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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Interview with Brian Greenstone from Pangea Software

Brian Greenstone's Pangea Software has been an Apple game developer for years. And at this year's WWDC, Greenstone took the stage to demo his ports of Enigmo and Cro-Mag Rally for the iPhone. We had a chance to ask Greenstone some questions about the development process, and the current state of Mac Gaming:

What advantages do you have from a development standpoint given your history of Apple software creation?
Brian Greenstone, Pangea Software: I think any Mac programmer has a great advantage since the iPhone is basically running OS X. I haven't clouded my brain with Microsoft API's, so the iPhone is really not much different than what I've been used to doing for the last 15 years. I ran into a similar thing many years ago when I got into doing Super Nintendo games back in 1991. The Super Nintendo ran on the 65816 processor... the same processor that was in the Apple ][gs. There were probably only a dozen game programmers who knew the 65816 at the time, so that made getting a job doing SNES work a breeze!

Why haven't you developed any titles for the current iPod game store?
Honestly, it seemed like a waste of time. I wouldn't have been able to do much beyond Tetris and Pong, so it seemed best to wait for the iPhone where I could really have fun.

Can you develop for both platforms (iPhone OS X and OS X) simultaneously, or will it require independent programming?
That depends on the game. If the game isn't too iphone-specific then yes, but if the game is designed around the accelerometer and touch interface then it may not be possible to do a Mac version at all. Generally, however, both versions of a game can share 95% of their code.

What's the overall state of app development for the Mac right now? Do you think there will be a "halo effect" from iPhone programmers creating Mac OS X titles as well?
That's the theory, but we'll see. Right now, game development on the Mac is dead, and has been for some time, but this has the potential to revitalize it. Causal gaming on the Mac is pretty big, but nothing of any real importance is being done any more - just ports of the AAA titles from the PC. 10-15 years ago the Mac was the premiere game development platform because of it's graphics capabilities, but the market moved to consoles and the PC some time ago.

What are some unique challenges with developing for the iPhone?
The only real challenge has been learning Cocoa and Objective-C. Neither of there were designed with performance-oriented game developers in mind, but rather they were designed assuming a document-based application. So, this has presented some challenges, but they've all been figured out. Many people are intimidated by Objective-C, and they should be, but it's actually a much better language than say C++. It just has a very steep learning curve.

Mobile gaming has existed in different forms for many years. Do you think iPhone games will look/feel like existing mobile gaming titles, or will this be something completely different?
The iPhone is not really a typical "mobile platform". I like to think of it as a "portable iMac" because it really has the performance similar to a 233mhz iMac or thereabouts. So, it is possible to do serious games on it - at least games that would have been considered serious 8 years ago. Plus, that awesome 320x480 screen makes low-rez games look great, so even old stuff is better on an iPhone.

Tell us about your announced titles for the iPhone (Enigmo/Cro-Mag) what are some of the changes/additions the iPhone allowed you to bring to these titles?
Enigmo was the first game that I ported over to the iPhone. It only took about 3 days to get it running, and then I spend another month tweaking it and making it perfect. It is a physics-based puzzle game where you have to move drums and slides around to make falling water droplets get into their containers. Converting the game from mouse-based to touch-based was very easy, and the game is actually better as a touch-based game. Apple liked it enough to give it the "Best iPhone Game" award. Cro-Mag Rally was also very easy to port, and it is a 3D caveman racing game. It uses the accelerometer for steering, and this required a lot of work to make right. It was easy to get the steering working, but since that changed the games dynamics I had to spend a lot of time tweaking the physics and such.

Can you tell us about other Pangea titles that might be moving to the iPhone (OttoMatic? bugdom?)
I don't want to do any more ports. From here on out everything will be original, and I have ideas for 4 new games, but I'm waiting to see how things go before starting anything.

Does the App Store model do away with the need for publishers, or "middle men" between programmer and consumer?
No, it only gets rid of the distributor. There still needs to be a publisher for marketing, tech support, etc. It doesn't remove the publisher from the loop, it just changes the way publishers do their distribution. The App Store does make it possible for individuals to enter the market alone, but without marketing and PR they're not going to make any money.

If you could change one thing about the iPhone, either for the end user, or developers, what would it be?
My only beef is the annual cost of ownership (~$1000 / year). I actually don't use an iPhone - I use an iPod Touch. My cell phone is a $10 Virgin Mobile phone that only costs me about $6.50 a month for more minutes than I ever use. So, I use that as my cell, and my Touch for everything else, but if the phone didn't cost so much to use I'd get it.

Many people (myself included) first discovered Pangea through the bundling of your titles with G3 iMacs. Any chance we could see something similar with the iPhone?
Hehe, I wish. Nope, I don't see Apple bundling any games on the devices.

You're in the small group of people to take the stage at WWDC. What was that experience like?
That was a lot of fun, and I've made a lot of new friends from that. It was a lot of preparation for those 3 minutes of fame, but well worth it.

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