Fritz 9 3D boards – part 1

by ChessBase
1/10/2006 – The new chessplaying program Fritz9 is here! Among its many new features are a pair of stunning 3D boards which allow you to play against animated characters. In the latest ChessBase Workshop we introduce you to one of your new chessplaying partners and show you how to change some of her settings. Meet Mia in the new ChessBase Workshop.

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There are obviously a lot of new features in Fritz9 (and we'll certainly examine them in ChessBase Workshop). But the features which immediately attract attention are naturally the visual ones; visible changes are almost by definition the first ones to catch the eye. So we'll start our examination of Fritz9's features with the one which seems to be the hottest topic in the online message baords: the new 3D displays.

Fritz9's new 3D displays feature animated characters which actually pick up and move the chess pieces on the 3D board. The first of these is The Turk, a character based upon the famous 19th century automaton which is still the source of considerable controversy: debate still rages over the exact method of the Turk's operation. Such a device was a natural choice for a 3D character in the computer program Fritz9.

The other 3D character is a sort of updated version of the Turk. Her name is Mia and she's a female humanoid robot slightly reminiscent of the robot in Fritz Lang's classic silent film Metropolis. My friend Jim van Dorp referred to Mia as the Turk's "girlfriend" in a message board post but I believe that rumor to be unfounded. The English tabloid photo of Mia sitting on the Turk's lap at Cannes was obviously faked; if you look closely you can see the light is hitting Mia from a different angle than it's hitting the Turk, so the photo is definitely a badly faked composite.

We'll use Mia for our first example (ladies before gentlemen) of the 3D board features. Fire up Fritz9 and click "Play Fritz" in the splash screen; after the main chessboard display appears, go to the View menu and select "3D", which will bring up one of the 3D board selections. If it's not already Mia, click the "Settings" button in the lower lefthand corner of the 3D board display to get the lefthand dialogue below:

Your initial display will probably look like the illustration on the left. By clicking on the "plus" signs next to each entry, you can expand the view to display subentries (as shown in the righthand illustration). Note that you may not have every entry shown in the righthand illustration; several of these additional 3D displays were included with past programs such as Shredder and Junior.

To load any of the 3D boards shown in your list, single-click on the name of a board to highlight it and then click the "OK" button at the bottom of the dialogue window. Since we're interested in Mia (oh man, for some reason that just didn't sound right), we'll click on her name to highlight it and click "OK":

TECH TIP: Even though you might already have DirectX 9 installed on your computer, you may need to reinstall it from the Fritz9 DVD in order for the new 3D character boards to load properly; several DirectX 9 files have recently been updated. If the boards don't load properly the first time, don't panic -- just follow these simple steps. In My Computer or Windows Explorer, open the \DirectX folder on the Fritz9 DVD and double-click on the file dxsetup.exe, then follow the prompts.

After you click "OK" to load the Mia character you'll see a box appear which tells you the display is loading ("Initialising 3D board"). This box will remain on your screen for several moments; the amount of time will depend on the speed of your computer and the quality of your graphics card. Ultimately you'll see something which looks like this:

Additionally you'll see a 2D board display appear on your screen, probably just above the Notation pane:

To start a new game with Mia, just go to the File menu, select "New", and then your game type and time controls from the submenu. Mia will play any sort of game and time control that Fritz9 will play (you're actually playing against Fritz9, albeit with a very elaborate and entertaining board display).

Before we get into the various tweaks available for this 3D character, let's look at some basic operation and display properties for what you're seeing on the screen. If you'd like to widen the 3D display (to show more of the chessboard in case the a- and h-files are somewhat obscured) just move your mouse cursor over the righthand border between the 3D display and the other panes displayed on the screen. You'll see the cursor change to a two-headed arrow; just hold down the left mouse button and drag the border toward the right of your screen; the 3D display will widen and will show you more of the chessboard:

If you want to change the viewing angle (the angle at which you're looking at the board), right-click in the 3D display and move your mouse. You can tilt the board up and down and even change the angle so you're looking at the board from the side. When you have the angle you want, left-click to freeze the display:

(And while I'm thinking about it, what do you suppose is in that cup off to the side of the board? They look like pretzel sticks, but why would a robot eat them? Maybe they're pencils, but then where are the scoresheets? Maybe Mia's innards are lubricated by powdered graphite and she eats pencils. Maybe the sticks to the right are pencils for her to snack on and the ones to the left are pretzel sticks for us. Many questions, no answers. Very curious, that...)

When you play a game against Mia you'll see a blue ring appear around a piece or pawn when you click on it:

This just shows you which piece you've selected. Move it and you'll see Mia reply by reaching out and physically moving a piece:

And she'll likely make some sort of spoken comment, too: "You know Hell, Steve? Hell's the place where you have to play Black all the time."

If you want to tweak some other settings for the 3D Mia character, just click the "Settings" button in the lower lefthand corner of the 3D display to bring up the same dialogue we were looking at earlier:

Single-clicking on Mia's name shows the above display. These are the general settings for the Mia character.

  • Defaults -- this button resets everything to the "factory" settings. You can use this if you do a lot of tweaking around and discover that you've really messed things up; just click "Defaults" to go the factory settings and then start over.
  • Speaks -- checking this box allows Mia to speak to you during a game. She has a somewhat feminine mechanical voice, a female version of the speech generator which the famous Dr. Hawking uses. I was a bit surprised one time when I started Fritz9, loaded the Mia character, and she called me by name ("Good afternoon, Mr. Lopez"). It'll flip you out the first time you hear it, but there's nothing mysterious about it. I have a program (intended as a child's toy) that lets me type in any text I desire and create a .wav file of a Hawking-like voice speaking those words. I've had a ton of fun with that thing; in fact, I've replaced all of my standard Windows sounds with a mechanical voice giving me various messages and warnings (my computer greets me by name when I boot it up, it says "It's finished" when a download is complete, etc.). The Fritz9 programmers have simply integrated a similar device into Mia's character. However Mia does tend to be a bit overly chatty, so if you find the voice distracting just click in this box to uncheck it and turn the feature off.
  • Texture room resolution -- there are three settings for this ("Low", "Standard", and "High") which are controlled by the three labelled radio buttons. If you click one of these and then the "Apply" button, you'll again see the "Initialising 3D board" message while the 3D display resets. This toggle selects the resolution for the room surroundings (like the pencils/pretzel sticks/whatever in the can alongside the board). If you're not going to be tilting the display and will just be looking at the board head-on, this switch really isn't a big deal. But if you're going to be using a side view of the chessboard you might want to change this tweak. How you change it will depend largely on the speed of your computer and the amount of RAM in your video card.
  • Reflection in table -- this is simply how shiny the chessboard appears. If you select this option you'll see the pieces, as well as Mia's head and torso, reflected in the chessboard surface. I've noted, though, that selecting this option can appreciably slow down your video card's performance if you have a lower-end card.
  • Environment sounds -- if this is toggled "on" you'll hear a piece hitting the board with a "crack" after you or Mia make a move.

You can test these options "on the fly" by clicking "Apply" and then moving the dialogue window to the side to get a better view of the 3D display. Click "OK" when you're finished tweaking and want to get rid of the dialogue box.

We'll look at some more options for Mia the next time around. But before we go there are a couple of extra features I'd like to mention. Mia has this bad habit of keeping her hand hovering over the chessboard after she makes a move (just like a bad blitz player) and this can obscure some of the pieces. To combat this tendency, you can look at and move the pieces on the 2D board which will be displayed off to the side of the 3D view. You can resize this pane by clicking and dragging in the same way that you resize the 3D display.

And if you'd like to make a screenshot of the 3D display when you play Mia, there's a button for this in the lower lefthand corner of the 3D display (right beside the "Settings" button). A dialogue will appear which lets you set the resolution of the screenshot. After you set this and click "OK", you'll see the standard Windows File Select dialogue which lets you name the file and select a folder into which to store it. The file will be saved in .jpg format.

That'll do to get you started. We'll look at some more 3D settings for Mia in the next ChessBase Workshop. Until then, have fun!

You can e-mail me with your comments on ChessBase Workshop. All responses will be read, and sending an e-mail to this address grants us permission to use it in a future column. No tech support questions, please.

© 2005, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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