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Interview With MacSoft's Phil Sulak
July 12, 2005 | Tuncer Deniz

One of the founding members of Westlake Interactive, Phil Sulak has been porting Macintosh games for almost a decade. Sulak, along with partner Ken Cobb, recently announced that they would be moving to MacSoft. IMG recently sat down with Sulak to talk about the move to MacSoft, OSX, Macs on Intel, and much more.

IMG: Well, first tell us about the move to MacSoft. Can you tell us how that came about?

Sulak: Ken Cobb (my partner at Westlake) and I have known Peter Tamte and Al Schilling at MacSoft since 1997.  Back then, we were working at Lion Entertainment -- I was porting Deadlock and Ken was working on the original Unreal.  Over the years the two of us have developed over a dozen titles for MacSoft and have forged very strong relationships with Peter, Al, James Robrahn Jeff Rehbein, and a lot of the other good folks up in Minneapolis.

Recently Ken and I got to thinking that maybe it would make sense to work for MacSoft and Destineer full-time.  Development budgets and port times have been on the rise in recent years, and working for a bigger organization with access to more resources would help us do our jobs a lot more efficiently.  On top of all that, Destineer has a lot of a great things going on from both a porting and original development standpoint.  So we're very fortunate to have signed on and become part of the Destineer family, and we're looking forward to helping them put out a lot more great games in the future.

IMG: I'm sure you have some opinions about the whole switch to Intel. What were your initial thoughts when you heard the news?

Sulak: My initial thought was: "Oh boy, the rumors are true"!  OS X on Intel was about the worst kept secret in the history of Apple (probably because it's been in development for so long).  In fact, I think I still have an old OS X 10.0 for x86 Beta CD lying around here somewhere.  But never in a million years did any of us think Apple would actually make this switch.

After the initial shock faded, I've tried my best to put myself in Apple's shoes, and think about what's best for them and their customers.  We've all been waiting for 3+ GHz PowerMacs and G5 PowerBooks for years now, and I think Steve and Company just didn't want to get into another untenable situation like they had with Motorola.  Ultimately, if Intel hardware helps Apple put out insanely great products and it allows companies such as Destineer sell more games, then I'm all for it

IMG: Some have speculated that Mac gaming would die if you can play PC games at full speed on an Intel Mac. What are your thoughts?

Sulak: We still don't know for sure if "Mactel" owners will be able to install and run Windows, either via a system such as Virtual PC or through a dual-boot mechanism.  But it's a good bet that we will, so ultimately it's going to come down to "ease of use".  All of us are Mac fans because we recognize something about the OS and hardware that makes the end-user experience a whole lot better than the alternatives.  So even if we're able to play PC games natively on the new hardware, I think there's a large segment of the Mac population that won’t want to pay for a second OS or deal with the hassle of learning and maintaining a Windows installation.

The flip side of this is that there probably are hard-core gamers out there who'll put up with installing and managing Windows just to play games that aren't available for OS X.  But I think Apple recognizes that this is not only a potential problem for Mac game developers, but for Apple Computer Inc.  Here's why.  Suppose Microsoft decided to bundle a new piece of software with Windows.  Let's say for the sake of argument that they add a "super-cool MP3 player with a built-in music store to purchase and download songs".  If the Intel Macs can easily run Windows and Windows apps, then suddenly there's competition for the iTunes Music Store on Apple's own hardware.  This would clearly be a bad thing from Apple's standpoint.  So I hope Apple takes a look at this potential problem, and does its best to help out both developers and itself as well.

IMG: Is it true that ports, in the long run, would be easier on Intel Macs?

Sulak: There’s definitely some truth to this. From a technical standpoint, we actually get at least 3 wins by moving to an x86-based platform.  First, we won't have to byte-swap any data during file I/O and Mac->PC network operations.  Second, it'll be a whole lot easier porting assembly code.  Third, any sort of architecture-specific tricks a game application takes advantage of will be a lot easier to get working.  But eliminating these issues won't reduce port times to zero.  The majority of our time is spent translating and optimizing the game source for OS X, OpenGL, and the GCC compiler.  That part of the job will remain pretty much the same.  And keep in mind that there are still lots of PowerPC-based Macs out there that we’ll continue making games for.  So we won’t see these x86-specific wins for some time just yet.

IMG: Are you currently working on any projects for MacSoft?

Sulak: Most definitely -- we've been pretty busy since day one.  Although the first title we're working on hasn't been announced, it's a very fun game from a big franchise, and will have broad appeal for Mac gamers.  Looking forward 6 to 12 months, MacSoft has some excellent titles in the works and Mac game fans are going to be very happy.  I'm personally looking forward to helping bring some of these titles to the Mac.

IMG: With the next generation consoles on the way, some in the industry think it will hurt PC gaming, leading to possibly less game titles on the Mac. What do you think?

Sulak: First, let me say that I'm champing at the bit to get my hands on a PS3.  With that said, the growth of the console market in recent years is definitely having an affect on both the PC and Mac game markets.  But PC and Mac games will never go away for two big reasons.  First, FPS and RTS titles generally provide better gaming experiences on a computer, the reason being that those types of games take advantage of the ubiquitous mouse and keyboard control interface.  Second, console development budgets are spiraling out of control.  While a relatively small group of PC developers can still make an "A" title for just a few million dollars, budgets in the tens of millions are becoming commonplace in the console world.  In fact, some "AAA" console budgets are approaching the levels of Hollywood features.  So it's much harder to be assured of a decent ROI on the console side of the fence.   But ultimately, it's always about the games themselves.  As long as there are fun titles to play on the PC and Mac, gamers will buy them.


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