VRCreator helps novices, experts create virtual-reality scenes at a low price

VRCreator lets you design World Wide Web pages, online presentations or training
programs in which users can walk through and manipulate objects.


VRCreator follows the Virtual Reality Modeling Language 2.0 standard. A VRML tool is to
virtual reality as word processing is to text reports with embedded graphics, or as
Hypertext Markup Language programming is to hypertext documents.


But VRML does more than put three-dimensional effects into computer-aided design or
allow noninteractive walk-throughs. It lets designers apply real-world characteristics to
objects in virtual worlds.


Though not yet in widespread use on Web sites or networks, VR will become more common
as bandwidth increases and monitors improve. It will work its way into the design of
hardware, networks and architectural layouts, letting local and remote collaborators move
through proposed designs and interact with the elements.


Web page developers should get their virtual feet wet in VRML now, because Web browsers
support the VRML standard. This isn't a new standard that's destined to change radically.
It's in its second iteration.


I found VRCreator straightforward to install under Microsoft Windows 95. Win95 is the
only operating system under which it runs, but its creations can be viewed with almost any
browser.


Creating virtual worlds is a drag-and-drop process for novices and experts. VRCreator
supplies a library of 1,000 drag-and-drop sounds, primitive 3-D objects and attributes. It
is this last feature that makes it more than just a CAD or drawing program.


The attributes let you build in cause-and-effect interactions between objects and
forces such as gravity, letting viewers realistically manipulate the objects they
encounter.


A user constructs a virtual world by placing objects and applying textures, colors, and
features such as spinning and sounds, by clicking on these attributes.


The attributes may not be immediately apparent in the 3D Perspective View window.


Expect a rather steep learning curve with VRCreator. First you have to make a bunch of
objects and small worlds. Only then can you take the completed environments to the
included Runtime Viewer screen to get a feel for what you've built.


Other, more expensive 3-D animation programs work the same way, because creation would
crawl if the computer had to animate each object in the initial design stage.


To see and experience what you've created, move to WIRL, Platinum's embedded VRML
browser. Sounds attached to objects become audible when you move the cursor near the
objects. As you approach or move away, sounds get louder or softer.


Once you've made a full-featured virtual world of objects that move and around which
you can move, you can apply the animation engine. This works in the standard keyframe
method, for which you put objects into a number of sequential frames and let the software
fill in the blanks for an animated sequence.


Nonprogrammers can make simple worlds by dragging and dropping, but if you're more
experienced or want features not available via drag and drop, VRCreator has an expert
mode.


Considering the price, this is a remarkable development package, useful to novices yet
powerful enough to make strong presentations.


Web publishers should know that Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 and Netscape
Communicator 4.0 support VRML 2.0, so users of those browsers can easily access and
manipulate the 3-D graphics on your site. Older browsers will need plug-ins. You can
supply these for download at your site or give pointers to VRML sites.


Platinum supplies its own VRML plug-in viewer at its Web site. A free Learning Edition
of VRCreator is downloadable there, too. It limits the number of objects to 300 and the
number of animation keyframes to 20, but that's plenty to try out the software in a demo
project.


VRCreator Personal Edition has powerful tools, unlimited objects, more drag-and-drop
objects, a 3-D modeler to design new objects, support for non-VRML 3-D objects such as CAD
files, and tech support. You'll want all this if you like the sample version.


I tested VRCreator with the help of a draft of the final documentation. It was
well-designed and relatively complete, so I expect the final documentation to be good.


If you've used high-end programs such as Autodesk Inc.'s 3D Studio Max, you'll be
surprised at how much easier VRCreator is and how good your results look. VRCreator is in
the price range of products like Corel Corp.'s Web.Graphics, but it can compete with
$3,000-plus professional programs.


The only drawback is that Version 2.0 can't run under Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, which
does not support Microsoft's Direct3D runtime graphics engine. NT 5.0 should fill that gap
next year.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s.


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