Q&A: Loren Kaiser on the DISCover engine

Digital Interactive Systems' vice president explains how the ApeXtreme PC game console's auto-updating, "Drop and Play" software works.

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When it is unveiled tomorrow at CES, the ApeXtreme PC game console will have Apex's name on its case. It will be powered by Via hardware inside that case. But what will set it apart is the DISCover "Drop and Play" engine.

Designed by Digital Interactive Systems, the DISCover engine is a software system that aims to let users play PC titles on televisions as though they were console games. According to Loren Kaiser, Digital Interactive Systems' vice president of operations, the engine will also automatically update and install all patches and some mods for the 2,000 PC games which it is programmed to recognize out of the box.

How will it do it? Kaiser took some time out of his schedule to explain to GameSpot how the DISCover engine works and what machines will feature it in the future.

GameSpot: When are the first DISCover-based consoles going to hit stores?

Loren Kaiser: The end of Q1 2004. We're going to launch at CES with the ApexExtreme, which has been chosen as a finalist for the CES Innovation Award. DISCover itself is not making any consoles. DISCover's business model is to help electronics manufacturers tap into the gaming industry. Using our technology they will be able to tap into a library of thousands of existing PC games using the DISCover standard. It's kind of similar to the Dolby or DVD standard. How it works is the games are scripted and the scripts are loaded onto the machine. We're going to script 2,000 games at launch.

GS: Can anyone license the technology?

LK: Not anyone, just select partners. We don't like to use the term "licensing" because we provide a BIOS chip that contains portions of the software. They're also getting our database of scripts, and several programs that work together that we call the DISCover engine. It's really more of a partnership. We don't just hand them a little gold CD. We also script all the games and optimize them to their system.

GS: Is anyone else besides Apex adopting the DISCover engine?

LK: Alienware is going to launch with a media center that incorporates DISCover. The media center will let you do PVR functions and TiVo-type things, like Microsoft's media center--movies, music. Now when you incorporate this, you just drop in the games and they'll play. … They're [also] evaluating a $995 console with a P4 and a gig of RAM. There's going to be some shocks out of the Alienware one--you should see what they're designing.

GS: I was reading on your Web site that the DISCover engine will auto-update and install all the past and new patches for every game played on the console. How will it do that?

LK: OK, what's a game you like to play?

GS: Battlefield 1942.

LK: When you put in the CD, the first thing our engine does is it recognizes the game. We kind of go in front of auto-play, the lower-level calls to the Microsoft kernels. We're going to recognize the disc and determine whether it's a game or a music CD or a DVD. Once we determine it's a game, then we determine what the game is with our a fingerprinting system. Once we determine that it's Battlefield 1942, we're going to look into your system to see if it is installed or not. If it is installed, it's going to come right up and start the game. Now all that happens instantly--you put in Battlefield, the game starts right up. That's what a true console does, a PlayStation 2 or an Xbox.

GS: And if it's not installed?

LK: If it recognizes it's not installed, [the engine] goes into our automatic script to install the game. It knows your system, because we script each machine, so you're not doing anything. For Battlefield, since it's a 2-disc game, the tray will automatically pop open and you'll put in a second disc, and it will continue installing. From that point on, the game's installed and you just put the play disc in and the game starts.

GS: Yeah, but there's been dozens of patches for that game, not to mention all the mods…

LK: We'll handle the patches. As far as the mods, we'll just work with the mods that hit critical mass, the major ones.

GS: How will the DISCover engine know when there's a new patch to upload?

LK: We're working hand-in-hand with GameSpy. They'll be handling the patches with us. We're working with them to build a special DISCover arcade into our system. It will happen automatically, similar to TiVo or Replay TV. Every night at 1am, assuming the system is idle, it will dial in to our servers. When it dials in at night, it's going to get scripts for all the new games we've input into our server. It works the same way with patches. It will recognize that you have Battlefield 1942 on your system and, since the user is not given a choice, it will just patch it for you. We're trying to take some of the pains out of playing PC games.

GS: Will you be able to use a keyboard?

LK: You'll be able to use a keyboard, we're just not going to support productivity software. It's still a computer, if you don't have the DISCover engine going. But in the Apex one it's embedded, you can't even get into any aspects of Windows--all you can do is insert media.

GS: What other functionality will it have?

LK: You can drop in DVDs, music, MP3s. It's an all around media player with games.

GS: So it's fair to say the goal of the DISCover-enabled consoles is to bring console ease-of-use to PC games.

LK: We don't really see it purely as competing with consoles. We're saying there's a lot of great games on the PC, and most people are stuck playing them in their offices or side bedrooms. We're bringing those games into the living room.

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