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Lanica Unveils JavaScript Game Engine

Platino Game Platform allows developers to write games in JavaScript and to distribute them as native mobile code.

Lanica, a maker of programming tools for game developers, on Tuesday launched the Lanica Game Platform, a game engine and a suite of related apps for building mobile games in JavaScript.

Lanica is a startup funded by Appcelerator, the maker of Titanium, an open source mobile development environment that can be used to create apps in JavaScript that can then be packaged to run on Android, iOS, Windows and BlackBerry, as well as in Web browsers.

As such, Lanica's Platino game engine requires the free Titanium SDK, but the additional content creation apps that constitute the Lanica Game Platform can operate independently and can be used in conjunction with other game development platforms and tools.

Lanica was co-founded by Carlos Icaza, former CEO and co-founder of Ansca Mobile (now Corona Labs), maker of the Corona SDK game engine, and Kota Iguchi, former CEO of Infosia, maker of the Emo-Framework game engine.

[ So long, Key Lime Pie. Read Google's Next Android Called 'KitKat'. ]

Icaza in a phone interview said that Lanica's focus extends beyond game engines. "Making games is not just about the engines," he said. "It's about managing the assets, creating the levels and designing graphics."

The point of a game engine, he said, is to accelerate development. But game engines, which provide a framework for coordinating images, sounds and code and rendering everything on screen, don't address many of the time-consuming tasks related to asset preparation. "If we did an engine, what good is it if we can't complement it with other tools?" he said.

Aside from the Platino game engine ($17-$68/month, free for non-profit use), the platform includes Animo, a suite of design and development tools (a sprite editor, an IDE, a font tool and a particle effects tool), and Cosmo, a forthcoming suite of cloud-hosted backend services for game makers.

"The key to making a game is to iterate fast," said Icaza.

Certainly, there's some truth to that. There are so many mobile games in the various app stores that low-cost, rapid-fire game development appears to be a more appealing business model than risking a fortune on both development and marketing in the hope of a breakthrough hit.

Though game discovery is a marketing problem that every game developer faces, Icaza insists player retention is an even bigger issue. Lanica's forthcoming Cosmo services should provide developers with the infrastructure to encourage player engagement.

The challenge Lanica faces is not only a crowded game development tools market, but also an announcement last week that the next release of Unity3D, version 4.3, will include a new set of 2-D game creation tools.

Over the past few years, Unity3D has become a popular 3-D game development platform, boasting a community of some two million developers. But its focus on 3-D games, which tend to require well-funded development efforts, left room for smaller companies to develop 2-D gaming tools. With Unity Technologies expanding its focus, its software could lure developers away from smaller tool makers, at least those without healthy developer communities.

Icaza, however, sees Unity's expanded focus as a validation of what Lancia is trying to do. And his company's affiliation with Appcelerator, which in April said it had more than 450,000 developers, should help attract and retain customers, particularly among large corporate clients that rely on Appcelerator for managing cross-platform entertainment and gaming projects.

"The developer's success is our success, so it behooves us to make developers successful," said Icaza.

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