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Today I had the pleasure of speaking to Aaron, the one man porting machine from Knockout Games. If you don’t recognise the name, you may recognise the porting work in Shadow Warrior (the new one), Outland and more!

Q: For our readers who have no idea who you are, could you give us an introduction!
A: Hello I'm Aaron Melcher. I'm the owner and engineer of Knockout Games INC., which is currently a one man company. I started this adventure April 2014, but have been programming professionally for games since 2007.

Q: How/Why did you get into porting games, and why for Linux?
A: I've actually been porting games since my first game programming job. My first port was Chainz 2 (http://www.gamehouse.com/download-games/chainz-2-relinked) to the Megatouch (https://goo.gl/4pcBuI). The Megatouch is a Linux based (centos modified) bar-top touch screen platform. Coincidentally my first ports were to Linux from Windows. When I decided to start my own business I wanted to do something I enjoyed that didn't require me to hire employees. Naturally porting seemed like a good solution.

Q: When you want to get porting, do you reach out to developers, or do they reach out to you?
A: Both. I mostly get referrals, but I will reach out to developers of a game I'm a big fan of. That's one of the reasons I decided to start this thing, freedom to chose my work.

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Q: I believe you stated somewhere that Edward Rudd originally started the recent Shadow Warrior port, and you finished it, what happened there?
A: Yes. I get almost all of my contracts through Edward via Humble Bundle and he usually does bits and pieces of work on each one. He got Shadow Warrior initially compiling on Linux/Mac, but was too busy to port it completely himself so he offered it to me.

Q: What's it like to follow on from work someone else has started, and someone who has been doing it for a long time?
A: Any work I don't have to do myself means I have more time to do other things so it's awesome. Especially when it's someone like Edward because I likely won't have to touch/fix anything he does.

Q: What do you use for your main operating system and why?
A:I'm going to get in trouble for this, but it is Windows 7. The main reasons why are that I'm used to the environment and I can quickly compare with the Windows version of the game. For example on windows I can utilize NVIDIA Nsight to quickly debug DX and OpenGL graphics to make sure everything is as close to pixel perfect as possible. When I need to focus on Linux specific issue I have no complaints working within Fedora.

Q: What are your thoughts on SteamOS and Steam Machines? Do you think they will help push Linux forward?
A:I'm looking forward to them materializing, I want one. In my opinion they already have pushed Linux forward. I guarantee I wouldn't have been so busy this past year without Steam Machines being a thing.

Q: When you have been porting games to Linux, what has been some of the most difficult parts for you?
A: All of the OS bits are pretty much solved at this point by SDL2 and friends. The difficult parts are related to what makes each game's code base a beautiful and unique snowflake. Porting to OpenGL, dealing with non-opensource dependencies, file path issues, selecting & massaging the compiler to process the code in the most non-invasive way possible. Having to type a lot. Managing my hand pain.

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Q: How have you found the reception of your ports to be from Linux gamers?
A: I love Linux gamers. They erupt with happiness when a new game enters their world. If there are issues they find them and they are certainly not afraid to tell me. I try to fix everything I can and they cheer me on every step of the way. Did I say I love you guys?

Q: Are we likely to see more Linux game ports from you this year?
A: Currently scheduled to do at least two more this year. I plan on taking a bit of a break, but I'm not very good at being idle.

Q: What do you think is holding Linux back right now from gaining a higher market share?
A: I think Linux is more attractive then ever. Steam Box will help people unknowingly adopt Linux which is great, but getting people on Linux as their PC OS of choice is a harder proposition. Increasing support for a wide array of hardware, making OS install easy and generally avoiding the need for a user to ever have to open Terminal are good ways to do this. However in my opinion the number won't rise to Windows numbers until we see Linux on computers displayed at places like Best Buy. No one accidentally owns a computer with Linux installed. That is what is holding back market share.

Q: When you do work from Fedora, what tools do you miss from Windows? And what else do you think Linux really needs for developers?
A: An accurate and easy to use source code debugger. I have high hopes for RAD's debugger project (http://www.radgametools.com/debug.htm), but I make do with gdb (because I've been using it since I started my career 8 years ago). I know it is a pain point for a lot of developers. I port games that have already gone through release and support on at least one other platform, so the need for a debugger isn't high. For developers to adopt Linux as the OS they want to build their game on from scratch this is needed. Outside of that I love working on Linux.

Q: Any words of advice for any wannabe game porters out there?
A: Get to work! I'm probably not suppose to inspire competition, but the demand for quality porting far outweighs those providing the services. Porting is so much easier now. Honestly most of what I do is setup build environments and plug in SDL2 and misc. other libs. That said Shadow Warrior was my most challenging port due to it being feature rich graphically. Having good graphics programming chops is essential when porting games. Thankfully there are tons of resources, here are just a few of my favorites: http://icculus.org/, http://steamdevdays.com/, https://github.com/ . Finally don't forget the best resource is personal experience so just mess around and have fun.

Q: Just when are you going to get that fancy website sorted?
A: :-D, I actually have a web guy working on something. I need to take time to review it, give feedback, and populate it with content. I'm trying to give myself my first vacation later this year so it will probably happen around that time. This last year has been super busy simply through word of mouth so it hasn't become high priority.

I would like to thank Aaron for sparing the time to have a chat!

You can find his recent ports of Shadow Warrior 2013 on Steam and it just released on GOG too, Outland on Steam, and also La-Mulana on Steam.
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omer666 commented on 1 May 2015 at 2:26 pm UTC

It's incredible to see such well crafted ports of really great games. I really hope to see more coming soon, you've got my sincere admiration.


amelcher commented on 1 May 2015 at 2:30 pm UTC
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@N30N
Yeah I've heard great things about switching to tablet. I'd probably have one by now if I had to use the mouse a lot. Yeah geekhack is a great resource.


chrisq commented on 1 May 2015 at 2:31 pm UTC

amelcher@sub
@mirv
I've been using the Truly Ergonomic keyboard since it released a few years ago (https://www.trulyergonomic.com/). It helped a lot with my hand pain, but I think it's just too small for me (I'm a stocky six foot tall human). I'm probably going to pick up a Kinesis pretty soon since the wider hand placement is my main issue with this current keyboard. Besides that I try to never use the mouse. If I do have to do some heavy mousing (*cough*working on Mac*cough*) I use the hand that has the least amount of pain (I forced myself to mouse with my non-dominant hand a few years ago to equalize the arm/hand pain). It's a constant struggle :-D.

Have you considered the ErgoDox? Its split design let you make it was wide as you want.


amelcher commented on 1 May 2015 at 2:44 pm UTC
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@chrisq
OMG I've been in a cave apparently. Probably going to get this immediately, thank you.


stan commented on 1 May 2015 at 3:52 pm UTC

Switching to dvorak or colemak might help with the pain too?
I use a TypeMatrix in bépo (french "dvorak" ), although the only pain I’ve had so far has been caused by mouse usage, not keyboard. I used a trackball for a while, which helped. There are also "vertical" mice…


mirv commented on 1 May 2015 at 4:12 pm UTC
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N30N@liamdawe,
Great article!

@mirv & amelcher,
For pointer input I switched to a graphics tablet, with which I can work all day long. For info regarding keyboards I recommend heading over to geekhack.

I bought a wacom bamboo purely for working with gimp, but can't seem to get comfortable using it elsewhere.

@everyone - cheers for suggestions on keyboards. I've been using a logitech k750 up to now because I like the feel of the keys so much, but I'm always on the lookout for something better. Don't know why, just have a "thing" for a good mouse & keyboard.


tartif commented on 1 May 2015 at 4:41 pm UTC
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Great interview, thank you Aaron and Liam.


sarmad commented on 1 May 2015 at 5:29 pm UTC

If one man is able to port 2 or 3 games to Linux in a year then why do big studios avoid releasing their games on Linux fearing it won't be profitable? Few thousand copies should be enough to cover all the cost.


OZSeaford commented on 1 May 2015 at 7:29 pm UTC

Just two words: thank you!

I am really enjoying both games, and shadow warrior is such a great outlet for passive agression at the weekend.


Aryvandaar commented on 1 May 2015 at 8:54 pm UTC

I love you too comrade!


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