A supremely powerful rendering package... with a funny Greek name
Every now and again, a piece of software comes along that blows your socks off and really shows what your ST can do. Xenomorph blows your socks off, takes them down to the cleaners and delivers them neatly folded outside your door the next morning.
Xenomorph is a raytracing program that can accept 3D objects in the form of 3D2 files and render them in a surprising number of different ways. Textures can be assigned to objects and you can fiddle with the lighting and surface properties of your scene, add backgrounds and view them from any angle. The quality of the final pictures is excellent - GFA Raytrace and QRT, the other two ST raytracking programs sometimes produce ropey pictures. None of that here - it's always spot on.
Raytracing For All
Xenomorph can run on the entire Atari range from 1MByte STs and STEs right up to the Falcon. It makes full use of the capabilities of the host machine, including maths co-processors and graphics cards like Crazy Dots. You can render images independent of what resolution you're in - for example, you can create TT low resolution or Falcon VGA pictures on an ST. Obviously the ability to display the finished pictures depends on which machine you've got, normal STs are limited to 512 colours at 320 by 200 pixels and STEs get 4,096 colours. At the top of the range comes the Falcon which copes with 32,000 colour images more than twice the size. The final pictures are rendered in GIF, SPC or Targa.
The main bugbear of programs of this type is speed - rendering often takes hours or even days to complete. Xenomorph is fast, even on a standard ST. It doesn't exactly draw pictures between sips of tea, but considering what it has to do, the program's commendably speedy. The only time it isn't is when you go for maximum quality rendering with shadows - your ST seems to go on a little holiday.
The interface is mostly mouse controlled and very easy to pick up, the manual is clear, concise and reasonably thin. Before you can get very far, you need some objects to render. Xenomorph comes bundled with Cyber Sculpt, a very powerful 3D object editor. Mastery of this program is part of the key to getting impressive final results - the better the objects you put into the mix, the better the final results.
Crude animation is also supported using tweening. You define the first frame and the last frame and Xenomorph works out the frames in between. You can move objects, lights and camera positions as well as alter their surface properties. The final set of frames can be compressed into a delta file so you can look at them.
There are two built-in textures, wood grain and marble, as well as the ability to map pictures onto objects. More textures wouldn't go amiss - metal and water would have been welcome. There's no provision for anti-aliasing, leading to some very sharply defined edges. The main difficulty you're likely to experience is mastering the 3D modelling - it takes perserverance and patience. Luckily the format is quite common and there are lots of examples in the Public Domain to plunder for inspiration.
It's difficult to find any major faults in Xenomorph - it sets out to achieve an ambitious task and does it with aplomb. By any standards it's a superb piece of programming and, at that price, it's a steal. If you're looking to produce the ultimate in Atari graphics, look no further.
- Astonishing results possible, without a degree in maths.
- Full support of the entire Atari range including graphics cards. Pictures in 16 to 16 million colours in any size.
- Only two built-in textures. Full Phong with shadows rendering gets slow.
- QRT from Cover Disk 33.
- DKB from the PD. These can both render in 24-bit but are slower.