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Quakecon Interview With Timothee Besset

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to interview id Software's Timothee "TTimo" Besset during the annual QuakeCon LAN party and tournament. Mr. Besset currently maintains the Linux ports of Quake III: Arena and Return to Castle Wolfenstein, as well as the cross-platform Q3A-engine level editor GtkRadiant.

I began by asking Besset how he came to join the Radiant project. He related that back during the days of Quake 2, he started off wanting to write brush tools for QERadiant, Robert Duffy's QE4-ish editor. When Duffy was hired by id to write the internal development tools for Q3A, Besset took over the maintenance duties on the public editor.

Originally, QERadiant was strictly a Win32 utility which used standard Windows widgets. I asked Besset what prompted the universal switch to the GTK+ widget set across all platforms once the Linux version was released. He stated that when Loki's Bernd Kreimeier and Leonardo Zide began porting the Q3A SDK to Linux, it made sense to use a cross-platform toolkit to prevent a wildly branching source tree (as a large portion of an editor's codebase is bound up in the user interface).

I then asked if he was happy with the various open source tools he uses in his daily work, such as Bugzilla and gcc. He indicated that although there are some shortcomings, the developers are usually well aware of them and have established work-arounds. In the case of gcc, he also noted that it's a standard compiler that id will always want their code to be compatible with, no matter what happens.

Next, I wanted to know his opinion on what obstacles remain for Linux to achieve feature parity with modern Windows titles; i.e., are there any major driver-related issues or limitations that need t be resolved. Besset said that Linux is directly tied to the survival of OpenGL as a competitive standard graphics API in the coming years. He also reiterated Carmack's position: another big graphics card player needs to support Linux in a manner similar to NVIDIA; in particular, ATI becoming more serious would make things interesting on this front, as their drivers are currently way behind when compared to their major competitor.

As the most recently released id title was Return to Castle Wolfenstein, I asked Besset what the major issues were in porting it to Linux. He said that there weren't many, and that it was a fairly smooth process, as Gray Matter and Nerve didn't make any changes to the Q3A codebase that broke portability. The biggest issue was the game logic switch from .qvm's to compiled dll's (like Quake 2); this required changes to the sv_pure system to take the varying checksums into account. Also, as RTCW was developed by two studios, having two different source trees for the singleplayer and multiplayer binaries made it more difficult to maintain than, say, Q3A, but this was unavoidable.

Next up, I asked if he anticipated more id licensees taking advantage of the portable engine source and releasing Linux client ports? He replied that it didn't look like it, as most developers/publishers lack the in-house expertise to develop a client port. However, he acknowledged that developers do still recognize that there's usually always a need for a dedicated server port.

Given that DOOM III was the talk of the convention, I was wondering if its availability on Linux would be more of a killer app (despite it not being an exclusive game) than previous id titles. Besset noted that, looking back, id has always been basically the only company that's always been there for Linux, pushing for better hardware support and willing to maintain multi-platform code. He hopes that DOOM III would help convince other companies that similar ventures are worth it in the long run, as the porting process itself helps Quality Assurance teams track down general bugs that only become readily apparent on another OS, and having solid code is in the best interests of all parties involved.

As far as the next Return to Castle Wolfenstein patch goes, Besset says that a 1.4 patch is in the works. id intends to improve elements of online gaming for players, such as adding server and mod URL support within RTCW to facilitate access to server info. There's no ETA for 1.4's release yet, but stay tuned.

Finally, I asked him what some of his other projects at id are, to which he simply replied "Doom". Besset pointed out that he's always had the Radiant project, as it is constantly evolving and adding features, such as support for new games. Moreover, he says that opening the source was a good thing for the editor, as they now have several contributors. This leaves him in the role of a coordinator, performing tasks such as managing CVS, the mailing list, and the release of final builds. He's gotten GtkRadiant where he wanted it to go; everything from this point forward is a bonus.

Thanks to to both Timothee Besset and id Software as a whole for both this interview and the best QuakeCon yet.

-Dustin "Crusader" Reyes

     





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