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SMAC Macintosh port: Interview With Brad Oliver

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  • SMAC Macintosh port: Interview With Brad Oliver

    PERSONAL

    DanQ: Mr. Oliver, can you give us a brief background on your history in the computer gaming industry?
    What got you into it?

    Brad Oliver: I've done Mac programming for several years now, and I've always wanted to work on games instead of "boring" stuff ;-) To that end, I had sent off my resume to a few Mac gaming companies, and the net result was that I accepted a job working for Westlake Interactive. Westlake's main line of business is porting games to the Mac.


    DanQ: What best describes your feelings on your being made head of the development of this port?

    Brad Oliver: "Ohmigod, I hope they don't discover that I'm a complete fraud!" ;-)
    Actually, I'm incredibly excited to be working on SMAC as I really enjoy playing the game. It hardly seems like work to be doing this, and that makes all the difference in the world.


    COMPANY

    DanQ: Why did Aspyr pursue the opportunity to work with Firaxis on a Mac port for SMAC?

    Brad Oliver: It's difficult for me to comment on what Aspyr did, as I don't work directly for them. I was hired by Westlake (which is under contract to Aspyr) after the game had been signed. Having said that, they probably pursued it because SMAC is a kick-ass game, combined with how well the Civ series did on the Mac.

    DanQ: How was the development team for this port then chosen?

    Brad Oliver: Westlake was contacted by Aspyr to do the port. I had expressed interest in the game to Westlake, as I am a big fan of Civilization and games of that genre. It seemed like a good fit for all parties involved, and the pieces fell into place from there.

    DanQ: What Mac platforms/configurations will this SMAC port require? In other words, what minimum system requirements are we looking at?

    Brad Oliver: It's difficult to say this early into the development. One of the guidelines will be to make SMAC require a similar Mac configuration as the PC version, so probably a mid-range PowerMac will be the minimum.

    DanQ: What price should gamers expect to pay for a copy of this port?

    Brad Oliver: The pricing isn't an aspect that I have any say in, but I assume that it'll be very similar to that of the PC product when it was first released.

    DanQ: Will there be a beta-testing period for this product? If so, will it be private or public?

    Brad Oliver: Yes, and I believe it will be private. Hopefully there won't be too many bugs to kill

    DanQ: Language support is a concern for some. What dialects will Mac SMAC support?

    Brad Oliver: My understanding is that this is handled by Aspyr, so once Westlake signs off on it, it'll be in their hands to determine the translations. To be honest, I don't know but I would expect that SMAC will be no different from other Mac games in that regard, for better or for worse.

    GAME SPECIFIC

    DanQ: In terms of multiplayer capabilities, will it be compatible to allow Mac SMACer's to go head-to-head with their Windows-based counterparts?

    Brad Oliver: Very sadly, no. The Windows port uses DirectPlay, which is a proprietary networking protocol designed by Microsoft and which only runs under Windows.

    It would be a near-Herculean task to reverse-engineer DirectPlay to get it to run on the Mac, Linux, etc..., and to date Microsoft hasn't expressed any interest in helping port DirectPlay to another OS. I doubt very much that Microsoft would welcome someone reverse-engineering their code without their assistance, and no one really wants to face Microsoft's legal team to find out ;-)

    The only way at this point for Mac users to play with Windows users would be if Firaxis were to add networking support that didn't rely on DirectPlay (or any other proprietary scheme) to the Windows version, or Microsoft were to step up to the plate and help get DirectPlay running on the Mac. DirectPlay is very convenient for Win32 programmers as it's a nice high-level networking API, so it's far too tempting for them to ignore. The downside is that it forces a game to only be compatible with Microsoft operating systems. I dream of a day when game developers use open networking protocols.

    To that end, I know of at least one currently: OpenPlay, an open-source library which uses a high level API (similar to DirectPlay) and runs on both Win32 and the Mac. It has been field-tested in Bungie's "Myth" series of games. If game developers would use it or something just as open, then it would make our lives a lot easier and would stem the complaints from users who wish to play cross-platform network games. I really can't stress this point enough. If a game company wants to make a game run on more than one platform, use a non-proprietary networking API


    DanQ: When SMAC for the Mac is released, will it include some or all of the fixes and implemented suggestions included in Windows updates up to and including the recently released Patch 4?

    Brad Oliver: Yes, it should be current to patch 4. If there are other PC patches, we'll make an effort to roll them into the code as well.

    DanQ: Will there be others than those covered in the aforementioned patch(es), and if so can you enlighten us as to some of them?

    Brad Oliver: It's unlikely, unless it turns out that there is a bug which affects the Mac platform more adversely than the PC. It is in our interest to try and keep the codebase in parity as much as possible so if problems arise down the road, we don't have to worry if it was something we introduced or a bug in the original code.

    DanQ: Firaxis is currently developing "SMAC-X". Will Aspyr be looking into something similar for the Mac version of SMAC, or is it still too early to comment on this?

    Brad Oliver: It's too early to say, I think. I'm also not really in a position to say, since I don't work directly for Aspyr. I would certainly like to see SMAC-X make it to the Mac though.

    AVAILABILITY

    DanQ: What information and support level can fans expect from Aspyr through a) their website and b) help lines?

    Brad Oliver: I can't really say for sure, as that's more Aspyr's realm than Westlake's. The only guideline I can give is that it would probably be similar to the support that Aspyr gives it's other Mac products. Sorry I can't be more specific.

    DanQ: As we have been able to ascertain, Mac gamers can expect the port to be out in time for the Holiday Season. Can you tell us how this timeline was established?

    Brad Oliver: It's based on the complexity of the code combined with when the Mac project was started. From there, Westlake was able to estimate approximately how long it would take us to do it, given the resources at hand.

    DanQ: Thank youfor taking the time to answer our questions, Brad! Good luck with the port! We're anxious to follow you and your team's progress closely.

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