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Joystiq impressions: InstantAction (PC)

Zack Stern

Do gamers need yet another platform? GarageGames hopes so. The company's latest project, the InstantAction "platform" -- that word was specifically used -- sits inside a web browser, creating a new environment for gaming. And unlike Flash's 2D limit, InstantAction will support a variety of developer-driven technologies and engines, scaling up to first-person-shooters that even utilize video hardware acceleration. (GarageGames had its hand in the Tribes games after all.)

Like other browser plugins, InstantAction has cross-platform intentions. It's first launching for PCs in early 2008, Mac support will be coming as soon as possible, and a Linux version is under consideration. Gamers will be able to download several titles at launch with pricing to be determined. (Free content may be an option, while paid titles could follow subscription models, multi-game package sales, or single purchases.)

We recently explored an in-development version of InstantAction to wrap our heads around the platform-in-a-browser concept. The execution impressed us, but we're still unsure if InstantAction attempts to solve a problem nobody has. Will 3D and developer-driven environments be enough to displace Flash, as GarageGames hopes?

Gallery: InstantAction | 5 Photos

Josh Williams, GarageGames CEO and CTO, drove our demo. He stressed that the InstantAction platform would behave like a console, where it would be simple to develop one game for many users. But unlike a console, the multiple-OS reach and in-browser playability make it more accessible. (The technology could even sit in a console's web browser someday, but because of console restraints, Williams didn't expect that to happen soon if at all.) GarageGames hopes to continue its history of cross-platform development, but individual titles will need to use cross-platform engines for full support in Macs and Linux.

But since GarageGames sees InstantAction as a platform, it's up to developers to create engines or use technologies from GarageGames. (And that framework will ultimately determine cross-platform support on specific games.) Multi-platform Torque, for example, is already running in the InstantAction environment. We tried a couple games that use that technology, like Marble Blast, and everything looked the same as the stand-alone versions of games.

GarageGames thinks instant online access, community, and web connectivity will drive InstantAction's appeal. New games will download dynamically in the background. So if a user wants to play something new, it'll only take a few moments to receive the several-megabyte executable file and basic data. While playing, the PC will continue to download data and assets for further levels. Once complete, a game stays on a hard drive, but players can log into any PC and start the process again.

Friend-list options will also be a central part of the experience. Like other multi-game networking options, InstantAction will keep track of your clique of players. Unlike most competitors, gaming groups will be able to migrate together directly between titles.

GarageGames revealed few details about its launch titles other than plans to create several. Think Tanks and Marble Blast Ultra are among the only ones announced. Several unnamed action games -- including an FPS that's aiming for 32-player matches, a real-time strategy, and a role-playing game -- are also in progress.

But GarageGames is also courting third-parties and other independents to create content. Wideload is working on Cyclomite, an action-puzzle game with single and multiplayer options. GarageGames is seeking even smaller developers, offering to keep its hands off the little guys' IP while funding those projects.

Unlike Flash, InstantAction won't be fully embedded in a content creator's site, at least not initially; games will only be played through We hope that GarageGames eventually allows people to host their own titles if the company wants InstantAction to become a full platform instead of just a digital game store.

Otherwise, the project has our interest. The idea, technology, and support for developers sound positive. We'll wait until next year -- and beyond -- to see if that's enough for InstantAction to become a full "platform."

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