Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Programming Alice 3d

I just downloaded the Alice 3d programming environment Carnegie Mellon University. It is a interesting way to learn programming logic without getting bogged down with dealing with syntax problems. By dragging and dropping you can construct your logic and create stories with 3d characters.

Since I'm back using Blender, I had to see if there was a way to develop 3d models in Blender for Alice. The official site is slim on documentation from a user perspective, so developer documentation is non-existent. In the program, I noticed you can import and .ASE file. I'd never heard of that and didn't see it in the Blender list of export formats. Fortunately, Blender is extensible through Python and someone wrote an import and export script for .ASE.

Just put the exporter script in your Blender scripts folder. I tested it and it works as long as you make sure none of the objects you make sure your object names don't have a "." in them.

Working with Alice set my Java-sense to tingling. I could tell it is a Java app from the look and feel, plus they have all sorts of .JAR files in the application folder. Having spent some time with Java, I started poking around. Knowing Java likes the .JAR format, which is really .ZIP, I renamed an Alice .A2W file with the .ZIP extension instead. Sure enough it popped right open with WinZip. It was very cool to poke around inside. Most of the contents were XML files. It's fun to see how it's put together.

One downside is when I tried to use the "Export Movie" feature and got a "This feature is not implemented yet" dialog box. Why even put the menu item in the menu if it is not implemented? Another problem was when I tried to view it as a web page. It didn't work but there was a link with instructions. Basically, you need to make sure you have Java, Java3d, and the Java Media Framework (which requires a reboot). Those are three separate downloads from three separate pages. Not too user friendly! Lastly, after downloading and installing those, rebooting my machine, I find the applet version does not play back showing the word balloons and opacity changes in my "world". So if you want to show others your work, you'll have to pass around the .A2W file, which is basically the source code and files. Even that has some issues in that supposedly some mail programs recognize that it's really a .ZIP and change the extension. I haven't confirmed that behavior.

Still, Alice is a great tool and it is free. In a short amount of time, my kids were creating short stories using the pre-created characters.