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Exclusive interview with Gaslamp Games

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Dear readers, it has arrived!

It is with great pleasure that GoL brings you an exclusive interview with Nicholas Vining and Daniel Jacobsen, members of Gaslamp Games - the creators of the humorous rogue-like dungeon crawler "Dungeons of Dredmor". They have shared their experience about porting to Linux, modding, as well as other opinions about cross-platform gaming. I wish you all pleasant reading, and let me express my sincerest gratitude to Nicholas and Daniel for participating! Cheers!

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Believe it or not, I had a rather hard time figuring out what to ask you about. There are just so many interviews and blog-posts you did about “Dungeons of Dredmor” with such detailed information...
However, since we're already on a Linux gaming site, let's talk specifically about the Linux version and I will link to some older interviews for anyone who's interested in reading more.

Before we begin though, please provide a brief introduction... yes, again. Sorry. :rolleyes:
Do tell us what you do and what you will be doing in the unforeseeable future.
NV: We’re Gaslamp Games, a small developer based out of British Columbia, Canada. We just made Dungeons of Dredmor - well, by just made I mean “released over half a year ago” - and recently released an expansion pack, Realm of the Diggle Gods, which adds a bunch of new levels and content. Currently we’re working on an unannounced title, code-named Project Odin, while we continue to support Dredmor. I’m Nicholas; I’m the CTO and the Lead Programmer for Dredmor and for our next project. Daniel is our CEO and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the business side of the company, as well as a fair amount of design and programming.


Now then, why did you decide to support Linux? What influenced this decision?
NV: Personally, I think supporting Linux when it’s possible to do so is a good technical decision and, in some ways, the right thing to do. This mainly stems back from my first job, which was working for the now-defunct, somewhat legendary, Loki Software - the original gangsters.


Did making your game cross-platform have any disadvantages during production?
What were the main problems and how did you overcome them? Did Lord Dredmor intervene?
NV: Nope, not really. Some 64-bit and 32-bit stuff, some fun with undocumented command-line tools on OS X, and various things just randomly going wrong - but all in all, it hasn’t been that bad. Most of Dredmor’s source tree is open source libraries linked together with duct tape and string, and most of those libraries tend to be cross-platform.

Honestly, the biggest problem we faced with the Linux port was getting both Linux and Windows running on the same machine with software RAID*. Nothing like doing something odd out of the box and expecting it to work.
* RAID - a combination of multiple disk drives into one unit (link)


So, hypothetically speaking, will your future titles all be available for Windows, Mac and Linux now and indefinitely?
NV: Never make promises that you can’t keep. If we start building titles that use OpenGL features and extensions that are not supported on the OS X or Linux driver stacks, that might be an issue in the future. Since the closed-source Linux drivers mirror their Windows counterparts pretty closely, I don’t see it being a big issue for Linux. We also now - thankfully! - have OpenGL 3.2 support on OS X, but it means that our next game will require Lion to run.

That said, the plan going forward is to put the next title out for all platforms and see where we go.

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Now, many developers (and especially publishers) seem to still not want to acknowledge Linux as a viable gaming platform. What are you thoughts on this - what can be done to change their attitude?

NV: There are two major problems: toolchain* and revenue.
* toolchain - programming tools used to create a software (link)

The toolchain situation is getting there, but the Linux distributions and vendors do not go out of their way to make it a happy playing field for anybody who wants to release commercial software for Linux. We can’t, for instance, ship an installer and have it just work. We also have a large volume of issues related to “packaging hell”, where users want packages built for their distribution, and which we’re simply not set up to deal with. We don’t have the time and the energy to build separate packages for Debian, Ubuntu, Red Hat, SuSE, Gentoo, Slackware, whatever, and to test everything thoroughly. Desura makes things a lot better; it gives us a good commercial sales portal, and you can download Dredmor and have it Just Work. I would love to see the entire packaging mess just die in a fire, and for commercial software to be treated as a first-class citizen by the Linux packaging process, but... that’s just not going to happen.

I’m a little worried about the graphics driver situation for the next title, as it will be 3D. The closed-source NVIDIA driver always used to the gold standard by which everything is measured, and I’m pretty sure that it will work well. I haven’t tried the closed source Radeon driver yet. The open source drivers are amazing technical achievements - especially nouveau*. How the heck do you reverse engineer a graphics card? I have no clue. We’re happy to provide software and information for driver teams who want to get our stuff work on the open source driver stack, once we’re closer to release. I just don’t think it’s realistic, though.
* nouveau - an open source driver for nVidia cards (link)

The revenue situation on Linux is grim. I don’t want to name numbers and percentages, but it’s a couple of orders of magnitude behind how much money we make on Windows. From a purely commercial standpoint, if not for the fact that our Linux support allowed us to release on the Humble Introversion Bundle, we would have lost money on our Linux port. Furthermore - and I have no idea why - Linux continues to occupy a disproportionate amount of our support load. So there are definitely major issues for anybody who actually wants to ship a Linux game.

We do it because it’s the right thing to do, in some sort of weird, hacker-ethos sense, and not because it’s profitable. I don’t know how to make it profitable, either.

In general, the needs of commercial software are not treated well by the Linux maintainers and development community. The best examples of this are the whole package fiasco, which I think I’ve already railed on, and the joys that we have to go through in order to get binary software for Linux to work at all. It’s not that it’s a difficult process, but it is time-consuming and there is a certain amount of undocumented “black magic” required that you simply have to know. If you are not lucky enough to have this knowledge passed down to you from the previous generation of Loremasters*, resplendent in their robes of penguin hide, then you’re screwed. Good luck trying to figure it out on your own.
* for those confused readers, a "Loremaster" is a very knowing person. In role-play it's class akin to a bard (link)

What’s even more baffling is that any attempt to get this sort of thing fixed tends to be instantly shot down. I hate to bring up FatELF* again, but the sheer hostility that it faced was kind of mind-boggling. A lot of that hostility probably stems from the fact that FatELF was a project designed to make life better for commercial software, and commercial games in particular. In the Linux community, commercial software is an abomination in the eyes of the faithful - and you know what? That’s fair enough. I love that the open-source ecosystem is as good as it is... but it could be so much better.
* long story short: it's a programming thing. ELF stands for "Executable and Linkable Format" (link)

It boils down to money. If you want Linux on the desktop to succeed, the Linux community has to accept that commercial, closed-source software, of the sort usually sold for money, is a necessary part of that ecosystem. One of the reasons why Linux in the server market has been so successful is because it’s possible to make a great deal of money off of Linux servers and open source software in the server market. That money then gets injected into the open source development sphere, and everybody wins. If you want a better Linux desktop experience, and a better open-source Linux desktop experience, make it easier for us to make money off of it. If we’re making money, we’re willing to help get things fixed and make life better, and we can use open source software to do so. Everybody wins.

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Speaking of attitudes, tell us something about the community. Is it as large as you'd want it to be? Just how exactly are users from different OS getting along in the dungeons? Any cheese-fights?

DJ: Our community is phenomenal. I could spend paragraphs talking about how much we owe them and are glad that we can continue to motivate them to stick around and help us improve the game.

As to whether or not it’s as large as we would want it to be, that’s a very complicated question: the short answer is no, the long answer is yes. Our community has a serious amount to do with how well we do commercially and conventional wisdom isn’t wrong in saying that the bigger the community, the better a product will sell, but there is a really interesting counter-argument here.

Social media (and Twitter, most resoundingly) has proved that there are hundreds of millions of people out there that will happily be a part of your community. You just need to show that you are interesting enough, that you care enough, and that you have what it takes to make them a place to gather, and to talk about whatever it is you are promoting. People who have nothing more than a personality and this mentality generate communities many times the size of Gaslamp’s, and there are widget manufacturers and celebrities who people would love to congregate to talk about that don’t do half as good a job as we do.

We have a community that continues to grow as we continue to learn how to grow it; that entails making sure that people still feel represented and that their voices are heard, and that the uniquely Gaslamp culture that exists in our forums, IRC channels and twitter posts. Is it big enough? Sure it is, we are thrilled with the way that the community has supported us. Are we going to stop trying to encourage people to participate in the dialogue? No way! A not insubstantial amount of our time goes into trying to grow and improve our community, and I don’t expect that will change.

As for the OS cheese fights, not at all! If you want to stake your claim as to what the best all-time character build is, however, be prepared to run up against some very well-formed arguments.


What about the modding community? Have they reached interesting achievements?
Is there any modification you'd specifically like to point out? Something you wish you'd included yourselves?
DJ: There are some seriously great ideas out there. I was having a conversation with David a couple of weeks ago about the Runecaster Mod that made it into one of our Community Spotlight posts in January, which we absolutely loved and were more than a bit jealous of, and it’s not the first one we’ve talked about.

They have definitely done some pretty fantastic stuff - so much so that we are pursuing some ways of further promoting the mod community and making it more accessible which should see the light of day in a month or so that I am really excited about.
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As you probably know, Desura is becoming quite popular among Linux gamers.
Do you mind sharing your experience with this distributor? Good-bad-why?
NV: I really love Desura as a platform; from the developer’s perspective, they have some of the best and cleanest tools in the business. Packaging a Dredmor build is as easy as pointing it at the build and going “here, off you go.” I love it, and I wish all our Linux customers would use it because it makes my life so easy and wonderful. By contrast, updating the Humble Bundle Build is an exercise in pain and frustration. (Steam is somewhere between the two.)

The main negative issue with Desura... well, it’s that some people don’t want to use it. We have received a number of complaints from various people who don’t want to use Desura because of the terms of the Desura license agreement. Any time I ask to see what it is that is objectionable, they suddenly remember that they have to go bury their aunt or something... so we can’t actually figure out what the problem is with the license agreement, and work with everybody to get it resolved. As far as I am aware, Desura does not inject DRM into our binaries, so I don’t think that’s the problem. It’s a mystery!


Lastly, could you tell us anything about this “secret project” you're currently working on? ;)
DJ: It’s somewhat formless at the moment. There is this big list of all the things we would like to accomplish with the project, and (as is sometimes the way) that list includes some brand spanking new technology that we are testing to see if it will fit. I know that sounds a bit weird coming off of Dredmor which was a very safe game technically, but our technical background is in more cutting-edge stuff, so we’re hoping to make a bit of that show this time around. We are all really looking forward to talking to you guys about the project, we just want to make sure that we get the kinks worked out.


Is there anything you wanted to say that I neglected? Anything at all?
NV: Slackware for life. Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
Tags: Misc
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A good storyteller; excels at thinking on the fly. Jack of all trades, master of none.
Part-time editor helping around the site. Always happy to hear from people. Ћао!~
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8 comments

Bumadar 16 Feb, 2012
good interview , good questions and some good detailed answers
Hamish 16 Feb, 2012
When it comes to the whole packaging thing, why anyone would really want a packaged version of a commercial game as an RPM or a DEB or something in this day and age is beyond me. Now, maybe this is because I come from a Fedora background, but I do not like mixing my commercial software with my clean system stack. All of the software I have managed through yum is free software - and that is how I want it to remain.

Games are also incongruent compared to the rest of my software due to their large size - I do not appreciate getting my system updates and having one game pop up which is more than three times the size of the rest. This is why I have several games that are in fact in the Fedora repositories installed through Desura instead. Much better for me to have a proper interface optimized for games and leave the legitimate goodness of command line yum (or PackageKit if you prefer...) for my system packages. I have no idea how the USC on Ubuntu handles all that, but I have the feeling I would have the same criticisms.

Plus there are all kinds of games on Desura which could not and should not be packaged by Fedora for a variety of reasons. In fact, I think several games should be simply ripped out of the Fedora repos, so they no longer have to deal with that stupid auto-downloadeder kludge. And if people are complaining about Desura's licence agreement, I suggest they take a look at some of the other software they are running. It is two thirds free software now, in the same boat as Google Chrome and its ilk, and if you are willing to play a commercial game I really do not get the complaints at any rate.
MyGameCompany 17 Feb, 2012
QuoteWe can’t, for instance, ship an installer and have it just work.


Sigh.

I wish more devs would find and read my Linux development articles up on gamedev.net. It really isn't that difficult to build a "universal binary" that runs on almost all Linux distributions, and build an installer for it - once you know how. I went through a lot of the same pain they went through (and every other commercial Linux game dev) - trying to find information, catching flak from the community when you ask questions and try to get answers, etc - but I documented everything I learned to save other devs that frustration.

Here's a [URL='http://www.mygamecompany.com/articles/index.htm']link[/URL] to the most up-to-date versions of those articles on my web site.
SirPrimalform 17 Feb, 2012
Someone needs to point the Revenge of the Titans guys (Puppy Games) to this interview, because they said completely the opposite about Desura (that it's a complete pain in the arse). Obviously it's a matter of opinion, but I'm curious as to why there's such a strong contrast.
whizse 17 Feb, 2012
  • Supporter
Thumbs up for the interview! Always nice with these longer articles.
Pit 17 Feb, 2012
Well, as I currently don't have any aunt to bury :p : What I found *extremely* irritating in the Desura Agreement was the passage that told me that I'm not allowed to use the bought content outside of Desura. While it is true that this is (currently?) not enforced (via DRM or alike) the mere existence of this paragraph is a stain....

I'm using it nevertheless, because many developers seem to like it, but as a user it's for sure not what I've been aching for ever since. Then again I'm a Linux user since 18 years, so manually installing/updating/fixing things is no issue. I do see that this is different for others...

And one (somewhat heretic) question I was missing: Where's the savegame patch for Dredmor?
Apart from that: Indeed a very informative interview.
Bumadar 19 Feb, 2012
Quoting: "MyGameCompany, post: 3400, member: 68"Sigh.

I wish more devs would find and read my Linux development articles up on gamedev.net. It really isn't that difficult to build a "universal binary" that runs on almost all Linux distributions, and build an installer for it - once you know how. I went through a lot of the same pain they went through (and every other commercial Linux game dev) - trying to find information, catching flak from the community when you ask questions and try to get answers, etc - but I documented everything I learned to save other devs that frustration.

Here's a [URL='http://www.mygamecompany.com/articles/index.htm']link[/URL] to the most up-to-date versions of those articles on my web site.


would be cool if Alex V. Sharp would send them this info, see how that works out for them ?
Alex V.Sharp 19 Feb, 2012
Quoting: "Bumadar, post: 3437, member: 93"would be cool if Alex V. Sharp would send them this info, see how that works out for them ?
Already did a long time ago. :cool:
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