Under the Hood of the U.S Navy's First PC Game

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Whatif Productions' Game ProcessorÂ? platform delivers a sophisticated 3D gaming solution while solving the problem of escalating development costs. Can it revive the small game studio?

On July 17, the U.S. Navy Recruiting Command unveiled its newest recruiting tool, a PC game called Navy Training Exercise (NTE): Strike and Retrieve. It's the first freely downloaded "advergame" employed by the Navy to target technically savvy recruits, aged 17-24. Developing a game to reach this demographic is the brain-child of Campbell-Ewald Advertising (Warren, MI), which handles the Navy recruiting account. A firm six-month schedule and sophisticated production goals required that Campbell-Ewald and the Navy employ a new approach to game development. Their needs brought them to Whatif Productions, a middleware company in Belmont, Massachusetts, with a new video game platform.

Whatif’s® secret weapon in NTE:Strike and Retrieve is not the underwater craft in the game itself, or the exotic marine creatures and machinery that must be configured, outwitted or destroyed, but a new development platform called GameProcessor™ that cuts dramatically the time and cost of creating a new game. GameProcessor™ enabled Whatif® to deliver NTE: Strike and Retrieve with a team of nine developers in six months which is well below the time and resources usually required for a sophisticated 3D game targeting tech-savvy players equipped with state-of-the-art PCs.

When Whatif® was founded in 1997 small, low-budget teams of game developers were still common in the industry. But now a typical AAA game costs $5-10 million to produce, takes 18-36 months and involves large teams of artists and programmers. Industry pundits are predicting costs of $20-30 million per game for major productions on the next generation consoles, and the President of Nintendo has warned that the industry could "implode" from escalating costs.

This was precisely the future that Whatif founder and system architect Jake Kolb V planned to disrupt when he set out to build the GameProcessor™ platform. Thanks to Kolb’s "concept oriented" data structure, novel efficiencies are built into the development process while readying content for secure digital distribution. Complex elements from one 3D game can be moved to another game as easily as cutting and pasting a piece of text in a document. With GameProcessor™, Whatif® envisions a future where reusing, exchanging, reselling and licensing elements from one game to another will become standard practice cutting development costs dramatically.

Fred Skoler, Whatif’s® Chief Operating Officer and President of Production, estimates the cost savings for first-time use of GameProcessor™ at 15%. After that, the savings are 40% for second-time use, 60% or more for third time use, and more than 75% for porting to new platforms because GameProcessor™ is hardware scalable. The economies increase as GameProcessor™ is licensed into the burgeoning games middleware market, now growing at 25% a year, three times faster than the video game software industry itself.

"Ultimately," says Skoler, "GameProcessor™ will make it possible for small teams and even individuals to specialize in creating game elements and to sell them over the Net, with digital rights management, encryption and payment protocols already built in."

Savings are not the only advantage. Says Skoler: "GameProcessor™ frees the artist to produce new creative effects without the inefficient need for programming that plagues current development. Because of its unique architecture, GameProcessor™ has capabilities in artificial intelligence, dynamic physics and visual rendering not yet available in today’s marketplace."

On the surface the Navy’s new recruiting game is about reaching young men and women attuned to the high-tech armed forces of the 21st Century. But under the hood, it is about a revolution in the design and distribution of games content that may revive the opportunity for small game studios.

About Whatif®: Established in 1997, Whatif Productions LLC, a privately owned company, develops a revolutionary middleware software platform, Game Processor®, for the creation and distribution of secure digital games content. Whatif® also develops games as showcase content in partnership with creative developers under contract.

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Fred Skoler
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