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MojoWorld 3.1
$479 - Pro edition; $199 - Standard edition; $49 - MojoWorld Focus; Free - MojoWorld Viewer
available for Windows or Mac OSX / 9
http://www.pandromeda.com/ (USA) :: http://www.eovia.com/ (Europe)

Planet creation software that creates boundless fractal landscapes of enormous complexity

for more information on this award, see HERE

A seashore on a MojoWorld planet.
Click HERE for a larger view (in a popup window)

See also: our Guide to 3D Landscape programs

MojoWorld is a remarkably ambitious program. Not content with creating mere scenery, it creates entire planets. Other 3D landscape programs let you construct a scene upon a fixed area as though it were a theatrical set with ‘terrains’ and other objects placed at precise positions. In MojoWorld, by contrast, you have relatively little control over the geography of a specific locality. Instead, you create a complete world of great complexity and travel around it in search of interesting locations. For a more in-depth discussion of the ideas behind MojoWorld, read our interview with its creator, Dr. F Kenton “Doc Mojo” Musgrave.

Changing Scenery...
By altering parameters in the MojoWorld viewer, I have been able to change considerably the appearance of the scene shown above without even bothering to move to a different location...

Here the sun is smaller, the waves are bigger, the atmosphere is mistier and snow has fallen

Now the sea level is lower, the sun is higher and even more snow has fallen

The snow has started to melt now, the water is high and calm while the sky is clear and blue

Here I've added the colours of an alien sunset and 'taken the picture' with a wide angle lens

The Viewer

MojoWorld is a product in two parts: The Viewer and the Generator. The Generator gives you all the tools you need to create new worlds whereas the Viewer lets you explore existing worlds. The Viewer is free and can be downloaded from the Pandromeda site. Within the Viewer, you can walk or fly around a world using the keyboard or clicking on-screen controls to direct your movement.

Here is the Viewer interface. You can move around the landscape freely in realtime and render a picture when you find a view that you like

While the Generator gives you far more control over the appearance of a planet, you would be wrong to think that the Viewer is no more than a toy or a ‘demo’. It isn’t. It is a fascinating and useful application in its own right. Existing planets may be extremely complex and your explorations of them will almost certainly uncover vistas that nobody else has ever seen. Moreover, each planet comes with a number of built-in parameters, such as sea level, cloud density and the amount of snow (the actual parameters available are dictated by the planet’s author and vary from planet to planet), so you may be able to alter facets of the geometry and atmospheric effects. You can also change the sun’s position, the focal length of the camera and the height of the viewer - so the range of possible landscapes that you may discover is really quite great. Once you’ve found a scene that you like, you can render it as a still image or an animated QuickTime movie. You can also render QuickTime panoramas (QTVR) which let you look around the landscape in 360 degrees.

This is a closeup view of the Hyperspace mixer. This lets you alter various parameters by dragging out sliders. Differing sets of parameters are available in each planet and are defined by the planet's creator.

Before rendering an image or a movie, you have the option to specify a number of parameters in order to adjust the image resolution between (low for speed, high for quality) or mark off a specific rectangle to render. Scenes can be saved for ‘batch rendering’ later so that, for example, a several high resolution images or a movie could be rendered overnight.

MojoWorld is not without its problems. Its Readme file warns about unspecified incompatibilities with some virus software and recommends that this be disabled before installing. When I browsed a directory called \gfxprogs on my G:\ drive, the MojoWorld installer displayed the directory as G:\gfxprogs\\ (with two terminating backslashes). I edited this to G:\gfxprogs\mojo\ and the installer bombed out. I then wasted a good half hour disabling my virus software, removing my virus software from memory using the Windows Task Manager, rebooting my PC and other fruitless activities until I eventually decided to browse to the directory but not to edit its name in the Installer. This time the software installed without problem. I can only deduce that, for some reason, it either requires that a directory exists (that is, it won’t create a new subdirectory if one is specified by the user) or that the path requires two backslashes at the end of the directory name. A little documentation explaining that would have been nice.

Another problem I had was in scheduling the rendering of QuickTime panoramas (QTVR) in the MojoWorld Viewer. In theory I should be able to select a landscape to be rendered as QTVR at a later time. In practice, the QTVR rendering option was not available when I attempted to select it. Rendering QTVR immediately (rather than scheduling it for later) works fine, however.

One final annoying problem relates to the QuickStart tutorial. MojoWorld asks me if I wish to view this when it starts up. When I say Yes, however, it fails to load the tutorial. In the end I located this (in the form of two HTML files) and loaded them manually.

The Generator

The MojoWorld Generator interface (which is only available in the commercial version of the software) is a good deal more complicated than the Viewer. It is also a good deal more powerful. This is where you create your own planets from scratch. Each planet has a fully formed geography. In this respect, MojoWorld is unlike landscape design software such as Bryce or Vue; those programs let you create a relatively small section of a terrain - a few acres or square miles, say. If you try to wander beyond the limits of that landscape you will arrive in an undefined void.

The Generator is where you create planets. To take full control over this process you will need to set numerous parameters in numerous dialog boxes.

The radius of each MojoWorld planet is, by default, 6,000 kilometres, which is about the size of the earth (this can be increased or decreased). You can wander around a planet until doomsday and you will never arrive at an undefined void. In fact, you can even fly out into space and orbit your planet. MojoWorld doesn’t currently create entire solar systems (or universes) but in principle one day it might.

As with the Viewer you can alter the atmosphere, the time of day (the sun’s elevation) and the time of year (the sun’s apparent path across the sky changes position to simulate the seasonal change in the angle of the ecliptic).

When designing planets, you can use editors to add or alter elements such as the stars, clouds, sun, land and sea. Preset values can be chosen to give you instant results. The editors also come with sets of sliders, dials and radio buttons to let you alter individual parameters - say by changing the height and density of clouds, the colour of the sky or the radius of the planet.

This is a closeup view of one of MojoWorld's many editor dialogs. Notice the way that properties are organised on networks like stations on a railway line

The parameters in the editors are arranged on lines like the stations on a map of the London Underground with new sets of ‘branch lines’ popping when certain ‘main line stations’ are clicked. Click one of the stations on the branchline and more railways lines may appear with yet more branchlines. Every so often you may click a special icon that pops up a different editor with even more options (say, to edit a material or define a parameter such as shininess by creating a function graph). While this gives you a great deal of control over the creation process, it also gives you a great deal of scope for messing things up! MojoWorld is a complicated program and you are unlikely to be able simply to leap into without first following the tutorials and browsing through its substantial (400+ page) manual.

Galaxy Quest

MojoWorld goes to great lengths to create planets that have many of the same characteristics as real planets. Even so, there are (as you might expect!) a number of ‘cheats’ involved. For example, the working of a solar system is imperfectly simulated and distant objects such as stars are just textured backdrops. Pandromeda claims that in future versions of MojoWorld the planets will exist in proper solar systems and stars will form part of a three dimensional volumetric texture.

MojoWorld comes in three editions. In declining order of sophistication these are MojoWorld Professional, Standard and Focus. I’ve been using the Professional edition in this review, though most of the features discussed are also found in the Standard edition.

In addition to planet creation, exploration and rendering, both the Standard and Professional editions include support for import of Poser figures and the ability to import and export terrains (you can even export entire planets) to and from other landscape applications. You can also import 3D models created in other modelling programs and 2D pictures.

While most of the work of planetscaping is done on a global scale, you can take control over local features by using the ‘Parameter Bomb’ tool. This lets you select a region and apply specific effects to it. For example, you could increase the mountain elevation within a defined locality. In the Professional edition of MojoWorld, you can even use Parameter Bombs to populate a landscape with forests or add rivers. The trees in a forest can optionally be made to turn towards a light source or simulate movement due to wind.

You can add a crop rectangle to preview small areas of a landscape. Here I am previewing a section of a river to check the effects of turbulence and flow which vary according to the water’s ‘rate of descent’.

MojoWorld rivers are not simply valleys filled with level water surfaces as in most other landscape generators. Rivers actually flow over landscapes, following the paths of deepest descent. Creating realistic river networks does, however, take more effort than simply a dropping water plane onto a terrain. If you get it wrong, the effect can be bizarre rather than naturalistic. If you get it right, however, the effect can be spectacular.

MojoWorld forests are created by filling a landscape with one or more species of tree which may either be selected from a library of pre-designed species or may be created by the user. A tree editor lets you define features such as the trunk and branch radius and twistiness. A leaf editor gives you control over the shape and colour of the leaves while a forest editor lets you control the density and randomness of the trees.

The Professional edition of MojoWorld has a few other useful additions. For example, it implements procedural animation so that clouds, stars and water appear to move when rendered as animations. Apart from that, the animation capabilities of MojoWorld are sorely limited and this is possibly its weakest feature. It would take too long to enumerate the full list of MojoWorld features here; they are, in any case, listed on the Pandromeda web site.

The Layout mode provides a simplified user interface

It as to be said that while MojoWorld is powerful, it is also complicated. In an effort to reduce the learning curve, MojoWorld provides an alternative simplified user interface called Layout Mode. This provides a limited set of features with drag-and-drop objects, lighting and effects arranged on a tabbed palette. It also has a help pane to give basic information on a selected item. This is certainly a useful feature but, even so, it doesn’t fully bridge the gap between ease of use and control over the complete range of features. In terms of ease of use, e-on Software’s Vue beats MojoWorld hands down.

MojoWorld planets are not just flat landscapes covering a few virtual acres. They form complete spheres with curved horizons. For a larger view of this picture (in a popup window), click HERE.

The Verdict

In spite of a few rough edges, MojoWorld is a mightily impressive program. The ability to create fractal worlds with no ‘final frontier’ puts it into a different category from conventional landscape generation programs such as Vue or Bryce. It is capable of constructing and rendering worlds of breathtaking beauty, complete with convincing seas, lakes, rivers and forestation.

Its animation capabilities are limited. It can, to a degree, animate waves on water and atmospheric effects. Trees can be made to simulate movement due to wind. You cannot create fully animated models, however, nor is there support for importing animated models. This is a great shame as animated MojoWorld planets cry out for a population of animals.

MojoWorld is not the easiest of programs to use. If you want a simple and controllable way to create beautiful landscapes, I would recommend Vue instead. In spite of some optional user friendly additions to its user interface, the underlying complexity of MojoWorld is barely concealed. To make the most of it you will need to put in a good deal of time and effort. To look on the bright side, this may not be as onerous a task as it sounds. MojoWorld is such a fascinating program that even making mistakes can be fun!

MojoWorld is an almost ludicrously ambitious and innovative program which is really pushing the boundaries of the possible in landscape and planet design. Eccentric it may be, but this is eccentricity of a very high order and we are pleased, therefore, to make it the first ever recipient of the Bitwise Editor’s Choice Award.

Huw Collingbourne


November 2005


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