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-- by Lynn Ginsburg
VRML, the specification for 3D worlds on the Web, is still in its infancy. V-Realm Builder 2.0 makes extensive use of the latest VRML specifications, placing it on the cutting edge of this burgeoning technology.
Like HTML, VRML is a language for coders, and it's best manipulated and implemented by someone who has a programming background. V-Realm Builder tries to accommodate non-programmers by providing tools that can execute complex tasks without requiring coding.
Those who have used basic VRML authoring or 3D modeling programs should find V-Realm Builder's interface familiar. The left side of the screen displays the Node Tree window, an Explorer-like browser listing all the components that populate your VRML world. On the right you'll find a View Pane, which displays either a wireframe or an OpenGL shaded view of a world. When you make a change in the Node Tree window, the View Pane displays it instantly. Similarly, when you make edits in the View Pane, the Node Tree window will reflect your changes. Like most 3D programs, V-Realm Builder can also display four simultaneous views of a world: top, front, left and right.
V-Realm Builder contains five toolbars in addition to the standard Windows toolbar. While it's helpful to group together related processes and functions, the amount of information presented in there toolbars can lead to confusion. The one ameliorating factor is that the toolbars are context-sensitive, so they're active only when their functions are applicable to the object you have selected.
The basic elements that you work with in a V-Realm Builder world are called nodes. There are visible nodes-such as cones, spheres, cubes and cylinders-and nodes that operate behind the scenes to control different aspects of viewer interaction. For instance, a sensor node might cause a light to go on when a user flips a switch. Proximity nodes trigger events when users enter, exit or move within a defined space. A common example appears in games, where a monster jumps out at a player as he enters a room. Time-sensor nodes control the timing and duration of events. With a time-sensor node you can control the looping of an animation or cause an alarm to sound at the end of a specified duration. Other nodes include collision, anchor, light, fog, background, texture and material.
One of the program's most powerful features is its ability to field-edit node attributes. A dialog box lets you enter numerical values for node attributes, such as position, size and rotation. This gives you precise control over all the defining attributes that make up a node. With geometry nodes, you even have the option of defining attributes interactively, by moving and resizing the nodes directly in the View Pane. Alternatively, you could use the fields to accomplish the same task or fine-tune your interactive edits numerically.
Another standout feature is the program's use of instancing, which creates just one original instance of a node, with successive instances referring back to the original node. For example, in a scene that has a tree with many leaves, one leaf would be the first instance, and all other leaves would refer back to the original leaf. Instancing greatly reduces file size since there is less geometry in a scene, thereby making it possible to create complex worlds with low overhead.
V-Realm Builder also lets you create 3D models from scratch. By comparison, Virtus 3-D Website Builder (see WinLab Reviews, October 1996) only allows you to use its predesigned models or those you create in Virtus WalkThroughPro, a separate application that lends greater functionality to the more entry-level Virtus 3-D Website Builder.
Although V-Realm Builder considerably simplifies a complicated process, don't expect to be designing 3D Webscapes overnight. To create rich VRML environments, you must invest a considerable amount of time in studying the included tutorials. Still, V-Realm Builder delivers VRML's complexities to the non-programmer without sacrificing power or features. Its interface allows you to juggle VRML's various technical elements while simultaneously viewing your 3D world's rich graphical environment.
Like HTML editors, V-Realm Builder 2.0 has made great strides in offering WYSIWYG usability and therefore assumes a place on our WinList of recommended products.
Windows Magazine, October 1997, page 154.