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Monday, January 16, 2006

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MWSF Wrap-Up: Q&A with Feral Interactive
8:18 AM | Jean-Luc Dinsdale | 13 comments

During our visit to San Francisco last week, we sat down with Feral Interactive president David Stephen, and chatted about his companyís progress and his thoughts on the recent MacWorld Expo announcements.

2006 should be a very big year for the veteran game publishers. Imperial Glory, Fable, and Colin McRae Rally 2005 are expected to ship in the first quarter of the year, while Lionhead Studioís Black & White 2, first announced last October, is on track for a fall release. In addition to these games, Feral expects to release an unannounced blockbuster title early in the summer, as well as an additional 3 or 4 new titles in the second half of the year.

In terms of sales, Feral is moving to fill the void left by Mac game publishers who dropped out of the market in the past 18 months. And while the US remains the game publisherís largest market, David is looking at distributing some of his companyís titles in the Japanese market Ė a huge undertaking considering the amount of localization, and the attention to detail and quality demanded by that market. And while Feral is enjoying seeing their products sharing shelf space in worldwide Apple Stores, David is also looking at strengthening their relationship with independent Apple retailers around the globe.

According to David, 2005 was a bit of a slow year for the game publishers. Last year saw delays in receiving the code and licenses for some PC projects currently in development. The year also saw the company establish a relationship with a new developer and porting house. Feral also took a step back to see how the Intel hardware situation would play out, which proved to be a wise move in hindsight - Feralís technical support contractors, such as graphics chip makers ATI, were extremely busy with their own move to the Intel architecture.

In terms of supporting the new CPUs, all of Feralís upcoming titles will be released with universal binaries. Feralís technical support team will also take a look at all their current titles and release universal binary patches as necessary, based on game performance under the Rosetta emulation system. Given the type of games in Feralís roster Ė games that arenít necessarily on the bleeding edge of new technology like some of the other Mac game publishers - Davidís expects that they will more than likely only need to patch two or three of their previously-released titles.

On the topic of the new machines, while David is excited about the new Intel machines coming down the pipe, the biggest news to him is the inclusion of the high end ATI Radeon X1600 graphics card included in all the new Intel Macintoshes, a feeling shared by most of the gaming developers we talked to at the Expo. Davidís opinion is that, up until now, Apple has failed to deliver really high end graphics cards in their consumer machines. David feels that part of the reason the Macintosh gaming market has suffered has been the underpowered graphics chips that, up to now, have been included in most consumer Macs Ė for example, a lot of people only own Apple laptops, which, until now, were never equipped with cards powerful enough to play the most demanding games.

David is a little skeptical about claims that the new hardware inside Macintoshes will mean frame rates and game performance almost equal to PCs for a number of logistical reasons. For example, Apple relies on the motherboardís CPU to handle audio processing, instead of passing the work onto dedicated sound cards found in most PCs. While David believes Mac gamers will see big improvements in game performance over existing computer models, donít expect to see parity in frame rates unless developers can find a way to handle issues like audio processing without contributing too much to a titleís overhead.

David doesnít expect that the dual boot issue will turn out as big a deal as it has been portrayed since the new Intel machines were announced. David expects that Apple is going to make it extremely hard for the average user to turn their newly-purchased units into dual boot machines. And even if people go through the effort of dual booting, good luck trying to get technical support for a Windows program that youíre trying to run on a Macintosh computer.

The last topic we touched on was piracy, which is having a fairly small impact on Feral. The game publishers are taking an aggressive and multi-faceted approach to dealing with software piracy, including a dogged determination to shut down illegal filesharing websites through legal action as required. Feral has found that most web site operators and ISP are co-operative Ė the last thing the average bittorrent copyright abuser wants is the police showing up at his or her parentís door. And while David expects that some forms of piracy will always be present to some degree, he and his colleagues are prepared to do what it takes to keep its impact minimal.

Weíd like to thank Feralís David, Edwin, and Mark for taking the time to speak with us on numerous occasions at the Expo.

MWSF 2006
Feral Interactive

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