Multimedia Authoring Tool Gets Usability Boost

SAN FRANCISCO (05/30/2000) - Macromedia Inc. Director 8 Shockwave Studio is in a class by itself. It's the best-and only-tool for creating highly interactive multimedia projects and Shockwave movies. If you use Director to make a living, you'll appreciate the increased usability, productivity, and stability that this version offers.

But Director 8 isn't simply a productivity-enhanced upgrade to Director 7; it also adds a Publish wizard for easier Web delivery, scalable Shockwave movies that can fill the browser window, and a set of Lingo commands for controlling images and sound. If you're not yet a Director user but want to create sophisticated multimedia projects, you'll be happy to know that this is the most approachable version to date, offering a redesigned interface and libraries of reusable behaviors.

Get Productive

If you like upgrades that offer hordes of new features, Director 8 Shockwave Studio may disappoint you. What you will find are enhancements that make the program more usable. For example, the stage (Director's workspace) can now be zoomed in to position elements precisely, or zoomed out to arrange the multitude of windows you're likely to need. Director 8 also features movable guides to which you can snap sprites (visible objects on the stage), and you can lock sprites to avoid moving them accidentally.

Other productivity enhancements include two significant changes to Director's interface. The first involves the Cast window, where all of your media reside.

Each cast member-sound, video, text, or graphic-is displayed in seemingly random order in the thumbnail view. Director 8 lets you see your cast in list view instead, so you can sort by name, number, type, or date modified. You can also sort by comments, a new property that identifies each cast member.

The second productivity boost comes from Director 8's new Property Inspector, which consolidates in a single window the tools necessary to specify how cast members appear or act (such as a box's fill color or whether a sound should loop). Previous versions of Director required that you click on an information button to access properties; now when you select a cast member, the Property Inspector displays all the properties of that object. It's so useful that you'll probably keep it active whenever you're working in Director (though it does have a habit of obscuring other windows).

Director Works the Web

Director 8's new Publish wizard lets you specify how your movie will be delivered on the Web. You don't need to write the HTML code by hand; the wizard does that for you based on the settings you specify. Director also comes with sophisticated Publish templates, including one that automatically installs the Shockwave plug-in for your visitors, and another that keeps your visitors occupied with a video game while your movie downloads. You can modify these starter templates to suit your own needs. Once you set up the Publish settings, the Preview In Browser command allows you to see your movie in a browser with just one click.

Other Web-oriented features in Director 8 are the ability to scale Shockwave movies to fill the browser window-though you'll see some image degradation when raster graphics scale-and the option to choose the level of JPEG compression applied to images, either individually or globally. (In earlier versions, image cast members were bitmapped and uncompressed; the only way you could make those files smaller was to change their color depth.)The downside is that to view your Shockwave movies, site visitors will need the Shockwave 8 browser plug-in (a free download from Macromedia's Web site).

Unlike Flash 4, which can export files as Flash 1, 2, 3, or 4, Director 8 can produce only Shockwave 8 files.

The Power of Lingo

Director movies can be simple linear animations, or they can be more interactive-if you're willing to program the action. Director's approachable and extensible programming language, Lingo, lets novices and experts alike incorporate advanced interactivity using either an English-like syntax (as in set the volume of sound 1 to 100) or a dot syntax (as in sound(1).volume=100) that's similar to JavaScript's Document Object Model. Lingo can take a long time to master, but learning the basics is fairly easy as programming languages go.

Until you have the skills to write sophisticated scripts, you can drag and drop the new starter behaviors that come with Director 8. Its library of behaviors lets you do everything from causing a graphic to turn and face the cursor, to applying special effects one sprite at a time (instead of to the entire screen at once), to automatically posting data to a CGI script. The library not only gives novices a kick start but also helps them learn how behaviors are created.

Director's new linked-script feature keeps code separate from content; scripts are saved as text files and can be stored on a server, allowing teams of programmers to share code. Normally, a benefit of linked files is that you can replace a linked file at any time and your movie will reflect the change.

That's not the case with linked scripts, which don't remain linked when you publish them; the linking feature works only during the development phase.

You'll also find some new Lingo commands in Director 8's repertoire, including those that control sounds. You can give your users control of the sound, or simply create dynamic audio effects for a more realistic multimedia experience.

Sounds begin playing when you tell them to (not a few milliseconds later as in previous versions), and when several sounds are stacked up to play in sequence, there are no pauses between them. You can manipulate a panning property for a stereo sound while it plays, and establish loop points within sounds dynamically.

Other new Lingo commands-known as Imaging Lingo-give you dynamic, pixel-level control of graphics. You can copy and paste portions of images, combine graphics with blended effects, and create new graphics, all at run-time.

Because the graphics are created on-the-fly, file sizes stay small. These functions place demands on the viewer's computing power, but the small file sizes mean fast downloads.

Bundle Up

Director 8 Shockwave Studio is available only as a bundle with several other applications. One of those is Shockwave Multiuser Server 2.1, which lets you create multiuser games, chat programs, and other shared experiences. The new version allows up to 1,000 simultaneous connections (the previous limit was 50). You also get Fireworks 3-a great program for optimizing and slicing images into HTML tables (see Reviews, April 2000)-and Peak LE (or SoundForge XP in the Windows version) for audio editing.

Director itself is cross-platform: when delivering movies to the Web, you don't have to create separate files for Mac and Windows users; viewers simply need the appropriate Shockwave 8 plug-in for their systems. But if you plan to deliver stand-alone applications, known as projectors, you'll have to purchase both versions of Director. Macromedia takes some of the sting out of purchasing both versions, at least if you have earlier versions of each, by offering a $100 rebate when you upgrade both. (The upgrade price is $399 if you own Director 7; you can upgrade from Director 5, 6, or 6.5 for $499.)The system requirements for authoring are fairly robust, as you would expect: you'll need at least a 180MHz PowerPC running Mac OS 8.1 or later and a minimum of 32MB of RAM dedicated to Director 8. (Viewers also need OS 8.1, unfortunately.) If you want to deliver to users with 680X0 Macs, you'll have to stick with Director 6.5.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Director 8 Shockwave Studio offers a nice mix of productivity enhancements and new features. Although there's no getting around the fact that Director projects can be difficult to create, a new library of reusable code and a redesigned interface make this version more approachable, bringing Director one step closer to perfection.

RATING: 4.0 mice

PROS: More usable interface; timesaving Publish wizard; pixel-level imag-ing syntax; advanced audio controls.

CONS: Shockwave movies aren't backward-compat-ible; scripts can be linked only temporarily.

COMPANY: Macromedia (800/457-1774, http://www.macromedia.com).

COMPANY'S ESTIMATED PRICE: $999.

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