|IMG Interview: Battery Acid's Derek Arndt|
October 19, 2007 | Tuncer Deniz
Inside Mac Games recently got a chance to interview Derek Arndt of Battery Acid Games, a college student who has made two popular Macintosh shareware games, Mountain Tanks and BioFilm. We sat down with Derek to talk about his games, the Mac, iPhone, and more.
IMG: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Derek Arndt: Sure. I grew up Middleton, Wisconsin - a nice town right next Madison. Unlike other techheads I went to school with, I didn't discover the joys of technology, computers, and the intraweb until just before high school. I remember trying to learn to program on this Compaq we had as a family computer and just feeling put off when I used it for anything, I messed around but didn't get anywhere. In the computer room at my middle school there were some Apple posters on the wall, one had the tops of the colored iMacs in a circle. At the time I thought they were deodorants or something - I was a dumb kid. Shortly thereafter I found out about Apple on the Internets and before long I had one. I started building websites and learning about C, dual-booting into OSX was just frosting on it all (even if you couldn't really do anything in it). Then in the middle of high school I decided understanding this stuff wasn't enough, I wanted to get serious, and I bought the OpenGL Red Book (a guide to graphics programming, which is now free online) and stumbled upon http://www.idevgames.com . Before I knew it I had surrounded myself with a lot of talented developers that became my mentors. Today I run a small business making games for the Mac, attend the University of Minnesota for Computer Science, and work on an open source 3D environment for the University.
IMG: When was Battery Acid Games formed?
Derek Arndt: Battery Acid Games came out of the desire to represent myself and the work that I do. When I wanted a place to post my own game screenshots and builds, I conjured up the design and with a week of development got it online. Of course under the CSS and fancy company logo it's still just one guy - it's still just me.
IMG: Before you released your first shareware game, you released several freeware titles. Were they mainly warm-ups before you released your first shareware game?
Derek Arndt: Any sort of programming (the bigger the project the better) is helpful to make you a better developer. Perhaps what set me apart (and is clear if you take a look at the stuff I've done over the years) is how I've stayed motivated and kept building a library of code that makes the next game quicker, easier to build, and overall more interesting. So in the beginning I was building a game mostly in the main.cpp file, but then as I did each game I either cleaned up and abstracted code or built shiny new components. An an example, after whipping together Mountain Tanks I realized it needed a clean and simple UI, so I went ahead and spent a few weeks building a pretty decent UI code base - a year and a half later when I built Biofilm I spent maybe a couple days total in creating not only the prettiest UI I've done in a game, but with spending most of that time designing it rather than building it. The Engine I've got now has a ton of powerful code that I also understand top to bottom. Of course, if you're motivated, you can make great games out of ugly code :)
IMG: Tell us a bit about Mountain Tank's development. How long did it take? What complications did you run into when developing your first game.
Derek Arndt: During my first semester of college I was put into a dorm with a roommate I hadn't previously met. It's quite risky, but I tried it and turns out we got along great. So since then my class load was relatively easy I would kick around ideas with him and try to come up with something for us to play together. I came up with this 2D trash game where you're little robot discs that fly around a field of junk and you use your force powers (push and pull in all directions) to try and get as much trash in your goal as you could. It was pretty fast to put together and kinda fun, but my roommate usually beat me. More importantly though, I wasn't feeling good enough about the game to keep working on it, so I came up with a more strategic one. It took about a week to build the core gameplay with my own graphics, but we both had a blast playing Mountain Tanks.
After building a sizable library of freeware/half-finished/dead games I figured I'd push myself to go to the next step and make this one shareware. As a developer (especially of games), it's easy to build the big stuff (say some interesting game play) but it's very hard and time consuming to give it the graphics it deserves, not settling on lame sound effects, play-testing and getting pummeled with necessary feedback to finish this thing. With Mountain Tanks I took that time to add a nice interface so players wouldn't have to learn any controls from a readme, I added a nice sound track, and I listened to the feedback I received. A few months of this and I released the game - in future updates I further refined the experience and added online play (with voice and text chat it's still a blast online).