Garage Games is arguably one of the most interesting smaller companies working in the industry right now. The creative nucleus of the team worked on the much-loved StarSiege: Tribes many moons ago - a game which did the Battlefield thing several years before Battlefield itself. Since forming Garage Games, the team has worked on the free(ish) 3D engine, Torque, and a number of popular casual games, the most notable being the Marble Blast series which originated on the company's own download service before popping up on Xbox Live Arcade.
The company's newest venture is InstantAction, and this time the focus is browser-based games. "So what?" you might say "we've been playing browser-based games for years." However, these aren't the Flash-powered browser-based games that everyone and their grandma has played by now - these are high-quality, 3D games with a strong multiplayer focus, tied into a fully functional online gaming service. Because it's all done in the browser there are no clients to download or applications to install, just a simple ActiveX code install when you first register for the service. Currently Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2 are supported on Windows XP and Vista, through MacOS and Linux versions are planned.
Once you've signed up, you're free to create and edit a player profile or join or host a game using the clean web-styled interface. As with Xbox Live Arcade, you access all InstantAction games through a single online profile, and you can choose a little avatar icon, a location and a tagline to fit your gaming persona. Click on the Home icon at the top and you can see a game box representing the currently available games, and by clicking on a box you can then give that game a try. Alternatively, by clicking on the Games icon you can see a list of the current live games, or opt to host your own.
Here's where things get clever. InstantAction means instant action - or at least as near to instant as current Internet technology allows. Join a game and the service downloads and caches whatever data it needs to play the game at once, then sneakily streams additional game data in the background. As a result, you can be up and playing the game within a minute of clicking on the Join link, depending on the game in question and the level currently in play. For the most part, it's an impressively speedy process and practically seamless. The idea is to make playing games as easy as watching videos on YouTube, and the reality is already not far off.