Sci-Fi channel has head in cloud (computing)

Channel announces agreement with Trion World Network

The buzzword: cloud computing. The technique harnesses servers' power to share the workload, run Web-based Google apps or combine CPUs for cancer research and countless other noble causes. Brace for one more use: games. The Sci Fi Network has just announced an agreement with new game publisher, Trion World Network, to create a cross-platform, cross-media IP. What the heck does that even mean?

Let's say you're watching Battlestar Galactica — The show's over, but what happens between episodes? Fire up the PlayStation 3 and fly an online sortie with some Internet buddies. You crash for the night and on the bus ride into work, you log in again but on your super-powered smartphone to change ship loadouts. During lunch, you play the PC game and take down a couple more Cylons with your same squadmates. Imagine multiple windows that let you look into the same interactive world in different ways. And it won't matter which device you log in on (so long as you have a high-speed net connection) because the entire game is hosted on servers — with minimal mess to install on devices.

Games, anywhere

That's what Trion president, chief creative officer and co-founder Jon Van Caneghem envisions with his new company. The biggest boon of the server-based cloud-computing model is that it frees up many client-side headaches. The biggest of all: high system requirements just for a game to run. In a demo, Van Caneghem showed how an easily scalable world could allow for a radically evolved gaming experience. What started as a typical World of WarCraft-like journey, shifted on the fly into a Super Mario-esque game. No slowdowns and no hiccups. So long as you have a solid broadband connection, a game could work and look good on even a modest notebook.

Besides the big-deal announcement of a partnership with Sci-Fi, Trion drops hints on another "Channel" — a fantasy MMO created by Van Canaghem (he's the man behind the classic Might and Magic series). While it's too early to disclose details, he did mention how the fledgling company is developing games that will work on the PlayStation 3 and likely on the Xbox 360 as well. So, this — or one of the company's other upcoming projects — could be the first game to be truly cross platform with PS3, Xbox 360, cell phone and PC gamers all stomping around in the same digital playground.

Now, a few astute folks out there may recall Microsoft promising similar functionality with its fizzling Live Anywhere initiative, but that went from stalled to neutral with the sputtering rollout of Games for Windows Live. Sony Online continues working on ways to bring PC and PS3 players together. Nokia is also working on that cross-platform promise.

The backing to the future

Trion's endeavor already has some seriously solid partners beyond the Sci-Fi network announcement out today. Trion's backing reads like a who's who of media giants: Time Warner, NBC-Universal, GE and Bertelsmann — to name a few.

The technology and content partners are certainly there, but all the cross promotional licensing in the world doesn't guarantee a good game. What is interesting: Trion's bases of operations. With offices in San Diego; Redwood City, California; and Austin, Texas; Trion is in poaching distance of both Electronic Arts and Sony Online Entertainment (and countless other online gaming companies).

While there are no firm release dates for any of their projects (don't expect to see games until 2009 at the earliest), it could make for a very interesting new take on upcoming TV seasons. Imagine creating an avatar in the Heroes universe and see it make a cameo on the show. Hey, I can dream.

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Darren Gladstone

PC World
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