Back to 10/96 Reviews SW: Caligari Pioneer
Up to Table of Contents
Ahead to 10/96 Reviews SW: CyberSearch

October 1996 Reviews TOC

10/96 Reviews SW: Virtus 3-D Website Builder

3-D Web-Spinning for Mere Mortals

By Lynn Ginsburg

God created the world in seven days, but it's likely to take you and me considerably longer-even if we get help from a nifty new 3-D Web program like Virtus Website Builder.

Website Builder lets you create 3-D VRML (virtual reality modeling language) realms that can be published on the Web. This is an extremely powerful tool, but it's definitely not for novices. Unlike programs such as Caligari's Pioneer (see review in this issue) that emphasize 3-D object creation, Website Builder focuses on creating three-dimensional spaces using pre-designed 3-D objects-a kind of virtual clip art.

Website Builder is based on Virtus' WalkThrough, one of the first programs for the PC that actually lets you create navigable 3-D worlds. Now that Virtus is porting this unique technology to the Web, you can turn your Web site into a three-dimensional container with both a navigable interior and exterior. However, unlike Walk-Through, which offers a powerful toolset for designing complex objects, Website Builder offers no similar tools for creating your own 3-D objects from scratch.

But Website Builder offers a huge collection of pre-designed 3-D objects and scenes compiled in galleries. From basic two- and three-dimensional primitives to complex scenes with elaborate 3-D architecture, Website Builder offers an array of drag-and-drop design libraries. The point of Website Builder is that novices drag and drop the pre-designed objects into a space to form a 3-D scene, simplifying the process of designing and creating your own objects in a VRML space. It works to some extent, but this is still a rough job.

I was able to quickly create a cozy 3-D living room scene. Then I dropped a couch, a table and a small sconce lamp into my new space. I had little trouble accomplishing that much, since the program supports full drag-and-drop. Pick up an object from the on-screen gallery, move it to your new room and drop it. You can rearrange objects' position within the room to suit your own decorating sensibilities. Once you're satisfied, you can move inside and outside your new virtual home in real time.

Although you can't draw objects from scratch, Website Builder does let you compile basic unique objects by selecting from a large library of primitive objects and combining them to design more complex shapes. You can also import previously designed WalkThrough objects into your worlds. This opens the door to picking up extra 3-D objects from galleries on the Web.

The Website Builder interface is modal, divided between a 2-D design view, a 3-D walk view and an on-screen gallery with an object preview window. The 2-D design window is a wireframe view showing top, front and right views of a scene. The modal setup-a traditional format for the computerized drafting programs where virtual reality got its start-allows for precise alignment of objects within the 3-D space.

Website Builder's walk view serves as a 3-D browser for navigating the scene and moving in and out of containers. It's also where the scene comes to 3-D life; you view objects with full color, transparency and texture. Virtus makes optimal use of the mouse for moving about the scene, although you'll have to use your imagination to make it seem truly realistic. At this point in virtual-reality technology development, especially on the PC, 3-D navigation in general is far from lifelike. Although the program's steering system takes some getting used to, once I'd mastered the orientation in 3-D space I found navigation to be smooth, giving a true feeling of real-time movement.

Hardened VRML professionals may scoff at Website, and it certainly doesn't stand up to a full-featured product such as Pioneer if original 3-D creation is your aim. This program is for Web designers who want to create 3-D worlds but haven't the time, or the inclination, to cobble together their own 3-D objects. The strength of Website is its stock objects and scenes, most of which have enough character to set them apart from the look of canned clip art.

Although the objects are pre-designed and the drag-and-drop process is easy enough, Website will definitely present a steep learning curve to those who aren't familiar with 3-D design and/or CAD software. Thinking and manipulating objects in terms of 3-D space has not been made any easier by the inclusion of templates and stock objects.

For Web designers with 3-D or drafting experience who don't have the time, desire or skills to create from scratch an array of objects to populate their cyberworld, Virtus Website offers a very easy way to make the flashy transformation from flatlands to 3-D space.

--Info File--
Virtus 3-D Website Builder
Pros: 3-D clips; unique navigation tools
Cons: Can't create 3-D objects from scratch; not for novices
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x
Disk Space: 5MB
Virtus Corp.
800-847-8871, 919-467-9700
WinMag Box Score 3.5

Back to 10/96 Reviews SW: Caligari Pioneer
Up to Table of Contents
Ahead to 10/96 Reviews SW: CyberSearch