Is Indrema Just a Dream?by David Sims
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John Gildred dreamed of a way to lower the barrier for game developers to create entertainment that would run not just on PCs, but in the much wider universe of gaming consoles. The idea: build a Linux-based gaming console that open source hackers can develop for. But can a startup get a foothold on a market dominated by Nintendo, Sony, and (soon) Microsoft? Indrema's chances for survival have sagged in recent months, and on Friday, April 6, Red Herring published this article quoting Gildred saying the project has about 30 days to make it or break it. We talked to Gildred and asked him to describe the Indrema game console for us.
Sims: First off, can you tell us a little bit about what Indrema is?
Gildred: Indrema is releasing a video game console platform in 2001, which essentially makes it extremely easy for anyone to become a developer of a very high-performance video game platform. It will also offer additional high-end video-audio capabilities. It essentially is a digital home entertainment platform.
Sims: I was thinking of it as something of a set-top box with wings. It's a Linux-based system focusing primarily on gaming, but it includes multimedia capabilities such as DVD playback.
Gildred: Yes, actually it's a video game console at heart, but it has a lot of functionality that no one has ever really put in that definition. The multimedia features are personal TV, music library management such as MP3 music, and other secure music formats. It interfaces with the Internet with the capability for broadband connectivity. There is so much that this device does, it really becomes the center of your home entertainment center.
Indrema Informer, a news site on Indrema development
Sims: Why did you choose the Linux platform or what competitive advantage does that offer?
Gildred: Well, Linux was a decision made after our first decision, which was that we wanted to leverage an open source development environment. The reason for that is that one of our primary concerns was barrier to entry for developers. So open source allowed us to establish a set of tools for developing games that were free and still very, very powerful. With that we then went out and investigated different open source kernels that would be suitable for a video game console platform, and by far Linux was the best choice. It has a very powerful core that you can really shrink down to the bare essentials and then pile on the great gaming engine that we have today.
Sims: And then above the kernel level, between that and the interface, you have Open GL and Open AL, the open libraries in that?
Gildred: Open GL is our 3D graphics API, which is a very industry-standard API that has been used extensively in video gaming, and has been used for a very long time in the workstation and PC environments.
Sims: And then you're supplementing that with a proprietary video API, Open Stream -- is that right?
Gildred: Actually, Open Stream is completely open. We really like to use the word "open" correctly, so we are trying to make sure that anything that has the word "open" on our platform actually is. The Open Stream API is something that we are developing, but we will give away the source code of the implementation, and we will publish the spec of the API in such a way that eventually a consortium will govern its evolution.
Sims: How do you get into a market like this with today's huge players? We've got the momentum of PS2 right now, and we've got X-Box on the horizon. It seems like you're targeting a window of opportunity between the two. How do you walk into that game?
Gildred: Well, I think that the game is totally being rewritten right now, and it's funny, because one of our internal sort of mottos or things that we believe is that there are the new rules of the game, and it's changing, the market is changing. I think the new rules of the game are that the devices are becoming multifunctional, and this sort of never-ending promise of conversions, that has never been delivered, I think will actually become realized, in terms of interactive TV, on the video gaming side. I think that as an engine, you need to have a device that can render very rich graphics and very compelling content. That rendering engine has to be much more sophisticated than what you see in cable boxes today or in any of the other set-top boxes, and I think that's part of the reason why you don't see a compelling development environment for content for interactive TV or for that type of a thing. When you think of the video game platform on the console side, it's traditionally been a great consumer electronics-oriented development platform but one now that is becoming connected to the Internet and connected to television that may be interactive very soon.
Sims: And it seems like one of the ways you're really changing the roles is that you're giving your developer kit away for free.
Gildred: That's right, and because this whole sort of revolution in technology is happening and it's now becoming a big deal in the living room more so than the desktop, as we move ahead we want to enable that by allowing it to get in anyone's hands. So essentially any user, any game player, can become a game maker. We think with the free tools that we make available in our open source software development kit, you really can download everything that you need to get started and you can let your imagination run wild. There is a learning curve there, but we think that, with the tools being free, it'll be interesting to see the amount of talent that is now able to come to market, whereas before they weren't.
Sims: So it's a low barrier of entry as opposed to the other console gaming development programs, which require a lot of money. If there's no barrier to entry, those wind up as PC games.
Gildred: Exactly. If I'm making a game in today's market and I want to get it to market and I don't have the reputation in selling games already or I haven't worked for another company and successfully built a large blockbuster game, I don't have much of a chance of cutting a deal with a large game publisher or a game console manufacturer. So there's very little chance I can sell to the video game consumer electronics space, and the majority of the video game market is the console side, not the PC game side. So you kind of see this duality, sort of this teeter-totter effect, where the size of the market on the PC side is much smaller because the barrier to entry for developers is low, but the barrier to entry for consumers to use the platform is high. It's very difficult to configure a high-end game for a PC. On the console side, it's the opposite, where the barrier to entry for consumers is low because they're easy to buy, plug in, and use. The barrier to entry for developers is almost prohibitive for independent developers, and that teeter-totter effect is something that has made it difficult for a lot of the talent in one side to move over to a much larger market, and we want to change that rule. We want to make it so that any independent developer or any large publisher can bring a game onto our platform and get to the mass consumer.
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