I've built a PC system or five in my day, but when it comes to understanding code, I'm at a loss. So when walking in to chat with Stardock's Brad Wardell about their Impulse::Reactor development tool at GDC, I was a bit apprehensive. I enjoy their games, but I knew the conversation was going to get technical. So I'll do what Wardell did and explain it simply: Impulse::Reactor is a toolset which allows developers to easily integrate a variety of in-game features such as chat, achievements, DLC downloads and matchmaking, into their PC titles.
How easily? With a few lines of code. Seriously. Now, there's a little more to implementing it properly as any developer will want to skin the application or create custom achievements, but the process is easy. For example, creating achievements is the equivalent of an IF THEN statement in the game itself: IF player kills 20 orcs, THEN "20 Orc Killer" achievement is unlocked. Set up the picture and POOF! You've got Gamerscore.
What's elegant about Impulse::Reactor is that it does not require a client, unlike Valve's Steamworks toolset which requires Steam be installed, nor does a player need to create an account on a third-party service. Instead, Impulse::Reactor is an in-game overlay which can be graphically styled by the developer, and does not affect the actual codebase of the game. Gamers can log on with a Facebook or Twitter account (in the works are Windows Live and OpenID) and gain access to all the bells and whistles, from friends lists and matchmaking to tournament ladders and server lists without ever having to create a new account for the service.
Impulse::Reactor is free for developers to use if the games are to be made available through Stardock's digital distribution platform, Impulse, though this is not an exclusive or mandatory agreement. In contrast to some of the other methods employed by competing digital distributors, this should grant more freedom to gamers who want to purchase titles without having to become adopters of new services as well.
We're still a long way from having a single login for all our gaming needs, but Impulse::Reactor is a step in the right direction. Whether it catches with developers and publishers versus Games for Windows Live or Steam remains to be seen, however. For a narrated video presentation of the product, check this out: