by Alien Skin Software
Reviewed by Ken Greek
Plug-in effects for PC and Mac.
Xenofex 2 is an update of Alien Skin's collection of effects plugins for PSP, Photoshop and other imaging programs.
Windows: Windows 98, 2000, ME or XP. (NT is no longer supported)
64 MB or more RAM
Compatible programs: PSP 7.0 or later, Adobe Photoshop 6 or 7, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0, and Macromedia Fireworks MX or later.
Macintosh: Mac OS 9.X through OS X 10.1 or later
64 MB or more RAM
Compatible programs: Adobe Photoshop 6 or 7, Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0, and Macromedia Fireworks MX or later.
Full version - $129 USD.
Upgrade - $69 USD.
Sidegrade (for registered owners of other Alien Skin software) - $99 USD.
You can order these from Alien Skin at this link.
30 day demo versions are available from Alien Skin at this link.
Installation is simple and painless. Run the installer, pick the plugin directory for whichever program you want to install it in and you're set to go. You can rerun the installer to to install Xenofex 2 into any other supported graphics program you may have installed also. The manual even goes as far as to address any particular issues you may run into with administrator privileges with Windows 2000 or XP. For the Mac users out there similar instructions are covered for OS X installations and use as a Classic application. A nice touch for a manual and all done very clearly in plain english.
Alien Skin has given us a very nice set of 14 effects here. In this new version, they've dropped some of the effects from the previous version, improved the ones they kept and introduced a few new ones (though I suspect some of the new ones are renamed, improved versions of effects that were dropped). And they also gave it the user interface that is used in Eye Candy 4000 - nice and clean, easy to use. The effects rendered quickly in the preview window, even on older computers like a PII 233, which was a delight to see. All this combined to make "playing" with the effects a joy, inviting lots of "what ifs" and "lemme try this'es".
A quick rundown of the list of effects are Burnt Edges, Classic Mosaic, Constellation, Cracks, Crumple, Electrify, Flag, Lightning, Little Fluffy Clouds, Puzzle, Rip Open, Shatter, Stain and Television. They all do pretty much what they sound like they should do and they do a good job of it too. Combining Burnt Edges and Crumple, I got the effect of an old discarded and neglected photograph with it quickly and easily. Playing with Fluffy Little Clouds (you gotta love that name) and Lightning, I came up with this interesting image where I zapped an seemingly innocent rock. The Lightning filter now allows you to specify both beginning and end points of the arc and control the branching. Stain and Constellation gave me this stellar image. A nice improvement of the Constellation filter is how it highlights the edges of objects, giving it a realistic twinkle around the selection. Normally a Television effect does nothing for me but the options that are available with this one made it fun to use. I particularly liked the vertical hold roll in this shot of Buddy the cat, caught playing in the bathroom sink. Got'cha Bud! Those hairs in the sink ARE yours..the security cam doesn't lie!
The user interface for all this is a joy to use. The preview window is large and you can zoom in and out...no guessing what it "really" looks like once you've applied an effect. The slider controls used to make adjustments with are well thought and usable. You can change values in whatever way is most comfortable for you, either moving the slider, entering a numeric value or using the little up and down arrows placed at the right end of the sliders. Do you like keyboard commands? Just about every function that you can perform can be accomplished through keyboard shortcuts, including moving the sliders. And they have the complete table of them in the manual. The controls are labeled in a clear and logical way and if you find yourself wondering what something does, help text appears when you pause your mouse over any user interface element. This is the kind of interface that shows that a lot of thought on real world use has been taken into account during design. Nothing here to confuse a user, just solid usability. Yeah, I like this a lot...this is the kind of stuff that invites someone to play with this.
And if you do feel like you need to refer back to something in the manual, it's just as clear and straightforward. Not filled with geek-speak, the writing is as light and fun to read as it is informative. There's a troubleshooting chapter that covers any installation problem you may run up against, error messages and remedies, and addresses any performance issues you may have. Read the thing just for the heck of it, it's a quick read and a hoot. They even tell you that if you notice and identify any conflict between Xenofex 2 and any other program or extension on your computer, they will love you very much if you inform them of it.
This one's a keeper gang. It takes a lot to get stars from me and Xenofex 2 gets them all. Put this in your box of tricks and you'll enjoy every minute of it. Try out the demo and I think you'll agree with me that this is one super set of effects that's impressive not only in what it does but how elegantly it allows you to do it also.
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