Editor’s note: “Trendsetters” is a Local Tech Wire feature that focuses on emerging and innovative companies with cutting-edge technology.As it continues to search for funding and prepares to enter the wireless market, Numerical Design Ltd. (NDL) has been named a finalist for the Front Line Award by Game Developer magazine for its 3D graphics engine and game development toolkit.

Known as NetImmerse, the NDL graphics engine also received a Front Line Award in 1999. It provides game developers with flexibility so they can create environments unique to their game.

“We are happy to have come this far,” says John Austin, chief executive officer of NDL. “Just to be recognized as an important part of the folks making games and as one of the key technologies people are using is pretty exciting for us.”

Game Developer’s annual Front Line Awards are the industry’s premier awards honoring excellence and innovation in game development tools.

“Every year, the best of the game industry’s development tools mirror the evolution of the game industry itself,” said Jennifer Pahlka, publisher of Game Developer, based in Skokie, IL. “The Front Line Awards recognize those software and hardware companies whose tools enable faster and more efficient game creation for advancing the state of the art.”

Front Line Awards finalists are chosen by a judging panel of experienced professional game developers working closely with the magazine’s editorial staff. Winners will be announced in the January 2003 issue of Game Developer, available Dec. 27.

The road to wireless

NDL continues to upgrade and enhance its products, Austin tells Local Tech Wire. One area the company is focusing on is wireless applications. But NDL can only move as fast as the market allows, he adds.

“As much as anything that we can do with our technology, what’s pacing it is the availability of wireless devices … cell phones that have the capability to do 3D,” Austin says. “In the next several months, it will be on the market, but it’s a matter of having enough in the marketplace — to install a base for developers to develop content.”

Austin says NDL is doing “preliminary work” for wireless applications and will be ready when the market is. He says that cell phones are “just another platform” to NDL, like the Xbox or Gamecube.

But wireless has a long way to go before shaking things up too much at NDL.

“We continue to advance technology on those devices,” Austin says of wireless, “but what pays the bills is licensing engines on game consoles on the PC; so we want to continue to maintain our position in that market.”

‘One disappointment of the year’

On the customer and sales front, NDL is doing “really well,” Austin points out. He says the company, which is cash-flow positive with revenues of more than $2 million, is also looking to increase its employee count by two, from 18 to 20.

Earlier this year, Chapel Hill-based NDL hired its first chief operating officer. David Brame, formerly senior vice president of operations at NetOctave in Morrisville, joined the company in June and is in charge of sales and administration.

But there’s one area where the company’s been having trouble: venture capital.

“We are still looking … it’s been our one disappointment of the year,” explains Austin. “We’ve not been able to find a VC that is ready to jump.”

Privately held NDL, which also has an office in Roseville, CA, previously has received funding from Intel. NDL presented at the CED’s Venture 2002 in April and has been actively seeking $4 million.

The search has been going on for more than six months now, and Austin says he’d be even more sour … if other companies weren’t having the same problem.

“We’d be extraordinarily disappointed by not being able to raise money if other people out there were,” Austin explains. “Since we started looking, I’ve not seen an IT company in the area get a first round of money–. I’ve felt some of these companies, like us, have good business plans and management teams. It’s just that time…it’s really tough.”

NDL: www.ndl.com

Game Developer: www.gdmag.com