Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s ALLEN PARTRIDGE sees worlds of potential in new design software.

Artful Adobe

University design classes focus more on nonprogramming fields.

University design classes focus more on nonprogramming fields.

Colleges and universities around the world increasingly rely on technology to prepare their students for careers in ever more competitive and technologically complex job markets. Students studying geography use mapping software to study population trends. Fine arts students use production and editing tools to create multimedia programs that showcase their work. Future teachers train on the latest e-learning solutions for K–12 curricula. To make these applications more compelling, all require combining many types of files and capabilities, such as 3-D imaging, video, text and data files.

In recognition of this trend, Adobe Systems has incorporated more user-friendly and intuitive features in the latest version of its multimedia authoring software, Adobe Director 11, making it possible for nondesign students to create interactive applications and rich content. The upgrade, released in February, includes more intuitive features, a code library and an enhanced physics engine. It is aimed specifically at the student, design training and higher education markets, say company officials. The new capabilities allow the orchestration of many types of media into a single program, merging text, Flash motion, 3-D animation and even video-game motion capabilities.

New features include an advanced Ageia PhysX engine that allows for real-world, dynamic interaction for games and simulations; advanced 3-D graphics support for DirectX 9; Flash 9 support and the ability to code in multiple languages, such as JavaScript and Lingo.

While a student at FullSail, a graphic design and programming school in Orlando, Fla., Mike Abrams saw his fellow programming students struggle to complete class projects that required both programming and design expertise because the design tools they were using were too complex, required training and could not be mastered quickly enough to meet assignment deadlines. The school hired Abrams after graduation to continue working with programming students so they could bring their projects to fruition.

“I saw a real disconnect between coding and art,” says Abrams, now a games designer at Infinet Games. “They really need to be integrated.”

After trying several design solutions, Abrams found Adobe Director helped him integrate multiple design elements in an efficient manner. He has since used the software to create multimedia projects at Infinet Games, including content for Verizon Wireless handsets.

Allen Partridge, a spokesperson for Adobe Director and associate professor of communications media at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, currently uses Director in two courses: One course teaches game design to undergraduate students and the second teaches graduate students how to use interactive multimedia for e-learning.

Higher education was a key vertical market for the latest Director launch, according to Partridge, and Adobe plans major marketing initiatives to deliver the software to design classrooms around the world. The company is working with colleges to integrate Director into the curriculum through Webinars and education-related seminars. Adobe also is developing education solutions geared toward specific courses and is reaching out to academics, authors and other key players in the design and programming fields.

At the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia, Director is used in two undergraduate courses, Multimedia in Design Presentation and Advanced Multimedia, as well as a graduate-level course through the architecture department. Students from any degree program are eligible to take the classes, says UNSW professor Dean Utian. The courses are increasingly popular with nondesign students, says Utian, as other fields of study begin to rely on multimedia presentations to communicate ideas.

Students create two projects each semester using Adobe Director and are expected to develop multimedia content that is applicable to their chosen field. The final project is a comprehensive multimedia presentation that integrates a variety of digital-media elements and employs creative ideas and techniques to effectively communicate a chosen topic. Students also develop narratives to their presentations, taking them beyond a slide show to create a rich, immersive, high-impact experience, says Utian. In the advanced course, students use Director’s 3-D authoring tools to create a complex computer game. Students also use Director as a vehicle to explore advanced areas of digital communication, user engagement and 3-D representation — skills that they can take with them to careers outside of design or architecture.

A library of common codes is available and can be dragged into projects to speed programming and eliminate redundancy. Director’s Ageia PhysX engine also has been enhanced, allowing programmers to customize environment rules, such as gravity, natural movements and how objects interact with each other. This feature is useful not only for creating video games but also for developing realistic modeling and simulations. The software’s design also integrates multiple media seamlessly, making it easier to overlay different design elements.

Using Adobe Director to Encourage Science

Adobe Director lends itself to developing e-learning tools, relying on fun and realistic game play to educate and interest younger members of the video-game generation, preparing them for more advanced applications upon entering college.

Working with the University of Cambridge, Ireland’s science and technology board is trying to bolster that country’s budding nanotechnology industry with new engineers. Discover Science and Engineering — a program within the country’s national advisory board for trade, enterprise, science and innovation — worked with a team of 3-D programmers and graphic designers to develop a new computer game, called Nanoquest, aimed at teaching 12 to 14-year-olds about engineering in the hope of preparing the next wave of Irish nanotechnology engineers for more advanced study. More than 150,000 copies of the game were sent to Irish schools and a version was posted online (www.nanoquest.ie).

“Many students in this age range spend time at home playing games anyway, so it was seen that creating a game would be a great way to fight fire with fire and get students to spend more time in some type of a learning environment,” says Mal Duffin, lead 3-D programmer for CanDo Interactive, the design firm contracted by the Irish government to create the game.

Nanoquest pairs students up as a team and shrinks one of them down to “nano-size.” The players then have to work together to assemble a “nano-car” based on a real-life design from the University of Cambridge. The concept of building a product using basic building blocks, such as nano tubes, nano wires and bucky balls, is comparable to how nanotechnology manufacturing really works. There is then an end game in which the players drive the vehicle they have built through moving platforms and hazards.

The game was designed using Adobe Director’s Shockwave 3-D graphics platform, while Director’s physics engine ensured realistic movement and a fun, interactive physical world for the players to move around in. The multimedia integration aspects of the software made it easy to merge different game plays ranging from third-person character control and item collection to constructing and driving the nano-car. The software also made it possible to seamlessly integrate 2-D with 3-D graphics in a realistic way.

“We did look at some other options [other than Adobe Director], but none had the install base or the credibility of the Shockwave technology,” Duffin says. “Also, due to the less powerful nature of many home and school computers, the 3-D technology in Director is an ideal match, as many may not be able to support the more advanced 3-D features found in other solutions. This support is really important for creating e-learning solutions and making them available for a mass audience,” he says.

In testing the game, the programmers found students really enjoyed playing it and didn’t mind the education aspect of learning about the terms and processes of nanotechnology, a key indicator of success. A recently released v.1.5 includes a new add-on game in which players are shrunk down and tasked with protecting a single cell from invading viruses. A v.2 is rumored as well, likely designed and programmed with Adobe Director 11.

<p>Greg Ruffing / Redux</p>
May 01 2008

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