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Anatomy of a Port
June 7, 2002 | Michael Yanovich

“Scalpel. Sponge. Chainsaw.”

Then, the sound of thunder, screams, cries for mercy. And one voice rising above it all….

“It’s….. ALIVE!!!”

Welcome to Biology 101. Today, we’ll be examining the most complex of non-lifeforms, a creature made up of millions of lines of nonsensical information cramped together into a string of binary codes. It’s called, the Videogame.

While there are those that contend that video games fall from heaven in complete and perfect form (patches not included), we’re here to prove that the forementioned theory is, in the appropriate scientific jargon, bunk. Games are not spontaneously created, rather they are built…. By HUMANS!

Not only that, but it has been discovered that there are several subspecies of games. The lower lifeform is typically called a Windows Game. But sometimes, the strongest, bravest and best of these evolve to a higher state of being… into a Macintosh game!

We call this process of evolution: porting. And that, my friends, is what we are here to discuss.

The overall concept of porting requires taking code designed for one organism, and making it work in another organism. Think of it as transplanting a baboon heart into a person.

Now since the word “porter” was already being used by people who basically move luggage for a living, this word was not available for use by the people who do the actual porting. So we stuck them with another label: programmers.

To understand this process of programming – specifically porting one game into another – we will be discussing this process with them, since I am about as knowledgeable in this process as a hamster is in astrophysics. We will begin by inventing a fictional game.

Let’s call it… Malarky. This game is a PC only game, a graphically demanding FPS with its own unique engine. DirectX is used, as is DirectPlay, two Microsoft technologies that must be modified for Mac use. And we’d like the game to have a solid single-player experience, as well as a multiplayer one that can play against both Macs and PCs.

This is the equivalent of an expectant human parent saying “we just want the child to be healthy. And a top athlete. And a brainiac as well. Who is also highly desired by the opposite sex.”

So let’s begin with the birthing process, for it must all start there. We spoke to the proud papa of many games over the years, Contraband’s Bill “Burger” Heineman. Can you give us a brief synopsis of your background?

Burger: Well, I've been programming computers since 1978, and the Mac since 1993. My first game was Wolfenstein 3D for MacOS released by MacPlay in 1994. I have created and wrote numerous game titles such as Bard's Tale III, Dragon Wars, Mindshadow etc. And recently, I've been doing Gameboy Advance work and several Mac ports of Heretic II, Fighter Squadron, Aliens vs. Predator and Zork.

IMG: So, Burger. Assuming the stork is not involved, how exactly does a port get started?

Burger: Ports get started several ways. Sometimes a deal is struck where a publisher gets an entire product line and we have to convert the whole line. Other times, we here at Contraband, talk to developers as they are wrapping up a PC version and have the original developer modify the code to make a Mac port easier. Other times, we just get a code dump and go. Overall, which games we get really depend on what game people want.


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