Interactive is on its game

On-demand downloads are the next big platform that will revolutionize gaming the way they’ve changed the music industry.
By Robert Janelle
From SCAN's Print Edition

The world we live in OttawaInteractiveArt200X210%20jpg.jpgis becoming more and more interactive, especially through web browsers. Online we can keep track of people on Facebook, organize photos on Flickr and even manage an entire company through web-based office suites.
Although one tech bubble burst seven years ago, interactive multimedia has grown steadily. The provincial government continues to provide grants through the Ontario Media Development Corporation and locally the Ministry of Education has approved and funded game development programs at Algonquin, Carleton and uOttawa.
Ottawa is seeing it’s share of Web 2.0 successes. Jaded Pixel’s Shopify, a content management system for online vendors, has taken off across the Internet. Montreal magazine publisher Section Rouge Media has announced its intent to acquire Evolutra, a local web application development firm, in a deal said to be worth more than $37 million. Companies like Pixelera, 76Design, Atomic Motion and MARSWorks develop multimedia experiences on the web. But web sites aren’t the only things becoming more interactive. Far more can be done today with cellphones, PDAs and DVD players. One Ottawa company even makes advertising interactive. Fuel Industries develops branded games that clients like Chrysler and MSNBC integrate into their web pages.

With so much more being done within the web browser, it would seem that platform boundaries are fading. But where those boundaries still exist, TransGaming Inc. aims to fill the gaps.

Founded in 2000 by Gavriel State when he left Corel, TransGaming has created software that facilitates running Windows games on other platforms. The company began by creating Cedega, which allows Linux users to play games like Counterstrike and World of Warcraft right out of the box. Lately, however, their focus has been on their Cider system, which makes it easier to port Windows games to the Mac. They’re currently working to bring several Electronics Arts titles like Need For Speed Carbon and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix straight to the Mac for the first time in EA’s history. TransGaming has also recently partnered with GameTap, an online service that allows gamers to play classic arcade games in their web-browsers. The Cider technology cuts the porting time on a title down to weeks, rather than the months it can normally take to bring a title from one platform to another. “We can wrap it using the Cider runtime without significant changes to the source code,” says State from his ByWard Market office. “From the user perspective, it’s just a Mac game.”

TransGaming isn't the only company in the Market focused on porting technology. Adding interaction to cellphones and PDAs is Magmic Games.

Mobile gaming is a fast growing sector and according to VP of publishing Nicholas Reichenbach, Magmic is seeing 20% growth per month. They’ve taken 80% of the Blackberry game market through their download portable Bplay.com which has more than 800,000 users and earlier this year launched the Jetpack Games division, focusing on Windows Mobile games. Magmic cranks out four smartphone games per month and releases one game per month ported to 1,300 different cellphones.

Magmic’s games cover a multitude of genres, from poker, board games and puzzle games to licensed products like a Transformers platform shooter, released to go with this summer's blockbuster movie and a version of Command and Conquer, playable on a Blackberry.

Ottawa's oldest gaming company has been keeping up with the times. Surrounded by government offices in Tunney's Pasture, Artech Studios, with a motion capture studio, is developing games for multiple platforms including the Xbox 360, and even adding interactivity to DVD players. “There's a lot of tricks to make a DVD more interactive,” says director and co-founder Paul Butler. Recent DVD releases included Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit. Butler says on-demand downloads are the next big platform. “We think it’s going to revolutionize gaming the way it’s changed the music industry,” he says.
Butler also thinks more platform boundaries will be eradicated, as Artech continues to create releases for Microsoft’s XBox system, which will soon be integrated with PC games using MS’s new Live Anywhere technology.

Moving further west, Ottawa's interactive multimedia industry seems to get more serious. Out in Bells Corners, Distil Interactive uses the new potential of the web for training and certification purposes.
Distil CTO Kenton White gives an example of their work: If someone wants to be an ISO certified auditor, the applicant can perform an audit of a virtual company through a web browser. In another application, a virtual simulation of a job, rather than a paper test, will make it easier for someone to see what areas they'll need to improve on to pass certifications.

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