Macromedia Director 7

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Take a deep breath and recite the full name–all 18 syllables of it. Macromedia Director 7 Shockwave Internet Studio is the most Web-savvy Director yet. Not that Macromedia is ignoring creators of games, CD-ROM titles, or interactive kiosks; many of Director's new features are just as welcome in these non-networked applications. But the program's Internet focus is unmistakable. And for creating hybrid projects–such as a CD-ROM that retrieves updates from a Web site or a multiuser game that enables distant players to lock horns–Director 7 is a dream.

Director veterans will feel at home in Director 7. It has all the familiar trappings: the Stage, where you position and arrange your project's media elements; the Cast, which holds media elements that you import or create using Director's built-in tools; and the Score, a timeline-like window where you choreograph your project's flow and interactivity.

Creating a project in Director generally involves working with these key components as well as with Lingo, Director's built-in programming language. You're also likely to work with behaviors, which are canned Lingo scripts that perform common tasks. When you've finished, you can create a projector, a double-clickable version of your project that you can distribute to others. For Web-destined projects, you can create Shockwave movies that rely on Macromedia's popular browser plug-in. You can also create Java applets, although these provide only limited support for Director's capabilities.

Director 7's body may be similar to that of previous versions, but its engine is new. In Director 7 you can have as many as 1,000 channels in the Score window, up from 120 in Director 6.x. Projects can play back at speeds of up to 999 frames per second, up from 500. In short, it's hard to imagine a project that would exceed Director 7's playback capabilities.

One downside of this engine rebuild: Director 7 bids farewell to 680X0 Macs and to Windows 3.1. It's bad enough that you can no longer develop projects on these systems–you can't even create projectors for them. If you want to create titles for elderly computers, Director 7 isn't for you.

Director has long provided built-in tools for creating richly formatted text and bitmapped graphics. In Director 7 there's a new data type on the block: vectors. Director 7's new Vector Shape window provides a FreeHand-like pen tool for drawing bandwidth- and memory-friendly shapes, complete with Bézier control points and optional solid-color or gradient fills. Director 7 automatically antialiases vector shapes. Even better, you can control every property of a vector shape using Lingo scripts. Combine this with Director 7's Internet-access features, and you could create a dynamic bar or line graph that changes depending on certain data retrieved from a Web site.

Director 7 can import bitmaps containing alpha channels, thus simplifying the creation of special transparency effects, such as feathering and drop shadows. Director 7 also adds support for the PNG graphics format and for animated GIFs.

Director 7 greatly simplifies such common animation tasks as rotating media elements. For example, to create an animation of a spinning star in previous versions, you had to create multiple versions of the star, each rotated to a different angle, and then laboriously swap one for the next to animate the rotation. In Director 7 you can simply use keyframes or Lingo to rotate or skew any media element. That means much less work for you, and smaller, more memory-efficient projects.

Director's heritage as an animation program has always complicated the creation of interactive projects. Implementing simple interactivity–such as creating a set of buttons that enable users to branch to different screens–meant writing scripts in Lingo.

Director 6 streamlined authoring a bit by introducing behaviors–canned scripts that perform common tasks. In Director 7, behaviors are dramatically improved. A new Library palette provides fast access to dozens of behaviors in categories ranging from animation to navigation to Internet streaming (see "Director Behaves"). To assign a behavior to an item, you simply drag and drop that behavior's icon.

Director 7 provides behaviors for the most-common interactivity chores, and they work well. Even if you don't know a lick of Lingo, you can create an interactive production containing branching buttons, QuickTime movies, animations, and streaming audio.

Lingo still lurks beneath the surface of every behavior, and you'll need Lingo mastery to modify a behavior's scripts. But the good news is that unlike Director 6.x behavior scripts, Director 7's are laden with comments that make them easier to understand and tweak.

And speaking of Lingo, it too has evolved. Programmers can now use space-efficient dot syntax to get and set properties. Common in modern languages such as JavaScript, dot syntax makes for less verbose scripts.

Director has had first-rate text features since version 5 introduced the word processor-like Text window, antialiased text, kerning, and the ability to import Rich Text Format (RTF) files. But Director developers always faced the specter of missing fonts: to ensure that text would look as intended, they either had to license and distribute custom fonts or settle for using ubiquitous (and often boring) fonts such as Helvetica and Times.

Director 7 changes this by enabling you to embed any fonts installed in your system directly in a project. Director compresses its so-called Shocked fonts so that they take up only about 10K to 20K apiece. You can trim this even further by embedding only those characters that you actually need. Shocked fonts are available only to the project in which they're embedded, so there are no licensing or copyright issues to contend with.

Also new is the ability to import HTML files with most formatting intact. You can even import Web pages over the Internet by entering a page's URL in the Import dialog box, although this often yielded error messages in our tests. Director 7 does a reasonably good job of retaining a page's formatting, recognizing tables, fonts, and common formatting tags. Director 7 doesn't import images referenced in HTML pages, but it does retain hyperlinks. You must use Lingo programming to have a hyperlink launch a Web page, but one of Director 7's built-in behaviors can handle this for you.

Director 7's other Internet-related enhancements include behaviors that post text entries to a CGI running on a Web server, and a new multiuser server that makes it possible to create networked games and chat spaces.

For bandwidth-friendly audio, Director 7 also includes Headspace's Beatnik Xtra, which includes behaviors that let you play and control Beatnik music files. Director 7 also supports the Shockwave Audio format, which lets you deliver streaming audio using a conventional Web server (see "Making Waves with Streaming Audio," Create, February 1998).

But remarkably, the Macintosh version of Director 7 provides no way to compress Shockwave Audio files; the manual tells you to use Macromedia's SoundEdit 16, which is no longer included with the Director suite.

How has Director 7's supporting cast changed? Gone are the Xres image editor and Extreme 3D modeler. For image editing you get Macromedia Fireworks, which is a solid, all-around image editor particularly adept at creating Web graphics (see Reviews, October 1998).

For sound editing, Mac users get Bias's Peak LE while Windows users get Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge XP. Both are scaled-down versions of first-rate audio editors. We prefer Sound Forge XP to Peak LE–it was more stable in our tests and its interface is less cluttered–but either is sufficient for simple sound-editing and conversion tasks.

Even if you already have sound- and image-editing programs, you cannot buy Director 7 separately unless you're a registered user of a previous version, in which case you can buy the upgrade for a steep $449. Macromedia should make Director 7 available separately. You'll still need to buy the Windows version of Director to create projectors for the Windows platform.

For a major upgrade, Director 7 is remarkably well behaved. But it isn't perfect. Some bugs in its text-handling features can cause crashes in text-heavy projects. And a change in the way the Stage works causes display problems with movies in a window, which many Director developers use. A little Lingo script generally fixes this. But by and large, Director 7 is an outstanding upgrade, packing more power and introducing new features that finally make Director approachable for beginners.


4.0 mice
PROS: Simplified authoring; excellent Web features; beefed-up playback engine; vector and alpha-channel support. CONS: Mac version can't compress Shockwave Audio files; some text-handling bugs; application not sold separately. COMPANY: Macromedia (415/252-2000, ). LIST PRICE: $999 (Director-only upgrade from earlier versions, $449; full Studio upgrade from earlier versions, $499).

April 1999 page: 35

732-7004, ). From the developers of Apple's defunct Apple Media Tool, iShell combines solid authoring features with an unbeatable price tag.

Tribeworks has put a unique twist on the open-source software-distribution approach popularized by Linux. iShell is free: register at Tribeworks' Web site, and you get a download password. To create a Mac or Windows run-time version of a project, you register for a free run-time license file.

Tribeworks hopes you'll like iShell enough to pay $2,000 for a one-year "full membership," which gets you technical support, the ability to create run-times without registering each project you create, and the full source code to iShell itself.

iShell's interface differs from that of Apple Media Tool (AMT), but the programs are conceptually similar. As with AMT, iShell's only content-creation function is a rudimentary text tool–you create your content in other programs and then import it. As you import media elements, you can assign events and commands that branch to other screens, play movies, move items across the screen, and so on.

Many of iShell's authoring features pale alongside Director's. But iShell provides excellent support for QuickTime, including QuickTime VR and QuickTime 3 effects. The program can't display HTML pages&#150a; Director 7 can&#150b;t can access files over the Web, making possible CD-ROM-Web hybrid projects.

iShell lacks Director's depth and maturity, and its documentation is literally a work-in-progress. Still, iShell deserves a look. Budget-minded developers will love its price tag, and Director haters will appreciate its object-oriented authoring style. If Tribeworks' open-source gamble pays off, iShell could evolve into a major contender.

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