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 Interview with Ryan Gordon: Postal2, Unreal & Mac Gaming
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 10, 2004 10:55 pm   Post subject:  Interview with Ryan Gordon: Postal2, Unreal & Mac Gaming Reply with quoteBack to top 

As Postal 2: Share the Pain is imminent for release on OS X, we interviewed Ryan Gordon (a.k.a. Icculus), the coder who ported the game to Mac and Linux for Running with Scissors. He's also well-known as the man behind Unreal Tournament 2004 for OS X and Linux.

Because Ryan is extremely busy working on a cornucopia of Mac games (see a partial list at his .plan), and is usually difficult to get a hold of, I took this golden opportunity to go beyond the game at hand to also ask him some questions on the general state of Mac gaming. The result was a set of thoughtful, and encyclopedic responses I hope our readers will enjoy.

INTERVIEW DATE: Nov. 10, 2004

Hi Ryan, for those of us who don't know what goes on with porting a game, could you first summarize what was involved in your work with Postal 2: STP and P1? Was it a fairly easy task because it was based on the Unreal engine?

Well, all game ports are different, so I'll discuss each separately.

First, this is actually all Loki Software's doing. I hadn't even heard of Postal before Loki picked up the rights for a Linux port of Postal 1 while I was still working there.

When Postal 2 came out, and it was Unreal Engine based, I got in touch with Running With Scissors. I spend so much time evangelizing Linux as a desktop OS, and run into a lot of brick walls in trying to get publishers interested in bringing titles to Linux...I hate to see a game franchise dry up on Linux once it's already there.

Vince from 'Scissors was immediately interested. RwS is unique in that they, above _everything_, support their fans. Rabid fans are the only thing that keep them going. And they were getting email from people asking about Postal 2 for Linux. So when someone stepped up and said, "hey, I can do that" it just moved forward immediately. All of this is true for the Mac version, too, which started at basically the same time.

UT2003 had shipped on Linux and Mac, so we had the tech we needed in place for the port, so I figured it'd be a quick job.

This is the mistake I keep making, right? Smile

Postal 2 ran into a bunch of stupid problems that have nothing to do with the engine. The first one was an incompatible version of Karma, the physics code. MathEngine, the Karma developer, was in the process of going out of business, and it took a lot of paperwork to get permission for me to build an updated Karma, with bugfixes, and use it in a game other than Unreal Tournament. This literally stalled things from July to November of 2003, but the lawyers eventually sorted it out. Total disaster, stole damned near all my momentum.

After that nightmare, the game was actually up and running really quickly, but took a lot of polishing. The devil's in the details. I put out a Linux demo on Christmas Day last year. Here we are, November 10th, and the Linux retail build isn't gold yet (but should be any minute now...just messing with packaging details at this point).

A lot of the delay, after the Karma nonsense, was my lack of free time. Postal was always put on the backburner as paying work took priority. This drives me nuts, but that's how it is. I always try to have at least one charity project running at a time, Postal 2 was one of these. There would be literally weeks where I wouldn't look at the game.

Eventually I decided it was time to shit or get off the pot, and put it into Beta, where my Mac Ninjas beat the living hell out of the game. Probably one of the best beta testing crews I've had on any game, for any platform, to be honest.

While all this was going on, various Mac game sites would occasionally pick up my .plan and post some Postal 2 news snippets. I noticed that there were usually people replying in the forums on these sites that they'd really like an updated Postal 1, since there was a MacOS Classic version a long time ago.

So I cornered Vince at E3, Powerbook in hand, and gave him the Postal 2 on Mac demonstration. While I had him all impressed, I told him that updating Postal 1 was the only decent thing to do, and he agreed. I mentioned that Vince thrives on rabid fans, right?

So they sent me the Windows/MacClassic code for Postal 1.

You know what? Postal 1 might be a "dirty" game, but it's got the cleanest codebase, ever. The heavens open up and choirs of angels sing when Mike Riedel writes software, I swear to god.

Postal 2 was easy to bootstrap because we had a portable engine underneath it. Postal 1 was easy because it was just clean as hell. I went from the Windows (not the Mac Classic) codebase to a fully functional single player port on MacOS X in under 24 hours. Seriously. I can't stress how clean the Postal 1 codebase is. You can eat off it. I weep at its beauty.

Thank you for the compliment on the Mac betatesting team, there were three or four Macologist members among them =). Anyways, about how long did the port take?

Minus the Karma thing? Probably a week to get the game running, and maybe another two to polish it. This is strictly in terms of man-hours...this was spread over a long time, overall.

One of the questions I've been most looking forward to asking you: You've mentioned how Postal 2, although very violent and unPC, is actually a very intelligent game. Could you elaborate?

Well, it's brilliant on many levels, but you asked about the content, so here you go:

Postal 2 has really gotten a bad rap.

I watched the world go nuts over Mortal Kombat's fatality moves, right? I watched people line up to buy games where you can erase someone's head with a sniper rifle. I watched even mighty Nintendo drop their Family Values policy. I've watched 12 year olds in cybercafes murder each other in Every Shooter Known To Mankind while screaming things that'd make a sailor blush. I've watched the market turn even strong female role models into whores. I've watched the world deify Grand Theft Auto.

Almost every popular commercial game rewards you for being violent, if not homicidal. Sexism and racism? No problem.

But for some reason, Postal 2 is too much? There's a double standard here, no doubt.

Postal 2 has an element of shock value, of course. There's no disputing that. But I think it strives to hold up a mirror to this society, and how we worship the wrong things, and obsess over the pointless social games we play, and flaunt our intolerance. In many ways, the social outcry towards Postal 2 is the rage of Caliban seeing himself in the mirror.

Plus, it's damned funny. It's not every day you see a bank that advertises (life) insurance policies with slogans like "Hey Kids! You're parents are going to die!" ... but if you look at American society, we're driven by a cycle of fear and materialism. Doubly so in this age of constantly-elevated terror alert levels and a neurotic, paranoid, ballooning middle class.

Postal 2 nails it. It's a brilliant caricature of our mangled, disconnected, fast-food society, disguised as a collection of dirty jokes and ultraviolence. It's Bret Ellis's American Psycho in the's Flannery O'Connor for the new millenium. You might not see people playing soccer with a human head in real life, but if things aren't a little creepy in their familiarity, you aren't really paying attention.

Remember that next time you pony up the cash for another rehash of the same first person shooter you've been buying for the past decade.

Did you enjoy working with RWS and their staff? How was working with RWS different than other past jobs?

RWS rocks. Everyone there is laid back all the time. And they are really focused on their fans instead of the profit margins and units sold and such.

Now that I have you here, I'd also like to ask some more general questions. First of all, How is your World Tour going?

It's pretty much wrapping up for the year, thank god. I made an impassioned plea at the Indie Games Con last month, which as far as I can tell, resulted in one developer committing to a Linux port of their game, and another developer committing to buying himself a Powerbook. Overall, it was a win for alternate desktop OSes everywhere. Smile

Earlier in the year I went to Canada to bitch and moan about getting Linux less broken on the desktop, and made it out of the room without having rotten fruit thrown at me. I call that a success.

At LinuxWorld, I made some modest proposals like hiring homeless people to pitch Linux and enlisting Oprah Winfrey and Howard Stern to promote the OS. I wasn't laughed off the stage, even though I used Apple's Keynote for the slides, so I consider this a victory for tolerance, if nothing else.

I'm flattered that people are interested in my opinion (and trust me, I've got plenty to go around), but all the traveling really wears on you, especially since it always seems to bunch up on the calendar. I'm hoping the Icculus World Tour 2005 will have less stops with bigger crowds. I need to find a more effective way to make more people angry at once so I can hit less cities next year. Smile


Tell us more about Installers and Loki_setup. We've heard that Apple has essentially been done with Tiger's Packagemaker and Installer for months. You were at WWDC when several devs asked Apple about backporting these to Panther. What was their reply, and how do you feel about it? What specifically are the shortcomings of the current Apple Installer app? Do other devs use Loki as well, or how do they address these shortcomings?

I can't name names, since I don't know who was speaking at the microphones in the session.

Honestly, all I can say about the installer session at WWDC is that it was PACKED. You can tell, Mac developers are frustrated about this. They're desperate for a solution (ANY solution) that lets them get their product onto their customers' disks with a minimum of bullshit. Who asked about Jaguar/Panther/whatever backports? Who can tell? The entire universe was crammed into that room. There wasn't even standing room. If Moscone West had burned down, there'd be no third party development on the Mac, since we were all creating a fire hazard in that room.

There's really no way around this. The Apple installer in Panther is just shit. Apple recognizes this, of course, since the Apple installer in Tiger is not. In fact, just about any complaint you can lob at the Panther version is remedied for Tiger.

But here's the thing. You can't use any of those installer features unless you've got Tiger on the end user's system. Looking aside the fact that Tiger isn't shipping for months and months, are you going to tell someone, "hey, this game runs fine on Jaguar, but you need a 150 dollar OS upgrade to install it"?

I mean, it's nice that Apple is working on addressing problems with their software, but if you can't count on the installer to be reliable without cutting off potential customers, you just have to look elsewhere immediately. It's just silly.

Of all things, this needs to go in Software Update. For all versions of the OS.

Ok, ok, at least back to Jaguar. Crippling third party applications is not the way to get people to upgrade! Putting sexy and useful features into the OS _is_, however. And Apple is doing this. I'm thrilled at the new stuff in Panther, and if the previews are evidence, I'm going to be twice as thrilled with Tiger. The installer should be a non-issue, though. This isn't a concern for Apple...they wouldn't have qualms about saying "the next retail version of iLife requires Tiger." Hey, it probably will anyhow.

But since some basic features, like multi-CD support, aren't going to be in pre-Tiger versions of the installer, ever, we just have to look elsewhere from Day One.

loki_setup is an open source installer, originally written for installing Linux games. MacSoft had an interesting dilemma with UT2003, in that it required multiple CDs and needed to prompt for a CD key at install time, and there wasn't anything that supported this. Apple hinted they were going to add that to the installer for Panther ... they didn't, and it didn't matter anyhow, since we shipped in the 10.2 timeframe. The only thing we could find was a commercial installer with this insane licensing. You pay something like 8,000 bucks a year to use the installer with your product, and if you stop paying at some point, you have to take your product off the shelf and destroy it.

Yeah, screw THAT.

So MacSoft tossed that money at a developer to port loki_setup instead. I think it's worked out really well. I've used it for several titles for MacSoft and Aspyr now. Transgaming used it for Indiana Jones and Tron 2.0, etc, so it's proven tech, flexible, open source, and actively developed and maintained. It should work on anything back to OSX 10.0.

It's a total no-brainer to go with loki_setup.

Writing an installer involves a little know-how, since you have to hand-edit an XML file, but it's well-documented and fairly straightforward once you get the gist of it. I don't think loki_setup is a perfect solution, by any means, but it stepped up and filled a void since Apple wouldn't. And, being open source, when there's a problem, we are empowered to fix it, instead of praying the vendor does it someday.


Much has been written about the performance hit that Macintosh takes on games, when compared to Windows...

To the average user, this seems strange because what we hear about the G5 architecture, DP implementation and very fast frontside bus, along with the latest mac-version graphics cards don't jive with the framerates we see on, for example, UT2004 when comparing top-of-the-line PCs & Macs...

Don't believe everything you read. I think the G5 suffers from a bit of hyperbole. Then again, I don't think most programs (UT2004 included) really tap the full potential of the hardware. I don't think most programs (UT2004 included) will _ever_ tap the full potential of the G5 if they have to condescend to support G3 and G4 systems. I'm half-seriously considering targeting only the G5 with UnrealEngine3 games, but that depends on a lot of factors not within my control.

There is no doubt that the G5 was definitely a step in the right direction, though, and the sooner we get all Mac users to this as a baseline, the better off we all will be.

I have heard the following jargon thrown around to attempt to explain this disparity: ARB2, NV20, R200, GCC code generation, Apple's OpenGL implementation with regard to sharers, converting from DX9...
What is your word on this matter? Can Apple do anything to directly improve this equation?

Well, in terms of porting code, there's a lot of really inefficient things that x86 CPUs let you get away with that don't fly on PowerPC processors. I won't bore you with the details, but these aren't obvious bottlenecks so much as, say, everything runs 1% slower, or whatever...over the course of the program, all those float-to-int casts add up.

Also, it doesn't help that there's a team of two dozen programmers writing and optimizing Windows code, and little old me trying to maintain a port (or, oh, a dozen ports), and put out the biggest fires, so this doesn't ever get the time it deserves. I don't think this is a phenomenon reserved for my projects.

GCC has a long way to go before it generates absolutely optimum code. Apple is doing a lot to improve the codegen (and generally improve gcc itself, which is also very welcome by the rest of the planet). I'm somewhat worried that IBM is pitching their own PowerPC compiler for the Mac. I would _really_ like to see them improving GCC, even if just for G5-specific optimizations. Splitting the effort, especially when one of the efforts is closed-source, isn't helping anyone here.

I think Apple's OpenGL implementation could use two things:

1) More manpower. This isn't really Apple's fault; there's just a relative army working on the Windows drivers. I also heard a rumor that there are more people at ATI working on the Linux drivers now than there are on their Mac drivers...which is, uh, unexpected if true. Chris Bentley's Mac team at ATI kicks a lot of ass; I have seen this firsthand. But I _do_ get the impression they could use a few more talented individuals just to keep from getting overwhelmed, though.

2) More silicon. For crying out loud, we need faster cards in the machines by default, and faster (AND CHEAPER!) after-market upgrades. Remember when you could buy a Geforce 4 add-in card for like 500 bucks?

That's just an insult. You have to empower Mac users to get a competitive video card, so that we can continue to make competitive games! I mean, I think it's great that there's going to be an NV40 for the Mac, but is it going to cost as much as a decent Windows PC just to upgrade the video card? Let's all hope that Nvidia hits a sane price point on this.

Otherwise, you have to understand that, I'm coming from a Linux background, where you either get Nvidia's good drivers or you get Jack Shit, so I'm pleased by default that when the latest and greatest _does_ show up on the Mac, the driver support is usually extremely good out of the box. I'm also happy that every single MacOS update consistently lists "OpenGL fixes and updates" in the changelog, and that Apple's engineers are consistently eager to help when you identify an issue.

The funny thing, looking back over the past few years, is that Apple was actually way ahead of everyone else in terms of evangelizing modern optimization methods. We all rolled our eyes, too, since trying to retrofit the things they were pitching was of questionable worth in the name of a Mac port. I mean, we laughed when they said "try to organize data so you can use Altivec on it", and then we were doing that anyway for SIMD instruction sets on the PC. We laughed when they said, "try to multithread your programs to take advantage of dual CPUs" and now we've got hyperthreading and dual-core CPUs showing up on the x86 side as totally commonplace. We laughed when they said "CPU cache is king" and, you know, now it is on a Windows box, too.

You get the point.

What's the latest news on UNREAL ENGINE 3 and UTPG?

UE3 marches on. UTPG crawls. I've actually got some basic showstoppers in UTPG to sort out, then I'm tossing out a preview build, just to get some feedback. I'm still not pleased with the project as-is, but a lot of people are asking for it, so something (even something with a "USE AT YOUR OWN RISK" sign duct taped to it) is better than nothing.

I'm having the worst time getting an updated OS9 build (or an OS9 build at all, really). We'll have to see how this goes, but getting OSX out the door is higher priority by about a million notches.

What do you think about UE3?

I think it rocks, of course. Smile

In many ways, it's already way ahead of everyone else, but I don't see the momentum for everyone else's nextgen yet, so I suspect when the first UE3 titles ship, no one's going to be close to shipping anything remotely similar in terms of feature set.

Also, a good deal of Epic's success as both a game and engine developer is due to their toolchain, and UE3's editor and tools are really shaping up to be extremely sweet, even in relation to UnrealEngine2. Granted this isn't usually visible to the public, except the mod makers, but it's really important as a selling point for licensing the engine to commercial developers, and it also helps Epic create cool content themselves. A lot of the value in the nextgen toolchain is that it goes a long way to empower the artists to do what usually requires programmer intervention, so everyone works at maximum efficiency.

Finally, it'll be nice to cut out the low end machines, so you can assume there'll be an Altivec unit on a machine beefy enough to run these games, etc. Could you imagine having to write a Windows game in 2004 and consider that the machine might not have MMX support? This sort of thing is still an issue on the Mac, but hey, good riddance to the G3, I say.

I assume UTPG is now purely a volunteer effort... will it get done
some day, or will it be abandoned?

I always ship, just not necessarily on time. Smile

Will Mac P2:STP be multiplayer-compatible with Windows?

Yes, absolutely. Players on all platforms (Mac, Linux, Windows) can talk between each other. Mac users get the dedicated server, too, for those inclined to run a cluster of Xserves or something. Smile

Will we see Postal 1 for Mac?

Absolutely. Still not sure how this will be sold (if it's sold at all) and distributed. I'd love to see it handed out as a freebie, or at least bundled with a Postal 2 purchase. We'll have to see what's what; this is RWS's call. But the port is already done, debugged, and packaged when they are ready to do something with it.

Will we see a dedicated server or P2 Demo?

Dedicated server will ship on the retail disc and will be maintained with the game client. The demo is up in the air...I'm not sure if the current codebase can be made network compatible with the old Windows demo. If I can coerce this to work, we'll definitely ship a demo, though.


Do you find time to play games, or is it all the "ice-cream store effect"?

Oh, you've heard my Ice Cream Store rant. Smile

I don't play many games, but it's mostly due to lack of free time, not a loss of love.

A lot of games I seek out to play aren't state of the art tech. Crazy Taxi is my current addiction, but I'm trying to find those last few stars in Super Mario 64, too. I had to stop playing Ikaruga before I threw the controller through the wall in frustration. I play Doom 3 in five-minute increments, because I'm a wuss and it creeps me out. I expect to finish it within the next decade.

What is the geekiest Tshirt (or desk items) you own? (I'm envisioning thinkgeek shirts)

I have this tacked to the wall above my monitor:

Ever since it became cool to be geeky, I find it burns calories to keep up the image, so I let my lifestyle and not my possessions define that for me.

What keeps you going in late-nite coding marathons?

Sheer force of will, mostly. When every night is a late night marathon, you tend to get used to it.

Thank you Ryan! Those were among the most detailed and thoughtful respones I've seen anywhere, so thank you for your time.



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Last edited by Santaduck on Tue Dec 14, 2004 5:35 am; edited 8 times in total

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2004 5:17 pm   Post subject:   Reply with quoteBack to top 

Hey guys, great interview!

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2004 9:13 pm   Post subject: Great ! Great! Reply with quoteBack to top 

Really great interview! thumbup thumbup


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2004 9:54 pm   Post subject:  Thanks! Reply with quoteBack to top 

Great to hear from Ryan, and nice to get a real world view of Mac gaming.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2004 10:57 pm   Post subject: Great !  Reply with quoteBack to top 

With out sounding biased, this is one of the best interviews from any developer that I have read.

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 08, 2004 12:00 pm   Post subject:   Reply with quoteBack to top 

When is the demo out?! please!!!

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