Atmosphere is a mix of professional 3D modeling tools and Adobe's industry-standard graphics applications. The program boasts a semipro look and feel that allows you to build simple 3D "worlds" complete with lighting, animation, and scripting, but the $400 app's performance is a bit disappointing. All in all, however, Atmosphere is a good choice for users who want to create interactive scenes but who have limited experience doing so (some 2D graphic design knowledge is helpful, though).
Despite offering scriptable actions, effects such as fog and fire, and radiosity lighting (or real-time illumination effects), thanks to technology from Viewpoint, even a Nintendo 64 can produce more fluid and more compelling environments. However, the app handily incorporates physics (that is, gravity and mass) automatically, and it offers a less complex--not to mention less expensive--way (than, say, 3D Studio Max) to create interactive environments. Atmosphere worlds allow the potential for online interactions, such as chat, gestures, and exploration, making the tool ideal for small businesses and educators who want their customers and students to have a more hands-on experience than the Web usually offers.
A wizard walks you through installing the Atmosphere application; much of the 50MB of disk space it requires is for sample files of objects, textures, and audio that you can open to place in a scene. The installer also places a slew of DLL files (small programs supporting a larger program) in the app's folder. To interact in Atmosphere environments on Web pages, you'll need to download the program's Player (currently available only for those running Internet Explorer on a Windows platform), which is a plug-in found on Adobe's Web site. At more than 2MB, the Player is not a lightweight download for those using a dial-up connection, but it is a heavy lifter, either enabling your computer's video card to display the 3D scene or providing a software renderer if your video card doesn't meet Atmosphere's criteria. Of course, more-advanced graphics options such as animated textures and reflections are not available with the software renderer. There's also a free server component, with which you can host and manage a scene for users over the Internet.
As with most 3D applications, the user interface requires a great deal of screen real estate. Though Atmosphere doesn't provide multiple view windows, which would allow you to check objects and scenes on multiple axes at once, there's still little room to spare. In addition to the main window that displays wireframes of the objects and scenes being assembled, you can have multiple palettes on the screen at once. They are context-sensitive and will update to offer data relevant to the tool you're using, but they rapidly take up all usable screen space. And, although they align to each other or to the edge of the screen easily, they don't dock as Adobe InDesign palettes do.