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Interview with: RUNTIME


Date: 2002

The Interview

Wraggster: 1) Can you tell us where were you born, where you live,etc.?

RUNTIME: I was born in Gibraltar (a small british colony at the souther tip of Spain); its only about two and half square miles so I got fed up of it very quickly; seeing an opportunity to move out I got a degree in England and now live a little north of London.

Wraggster: 2) What qualifications do you have?

RUNTIME: I have a 9 GCSE's, 3 A-Levels and a BSc (Hons) degree in Computer Science. I found GCSEs a real doddle, but completely messed up my A-Levels; serves me right for letting my parents talk me into taking the three sciences; I should have taken Computers, Physics and English. The university degree was fun, I and throughly recommend it - I didn't learn much about computers, but I did learn a great deal of discipline in starting long projects and sticking with them to completion; something I found very hard to do when I was younger.

Wraggster: 3) What made you get into computers?

RUNTIME My parents. I was about eight when my parents bought me my first computer, it was a BBC Micro with 32K memory. The first day I got my computer I remember my dad walking me through an example program from the manual... it didn't do much, it drew a flashing triangle on the screen. But this was back at a time when authors of manuals weren't afraid to dip into 6502 assembler by chapter 3 so it wasn't long before I was learning the ins and outs of the Beeb.

I remember all my friends had Spectrums, Amstrads and later Commodore 64's - they had all these cool games, mean while I was just stuck at home with two games to my collection, Missile Base and Rocket Raid, had no choice but to write my own software (thanks Dad!).

Wraggster: 4) What projects/coding have you done previous to your Xbox/PS2 Scene work.?

RUNTIME Thats a real though one. Lots of little utilities, compression programs, disassemblers, disk copy programs and later demos (this was at the time of the 16-bit Atari ST and 68000 assembler), and a WarCraft clone (the PC era, a project for my final year at University).

I guess I always worked on small projects because I had a problem with continuing something when I couldn't see the end 'in sight'. Fortunately, these days its much easier for me to see progress, though I still suffer from the occasional urge to 'dip' in and out of different projects..

Wraggster: 5) What inspired you to make Your BeebEm Emulator for the PS2 and what difficulties did you have getting it to run properly ?

RUNTIME Naturally, BeebEm was inspired by the BBC Micro's influence on me as a child. I learnt a lot from that computer. To be honest I have very little experience working in the Linux/GNU environment, I struggled for two weeks before I could confidentally compile code, but if you asked me now I still could explain how to configure makefile. I guess I've spent too much time in the Windows world, I'm too used to having a nice IDE (Integrated Development Environment) which installs itself with all the right settings, you just have to write code and click build.

Lack of documentation was a big problem, there was a lot of stuff out their but it was pretty much fragmented and really required Linux/GNU tools experience. I'm not sure if the situation has improved but I suspect not much has changed. Developers were generally quite helpful, but it really is no subsitute for knowing your way around your environment; those two weeks where very frustrating.

Wraggster 6) Will you be updating BeebEm in the Future ?

RUNTIME Yes. Ironically, I added memory card support and had a little memory manager icon designed for me which I added to the code; but my build process was so chaotic that I never got around to releasing it. I guess I owe it to the beeb to see this one through!

Wraggster 7) Do you have any More projects in mind for the PS2 ?

RUNTIME Its unlikely - once I got a taste of XBOX development, which is so similar to developing on a Windows platform its uncanny, I didn't turn back. That probably contributed to my switching attentions from BeebEm PS2 to the XBOX Media Player.

Wraggster 8) Whats the good and bad points about developing for the PS2?

RUNTIME PS2 homebrew is completely free, no strings attached. Your applications can be burnt and run from CDR so its quite inexpensive. Also Napalm supplied developers with a great tool to transport and execute your code on the PS2 remotely, that helped a *lot*.

The bad points? Well the build tools weren't very easy to setup up - but perhaps thats changed? As a solution the PS2 is a powerful piece of kit, but on its own the PS2 CPU isn't very powerful so its difficult to write good emulators without know a lot of arcane tricks to enable the rest of the PS2 hardware.

Wraggster 9) In your opinion whats possible on the PS2 in terms of Emulators, Media Players etc?

RUNTIME Its all possible but you need to be very creative and know the hardware almost inside out. Unfortunately, because it isn't the easiest console to write for projects require that much more thought. And because the build environment back then was in its infancy, I found it hard to be productive.

Wraggster 10) What got you interested in development for the Xbox?

RUNTIME The platform. Lets face it, you and I know its a PC. Its runs X86 code, there is such a huge wealth of knowledge about the architecture that it was a sure thing for me, especially having spent the last 5 years writing Wintel code.

What really sold it was when I was shown a sneak preview of the XDK. It was obvious that Microsoft had produced a system that was designed to please coders; they really went out of their way to make life easy for developers of XBOX titles.

Wraggster: 11) What inspired you to make a Multi-Codec and infact excellent Media Player for the Xbox and what difficulties did you have getting it to run properly ?

RUNTIME For a long time now I've been annoyed that the VCR has been king; I guess I was impatient that technology hadn't advanced quickly enough to bring digital media into our living rooms. I mean you had TiVo and the other PVRs, but they were very inflexible, designed more with Holywood in mind than with consumers. So this was my big chance. I had a box in my living room which I could compile code for in the comfort of a familiar Microsoft Visual Studio environment.

The first few iterations of the Media Player were relatively painless, I saw results very quickly early on so this only encouraged me further. The difficulties where more in actually managing a project which was growing very rapidly, lots of features would be expected and its very easy for things to become maintainable when your developing in an ad-hoc manner.

Wraggster: 12) Do you have any projects, that you would like to start for the Xbox?

RUNTIME If I can ever find the time I would love to write an RDP or a VNC client so that you can access your desktop PC remotely over the LAN or WLAN. Porting BeebEm to the XBOX is on the cards.

Wraggster: 13) What would you like to see ported to the Box and what is realistically the limit to what can be done?

RUNTIME Short of expanding the hardware, you can pretty much do anything a similarly specified PC can do. It would be nice to see an AtariST emulator for added nostalgia.

Wraggster: 14) When will we see a fully legal emulator/ application for the Xbox?

RUNTIME In a sense I suppose we already have if you count the Linux effort, but if you're thinking of purpose built native XBOX code then I think its going to be a while. It could take anything from 6 months to 18 months; the development of OpenXdk is key to this happening. Fortunately, there are a lot of clever developers around!

Wraggster: 15) What in your opinion are the differences between the Xbox and PS2 in terms of how far they can be pushed, ease of programming for etc?

RUNTIME Well with a 733MHz processor the XBOX has a lot of brute CPU power, its easy to write emulators and CPU intensive applications lends themselves well to this. But in terms of reach mass appeal the PS2 will guarantee you your largest audience.

I think its fair to say you'll always find yourself more productive on an XBOX, RUNTIME debugging is a *very* powerful feature.

In the end its like comparing apples to oranges, they're two totally different system architectures encouraging different styles of development. They're both great machines and I'm glad to be in the position that I can enjoy both of them. Developers and gamers alike are spoiled for choice :)