The Acorn gaming scene is dire, and will continue to be unless action is taken. The only way to enourage programmers to develop on the Acorn is to provide high processing speeds, 3D cards and freely available libraries in the same vein as Direct 3D and OpenGL.
Since the 600Mhz StrongARM is unavailable until next year, the only solution to the CPU problem is multi-processing. In fact, multi-processor machines are the only way the Acorn community can fend off the Wintel oligarchy when the Merced is introduced.
The new RiscStations may be able to take advantage of 3D cards. However, AGP is not supported, which means we're still a full generation behind the PC and the Mac. Even if PCI 3D cards can be used, it still leaves the question of drivers. How will they integrate into RISC OS, if at all? Who will be willing to write these drivers?
The libraries are the final obstacle. Since quite of a few of the more capable programmers have left the Acorn world (I cite the examples of Computer Concepts, Sibelius, et al), porting libraries from other systems would be a better idea.
In summary, my view is that without advances in hardware and an influx of new programmers to the Acorn arena, we will be condemned to forever playing 2D platformers... Or going to the shops to buy an alternative system.
The RISC OS games market is really in a bad shape at the moment, and I firmly believe it boils down to two major factors.
1) No freely available 3D software that allows users to create a solid foundation for a great game. All 3D Engines that do exist are shrouded in secrecy by the publishers or coders. I know a great deal of work goes into these, but if the same philosophy went into this as Linux surely everyone would benefit.
2) Most native games that do get created are only 80% finished. The sound is week and the graphic relatively poor.
I am sure that we have talent in the RISC OS market for better productions, but most people do not come forward to assist. Writing MODs myself, I have never voluntereed to help others with music for games, when in retrospect perhaps I should have. We RISC OS users (myself included) know what makes a great game and know how to complain when our own games never reach these standards.
We are now getting new machines. 3D cards probably wont be far behind. But what of the games? Even if no one has ever had experience in being involved with coding. Music, sound, graphics, etc.. perhaps they should get involved. A new section for people to volunteer their servcies perhaps?
Something has got too happen. We are putting too much faith into only 2 publishers (Artex & RCOMP Interactive) Both of which do a fantasic job :-)
Alann Robertson 3/8/99
I agree with your comments on freely available libraries for things like 3D. This is why I made a quite complete 3D engine plus source freely available for anyone to fiddle with. So far the response has been good and the engine has grown from a simple 3D demo to having very nice features like:
- Multiple screen mode and colour depth rendering.
- Animation and matrix hierarchy support.
- MAD2 compressed video playback.
Martin Piper 5/8/99
We must remember that the StrongARM has rarely been pushed to its limit (in games) and therefore with the collective effort and enthusiasm of programmers like artex and maybe VOTI there is still the potential for high quality games (3D or not) in the near future.
Hopefully these new releases will be forthcoming and keep us fairly satisfied until the new hardware is ready for sale. I personally believe there is still the expertise for creation of drivers for 3D cards etc but the main thing to keep in mind is to make the most of what capability there is in current machines whilst still pushing for development.
Andrew Weston 5/8/99
It is all very well Martin (Piper) making his engine freely available for all to use but when will we see some games using it?
Brendan Bowler 9/8/99
It seems strange that all the letters in this thread so far place so much store in 3D hardware and coding libraries - both did very poorly in Acorn Arcade's poll, looking at the results that have just been published.
Perhaps it's time for a UNIX-like set of community resources - a website devoted to programming, where everyone can go to get the latest resources instead of having to hunt around, and where people can pool their efforts and resources.
Harry Decker 9/8/99
With regards to Alann Robertson's letter, I find a lot to relate to.
The problem is I believe that most Acorn gaming enthusiasts have a day-job so to speak, whether this be in the computing industry or unrelated or at college or university like myself. Therefore any games programming must be done in spare time. For this reason, I strongly agree with you saying that we should offer assistance.
I have been writing a fairly simple game when time allows for the last year or so and have had a small amount of assistance. Unfortunately, my programming skills alone do not extend to the degree which would probably required for commercial games and therefore I would personally welcome assistance.
I'm sure there must be many who would like to contribute to the development of a game, no matter how small or large the contribution would be. Any feedback would be bonus more often than not presumably. For example, the donation of graphics (even small sprites), sound samples, logos, sections of code which perform a nice effect or just ideas in writing would very often be found a use thus saving the main programmer time and adding something to a game which would otherwise not be present.
Having read a non-Acorn games mag recently, its easy to become daunted by the visual appearance or hype that the latest releases show off. Many of the PC/console games have budgets in seven figures! However, by offering assistance and sharing resources to an extent, the Acorn games scene has a good chance of keeping healthy and active and producing some attractive games. Who knows what may come of clubbing together?
At least one group in the Acorn scene already is apparently willing to offer assistance so if you have an idea why not share it with the rest of the community?
Overall then, it would surely be a great idea to have a section where people could volunteer assistance, in Acorn Arcade or in one of the enthusiasts magazines such as Eureka or Archive if they were agreeable.
Andrew Weston 10/8/99
Having read the above letters, there are a few points I'd like to air.
Firstly, I'm afraid to say that the hardware of current RISC OS machines is severely lacking. No floating point or graphics cards means we can forget true 3D games any more advanced than Doom or at a push Quake, so why are the games companies pushing these games? As Harry Decker said, an Acorn Arcade poll showed that gamesplay was considered more important than fancy graphics. We need to see games with playability, games like Worms and C+C. I know the licencing fees for said games are astronomical, but surely there are similar games out there up for grabs. Let's forget about trying to flog the hardware for every inch of performance trying to keep up with a 4 year old PC, instead spend this time perfecting the playability. I'm sure we have the talent in the Acorn scene.
Secondly, writing Acorn games is not and probably never will be a largely profitable venture. The development time and effort that has to go into creating a game from scratch is the reason why we are seeing so many straight conversions. I feel the quality of native Acorn games is probably lower than five or six years ago when companies such as 4D were selling titles such as Stunt Racer, Nevryon and Star Fighter. It is all very well saying that one has a game but doesn't know how to develop it and asking help from the Acorn community, but there is no way this method can produce games of the quality of those seen on the PC and consoles.
Stephen Sloan 12/8/99
Andrew Weston makes a very good point in his second email. A resource on the web where individuals can upload and download libraries which they are freely aloud to update and expand as they see fit. This does not have to be purely devoted to 3d games, it can also incorporate any number of gaming components - sprite handler, sprite zooming, music routine, sample editors.
It's such a simple idea, that I believe would work, if it was created properly and had the backing of some of the top programmers out there.
I don't believe for one moment that RISCOS machines are not capable to producing very high quality games to equal or surpass PC games. Having only a few people at best working on a game will never produce the best. We ALL need to work together.
Alann Robertson 18/8/99
After reading the above letters I feel that people are missing a few points...
The comment about gameplay above graphics is valid, however for the layman if you saw a game that had what looked like 'coder graphics' and another with nice professional art, you would naturally look at the second game. Initial reactions aren't brought about by gameplay but by the visual potency of the game.
This is why solid libraries for 2d/3d graphics are important. Having a large chunk of the code already done enables more time to be spent on gameplay and graphics. Also with all this code done the cost of development drops, which is why many games companies reuse their engines. I feel it is important to have a flow of home grown games like Tek & ID alongside the conversions. If we can get more games that go beyond the quality of the Yaroze ventures on OPM CDs then it will be a step up...
As for conversions it is difficult to pick an alternative to C+C or whatever, as there is such a gulf between the quality of various titles. Now that the release of Tiberian Sun is almost upon the PC owning public the license fee must have dropped for the previous incarnations.
As for the technical capabilities of the machine it is true that when converting a game the lack of fp and 3d hardware is a big hindrance, but when you write a home grown engine or game you work to the strengths of the hardware. The ID engine has shown what is possible, and a Quake style runabout is technically far more simple than ID so the engine itself could be made to runat a nice speed.
However here we hit the problem... the lack of people who are willing to take an active role in development of a game. From experience there are a lot of people that like stating that the market is in a poor state but fail to do anything about that. It is time for a change. Just look what happened with GCC (won't mean much to a non-coder...) it just needed someone's genorosity to get a new Acorn port going. So instead of spouting off about why the Acorn scene is looking so lacklustre see if you can do something to help, because it may just be your help that causes a key title to come to fruition.
David McEwen 23/8/99
David McEwen makes some very sound points about games development, but there are some aspects of his letter I'd like to discuss.
It is certainly agreed that good graphics make people look at a game, but how much does this account for on the Acorn? The games that are likely to be big sellers and easier to code are conversions from PC titles. Not only are such games already well known, but the graphics and sound are already completed. True, the game engine needs work to optimise it for RISC OS machines' hardware, but that is purely a coder's job and we have some extremely talented coders. ID has shown us a glimpse of what is possible graphics-wise, but I fear this is a pinacle of achievement. When buying a game and looking at graphics, many people will compare offerings on the Acorn to those on the consoles or PCs, with which we have little chance of competing.
Quality 3D libraries are unquestionably needed but what have we got available at the moment? Although containing very nice features, the Doom engine is far too basic for use in games of the quality people are after, but then again it was never constructed for this purpose. The Quake engine already pushes an SA RPC to its limits running basic Quake. TEK and the Destiny engine are IMHO underqualified for the job. The ID engine is unseen and who could see Artex making this engine cheaply available? They would want to keep it to themselves to help attract as much of the market as possible to ID. I make no premises, I am not a coder and do not have the experience to write a library.
There seems to be only a handful of coders with the experience needed to write games who are active in the Acorn market at the minute. It is all very well trying to rally for support from the Acorn scene, but unless you attract people with the necessary qualities needed it will prove a fruitless venture. Many people are simply saying 'I want to help' yet have little they can contribute that will make a difference; their enthusiasm is warming but ultimately superficial. More and more Acorn users are buying PCs, and we can simply not compete with offerings from large professional teams with million pound budgets and far more advanced hardware targets. A touch of realism is needed, no matter how much a small group of people try, we will never see games of that sort of quality for the Acorn scene. As for a forum for programmers to discuss code and offer services to one another, whatever happened to the Sunflower group?
Stephen Sloan 12/8/99
With regards to Stephen Sloan's letter, there are some very valid points.
However, if games development is to continue, developers must always push the hardware. In this way, they are more able to push any new hardware when it sees the light of day.
I can see the point though : let's not try desperately to play catch-up with the PC's less the playability suffers as a result of an obsession with frame-rate etc.
Stephen also mentions that even by seeking help from other games enthusiasts,very high quality games are still not possible. Surely this does not hold entirely true though. Sunburst and the Artex releases are collaborative efforts. Also, working together may well result in faster development times so perhaps forming groups should not be entirely dismissed.
The limitations of the RISC OS platform, both in the size of its user / support base and technical development appear in general, all too clear to RISC users but it seems to me that this should not make people just accept defeat and abandon it.
Andrew Weston 23/8/99
In reply to Stephen Sloan, the Sunflower group is actually still active. The (somewhat unfinished) site is currently at http://www.argonet.co.uk/sunflower/
The mailing list has been rather quiet of late but things are progressing. The reason you haven't seen the work publicised is because progress has been slow and, I for one, am unwilling to publicise something and then let people down when it doesn't appear / take ages to appear as that does more harm than good. However I do use the Sunflower list as a resource for feedback for development ideas, so may I suggest people try subscribing to it. I also believe that there have been articles in CAUGers about AI in games from one of Sunflower's members.
One thing I do find interesting is that not so long ago I started a similar thread to this on the Acorn Arcade mailing list. In brief I pointed out what technologies were about and being underutilised. I also suggested some ways in which they might be made available to developers with relatively little effort from the original authors (while ensuring the authors also got something out of it.) While there was some discussion before it turned into a wishlist for Doom+ upgrades, the discussion was generated by a disappointingly small number of people. This suggests that there either isn't enough interest anymore, or that people haven't subscribed to these groups. Currently I prefer to to believe the later, especially after initiatives like the renewed GCC project.
Finally, if people are interested (and the people on the Sunflower list agree) I should be able to make an archive of nearly all the postings available for download as I've kept most of them. However, you'll have to wait a few weeks as they're on a machine I don't have access to right now.
Note that the above represents my own thoughts, and do not necessarily mirror those of the other members of the Sunflower group.
Lee Johnston 25/8/99
As David pointed out the lack of fp and 3D hardware is a hinderence to conversion and not to the development of a fast 3D graphics engine. You would be suprised at just how fast the current StrongArm RiscPC's are. My interest is in photography and I did some comparisons between the latest Pentium PC+Photoshop (magazine timings) and my StrongArm+Photodesk doing the same task on the same sized image. Basically if you halve the PC clock speed then this gives a closer indication of the relative speeds of PC's V RiscPC's. And that is with RiscOS 3.7!
If millions of pounds with a team of graphic artists, musicians, programmers etc were to be invested in a RISC OS based game it would be every bit as good as a PC game. The real problem is not the biggest latest fastest go faster stripes hardware but market volume. That's not to say faster better hardware won't help it's just not the main problem. NB when intel release a 600Mhz Strongarm and we can have 20 of these in a Riscstation then games still won't magically appear out of thin air even though the latest PC would like a ZX80 in comparison (sorry Clive !)"
Malcolm Ripley 9/9/99
Following on from Stephen Sloan's letter: Perhapos the way to get a decent library of routines freely available would be to make use of cross platform development. After all a significant part of any project is usually platform independant. Looking at the numerous libraries I have in development here the machine specific stuff tends to be sound, screen, input and hardware routines. All of which are easy modules to write for an Acorn.
Martin Piper 25/9/99