An Interview With A Linux Game Porter
Recently on our forums, Frank Earl (who goes by the synonym Svartalf), has been seeking the input of Linux gamers as to what games they would like to see ported to Linux. Frank has been working for Linux Game Publishing for a few years porting various titles to Linux and has done work independently on bringing new software from Windows to Linux. Frank was overwhelmed by the response on our forums and it has even led to new Linux games with many other possible ports being looked into. To get his view as where Linux gaming is currently at, he has answered a few of our questions about Linux game porting, Linux gaming in general, and other questions that may be of interest to gamers and Linux enthusiasts.
Hi Frank, thank you for taking the time to answer some of our questions. If you would, please begin by sharing how you got started on porting games to Linux and became involved with Linux Game Publishing and freelance porting of games from Windows to Linux. Is this your full time occupation?
Hello there, Michael. I'd started to be fully involved with porting games to Linux about 6 or so years ago.
I really didn't think I'd get a shot at this sort of thing prior to that and I'd gotten involved initially from a differing angle on the whole gaming on Linux story.
Prior to my initial involvement with LGP, I'd been working with Loki Games' developers as one of the 3D driver devrel support people on the UtahGLX project, getting access to all of their 3D betas because of it. The main reason I'd gotten into working on the 3D support side of things was that I felt that it was one of the sticking points for getting the OS further along in the world- it was lacking 3D support and 3D support was hindering any possibility of games, even from Loki at that time, on Linux. It was such that ID's John Carmack had chipped in some of his time to get UtahGLX a lot further off the ground- he actually came up with some rather clever workarounds to driver problems that allowed things like the no-configuration needed ATI Rage Pro support to happen.
But, I digress here. What actually got me started proper was that I'd signed up for a beta for a game from a then fledgling publisher and porting studio we all know as LGP, Linux Games Publishing. That game was Majesty. They had succeeded in getting it along with salvaging a few other titles from the implosion of Loki games and I'd gotten to chatting on IRC with Michael Simms during the beta cycle for Majesty. One of the conversations at the time got to my not minding the idea of doing something along the lines of actually DOING porting work. My desire was to see more games on Linux. One thing led to another and I'd ended up with a contract to sign and then a project to work on porting a Windows game over to Linux.
As for it being my full-time occupation, it's not one right at the moment, but I'd like to eventually make it one. Right now, I'm doing embedded Linux distribution and device driver work for Tektronix Communications Group, which does network monitoring and diagnostic probes for the telecom industry. My full-time occupation has been along those lines, embedded Linux and device support, for a quite while now.
What are some of the game titles you have ported to Linux?
I've worked on porting Ballistics, Bandits: Phoenix Rising for LGP and Caster as a freelance for Elecorn.
I've also had a hand on the cross-architecture stuff for Soul Ride and Majesty in the past for LGP and I'm working at seeing if there's any practical porting to be had from the back catalog for select non-X86 platforms, including the Open Pandora and Beagleboard.
Right now, one other forum poster (RobbieAB) and myself have NDA's signed with Paradox Entertainment for porting the Europa Universalis 2 engine (and correspondingly supporting all the games that use that engine from them...), but we're waiting on access to the code from them. We're guessing they're a bit busy with everything involved with their upcoming game releases and with the workload involved with Gamersgate right at the moment on that delay. There's a few other items out there but I can't talk to those right at the moment.