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An Interview with Loki Games' Scott Draeker
Pages: 1, 2

Kelly: In addition to Loki, companies like Oracle, Corel, and MetroWerks were early to decide to port applications from other platforms to Linux. As far as I know, most of them do this work in-house. Meanwhile, Sendmail has decided to port their traditionally Unix product to NT. To do so, they acquired a company which had been developing a Sendmail-like program for NT, and if I am not mistaken is currently working to merge the code base for the two [Unix and NT] versions. They are also working in-house, but with code they acquired from somewhere else. Your company seems to follow a different model still -- I know that you work very closely with ie Activision when porting a game, but in a way they are outsourcing their porting to Loki instead of doing it themselves. In your opinion, what are the pluses and minuses of these different ways of porting applications?

Draeker: I think the different models you describe are driven by the economies of the particular market. Porting itself just takes takes the proper developer talent. But how many times has a developer wound up with cool code that he or she can't get to market?

Our model addresses the biggest reason why game companies don't port to Linux -- the QA, distribution, and end-user support. Game companies are set up to do these things for Windows, not Linux. A great example is Quake III Arena for Linux. We didn't do the port, but we are publishing it.

Kelly: I see on your web site that you are supporting several open source projects, like SDL Motion JPEG Library (SMJPEG). How valuable is this kind of activity for you in advancing the overall ease and/or quality of your porting efforts?

Draeker: SMPEG, SMJEP, Setup, and others are required pieces for games to run on Linux. We had to create them in order to develop our products. The questions was whether we would give them away as open source. Releasing the source code can be a scary thing. We spent nearly a year figuring out the "right" way to do full screen support for non-root users. Once we had it down, the code was on our web site within days, and any fool could download it and compete with us if they chose.

Of course, people could also use our code to create new games and other applications for Linux -- and that's a good thing. In addition, we've received numerous patches and suggestions from the community. One of the enhancements I'm most proud of is the upcoming hardware MPEG playback for SMPEG. We're working with ATI to add this functionality for ATI's Rage 128 and Rage 128 Pro video cards. In the future this could lead to full DVD support under Linux using SMPEG, ATI hardware, and third-party drivers. I believe all of this is a direct benefit from our releasing the source.

Kelly: I've heard from Corel that they are cooperating closely with the WINE project. As far as I know, they started out thinking they'd have to port all of their code by hand, then found out that they could run their applications on top of WINE, then changed their tactics again and are now compiling their applications to link in to WINE as a library. Are there other possibilities to find synergy between independent projects -- like WINE, FreeMWare, Samba, etc. -- or other tools and porting efforts? What are the pluses and minuses of each of these?

Related Resources

• Other press coverage of Loki

• Recent Slashdot interview with Scott Draeker

• Recent Game Daily interview with Scott Draeker

• The Hacking Contest Nobody Tried to Win

Draeker: I view applications such as VMWare and WINE as sort of a "spare tire" for people leaving Windows in favor of Linux. Porting legacy code and even running Windows apps is nice to have available, as you don't have to wait as long to make the transition. On the other hand, Linux won't be successful in the long term if it's just another way to run Windows apps. That's why we don't use emulation or take other shortcuts. By creating a Linux application, we are able to show off the advantages Linux has as an OS, something which even perfect emulation can never do.

Kelly: Is there anything that I forgot to ask about which I should have asked, or any piece of advice that you'd like to give to developers who are just starting out on the porting path?

Draeker: I would recommend that developers looking at creating Linux apps think first about their market. Linux users are very well informed, technically savvy, and have high expectations. Just slamming out a Linux version of your failed Windows application won't cut it. Set your standards higher. I would also recommend that you keep in mind the things that have made Linux successful commercially and in the development community. If your business model doesn't take into account the things that make Linux successful, if you pretend this is the Windows or Mac market, then you are in for a tough time.

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