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|Originally Published: Monday, 9 October 2000||Author: Emmett Plant|
|Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles||Page: 1/1 - [Std View]|
Loki: In The Trenches
I got the chance to corner the staff of Loki Entertainment Software when they were weak and bleary from too much porting. Before they came to, I got an incredible interview where they mention a few secrets about some of the games they're working on. It seems as though the coders are working long hours in Tustin, but just for us, they reveal the keys to good support, a strong QA process, and the secret to getting women. Enjoy!
Scott Draeker: Mindrover, Sis Meier's Alpha Centauri, Deus Ex, Tribes2.
Scott Draeker: Er, there will be an announcement of Tribes 2 next week.
Linux.com:You said Tribes2!
Scott Draeker: I mentioned it, but I didn't announce it.
Linux.com: It's going in the article.
Linux.com: Which new title was the hardest to port, and why?
Sam Lantinga: I'd have to say SMAC, but I'm biased. We spent 6 months and fixed over 150 bugs in the Windows version.
Andy Mecham: More like 200+.
Sam Lantinga: Yeah, I try to be conservative.
Andy Mecham: I just verified them all.
Linux.com: What was wrong with SMAC?
Sam Lantinga: Andy, you want to field that? :)
Andy Mecham: It had several issues that slipped through their beta.
Scott Draeker: That kind of game is so inherently complex that it's nearly impossible to test every possible combination.
Andy Mecham: Agreed.
Sam Lantinga: Yeah.
Sam Lantinga: Hey Ryan, there's new bugs in fenris for you.
Ryan C. Gordon: "It's not my fault."
Ryan C. Gordon: As you can see, we have an aversion to SMAC.
Andy Mecham: SMAC is one of the most open-ended games we have, and probably one of the hardest to test.
Stéphane Peter: By the way, we didn't mention Kohan.
Linux.com: To what degree do you guys feel that you're entirely re-writing the games for the Linux port?
Daniel Vogel: Depends on the game.
Sam Lantinga: It depends on the game.
Linux.com: Okay, well what about SMAC vs. q3?
Sam Lantinga: Well, id did Quake 3, so that's a no brain-er.
Scott Draeker: We still did a lot of work on Quake.
Sam Lantinga: We completely rewrote large portions of SMAC.
Scott Draeker: Descent3 was supposedly already 'ported' and we spent what, 3 months? Getting it ready to ship.
Stéphane Peter: We rarely have to rewrite a game from scratch for the Linux version; this happens sometimes for some tools such as map editors.
Ryan C. Gordon: There's a lot of polish that needs to be added to even 'ported' code.
Sam Lantinga: Yeah, it's the last 10% that take the most time. It's easy to port a game. It's hard to make a high quality port.
Sam Lantinga: Easy being relatively speaking here.
Scott Draeker: I'd distinguish between 'port' and product. First is not so hard. Second is where all the real work and expertise kicks in.
Daniel Vogel: Unreal Tournament - Most of the already ported code got rewritten.
Andrew Henderson: It really depends on the amount of 'high-performance' code that needs to be dealt with, like Direct3d, for example.
Sam Lantinga: Prometheus, need I remind you about SMAC?
Sam Lantinga: SMAC had no Direct 3D, but took a huge amount of man-time.
Stéphane Peter: Spell 'self-modifying assembly.'
Andrew Henderson: P-A-I-N.
Daniel Vogel: Actually porting D3D to OpenGL isn't that much of a nightmare.
Scott Draeker: Sure, if you've got the expertise.
Linux.com: Most 'celebrities' in the Linux community are pestered constantly - How much are you guys pestered, and does it slow down production?
Ryan C. Gordon: I get two kinds of email:
Linux.com: Speaking of hours - What are your individual schedules?
Stéphane Peter: You don't wanna know.
Andy Mecham: Heh.
Daniel Vogel: Usually 12 to 2.
Andy Mecham: Vogel only works 2 hours a day.
Daniel Vogel: I am good.
Andy Mecham: He's that good.
Sam Lantinga: The schedules vary widely, depending on the project and the people working together.
Linux.com: Okay. For the last time: What's the best way to get Game X ported to Linux?
Scott Draeker: E-mail me.
Daniel Vogel: Buy our games.
Andy Mecham: And don't send flame mail to Blizzard asking why the hell Starcraft isn't ported yet.
Sam Lantinga: It's all about units.
Daniel Vogel: Metric system!
Andy Mecham: Bah!
Andrew Henderson: Our requests newsgroup is a great place to let us know about porting requests, as well.
Stéphane Peter: Yeah!
Scott Draeker: We're really good at porting stuff. There is no code that we fear. But you have to support the effort with sales.
Sam Lantinga: I used to fear code. Then I worked on games. Muahahaha!
Sam Lantinga: Now I fear nothing.
Ryan C. Gordon: ph34r.
Andrew Henderson: I have nightmares.
Andy Mecham: j00 R l33t
Stéphane Peter: Andrew, self-modifying nightmares?
Linux.com: Loki tends to import their talent to Tustin. Where are you all originally from?
Andy Mecham: About 20 miles south of Tustin.
Sam Lantinga: 300 miles north of Tustin.
Scott Draeker: Andy is one of the few locals.
Ryan C. Gordon: OldSkool Philly, baby.
Andrew Henderson: About 2500 east of Tustin. Daytona Beach, Florida.
Scott Draeker: Mike is from PA.
Daniel Vogel: Bernd is from Germany.
Daniel Vogel: Bernd has a funny German accent.
Scott Draeker: Leo is coming here from Brazil.
Ryan C. Gordon: Daniel, You're one to talk, eh?
Sam Lantinga: We still need an Aussie.
Stéphane Peter: Daniel, how is Bernd's accent funny?
Ryan C. Gordon; The only English Vogel knows is 'Jack in the Box?'
Scott Draeker: Bernd doesn't drink Bellheimer...
Andrew Henderson: We need someone that speaks Japanese.
Daniel Vogel: Haha!
Scott Draeker: Jason speaks Korean...
Scott Draeker: Andrew speaks 'chu chu rocket' Japanese.
Andrew Henderson: Someday, we'll do all localization work in-house, just because we have the employees that speak all the languages.
Scott Draeker: Joe is originally from Peru.
Stéphane Peter: I thought it was Chile.
Scott Draeker: Raf is from Columbia.
Scott Draeker: Maybe Chile.
Scott Draeker: Yeah, Chile. Pinochet. That's right!
Linux.com: You're all working at a game company. What are your personal favorite games?
Ryan C. Gordon: I don't play games.
Linux.com: You used to; You used to kick my butt at Nintendo.
Daniel Vogel: M.U.L.E.
Mike Phillips: "Powerful!"
Andy Mecham: And that one.
Ryan C. Gordon: Yeah... It's the ice cream stand theory. If you work at an ice cream stand, you can have all the ice cream you want. You can bathe in it. After about a week, you'd rather swallow broken glass than eat any more ice cream.
Andrew Henderson: "How Painful!"
Daniel Vogel: Tokyo Bus Guide!
Andy Mecham: Oh No!
Mike Phillips: Actually, I still go home and play SMAC.
Ryan C. Gordon: Actually, I like Crazy Taxi.
Stéphane Peter: How Painful!
Mike Phillips: Crazy Taxi ranks real high, too.
Andy Mecham: ...and STILL can't hit anything with the railgun.
Sam Lantinga: I like Heroes 3 a lot, and Diablo II.
Mike Phillips: If I had a net connection at home, I'd probably be playing a lot of Gloom (Q2 mod), also.
Stéphane Peter: I also played a lot of RT2 in the past.
Andrew Henderson: I'd have to say either "MDK2" or "C&C: Red Alert", depending on what type of game I'm in the mood for.
Andy Mecham: Red Alert! RA and TA multiplayer!
Daniel Vogel: Yes, you usually try to avoid the games you port.
Daniel Vogel: You might find a bug.
Linux.com: Do you guys avoid playing your own games under Linux, fearing you'll find something you have to fix?
Sam Lantinga: That's not true, I played a lot of Civ, and Heroes 3, and quite a bit of SMAC, come to think of it.
Mike Phillips: I'm glad I'm not porting anything, then... I can go home and enjoy 'em all.
Sam Lantinga: The nice thing is that if you find a bug, you can fix it.
Sam Lantinga: Ryan, yes.
Scott Draeker: I played a lot of Civ CTP. Love that game.
Stéphane Peter: No, I just get sick of playing the game all day to debug it.
Daniel Vogel: I leave it to QA to break my games.
Mike Phillips: And that we do!
Andrew Henderson: I have excellent luck with our stuff. I hardly ever trigger bugs.
Linux.com: Speaking of QA, how does it work at Loki?
Scott Draeker: We have a full time QA staff.
Linux.com: They play games all day, and get paid for it?
Scott Draeker: Yup!
Sam Lantinga: It works very well, actually. Our standards are very high, and we test a wide variety of configurations, plus our beta testers rock.
Mike Phillips: Well, and answer support e-mail.
Andy Mecham: Yep.
Mike Phillips: And get a lot of help from our beta-testers.
Scott Draeker: Mike Phillips was such a good beta tester that we offered him a job.
Andrew Henderson: We have the best beta testers in the industry. I'd put up 50 of our beta folks against 500 Win32 beta testers any day.
Andy Mecham: SMAC is evidence of that.
Andy Mecham: They found things that I don't think anyone else would have.
Scott Draeker: Agreed. We often know more about a game than the original developer does.
Daniel Vogel: There are some really smart people out there that helped me fix bugs in UT.
Sam Lantinga: Not only SMAC, but the full planetary pack expansion with several patches.
Sam Lantinga: Vogel, yeah.
Daniel Vogel: One of them went in there with a debugger to change and tweak stuff and then mailed me what to do.
Andrew Henderson: These guys are hard-core.
Ryan C. Gordon: That dude was nuts.
Ryan C. Gordon: But he should be working for NASA or something.
Andy Mecham: We get binaries, put them through the wringer, check/verify bug reports, and send a report to the developers...
Andy Mecham: And then start the process over again.
Andrew Henderson: ...and over again.
Andy Mecham: There's much more than that, but that's the basic process.
Stéphane Peter: The endless loop of QA...
Andy Mecham: It's FUN!
Scott Draeker: And we make tools like Fenris to keep some sanity in the dev/qa/dev process.
Mike Phillips: Not to mention,we usually hunt bugs prior to the first beta, too, which shortens the cycle a little but at some point you want the extra eyes.
Mike Phillips: Fenris helps a lot.
Andy Mecham: Without Fenris, it would be flat impossible.
Mike Phillips: Well, that too.
Linux.com: Okay, next question.
Linux.com: What's the name of the closest pizza place to Loki?
Scott Draeker: R&R
Andy Mecham: Round Table
Daniel Vogel: Round Table
Andrew Henderson: Round Table!
Daniel Vogel: Peppinos is quite close, too.
Scott Draeker: R&R delivers, and they know us by name.
Andy Mecham: There's also that Roma d'Italia.
Andy Mecham: They know my voice.
Mike Phillips: S------y's is closer, but I'm told it's, um, not all that good.
Stéphane Peter: We often go to Round Table for the pinball machines.
Andy Mecham: "Hey, I'd like to order a pizza!"
Andy Mecham: "Okay, Andy... are you at the office, or at home?"
Ryan C. Gordon: Hmm...Peppinos.
Mike Phillips: Yeah, pinball... mmmmm.....
Sam Lantinga: Roma d'Italia is way better than Peppinos. I don't know if you guys have tried it.
Daniel Vogel: People at jack in the box know me...
Ryan C. Gordon: Hahahaha!
Andy Mecham: I lived next to Roma d'Italia in Fountain Valley.
Ryan C. Gordon: Oh, man.
Sam Lantinga: Andy rocks at pinball.
Scott Draeker: Andy is the pinball king.
Stéphane Peter: Sam, better than Peppinos for Italian food or for pizza only?
Scott Draeker: Andrew keeps the pinball machine running.
Andrew Henderson: I was hired for pinball maintenance, I think.
Scott Draeker: Andrew is the only one in the office with a soldering iron on his desk.
Linux.com: What music do you guys listen to in the office, and do you tend to agree on the tunes?
Ryan C. Gordon: We have holy wars over the music in this office.
Andy Mecham: Funny... Mike and I justhad a holy war over music!
Mike Phillips: I like quiet stuff. Andy likes noisy stuff. Not surprisingly, I usually lose.
Ryan C. Gordon: Basically, this office is a war between cheesy 80's music (Andrew), dirty hippie music (me), and Irish folk music (bernd).
Linux.com: Do you like conference appearances? If so, why? If not, why not?
Daniel Vogel: Free beer!
Scott Draeker: Meeting the users rocks.
Andy Mecham: Free t-shirts!
Stéphane Peter: Yeah, all other pieces of attire.
Scott Draeker: Sneakers?
Sam Lantinga: I like meeting the customers. I love that, and showing games. That's fun.
Mike Phillips: Haven't been to a conference yet, I'm looking forward to the chance to go.
Scott Draeker: Comdex is right around the corner.
Stéphane Peter: When is Comdex?
Scott Draeker: November something.
Andrew Henderson: Conferences are good because usually only the really outgoing folks e-mail us. At shows we get to meet the 'silent majority.'
Andy Mecham: Yep.
Daniel Vogel: You meet a lot of cool people at trade shows.
Andy Mecham: Although some of them come with tech support questions that you can't answer on the spot.
Scott Draeker: Yup. It's a different crowd. LUGs are great, too. Yet another crowd.
Linux.com: What was the coolest conference for Loki, and why?
Scott Draeker: I liked winning Best of Show at LWCE in August...
Sam Lantinga: For me anyway, it reminds me why I care about my job. It's not just about the games, it's about people having fun, enjoying our work.
Andy Mecham: LWCE in San Jose.
Sam Lantinga: Yeah, San Jose was great.
Andrew Henderson: Scott, That was a good show for you in particular. You won a glass penguin.
Scott Draeker: ALS was cool last year because we did Loki Hack there.
Scott Draeker: Yes, glass penguins are important!
Andrew Henderson: Loki Hack was the best!
Sam Lantinga: Yeah.
Scott Draeker: Next Loki Hack will be in Spring 2001 in CA.
Linux.com: What will you do there?
Andrew Henderson: Hack, of course.
Daniel Vogel: Hex on the beach?
Scott Draeker: We'll put people up for a week and make open source games at a beach resort.
Andy Mecham: w00t!
Mike Phillips: whee!
Scott Draeker: And the whole thing will be GPL and wide open on the net, public CVS, etc.
Linux.com: Who works in support?
Andy Mecham: Mike and myself.
Linux.com: Tell me about your typical day.
Mike Phillips: Read support e-mail. Answer support e-mail. Test games. Read more support e-mail. Answer more support e-mail. Answer the phone. Duplicate a couple problems. Answer more support e-mail. Write a FAQ entry or three.
Andy Mecham: Go to lunch, wash, repeat.
Mike Phillips: Actually, the workload varies alot.
Scott Draeker: 'Typically,' they get interrupted by me for some new project that needs to get done yesterday.
Mike Phillips: Some days are mostly testing, some days are mostly E-mail, especially right after a new release.
Andy Mecham: We're entering one of those periods now.
Andrew Henderson: __asm__ ("movl $code, %eax"); ...
Andrew Henderson: ... for about 16 hours at a whack.
Daniel Vogel: asm("int $03");
Mike Phillips: Since we introduced the FAQs page (http://faqs.lokigames.com/), which is a dynamically-updated FAQ/Support tool, we have at least cut down on certain types of questions.
Scott Draeker: New distributions coming out means more work for our support guys
Mike Phillips: In particular, 3D driver configuration -- which still isn't as easy as we'd like, although we have a guide at the aforementioned FAQ page.
Sam Lantinga: I have like 30 things on my TODO board, and I cycle between about 5 or 6 of them in a day.
Andrew Henderson: About 20 of those things are 'eat lunch...'
Sam Lantinga: I multi-task more than most of our developers just because I have to keep track of everything that's going on.
Sam Lantinga: Prometheus, heh. :)
Linux.com: Stéphane: What department are you in?
Andy Mecham: The French department!!
Stéphane Peter: 'Department?' Coding, although I used to do sysadmin as well in the past.
Linux.com: Tell me about your typical day.
Stéphane Peter: Get in, check E-mail, check Loki newsgroups, check news web sites, go to lunch, then endless multitasking loop between the many things that I have on my plate... that includes pinball.
Linux.com: How about Daniel Vogel?
Daniel Vogel: Well, I get in at 12 (either riding on my bike or hijacking Ryan's car), check E-mail, pick up Ryan when he calls, hang out on IRC, check news sites, read newsgroups, watch DVDs, get food, go home at around 2 and go to bed. Hmm, insert 'work' somewhere in between.
Ryan C. Gordon: All that in two hours, remember.
Daniel Vogel: Yup.
Ryan C. Gordon: I can't get my lazy butt up when Vogel does. He steps on me on his way out the door in the morning.
Stéphane Peter: Vogel has the best hourly rate among us.
Andrew Henderson: Ryan also sleeps on the floor here at the office.
Ryan C. Gordon: ...which is a step up from Mr. Draeker's laundry room floor.
Scott Draeker: Ryan is a great house guest.
Linux.com: What percentage of Loki employees have lived at Scott's house?
Ryan C. Gordon:...so long as you don't need to get at the washing machine.
Stéphane Peter: 110%
Scott Draeker: Maybe 70%.
Andy Mecham: I think Jason, Raf and I are probably the only ones who haven't.
Scott Draeker: Andrew is a good sport. I woke him up at what, 4am?
Linux.com: "Hey, watch the kids. Off to have another one!"
Andrew Henderson: Scott, Oh well. It was all in the line of duty. I think.
Scott Draeker: Good training for you and Traci.
Scott Draeker: My oldest, Shannon age 5, has a crush on Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter.
Sam Lantinga: Scott's kids are great. Even the baby.
Linux.com: If you could pick a game to port, what would it be?
Scott Draeker: Tribes2.
Ryan C. Gordon: Halflife, to shut everyone up.
Andrew Henderson: I'd port Starcraft for the same reason.
Ryan C. Gordon Duke Nukem.
Mike Phillips: Ultima 6 and 7.
Daniel Vogel: Ryan, hahahaha
Andy Mecham: Swamp Buggy Racing, for the sheer misery of it.
Mike Phillips: Oh, and that.
Sam Lantinga: Fallout 2.
Daniel Vogel: and puppydogs?
Scott Draeker: Next Question?
Linux.com: This is going to sound strange, but what's the worst part of your jobs?
Daniel Vogel: Getting up.
Jason Kim: Times when the pinball machine doesn't work.
Andy Mecham: Having to get up in the morning sucks...
Stéphane Peter: Daniel, I was wondering if I was going to say that.
Sam Lantinga: Yeah, the way the printer keeps killing the pinball machine.
Andy Mecham: But that's not part of the job.
Ryan C. Gordon: Prometheus's music.
Daniel Vogel: "was kann man von einem Tag erwarten der mit Aufstehen anfaengt"
Andrew Henderson: Well, the air conditioning used to cut off at 5 PM. That sucked... but then we rewired the control box so it is always on.
Scott Draeker: Daniel, gut gesagt!
Mike Phillips: Getting to work early enough to man the phone for our advertised hours.
Andrew Henderson: Ryan, There is nothing wrong with Jimmy Buffett.
Ryan C. Gordon: Andrew, Oh, you are so wrong.
Ryan C. Gordon: Parrot head.
Linux.com: What's the best part of your jobs?
Mike Phillips: Heh. 'Testing.'
Scott Draeker: We keep weird hours, so the local police tend to keep an eye on us.
Daniel Vogel: The best part is when something suddenly works.
Andy Mecham: Getting paid to play games just doesn't suck.
Sam Lantinga: Yeah.
Mike Phillips: And working with all these great people!
Sam Lantinga: Making cool games.
Ryan C. Gordon: Making games. Period.
Stéphane Peter: Getting pulled over is a sport here.
Andrew Henderson: I kinda like sleeping on bean bag chairs in the office during compiles.
Daniel Vogel: It's fun to watch over someone's shoulder when he gets to display anything on the screen for the first time.
Andy Mecham: Pinball.
Scott Draeker: The best part is when someone writes in to tell us that they bought a game and loved it, were impressed with the quality, and want to buy everything we ever do.
Mike Phillips: Mmmm, pinball rocks, too.
Andrew Henderson: Come to think of it, repairing the pinball machine is pretty fun, too...
Daniel Vogel: Andrew is rather calm.
Ryan C. Gordon: ...when a new shipment of drinks shows up.
Jason Kim: Watching Andrew fix the pinball machine is fascinating.
Mike Phillips: And the raves sent to email@example.com by satisfied customers. A breath of fresh air from fixing broken 3D driver installs.
Sam Lantinga: Stephane eats snails, 'nuff said.
Andrew Henderson: Watching me get electrocuted by the pinball machine is pretty fun, too.
Sam Lantinga: Yeah, and seeing happy customers.
Andy Mecham: Or the monitor on my Rastan machine.
Scott Draeker: and stories about the cleaning crew playing darts
Sam Lantinga: And knowing what our next games are before everyone else.
Linux.com: What's the most popular support question at the moment?
Andy Mecham: Some variation of "My 3d drivers don't work."
Mike Phillips: "[3D title] runs sooooo slowly. Fix it!"
Mike Phillips: "OK. Configure your 3D drivers correctly, please."
Linux.com: What game have you ported that has caused the biggest support hassle?
Andy Mecham: We spend an inordinate amount of time helping people set up video and sound drivers.
Scott Draeker: Quake III was the biggest support burden.
Mike Phillips: All of the 3D games have the same 3D driver issues.
Andy Mecham: Been eclipsed by UT.
Scott Draeker: Short term blip.
Mike Phillips: However, the games which bring Windows users in (UT/Q3A) tend to be the largest impact.
Mike Phillips: No, not short-term blip. It's still out pacing everything else.
Andy Mecham: We actually don't get much (if at all) quake support anymore.
Scott Draeker: Biggest Q3 support question (after 3D setup) "I bought the Windows version, how do I get it running on Linux" -- we love hearing from those folks.
Andy Mecham: oh yes
Scott Draeker: Yup.
Mike Phillips: Because the questions which bring in new users from Windows tend to have people who are running Linux for the first time associated with them, and that means a rapid learning curve for them (and a lot of patient explanations from us).
Scott Draeker: We have FAQs for those folks. Support is for customers.
Scott Draeker: Thing is, we do help (in the form of FAQs and stuff). We want Windows users trying Linux.
Mike Phillips: It was one of the major FAQ incentives, actually.
Mike Phillips: And updated frequently as questions become common.)
Scott Draeker: There's also a new version of Fenris on the way, complete with a pretty front end.
Jason Kim: Yup!
Linux.com: Tell me about all the new stuff!
Scott Draeker: FAQ list, Fenris 2.0.
Sam Lantinga: More stuff for support folks too. :)
Scott Draeker: We just released a new version of SMPEG which has hooks for hardware accelerated MPEG playback.
Scott Draeker: We'll be rolling out new distribution services. Make our stuff easier to buy.
Scott Draeker: OpenAL will go 1.0 very soon.
Stéphane Peter: Andrew, we need you to be alive to fix the pinball machine.
Scott Draeker: And some other projects in the background.
Andrew Henderson: Well, okay. 37 times.
Ryan C. Gordon: In a row.
Andrew Henderson: There was a sneeze in there.
Scott Draeker: Sam, want to do a quick summary of QAgent?
Sam Lantinga: Sure. When the game crashes, it automatically runs a system diagnostic tool which prompts for product updates and provides information for technical support.
Sam Lantinga: It has hooks for optional encryption for data sent to technical support, and what else..
Scott Draeker: 'If' a game crashes...
Sam Lantinga: It's just a handy thing for Q/A.
Sam Lantinga: Right.
Sam Lantinga: It's very useful for betas, and it gives the customer a way for them to directly feed back to Q/A.
Linux.com: Anything else new and interesting? Anyone get a new car?
Andy Mecham: I did.
Stéphane Peter: Andy did.
Daniel Vogel: I will buy a car soon.
Daniel Vogel: Anyone willing to take me car shopping?
Stéphane Peter: Daniel, still looking for a cheesy American car?
Mike Phillips: I just moved, so I can't afford anything.
Andy Mecham: Vogel has his eye on a 1983 Caddy.
Scott Draeker: I know the general manager at a Chevy dealership.
Daniel Vogel: Scott, used cars?
Scott Draeker: New and used. We got our 4Runner from him (he used to be GM at a Toyota dealership).
Stéphane Peter: Daniel, dealerships often have a used car section.
Daniel Vogel: I want a cheap used car.
Andy Mecham: I'm trying to find a hearse for him.
Scott Draeker: Used ice cream truck!
Andy Mecham: YES!
Andrew Henderson: That will get the women.