Visualize a video game website filled with multimedia. You could read about a game. Peruse its reviews. See screenshots. Enjoy video clips. Hum along to the soundtrack. And, finally, download a sample of the game. It would be a dream come true- a perfect marriage of multimedia and the Internet. Well. Forget it. The web is not ready for multimedia. And, the NUKE website is a perfect example of why.
This site has changed a lot since its inception two years ago. Sendai Publishing originally created it to encapsulate the companyís four main magazine titles, Electronic Gaming Monthly(EGM), Computer Gaming(CG), Hero, and Cinescape. It was a casual site filled with a wide spectrum of entertainment targeted at young males. Topics included video games, comics, and movies. However, in 1996, Sendai was purchased by Ziff Davis Publishing. This change in management resulted in a huge transformation for NUKE. Hero and Cinescape were dropped, leaving only EGM and CG. In addition, the site was completely revamped with new layout, graphics, video and sound. NUKE had become a high-bandwidth, multimedia, video game website
Was this change was beneficial to websurfers? Users can ponder this dilemma while waiting for the homepage to load. And, they will have a long, long time to think about this question because NUKE pages take a long, long time to load. Even with an 28.8 connection, the average page requires a ridiculous 1.2 minutes to finish. The sluggishness is due to advanced graphics, advanced HTML layout, and streaming audio/video. These multimedia components are the undoing of NUKE.
Its homepage has a busy and complex layout. The page consists of four HTML 3.0 frames. The main frame takes up 80% of the screen. Users can personalize this window with custom music, information, and links. Underneath the large frame are three smaller, permanent windows. One allows users quick access to NUKE resources such as EGM, CG, chat, and search. Another contains links to other Ziff-Davis publications. And, the final frame holds advertisements.
This advertisement window is a constant annoyance. It automatically reloads every 20 seconds, bombarding viewers with sales pitches. Each ad is a GIF89a, a multimedia image format which supports animation. These pictures take up a large amount of memory. Thus, whenever the ad frame redraws itself, there is a load on the connection. To display a new ad, the browser drops whatever its was doing, ignores all user input, and churns away to download the commercial. It already takes too long to load regular pages. And, having the browser stop retrieving a page in order to bring in new ads is a test of patience and sanity.
Another maddening aspect of NUKE is its overuse of the VDO Live(VDOL) plug-in. A plug-in is software which integrates itself into a browser, usually giving the program added multimedia capabilities. In this case, the VDOL plug-in embeds audio and video directly into the browser window. It utilizes streaming technology to let users begin watching movies as they are downloaded. NUKE employs VDOL to display clips from games and to showcase its trademark Gaming Minute, a daily dose of video game information presented like a standard TV newscast.
The Gaming Minute is multimedia torture that lasts much longer than a minute. In fact, viewers can already expect to spend one minute staring at captions like "waitingÖ" and "transferringÖ" before the clip actually starts playing. The wait is a waste of time. Video is confined to a minuscule 3 cm by 4.5 cm rectangle. In addition, the clip is misty and blurry. But, viewers neednít worry, because thereís not much to see. The Gaming Minute simply consists of a monotone man reciting video game information. Besides the talking head, there isnít any action. Thus, itís a marvel that VDOL still drops a large number of frames. After a while, the drop rate is so severe that newscasterís voice no longer match the his lips. This is quite an amusing scene. The manís head violently jerks in random directions as his boring voice continues to calmly play in the background. Watching this brings back memories of Max Headroom. Even worse, the video eventually freezes. And, the man becomes locked in a eerie gaze as his voice keeps going and going and going.
The same problems plague VDOLís playback of scenes from video games. Anticipating this, NUKE also posts video in Apple Quicktime format. These clips are much more palatable than VDOL ones. Both audio and video are sharper and the user can resize the viewing window. However, the movies do not use streaming technology. Therefore, the average 28.8 download time for a Quicktime movie is one hour compared to the one minute needed for VDOL. Only the most die-hard gamer would be willing to wait an hour for a thirty second video. All in all, itís a tradeoff between quality and quickness.
RealAudio also compromises fidelity for speed. NUKEís use of this plug-in is limited to interviews with game developers. Unlike VDOL, RealAudio only handles streaming audio as opposed to both audio and video. It has less data to transfer to the user. As a result, the program opens up instantaneously and begins playing. However, its output is sometimes muttered. It turns the userís computer into a crackly AM radio. Nonetheless, the audio provides information in an swift and interesting manner. The site should look into using RealAudio to replace VDOL in sections like the Gaming Minute, where video does not play an active role.
Another audio plug-in that NUKE barely utilizes is the Yamaha MIDPLUG. This piece of software gives browsers the ability to play midi files directly from a web page. Midi files are music clips created with synthesizers and electronic instruments. They are very popular in video game soundtracks and web pages because of their small memory requirements. Yamaha plays midi files by embedding a sleek, user-friendly control panel in the webpage. However, NUKE misuses this technology by playing the midi files while a page is still being downloaded. The user's computer does not have enough CPU cycles to load a graphics-laden page and output the midi track correctly. Thus, the Yamaha player sputters and spits out ear-wrenching notes. Only after the page is completely loaded, does the song play well. It is unfortunate that this well-designed plug-in is a victim of excessive bandwidth.
The entire NUKE site is a victim of excessive expectations. It attempts to use Internet multimedia while the technology is too immature. These tidbits of movement and music are amusing. But, much more development must be accomplished before audio and video can be easily accessible on the Web. Software needs to improving data compression ratios and streaming applications. Hardware must work on creating faster connections, computers, and servers to relieve bandwidth. In this age of the Internet, it is likely that both these fields will continue to advance at explosive rates. Thus, the day when multimedia easily integrates into the Web is not far away. However, until then, donít get nuked.