Review: Bryce 2
Macintosh with 68040 with FPU (PowerMac recommended)
System 7.1 or higher
8MB of free RAM (16MB recommended)
Available on CD-ROM for Macintosh (floppy disks available by request)
Distributed by MetaTools (805) 566-6200
List Price: $299 US ($178.95 Street)
(Bryce[TM] 2 reviewed using a Macintosh Performa 6200CD 24 MB RAM)
(Pssst! Ya got an hour or two...or ten or the entire weekend?)
Be forewarned that Bryce[TM] 2 requires a lot of time, patience, and a powerful CPU. Mentally prepare yourself - immediate gratification is not forthcoming - self-satisfaction and an affirmation of the unlimited potential of your own imagination is as good as it gets.
A review oriented toward the experienced graphic computer artist would be out of place in ATPM. Those demon masters of high level graphic arts oriented towards fancy splash screens, magazine advertisements, digital art spreads, special effects and the like need no review to convince them that the output from Bryce 2 is nothing short of a visual miracle. Instead, those of us who have mastered the toughest of word processors, spreadsheets, presentation packages and the final demo level of Marathon Infinity might turn our attention toward this program which offers one the opportunity to create, in three dimensions, photo-realistic natural landscapes, artificial environments, and almost any structural or sculptural scenario one can imagine. As previously mentioned, this adventure is not for the weak of heart. Put away the spell-checker and joystick. Grab the mouse, some mood music and a pleasant Saturday afternoon, and enjoy the creative process through Bryce[TM] 2!
Until six months ago, I was a Bryce novice. I initially purchased Bryce 1 and upgraded to Bryce 2 during the summer. It was a worthwhile investment. The new interface will not alienate users of the earlier version. Bryce 1 veterans will enjoy the enhanced variations and control systems introduced in Bryce 2. A bit of advice to newcomers to the game of fractal-based 3-D terrains, Boolean geometry, DXF files and the like: keep it simple. Use lots of presets when creating your first Bryce 2 scene and your maiden voyage into the process of "landscape painting" should be an enjoyable one.
After using the easy "Installer" on the CD-ROM to place the application on your hard drive, you are ready to launch Bryce[TM] 2 and CREATE, through an intuitive interface, your first terrain "object" — their term for "mountain."
This mountain is randomly generated and you can EDIT or sculpt, reposition, randomize or rotate that object to suit you own taste. A series of commands allow for erosion, smoothing, levelling or even the inversion of the terrain to create a ravine. The possibilities are almost endless. One caution, don't get carried away on your first venture, you want to see what the application can do before getting truly artistic. Once the "mass" is in a 'final' form, you will have the option to assign MATERIAL textures to that grey shaped or wire frame "lump."
The second stage addition of the elements of land, sea and air through the CREATE "Ground, Water and Cloud Planes" command, followed by the further assignment of textural qualities to each level will begin to add life to your primitive creation. Finally, the SKY & FOG palette creates the final world ambiance in which your land, sea, terrain and atmosphere will exist.
Several features are particularly useful for the non-professional Bryce 2 consumer. The textures in the MATERIALs section are assigned thumbnail previews and a written description allowing you to chose what might be most appropriate for your landscape before you do an entire render. Additionally, there are a series of "tools" which remain hidden around the periphery of the screen until activated by the mouse pointer. It takes a bit of getting used to, but that may be half the fun. The control over individual object texturing is awesome, but take care! The number of objects, textures and environmental features will add to the amount of time required to do a final render of your landscape. Increased complexity means a longer rendering time. My simple scene with its few 'Picts' of trees required a total render time of over 22 minutes. Compound this rendering time with the three hours that I took to create and edit the landscape and you get the idea that the introductory statement to this review was not just tongue-in-cheek! It is natural that the other variable in the rendering time is the type of Macintosh computer your are using. (My scene was processed on a Performa 6200CD 24 RAM Physical assisted by RAMDoubler 2 by Connectix.)
Working within an environment of a 15 inch screen monitor, I can see why graphic artists use larger 21 inch screens. With a complex landscape of wireframes you need all of the "real estate" you can grab to maintain control over all of the variables you are working with. Thank goodness the application allows several options to turn objects on or off at will, or reduce objects of secondary concern to minimal boxes! While we're on the topic of the quantity of "real estate," let's not neglect the quality of that space. Maximum impact is possible only if you view the landscape in thousands of colors, millions if your machine is so configured. Even if you are relegated to 256 colors, the millions of colors still reside in the image waiting for the day you decide to upgrade your machine. One of the best features of this landscape generator is the "Nano Preview," in the upper left corner of the screen, which gives you a constant update, in miniature, of the developing landscape.
Your first Bryce 2 creation will probably be a single mountain in its odd environment, within an unspectacular sky, should not discourage you. Flip back to the CD-ROM and activate the KPT QuickShowLT application in the "Sample Scenes" and "Art Gallery" folders. The slide shows of Bryce scenes created by seasoned artists will act as inspiration for your next ventures. The written documentation accompanying the program encourages the user to load, dissect and vary the scenes included in folders on the CD. Not only is this good advice, it allows you to generate your own scenes using some skeletal terrains, objects or sky settings which you already find intriguing enough to incorporate into your own creations. Please keep in mind that while gentle copying with alteration is a form of acceptable flattery, blatant duplication constitutes copyright infringement and an insult to the creative integrity of the original artist!
The CD is loaded with many valuable resources in addition to Bryce[TM] 2. There are folders containing "Boolean Objects," "Gels," "Pict Objects," and plenty of sky, terrain, and material presets to use as a basis for your own experiments in the application. VIEWPOINT DATALABS INTERNATIONAL, INC., has a folder containing examples of 3D models which may be integrated into environments. The few samples ranged from the 'usable' models of sharks, airplanes, godzilla to a 'bizarre' set of false teeth floating in midair! I didn't have the opportunity to follow up on their Internet location where they advertise a catalogue of over 3,500 accurate models. Seems like a good idea (read 'potential purchase') for those of use who don't have the patience (or time) to mess about creating real "cars, boats and planes" with "Boolean Rendering" and the other basic geometric forms and processes already within the BRYCE application. Not that I am advising against experimenting with such a creative process as I've managed to create a few 'believable' sci-fi objects from 'scratch', but in science fiction almost any object can be said to be believable!
The folder containing examples illustrating the potential of using Apple's QuickTime VR kit to navigate about in a Bryce landscape is overshadowed by MetaTools' preview of their upcoming release of an animation version of Bryce[TM] 2. The few beta previews are really quite exciting and offer an interesting potential for the amateur film maker wishing to incorporate a new 'edge' into the fusion between computer art, film making and the AV capabilities of the Macintosh computer. As a final bonus on the CD, there is the "KPT Panorama Screensaver," a drop-in module for BERKELEY SYSTEMS' After Dark[TM] application. By using the capability of the Bryce application to create "seamless 360 degree panoramic landscapes," your creation can become a continuously scrolling screensaver.
Reviewers agree that Bryce 2 has one and only one flaw - a very sad manual. Either the programmers really believe that Mac users never read manuals or they have faith in their instruction to "...refer to this manual as a "last resort," and to make your first option simply installing Bryce 2 and diving in." Although the general instructions, definitions and interface explanations are there, one is left with the impression that the creators are failing to acknowledge that the great majority of day-to-day Mac users may be lacking in the knowledge of and practice in 3D programs, and would greatly benefit from a 'hand holding walk through' of the various steps, stages and variations in a program which has so much depth. Furthermore, the black and white illustrations in the manual are no where near adequate advertisements for an application which generates such brilliant visuals.
To begin with you must accept that the application has a high learning curve and demands a degree of commitment and patience not associated with games and applications which offer instant gratification. I strongly recommend that if you intend to buy Bryce[TM] 2 that you also purchase "The KPT Bryce Book," written by Susan A. Kitchens with a foreword by Kai Krause (©1995, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, $39.95 US). This book contains the explanations and examples lacking in the application manual. With superior black and white illustrations, color plates, and step-by-step explanations by Kitchens, this text is everything that the Bryce[TM] 2 manual should have been. As a bonus, the book contains a CD-ROM with more Bryce scenes to open and explore, various support resources, and 'odds and ends' of relevant freeware and demo software. Among the many processes discussed in the book is a very valuable guide as to how to print your Bryce landscapes to your black and white printer, which is a nice touch for those of us who don't yet have a color printer! Further instructions are given to those who wish have their work professionally printed or converted to color slide or other color media.
This application stands well within the product line of an excellent company. After experiencing programs such as Kai's Power Tools or Vector Effects, MetaTools deserves the title of THE Visual Computing Software Company. I have found that the company is very approachable and helpful. They can be reached at the Internet address: http://www.metatools.com. There is an upgrade version advertised which fixes a few problems with the "Boolean Rendering" and the resolution of DXF objects. MetaTools states the Bryce[TM] 2.1 version should be available to registered users. I'm still waiting for the upgrade, but the company promises to come through with the new version and I believe them!
|Bryce 2 Review is ©1996 by Robert C. Madill, email@example.com|