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Is your smartphone the next killer videogame controller?

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 13, 2010 10:13 AM

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brassmonkey.jpgOne of the cooler companies demoing at tonight's Web Innovators Group gathering in Cambridge believes that a computer keyboard is far from the ideal videogame controller. Brass Monkey, a spin-out from the Boston-based software development shop Infrared5, thinks that smartphones work much better.

Just hold your iPhone horizontally with two hands, and you can fly spacecraft or drive race cars, thanks to the phone's built-in accelerometer sensor (newer iPhones also include a gyroscope), which relays information about its position and movement via WiFi to your computer. "We think the future of the user experience is people interacting with screens in new ways," says CTO Chris Allen, pictured above. "You don't have to buy special gloves or anything. We said, 'Let's take the thing you already have in your pocket and use that as the input device.'" The Brass Monkey system requires that you download an app to your iPhone, but there's no download required on your computer; the phone can control a game that's being played in most major browsers.

To show what smartphones can do as game controllers, Brass Monkey "sister company" Infrared5 developed a game called "Star Wars: Trench Run" last year, under license from Lucasfilm. You can use your iPhone or iPad to fly the Millennium Falcon, shoot down TIE fighters, or try to destroy the Death Star from behind the controls of Luke Skywalker's X-wing. What's surprising is that there's basically no perceptible delay between your movements and what happens on the screen.

Eventually, the company envisions the Brass Monkey software deployed to enable multiple players to play the same game using different smartphones. (An Android version of the controller is nearly done, Allen says.)

The next game to use the Brass Monkey controller will likely be a driving game released as part of a promotional campaign for a major car maker. The company is also actively talking to other game companies about licensing the Brass Monkey software development kit for their own games. But one challenge will be the simplicity of many of the popular Web-based games these days: do you really need an iPhone controller to tend your virtual peas in Farmville?

Brass Monkey was one of the 100-plus finalists selected in the inaugural MassChallenge start-up competition. So far, Brass Monkey has been self-funded. The start-up is led by Jim Bull, a co-owner of Strategic Marketing Partners, a firm that helps market and distribute videogames.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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March 3: Web Innovators Group
Demos, drinks, and schmoozing at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge.

March 7-8: MassDigi Game Challenge
Competition for aspiring game developers... plus panels and keynotes related to the business of play.

April 3-4: Mass Biotech Annual Meeting
Issues facing the region's life sciences community.

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