24 Jan 2007

In search of the right technology - part 2

So. Having played enough with VRML/WRL files, the obvious place to go next was the up and coming X3D. It's basically that WRL stuff in XML format. There are some very good people working hard to make this a spec worth looking at seriously so it was definitely worth a look. The spec's boast that interacting with an X3D object should be as easy as messing with the DOM in JavaScript. That'd solve the interaction problems we were having with the WRL implementation. The plugins (like WRL) already have the navigation and 3D math all sorted out of the box so that'd save us a job too.

But. Turns out, see, that them thar plugins are almost as awkward, power hungry and relatively unstable as the plugins for WRLs. Hmmm.

So then our thinking moved into the world of Flash.(Ah-ah, saved every one of us...) Looking around, some very good people had started or version 0.9'd some very good looking 3D engines. Some other good people were doing really interesting stuff with said engines and suddenly it all became clearish.

We found the thing called Sandy, >quote< an intuitive and user-friendly 3D open-source library developed in Actionscript 2.0 for the Flash environment. >/quote<. Sounds interesting. With a pile of tutorials downloaded and played with, it seemed even easier than at first assumed. Yay says I and gets on with the development.

By choosing Flash, we jumped away from the requirement for a plugin (I know, but you know what I mean...) but lost all the goodness of the interfaces which one gets for free. So a first pass interface was envisaged and stuck in place (version 0.02). Then we started thinking about adding images to the scene and doing all the translations and transformations in order to put the image in the right place (version 0.08). The next step was to load a pile of data from some kind of external XML file - see the alpha button (version 0.09).

Some fairly major enhancements and bug fixes later, and we think we're all ready for people to come play with our αlphα flash release. Like the WRL based αlphα release, it shows 10 pictures of the Oxford Castle floating in space above a Google mapped floor. Once you've pressed the alpha button and loaded the images, it's possible to use the selector on the lower left to jump to the perfect view of each photo. I'd be loathe to say it's anything like finished, but it's a good start.

Over the next few weeks we will be looking to enhance the Flash version of this Quakr Viewr implementation along with getting some more realistic data into a readable XML file. We're working on making it talk to the map and Flickr in order to retrieve and display the relevant images. Watch this space carefully - it does tricks.

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