Mac porting house Westlake Interactive has had a very interesting year, between the recent staff changes and the company’s handling of two massive game projects - Sony Online Entertainment’s Everquest, and the long awaited, Bungie-designed first person shooter Halo. Despite the losing of two of the company’s founding members, Westlake’s pride of multi-talented programmers have taken the initiative and are forging ahead in the world of Mac software development.
32-year-old Arizona resident Brad Oliver is just one of those programmers. With over a dozen Mac game ports to his credit, including Alice, Civilization 3, STV: Expansion Pack, and Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, Brad has been hacking away at Apple’s computers since the days of the Lisa. When we last chatted, Brad was putting the finishing touches to Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. Since then, he completed the port for Everquest, released a new version of MacMAME, initiated the Halo Mac port coding, and has put time in a new port codenamed Booty Call. Brad is currently knee-deep in Westlake’s newest project, dubbed Russell. And on top of all this, he’s also started The Brad Hole, a daily weblog of his life.
We recently got the opportunity to sit down with Brad by the gentle, flickering glow of our computer screens and talk about some of the stuff that’s happened over the past year.
IMG: You’ve been in an interesting situation this year where you worked on a large number of projects – Everquest, Halo, and secret projects codenamed Booty Call and Russell. I’m assuming that this is an unusual situation – from our previous chats I’ve surmised that usually the same programmer(s) see a particular project through from start to finish. Does it happen a lot that people get switched between projects mid-port? Was the move from Halo to Everquest a result of Glenda’s decision to leave Westlake?
Brad: Yes, it's very unusual for me to flit around on projects without riding them out to the end. With the move from Halo to EverQuest, it was mainly because EQ needed two bodies on it to stay on schedule, whereas Halo was in a nebulous, continually changing state at that time. When Glenda decided to leave, that pretty much locked me into EQ to ensure a smooth transition on the project.
IMG: Suellen and Glenda leaving Westlake – an era has passed. The announcement back in May that Glenda Adams was leaving Westlake was a surprise to most Mac gamers. When further news circulated recently that Suellen was also leaving the company, rumours immediately surfaced that Westlake was going down/being bought out/blah blah blah. Can you comment on any of those rumours?
Brad: Well, obviously Glenda and Suellen cast a very long shadow and had a presence and impact on Westlake that is hard to measure. But that aside, it's pretty much business as usual. We're not (and have never been) a large company, just a group of programmers and in the case of Suellen a business manager to shake down publishers for money and do other things that the rest of us are clueless about.
IMG: I can understand personally their position in wanting to leave. How has the move affected Westlake and its staff?
Brad: Well, given Westlake's small size as a company, we're all kind of like an extended family. From a personal standpoint, it's like having two of your best friends move away. You know you'll keep in contact, but there's an underlying sadness to it, given how close we all are. From a business standpoint, we'll pretty much keep on signing projects, hitting milestones and shipping games, just like before.
IMG: Has Westlake expanded its staff in order to fill the gaps?
Brad: Westlake recently hired someone to fill Suellen's shoes and manage the business stuff that she handled. As far as programmers, I know we're looking to put on a few more people. By the time this hits print, that may have already happened.**
** Westlake Interactive's President, Phil Sulak, dropped us an email to clarify the situation. Here's what he had to say:
Phil: Joye McBurnett recently joined the staff at Westlake and has begun taking over many of Suellen's business duties. Joye comes to Westlake with a great deal of experience in the Games Industry. Recently, she worked as a Producer at Glass Eye and Compulsive here in Austin. While it's been some time since Joye's used a Mac, I don't think I've met anyone so excited about owning their first TiBook:-) Personally, I'm very happy that she's joining Westlake.
Michael Marks has also joined the Westlake ranks as a Mac programmer working on one of our unannounced projects. He has a tremendous amount of 3D experience; he recently worked at nVidia and before that, Metrowerks and 3Dfx. Michael's early work on his project looks very good; in just a short time he's already got some of the graphics drawing and parts of the game loop running. We're very pleased to have Michael with us at Westlake:-)