A few days back we hosted an interview with one of the two big names of the hobby Linux gaming houses. Today, it is time to interview the other big name, Bill Kendrick of NewBreedSoftware.1. Tell us how you got involved with computer programming. What do you do
in “real life”?
Bill Kendrick: I have my family – especially my brother Dean – to thank for my interest in computers. Some of my earliest memories are playing on a Pong console
When I was about 6 or 7 years old (he was 12 or 13), he got a Timex Sinclair 1000 computer. (For those unfamiliar with it, this thing was about 7″ x 7″ in size, with a flat membrane keyboard, and 2 whole kilobytes of RAM.) He and I played on it, mostly typing in games from books.
After about a year, my parents bought him a Commodore 64, so I got the Timex. Somehow – probably thanks to the fact that all of the BASIC commands were available in one keystroke, thanks to a cool, context-sensitive cursor –
I started picking up BASIC. I have a vague memory of jotting down programs on the back of homework sheets from grammar school.
One day my family was at a department store, and I saw an Atari computer sitting there happily displaying a “READY” prompt, so I tried to write a little program. Honestly, it didn’t work, so I was quite frustrated.
For some reason, though, my family decided to get me an Atari 1200XL, and that was the sole computer I had and used between 1982 and 1991! Unfortunately, I didn’t have much access to the ‘outside’ world (computer stores, users groups, magazines, or even much software!)
Since I only had a very few (less than 10) commercial games for my Atari, I’d try writing my own. There are 100s of 5.25″ disks of half-finished BASIC code rotting away somewhere…
As for “real life,” I’m currently working at Worldcom in Sacramento, doing web development. (I’ve been stuck in web jobs since 1995!)
Back in 1998, I got offered a dream job (though I’m sure it would’ve been quite hard) working at Atari Games in the bay area. I would have been helping develop the arcade game “San Francisco Rush: 2049.”
I had JUST moved in with my girlfriend (now fiancee) of 4 years, and would have been forced to move right back out, so after some long and hard consideration, I declined. (I’m getting paid more at Worldcom, anyway.)
2. You are mostly using SDL for your games. Tell us, are there some features that you would like to see implemented in a future SDL and related SDL
Bill Kendrick: I can think of only one, off the top of my head. Some image save routines in SDL_image. At the moment, I’m stuck with either using SDL’s BMP save
function, including a whole other library (like libPNG), or writing something myself.
3. What is your opinion on the DirectX, Allegro & ClanLib APIs? What made you stick to SDL? Have you tried OpenGL in conjuction to SDL?
Bill Kendrick: I’ve never used any of these, frankly. I went straight from Xlib to SDL,
and only ever looked back when I did some games for the Agenda VR3 PDA, or when porting things from Xlib to SDL.
I first started using SDL for music and sound effects in my (still unfinished) game “Bobobot,” which is Xlib-based. Eventually, I discovered SDL was way better at doing graphics than I was under X-Window.
I have poked around with OpenGL in the past. There wasn’t really any integration with SDL at the time – I only used SDL for sound effects and music. I think I need to take some math classes again, though, because I’ve never been that good with 3D. (That should be pretty obvious by looking at the lineup of titles I’ve made so far.)
4. What is your favorite game of all time, and which one of your games is your favorite?
Bill Kendrick: What an unfair question — I have so many favorite games! They come from different genres, different environments (computer versus console versus arcade), and from different eras. I hope you don’t mind a list…
* Adventure, the ancient, blocky dragons-and-swords game for the Atari 2600.
* Star Raiders, the 3D space shooter from 1979 for the Atari.
* Sinistar, the first game to REALLY get my adrenaline going.
* Mega Man II. A beautiful and elegant, if not too easy, platformer.
* Klax, the Tetris-like puzzle game.
* Tempest 2000, the trippy remake of the already-bizarre game “Tempest.”
* Wipe Out, the classic futuristic racer from the PlayStation
(I have all of the sequels)
* Tekken II. I played this weekend after weekend at the arcade with some friends, back before it was out for the PlayStation. (It was also my reason for GETTING the PlayStation.) My friends were both girls, oddly enough. And one of them can kick ANYONE’s ass at any version of Tekken.
* Twisted Metal. I played this until 2am on school nights in college with my roommates.
Of the games I’ve written, the two I fire up more than any are Defendguin (mostly when I just need to shoot stuff) and Vectoroids (the Zaurus version).
5. What other games are you planning to design and write? Will you seek a profession in game programming in the near future?
Bill Kendrick: I want to design some less violent games, some clones of the ‘favorites’ I listed above, and to one day try to think of something ORIGINAL. (Even back when I wrote games for my Atari, they were usually based,
at least vaguely, on other games I saw or read about.)
While I’m not usually actively seeking a game programming job, I’m always pining for one. I’d love to find a job where my retro-style game coding experience would be found useful. And one where I don’t have to use Windows. (Thankfully, my current job’s like that!)
6. What do you think about the Linux performance on multimedia in general?
Bill Kendrick: It’s coming along nicely, I think. The two complaints I hear the most are about the lack of video and audio editing tools. The latter seems to be getting taken care of, thanks to tools like Audacity.
7. Have you tried other OSes besides Windows and Linux? Which Linux distro are you using?
Bill Kendrick: My college had labs full of MacIIs and Centrises, and eventually some PowerPCs.
In the end, I just used them mostly as remote X displays for the Solaris box I did most of my programming on.
As for Windows, I’ve never actually ran it myself. (I think I have a disc somewhere that came with one of the used PCs I’ve got.)
My roommate in college ran Windows95, and I hated it. So when a friend told me about this “Red Hat Linux” thing, it was the first thing I installed on my very first “real” computer: a Pentium 133 I bought used in 1998 after
graduating and moving to Davis.
You heard it right – before that, the only computers I owned were my Atari’s (and an IBM PS2 running DOS that I used to login to the Unix box at school).
After using RedHat for a few years, I’ve switched entirely to Debian.
8. Do you believe that there is still future for the professional/heavy 3D games market under Linux, after the demise of Loki Software? What changes to the Linux infrastructure can help in the success of the particular
Bill Kendrick: I think most people agree that Loki was filling a necessary niche in the Linux market. From rumors I’ve heard and read, it really was just bad
management that caused them to die.
First-party companies seem to be working on more Linux ports themselves. Never Winter Nights comes to mind as one.
9. I see that you are doing some software for kids, like TuxPaint. Tell us what made you want to work in this field. Do you have kids of your own?
Bill Kendrick: My main reason for writing Tux Paint was after a friend told me about his experience with Debian Jr. He has some young kids, and complained that the
only real drawing program that was packaged in Jr. was The Gimp, which many ADULTS I know can’t wrap their head around.
I think my main interest in children’s software is (1) that it’s easy programming… very similar to what I’ve been doing (“retro” titles), (2) there’s more “bang for the buck,” when compared to trying to impress and entertain the average “gamer,” and (3) it’s very satisfying.
I have no children, yet. For now, only cats. They’re MUCH lower maintenance.
10. Tell us about the rest of your Linux activities. I hear that you are
running a Linux User Group in California.
Bill Kendrick: When I first moved to Davis in 1998, I was doing web development, as usual. I was telecommuting, so I didn’t get out of the house much, and didn’t have many friends in the area. Then one day a fellow named Pete Salzman posted a question to one of UC Davis’ Usenet newsgroups asking if there was a LUG in the area, or interest in one. My roommate told me, and we
decided we’d like to get together.
Since then, LUGOD’s grown to be the largest LUG out here in the Sacramento area, and one of the most active that we’ve ever heard of. We meet twice a month, with either guest speakers or presentations from members. Along with that, we hold monthly installfests, AND semi-regular hands-on Linux demos. We’ve worked with the local high school, library, and other non-profits. Just last night, two of use did a presentation on Linux to kids at this year’s California 4-H Leadership Conference.
Along with LUGOD, I also hang out in a lot of other LUGs – Sacramento, Roseville, North Bay, SVLUG, BALUG, SVBUG…
Once upon a time, I ran a group called the Davis Game Design Club. It never got too big, and fizzled with my friends web server died, killing the website and mailing lists. I decided work and LUGOD kept me busy enough, so I let it die.