This Hot Topic turns out to be the longest we have ever run in IFExpress (2600+ words) and if you are at all put off by it’s length, we would like to beg your indulgence and offer a few free downloadable PC games at the end to appease our readers who don’t have time to read, but do have time to play games!

Quite often, it a good thing to write outside of one’s comfort zone. In fact, this week we were a bit outside of our comfort zone but readers will, if nothing else, find this Hot Topic interesting and possibly outside their zone too. Our subject is inflight computer games and the company is a small group of passionate individuals who make their living in other worlds – strange ones. The company – G.U.E. Tech is our subject and to set the stage, their corporate slogan (Are you ready for magic?) probably says it all. Hey, if the company logo is a unicorn that should tell you something. We ran into Max Lingua and Viknash Samy in 2010 at APEX in Long Beach, California. They were tucked back in a corner of the show floor and being fans and supporters of small, new IFE companies, we couldn’t resist a chat with the two representatives (LINK TO PIX) who turned out to be the CEO and Chief Marketeer. Two words define our meeting – game passion, and I do not think we have ever met a more excited or involved duo in their craft. And, we mean craft because theirs is a magical world that we could barely follow. However, they were so committed that we promised to write a story about their quest (Apropos, huh?) . So follow along you just might learn something…put your game face on or ask you kids to translate if you have to!

Introduction:
Tucked in the Art Deco District of Miami Beach, Florida, G.U.E. Tech is a software house focused on core software and 3D technologies for embedded systems. They provided the first 3D driver for an IFE System and sports an exclusive catalog of top brand console games for IFE. They also have a small talented staff in the Miami HQ and in their Singapore office with some subcontractors on staff to aid in various aspects of development such as porting, embedded software development, customer support, sales and marketing.

Overview:
We asked the G.U.E. Tech team to present their credentials and tell us a little about their game goals and they told IFExpress: “We aim to offer to passengers more than entertainment, we offer an experience….with a capital “E”. In one of our games, you play the role of an attorney, about to close a deal to acquire a toy factory in the French Alps, who discovers some elements which will eventually reconnect her to a lost brother. Now imagine that with symphonic soundtrack, graphics from one of the best comic artists of our times and real actor voices, and you have something more than just “blast the alien”, or “pick some gems” and “blast the alien some more”. You can actually walk off the plane and tell your friends about the game you played, exactly as you would have done with the great movie you watched onboard – this time though, you are part of the movie, and the plot unfolds based on the choices you make. It all interconnects together to offer to the passenger the best experience ever and becomes something more than just flying on a plane. It becomes part of your life story.” Hey, that’s almost poetic but we have come to expect that from these dedicated people. Later on, we think you will agree that the recommendations say just that. Here are some key features that places G.U.E. Tech above other game providers in an interview with the team:

Technology:
The company was quick to point out relevant technology that, frankly, made a lot of IFE sense: “Presently, console and media-room quality games for current, previous and next generation IFE systems are our products and we rely on highly respected game sources (publishers like Atari, Interplay, Team17, Anuman)”. “Further”, they went on, “our products are brands that made the history of video-games (Alone in the Dark, Fallout, Worms, Broken Sword, etc.) These games have been published on a variety of platforms (PC, Wii, PlayStation, Xbox, iPhone) and not just IFE. “On top of that, we supply a variety of genres (some never seen before on IFE, like 3D Real Time Strategy, Role-Playing Games or Interactive Movies). We rely on professional quality media (our games have Hollywood cast voices and soundtrack, with artwork from the best artists) and offer IFE exclusivity (only G.U.E. Tech can offer those games to the IFE market). This is why we are a win-win for the airlines.”

Atmospheric Events:
“Rain, snow, fog, wind, day, night, sunset… you name it and you will find it in our games. There may be snow painted on the road in other IFE car games, but in G.U.E. Tech OffRoad Racing the snow falls as you race in the game. You can play soccer in the rain, splash through water pools when racing around, or run for your life between thunders and gust of winds in the survival thriller Alone in the Dark. You feel like Frodo? What about a walk in the snow covered hills of Soulbringer? Lord of the Rings fan can explore snow covered hills in Soulbringer just like Frodo in the movies.

Artificial Intelligence:
When G.U.E. Tech talked about AI, we really got interested: “We leverage on the millions of dollars invested by original developers of the game in AI and user interaction R&D. We can offer fine-grained and variegated level of difficulty to cater for players from different age of groups and skill level. Few games will come with a tutorial to guide you step by step. …even if you never played pool before, Actua Pool will guide you step by step to mastery. In Actua Golf the commentators will point out your mistakes, etc. Try Battle Chess if you think that chess is boring…if you have in mind the chess scene from the first Harry Potter, you know what is coming ;-).”

Realism:
Then the question of realism came up: “There are animated fishes and swans in the ponds of our 3D Golf. You can occasionally see an air-balloon too. Once again, it’s more than a game. With real-time TV host commentary in the background, its a full experience. Your opponent (a beautifully rendered 3D model) acts like a life-like human being in 3D Actua Pool, scratching his hands and nose, while waiting for your turn. In competing IFE car racing games, it would seem like you are driving your car after the holocaust, since there is nothing other than a spoilt environment left beside the car. In our G.U.E. Tech racing games there is a crowd cheering at the side of the road, and plenty of objects you can interact with (barricades, crates, ponds, chickens, etc.) Our 3D car models are made of detailed separate parts and not just a textured brick. You can appreciate the physical precision of our suspension system. We even give you cranes, windmills as well as a chopper! There are always a few more surprises that you will discover while playing the game. Cars and soccer players are fully customizable too, which is something all passengers love. Further, Atlantis, Syberia and Dracula, all come with some of the most breathtaking landscapes to explore while unveiling the plot in the Interactive Movies experience.”

Voices:
Viknash then told IFExpress; “In 2013 everybody playing a 3D sport on the plane will expect to have real-time commentary to emphasize on screen action, and legendary British sport commentator Barry Davies breathes life in our Actua Sports Series Games. And, we raise the bar even higher: the narrating voice in all cut-scenes of Fallout are done by Golden Globe winner Rob Perlman (main character in: Hellboy, Alien 4, Blade 2, Star Trek Nemesis, etc.). If you value music, all our games have rocking soundtracks (even in game and not just the intro like competing IFE games). Not to mention that Actua Soccer comes with Robbie Williams (of “Take That” fame) songs. If you are more into classical music then you will be mesmerized by Syberia’s orchestral symphonies.” As you can see G.U.E. Tech games seriously raise the appeal of IFE interactive content quality. With these guys, games will no longer be the passenger’s second choice to movies on board.

Educationals:
And now for the important stuff, to greatest satisfaction of families flying with kids, the team offers Freddi Fish, Putt Putt, Pajama Sam and Spy Fox. The main developer of those games, Tim Schafer, a legend in entertainment biz used to work for George Lucas at LucasArts. These games will (no doubt) make you recollect the days when we were sitting on our parents lap, and listening to a bedtime story. Its bound to cheer-up all families on board not only because they do not have to compete with the engine noise, they are riveting with the added graphics, video and audio. Not only have these game brands spawned multiple merchandising opportunities (toys, lunch-box, t-shirts, books, etc.) they are also second to none from a quality point if view. As an example: the in-game characters voices are all dubbed from professional actors, e.g. the voice of Putt-Putt uses the same voice talent behind Bart from the Simpsons. Once again: first class for coach, or wherever on the plane.

Brands, Brands, Brands:
Airlines immediately recognize some of the games in the G.U.E. Tech catalog, and so will their passengers.
They come from mainstream markets and the best platforms (iPhone, PlayStation, Windows, etc.). One wonders If airlines desire Hollywood-class movies for their passengers, why are they being made to settle with unbranded games? Food for thought!

Genres:
The interview went on; “Cyberpunk fans will appreciate Fallout Series Vault Dweller’s Survival Guide, for both a Role-Playing Game (Fallout I/II) as well as Strategy (Fallout Tactics) experience and Sudoku fans will fall in love with Goblins or Simon Sorcerer Puzzles (which is a 4 in 1 game). Fans of Pulp Fiction or Scarface, will love “Kingpin – Life of Crime” (which is based on Quake3 engine – the most powerful 3D engine compatible with current generation IFE). Fantasy fans who love Lord of the Rings, should not miss out on GUE Tech’s epic Dungeons & Dragons based “Soulbringer”. Indiana Jones fans as well as romantic holiday seekers will definitely enjoy the unforgettable “Broken Sword” series….and all Harry Potter’s fans will love the quirkier Simon the Sorcerer.”

Production Value:
Now, lets us set the stage for what it is G.U.E. Tech does very well, and “magic” is not too far from the correct term. Under the heading of Technology, as mentioned, they use “bink” and “miles“, the middleware in the development of their gaming product. Suffice it to say, this is really apparent in the images, motion control and music. Even the reviewers notice the value these software assets bring to the G.U.E. Tech product. Working on IFE core software as well as on 3D applications, they claim that they have a clear idea of the potential and are not shy to use it to its full extent to offer the passengers with the best in-flight experience possible. Their words, not ours.

Singapore Airlines:
Our Hot Topic cover graphic rectangle may look a bit confusing but the G.U.E. Tech folks built it from 3 of their games, Syberia, Warmup and Actua Soccer 3. These three games are already available for passengers to play on the A380 aircraft on Singapore Airlines, their flagship customer. Actually, G.U.E. Tech is also planning Panasonic installations on SQ 777 (available shortly) and SQ A330 (coming soon). We should note that the games themselves and numbers are chosen for audience and seating class, but that is a Hot Topic unto itself. We asked if the games are free to use on the plane or If not how much to play? and G.U.E. Tech responded: “They are completely free. And we don’t show ads, which would spoil the passenger experience, so it’s an even more enjoyable/immediate experience than watching a movie. We can provide airlines (if they wish) with an option to let the passenger buy the PC/Mac/Android version of the games if they enjoy it and they want to keep playing it at home. We also offer a convenient way to allow passengers to save their games on mobile phones or USB keys and continue where they left off in their next flight, or in the comfort of your home – a never-ending gaming experience, all included in
your ticket to fly on Singapore.”

So, we had a couple more questions and if all this software mumbo jumbo is confusing, try these:

Q: What IFE platform are on now and with what ones do you claim compatibility?
A: Right now the games have been released on Panasonic’s system. But they are actually already available for Thales as well as IMS. As far a compatibility goes, the games are also compatible with portable devices that support linux or android. As you might already know, most of our games can be purchased online from various retailers and can be played on your home PC, laptop, tablet or mobile phone.

Q: We are astounded by the audio quality and music! – nice work there. Some games are older but I assume you have updated and added 3D engines and other graphic improvements as well, is that correct?
A: Yup, most of our games have been fully upgraded and made compatible for different IFE systems.

Q: As far as a total number of games, how many are available for airlines?
A: We have 120 games belonging to 15 genres in total.

Q: What input controllers are required and do any games work with touchscreens? Also do you provide any downloadable (free or paid) for idevices? Are you interested in providing that kind of content if you don’t already?
A: We can provide downloadable games to devices onboard as we have the rights to distribute the games for inflight entertainment. We are presently negotiating with carriers to make these games available through their wireless system. However, there are many different devices to support for Android + idevices and not all of them are compatible as the performance of these devices varies greatly. Some of the airlines we are presently talking to are concerned that some customers might be disappointed if support for their device is not available.

The other point we would like to make with wireless is that somebody has to pay for the service (bandwidth, server, etc.) The alternative that we are exploring is to allow passengers to buy a version for their devices (PC, Linux, Android) to play at home as well as to keep enjoying the games on board.

All our games support the standard range of IFE handsets as well as touchscreens. In some console games that run on IFEs with touchscreen only, we have implemented soft buttons to replace the handset. As a bonus we also support USB gamepads for our top games.

Editors Note: We begged the software team a couple demo’s for IFExpress readers… and yes, it’s PC stuff! We snagged 3 downloadable demos. Enjoy!

Syberia
Warmup
MDK2