Imprint Online: Science - Friday, November 3, 2000 (Volume 23, Number 16)
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An equation for success

Waterloo grads create fun-filled game for all

Durshan Ganthan
Imprint staff

Tux racer: Slide down a ski slope and race to the finish line! - courtesy
Tux racer: Slide down a ski slope and race to the finish line! - courtesy

Letís face it: if you go to the University of Waterloo and youíre not in Engineering or Math, most people feel that youíre simply wasting your time. In fact, if youíre in the faculty of say, Fine Arts, for example, there are many who would say your time would be better spent rehearsing the phrase "Would you like fries with that?"

However, there is a little secret in Waterloo that very few people know about: Fine Arts students, as well as many other Arts students in general, actively participate in the Computer Graphics Lab at UW. It was at this lab that Mark Riddell (who earned his BA in Fine Arts at UW) and Rick Knowles (graduate student in Fine Arts) met Jasmin Patry, Eric Hall, Vincent Ma, and Patrick Gilhuly (all currently working towards their masterís degrees in Computer Graphics). These individuals are the force behind Sunspire Studios, who recently released a hit demo game on the Internet called "Tux Racer."

What started as Jasmin Patryís project for CS 488 is now the first release from Sunspire Studios. "I created the first version in August (1999) in three days for the class," Patry explains. "I made a Web page for it, and someone saw it and suggested I make it open source." Since Tux is the Linux mascot, and Linux is known for being open source, Patry felt that it made sense to make it open source, hoping that others would join in and help develop the game.

Rick Knowles and Mark Riddell, meanwhile, were busy trying to start up a games company.

"What happened was that Rick, Mark, Eric, Patrick, Rob Kroeger (a former graphics PhD student now in Silicon Valley), and myself decided in December 1999 to start working on a game," Patry explains. "It would feature a massively multiplayer, persistent universe with real-time strategy and first-person shooter components."

Since their ideas were limited by current 3D-engines, they tried to create their own 3D-engine, something that would make the Quake 3 or Unreal engine look tame in comparison.

"A few months later we brought Roger Fernandez (a fine arts undergraduate student) to help with concept art and textures. However, we were probably a bit over-ambitious with our plans, and work stalled as we began to comprehend how much of a massive undertaking this was," Patry said.

In August 2000, Knowles suggested that they should resume working on Patryís CS 488 project, and so they did.

"It went from 15,000 to 30,000 lines of code," Patry states. "We added so many things in three weeks: fishes, jumps, music . . . we made it cleaner and more professional," Hall added.

Tux Racer is undeniably professional. As its name implies, "Tux Racer" enables you to control Tux along a race track; however, this is no ordinary race track. Tux slides down snowy mountains and slippery slopes all while trying to catch various herring which have been deposited along the track. The graphics are simply amazing, and they look just as good on Windows as they do in Linux.

The graphics and design, of course, are what Mark Riddell and Rick Knowles have input on.

"I say how I want it to look, and then they [the developers] tell me if itís possible or not, and we work something out and go from there," Riddell says. "We have a background in programming, though, so most of the time we know the capabilities and limits of what they can do," Knowles adds.

There is a great mix of both functionality and graphics, and they truly do complement each other.

"We feed off each other with this great mesh of people," Knowles explains.

The game is available in both Windows and Linux format, which begs the question: how hard was it to port the game over from Linux to Windows?

"Itís easy, actually," Patry starts, "we just used libraries that werenít OS-specific. I used OpenGL [to display graphics] because thatís what we used in CS 488. As we continued development, though, we made sure to use cross-platform libraries, like SDL for sound, music, joystick support, etc. to ensure that the game wouldnít be limited to a single platform."

Will there be a version for the Mac?

"In theory, it could be ported over to the Mac," Patry says. "But weíre hoping that someone will do that for us," he adds with a laugh.

Whatís next for Sunspire Studios? A version of Tux Racer on CD will be included with the January 2001 issue of PC Gamer, and they hope to keep going with Tux Racer until theyíre "sick of it," Hall explains. They may even go back to their original concept, which is to create an awesome game with a killer 3D-engine. Until then, see Tux Racer at

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Last updated by: on Friday, November 03, 2000