boys, there must be a million little companies and guys in garages making multimedia CDs. Austin alone probably has close to 100 groups of various sizes competing for mindshare and shelf space. The fact is, everyone's jumping into the multimedia pool that once seemed boundless and is now starting to feel like a wading pool.

3. Hardware War! Consumers Win! Bigger! Faster! More powerful! As a developer of computer software it's hard to describe the rush that accompanies the knowledge that most of your consumers have enough horsepower to run software you only dreamed of making a year ago. The Pentium 60 is now considered an entry level machine; 4x CD-ROM drives are standard (with 6x and 8x already moving into the spotlight); multi-gigabyte harddrives are cheap; sound cards can be had for a song; everyone has lots of memory and a fast modem. Software may drive the multimedia revolution but if the horsepower ain't there, believe me, the software ain't happenin'.

4. Windows 95. Okay, so Bill Gates may be the spawn of the devil in addition to being the richest guy in the universe. Sure, you could say that Microsoft is anti-competitive, maybe even evil. So what if Gates and Microsoft have shipped a lot of junk over the years (and made billions doing so). Fine. Live with it. Windows 95 is as close as Microsoft has ever come to doing something right.

5. Game Wars. Maybe it's just me, being in the game biz and all, but it sure has been interesting to watch the war of the game platforms unfold. I mean, it used to be that computer games existed over here and video games existed over there. Ne'er the twain shall meet and all. The PC was a radically different gaming environment than the Super Nintendo or the Sega Genesis. Well, that all changed last year when the SNES and the Genesis all but died. The reason? The Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn made their debut, joining such game-playing power-hardware as the 3DO and the Atari Jaguar. All of a sudden, gamers could get PC quality games on a system that cost under $300. Yow! The video game market got knocked on its ass and the PC game developers were sent reeling.


Top Multimedia Concepts

Layne Jackson, Art Director for Girl Games, currently working on Let's TALK about ME, for 8-14 year old girls.

1. Artists as information architects

2. Advanced interface design (MYST)

3. Better aesthetics on the WEB

4. Businesses represented by more creative methods than previously

5. Availability of information to more and more people

Favorite CD-ROM disks:

1. The Louvre

2. MYST because nobody dies

3. Peter Gabriel's work, because it's smart

4. Todd Rundgren's New World Order because it was at the beginning

5. You Don't Know Jack game, because it's funny

Least Favorite Advances:

1. Bugs in Windows '95

2. Censorship in Germany of CompuServe newsgroups, and now in China, starting a dangerous precedent.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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