Bringing Windows games to Linux

LXF: Does LGP pay their wage full-time?

MS: We have a few people on a salary, but most are on a commission basis.

LXF: How do you find people to work on a game?

MS: With great difficulty. When the game comes out, and people start getting their commissions, they usually end up with a wage that's roughly appropriate for the work they've done. But it's hard because they don't get money in advance.

LXF: And if there's a year's delay, as there was with X3, they don't get paid?

MS: Exactly. It's a bit of a problem. But we've got some good people on board now who are getting some royalties from previous games, so they're able to work on new games without worrying too much.

LXF: How far along are your own technologies?

MS: The multiplayer, from our perspective, is fairly mature now. We've got it in a number of games and it seems to be working well. We've released PenguinPlay, which is our multiplayer matching service that we're aiming to put in direct competition with GameSpy. It's still suffering from having a low number of users at the moment, but it will grow.

LXF: Have you ever thought about porting a popular framework to build around?

MS: We have thought about that, but it would be taking us along the same lines as Wine. To get a good level of efficiency while doing something like that would be difficult. The company that originally did the port for Knights and Merchants [Runesoft] tried to do it with something called the dexter library. It does the job, but it's terrible for efficiency, it really is.

A game that runs on a 500MHz machine on Windows ends up taking over 1GHz on Linux because of the extra overhead of the middle layer. So it can make porting quicker, but you get a lower-quality game. One thing we won't compromise is on quality. Every single game we've had was delayed in one way or another – I won't let a bad game go out.

LXF: Was that the reason for the X3 delay?

MS: There were a few issues with X3. It turns out that some versions of the Nvidia driver didn't quite work the same way. Don't even get me talking about the ATI driver, but we have to support it. Getting it perfect on all of them is what took a bit of time. We also had a delay of three months where we had to find a bug in the rendering engine. In essence, the random number generator didn't work under Linux. And because it's a random number generator, it was hard to work out that it was going wrong – it's random by nature!

LXF: Is there anything you can learn from the process?

MS: For the X3 port, we ported everything except the graphics engine in a week. The game engine was similar to the X2 engine, but the graphics engine was just so different. We were thinking, 'we'll be done in a couple of months', but we weren't. But all credit to my guys, they did a lot of hard work on that port.

LXF: Are you tempted to create an original game?

MS: We do have a couple of original game ideas, one of which is about half complete. It will be a fairly simple game to start off with – we're not a big-budget company. This is completely new, no one knows about this. It's very simple, it's based on Sudoku. But it's an entirely new take on the game. I can't go into details because it's still a few months away, but we're hoping we'll be able to get it out in the next six months.

LXF: Which are your favourites games?

MS: I'll always love Majesty – I've played it end-to-end about three or four times. I thought Cold War was brilliantly done and although I wasn't a fan of the gameplay in Postal 2, I loved the message that the company was trying to put out. Because you can play Postal 2 in the most violent and graphic way, but you can also play it without hurting a single person. I don't know anyone who's played it like that, but I like that the people who made Postal are saying you can get through this game without any violence.