5.04.2006

John Champlin, PR and Media Liason, Ambrosia Software

Well, finals are over, Boot Camp's dust has settled, and lo-- there is still room in this world for my blog. Sorry for the delay in bringing this interview to you.

Today we have John Champlin from Ambrosia Software. He's the PR man at Ambrosia, and has been kind enough to fill out our questionnaire with a mix of his own responses and some group efforts from the whole team at Ambrosia - thank you all for filling out the questionnaire!

Just like last time, the interview is divided into two sections. The first one is the tech, the second one is the marketing. All comments should be listed at the end of the article (no matter how dumb you think they are - I like comments!) So feel free to post a comment on how future interviews - and this blog - could be improved!


Tech Questions-


What is your favorite and least favorite thing about working on Mac OS X as opposed to Windows.

We feel that Mac OS X has a cleaner interface, with a much more visually pleasing look to it. Windows doesn't have the dependability factor such as you find with Mac OS X, and because of this most of our programmers really prefer Mac OS X .

On the flip side of this, Windows has more support due to a larger market share. So, you can find more support for issues when you encounter them when working with Windows.


What OS is better for gaming, Windows or Mac OS X, and why?

Both have their benefits, and we are of course biased towards Mac OS X, but there really isn't anything overly different in the hardware itself. The difference is in the fact that there are far more Windows users out there, so most games and support/development resources are directed towards the Windows world.


What would make Mac OS X better for making games?

That is actually an unusual question, and I frankly didn't know how to answer it and went so around to the Ambrosia crew asking what they thought of it. The answer was an unanimous "Hmmmm". The real question I think is what has Apple done to draw the developers and designers towards the Mac platform? After all, Apple have offered some great and easy new tools for those willing to develop for the Mac. With the new compilers, Intel chips, Core Audio and Core Graphics, Apple have changed how things are handled on the Mac. Thanks to this, there has been a lot of developers making the transition over to Apple. So, perhaps what would make Mac OS X better is just for the developers to keep doing what they have been doing all along.


What is your opinion on Apple's decision to use Intel integrated graphics on the entry level models?

On the hardware side of things, it of course reduces heat so the computers won't burn up, and it doesn't use the amount of energy as used previously, so for the laptop side of things results in a longer battery life. And of course, with the lower cost, it will hopefully lead to the lowering of prices making Macs available to more people.


What's your favorite project you've worked on?

Of course working on games is a great thing. There is nothing like being "forced" to play a game for a few hours as we test it for any bugs or playability issues. It's actually kind of entertaining, but the Ambrosia crew had almost too much fun creating "Screen Cleaner Pro" which was actually not a real product, but a joke we had released for April Fool's Day of 2005. This software was to clean the inside of your screen, revitalizing it and bringing back the old colors. Sadly, this (to our knowledge) cannot be done. But, we had a lot of fun coming up with the concept and releasing the "product". Of course, the least enjoyable project would probably be cleaning up after this release. Many many people fell for this joke and sadly thought it was a real product. We had universities asking for site licenses, and people saying that we had "saved their screens". It was hard to tell someone that it wasn't real. We still get weekly emails from people thinking it is serious.

I've noticed some of your games for Mac are 2D, what technologies do you use to make those?

We have used a variety of tools to create the games, it's whatever the preference is of the developer, and what they feel is best to create the game/utility is really the deciding factor on what is used.

Do you work with Direct3D at all, or do you go strictly with OpenGL?

We develop and program our work with Macs, so it would be rare for our developers to use Direct3D. And with the new work being done using core audio/graphics, the use of OpenGL is, by some programmers, has the possibility of becoming moot.


Marketing-


Is your company growing financially, is the business profitable?

Judging by the new building we had to purchase to accomdate our growth and new hires I think it would be safe to say that Ambrosia is doing well. Even our African Grey Parrot got an upgrade to a new and improved cage.

How do you advertise games?

We have advertised by taking out full pages adds for our newly released games and utilities in some major publications like MacDirectory. As well as banner advertisements on many sites. We offer review copies to most publications interested in reviewing the work so that is always a beneficial thing. Plus we have a rather steady stream of visitors to our site daily, so it doesn't take long for news to get around that there is a new game for people to download and test.

Do you feel Apple does enough to promote gaming on the Mac?

As with any company you always feel that they can do more, but they are really finally pushing more promotional time and resources to gaming on the Mac. I hope it continues!

Does Boot Camp affect your strategy for making games at all?

Not really, we see it only in positive terms. We feel that this will open up both platforms to people who normally wouldn't have used the other. So, a larger market means better things for all.

All of your games can be bought by downloading them. Why did you pick this strategy? Especially, what advantages does it have over boxing copies and putting them in Apple Stores?

We felt this was going to be the way of the future, by which we were correct I might add. By having our products accessible for downloading this ensures that when you download you are getting the latest version of the product. Any corrections or alterations are there, so you constantly have the best possible version of the game or utility. Plus with this we have more freedoms than having to design packaging and worry about shipping and stocking of products. Also, there is nothing better than instant gratification, you want to play the newest Ambrosia game, then go to the site and download it for free. You can play be playing it within minutes rather than driving to a store and hoping it's on the shelf. You are also able to download and play the game and then decide if you want to pay for it after you have played it. A trial version of a game is something that I wish I could have had on a few games that shall go unnamed. Ambrosia wants you to be happy with the product before you even have to put any money into it.

Why do you think Mac gaming goes largely unnoticed?

I wouldn't say it goes unnoticed, Ambrosia has done very well for itself this past decade, and there have been many other companies that have followed in our footsteps because of it. Mac gaming just doesn't have the number of gamers as other platforms do. It's hard to reach 100% of the market when less than 25% of it has Macs in the first place. Mac gaming just doesn't have the number of gamers for it to make the news everytime, but to say it's unnoticed would be very wrong.

If there was any one thing you could do, or cause to be done, that could boost the awareness of the Mac gaming market/community, what would it be?

Give everyone a Mac. Once you have a Mac and see what it can do, you won't go back.



Wise words from a wise man, and if you haven't done that last one yet try this link. If there are any comments that you would like to leave for this article, please feel free to click on the link just below. Your comments will help me to write better interviews!

Patience...

Yes, well, it's only been a month since my last post... I actually have the interview from Ambrosia Software sitting here in my inbox, simply waiting to be put up. Somewhere between finals and boot camp...I think I was wondering if I was really going to want to do this anymore.

But, hey, things change right? So this blog will see a shift in focus as well. I'm going to try and grab a few more interviews with small time Apple Developers, like Ambrosia, to see just what is in the pipe for games that are run on Mac natively. As nice as boot camp is, I think we'd all agree that not having to switch into Windows just to play games would be better ;-).

The interview will be up tomorrow, look for it then!

4.05.2006

UpDate, UpComing and MyOpinons

Ahh...one interview down, countless thousand to go... Now I'm getting ahead of myself. I was happy to see that the interview was well received and I've enjoyed the comments on the blog thus far. Keep them up, I'm using as many as I can in an effort to improve the site.

I was happy to get some hard answers from Glenda, nothing to technical, but still explanatory. For example, it had not occurred to me that they would simply write the pieces of Direct3D that they need to port games from Windows. In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense. Though I still wonder just how hard it is to make all those individual pieces yourself rather than having them (for the most part) already there. Maybe the next time I interview someone who ports games...

But that won't be our next interview. Our next one comes from Ambrosia software, maker of Games and Applications for Macintosh. I personally have spent hours on EVNova, and if you've never played it, I would highly recommend going over to Ambrosia and picking up a copy. It doesn't have shiny 3D graphics, but it has enough depth to keep you going for months and months on end. Look for the interview to be up late Saturday.

An interesting development came up today for Mac Gaming in the form of Boot Camp. An officially Apple supported application for running Windows on an Intel Powered Mac. This brings up some interesting questions. One, will I give up the blog since I can play Half-Life 2 on my Macintosh? No, it's not a Mac if it's not OSX. I bought my Mac to get away from Windows. That's not to say that I won't grab a copy and give it a shot anyway, but I still want to play Half-Life 2 in OSX.

But I think this development will make for some interesting questions. Can OSX, by virtue of it's design, run games faster than a Windows based machine? Now we have a chance to really find out. So if anyone out there has a dual booting Macintosh and would like to write me a comment about running a game, any game, on both OS's, on the same machine... That would be just peachy.

4.02.2006

Glenda Adams, Director of Development, Aspyr Media

Here it is. The questionnaire in it's entirety. I'm hoping to spur discussion more than anything else, so I invite you to read what you see and make comments at the end of the article. Your comments will provide the direction for this site, and will hopefully make OSX and the Mac a more viable gaming platform.

The interview is structured as such. The first five questions are aimed at clarifying technological issues. (Anywhere that a technical term is used I'll link you up to Wikipedia). The second section consists of marketing questions, and will hopefully help us understand the problems with selling a game once it has been convereted.

So, without further ado...


What tools are you not able to use with Macintosh that you could with the Windows platform, if any?

The only tools that present a problem are middleware SDK's (Software Development Kits) that don't exist on the Mac. Havok physics (a common physics engine)is a notable one- they don't support the Mac, so it's very difficult to do a Mac game that uses Havok on the PC. The only option is to remove the Havok SDK and replace it with another physics library, like Aegia's.

How hard is it to implement Direct3D and DirectX on the Macintosh platform?

To implement all of Direct3D on the Mac is quite a large undertaking. Over [the] years we have built up our own library of code that handles much of DirectX 8 and 9, including Direct3D, but even after using it for dozens of games there are still new pieces of Direct3D we find we need to write or tweak with each new game. And Direct 3D is always changing, so it's a bit of a moving target. By the time we have a really complete Direct3D 9 Mac implementation, DirectX 10 will ship with WIndows Vista!

In laymen terms, do you feel OpenGL and OpelAL are fully implemented on Mac. If not, what parts are missing?

OpenGL and OpenAL are fairly good implementations on the Mac. For OpenGL there are always a few new features that need to be implemented, and it definitely needs to keep its functionality updated to be equivalent to what Direct3D can do. Right now the difficult part of porting from Direct3D to OpenGL isn't that GL is missing functionality, but that some features work in fairly different ways. For instance managing vertex buffers that are stored on the video card works fine on D3D and GL, but the way they work is different enough to cause performance problems and stability issues without rewriting parts of the game code. OpenAL is in decent shape on the Mac, although we'd love to have a software emulated EAX support in it.

How has the switch to Intel's x86 processors affected your ability to port games?

It's added work to our plate for the next year or two. We have to support both PowerPC and Intel OS X, so there are two different applications to debug. In the long term, once we can switch to Intel-only mac development, it will make our lives easier. We spend a considerable amount of time on a game adding byte swapping code, and won't need to do that when we don't have to build PowerPC versions.

What do you feel needs to be done for Macintosh porting to be easier?

Apple really needs to continue to work on stability and performance for their developer tool, XCode. Since you have to use XCode to develop for Intel OS X, all of our projects have moved to it. While it has some nice features, it still has a ways to go to work efficiently with the really large codebases we're throwing at it.

What do you feel needs to be done to boost Macintosh games sales?

I think Apple really needs to step up and advertise that the Mac is good for playing games. So much of their marketing is purely about iLife (iTunes, iMovie, etc), I think there are a huge number of Mac owners who don't even know they can buy a game for their Mac, or ever think about getting a game. Apple leaves a pretty big hole in their marketing message about using Macs for entertainment & creativity- it's all about music, videos, and photos, but nothing about games. And if games aren't entertainment, I'm not sure what is.

What is the biggest strength of working on the Macintosh Platform?

Relatively few hardware configurations to support. On the PC you have to deal with hundreds or thousands of variations of motherboards, sound cards, video cards, drivers, etc. The Mac is more complex than it used to be, but is still a much simpler subset of hardware and software to support. That makes it much easier to ship a game that works well on all the supported configurations.

What is the biggest weakness?

The size of the market. It's difficult to pass on really great games because we know they just can't sell enough to break even.


And there you have it folks. Please comment, and remember the questions you leave for me will go onto the questionnaires I send out. Next one my hit list, MacPlay.

3.31.2006

UpDate

Aspyr's Glenda Adams was kind enough to answer my questionnaire. So, for all you lucky readers who have been paying attention so far, expect a post of her answers by late Saturday with a small amount of commentary from myself...

3.24.2006

UpComing

I've got a few questionnaires floating around the net right now. It looks like Aspyr should be the first to respond. We'll see if we can't get some questions answered.

For those who are wondering, "why another site devoted to this." I'll answer you. This site is focused on one particular issue. Most sites that tackle this issue are doing it from a technical perspective, or as a part of a drive to develop games in general. I, on the other hand, simply want to create a laymen guide to what is going on, and why. Think of it as the slightly political brother site to all the developer ones.

3.21.2006

The State of Mac Gaming.

Well, it doesn't take a well researched individual to realize just how much it sucks. You simply need to look at the list of titles that Mac's have as opposed to PC's, or worse, consoles. This makes almost not sense to me. It seems that Mac's are slowly becoming popular machines, and most importantly, they area big thing with the college crowd these days. And, as we all know, college students love video games. So there is obviously a market, why aren't there more Mac Games?

This blog will (hopefully) chronicle my efforts to track down the actual causes of this dilemma. I have my suspicions (lack of full OpenGL 2.0 support, lack of any Direct3D support, low expectations, lack of vision...etc.), but for the most part I want to see what others have to say about it. I'll be trying to ferret out answers from video game designers around the industry (with all this pull that I have, let me tell you ;-). ) But, from you the reader, I would make a simple request. Give me your comments, tell me what you think about all this. Tell me what you think should happen next. If we make a concerted effort, we just might get something done.