Obligement - L'Amiga au maximum

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David Brunet



Interview with Szilárd Biró
(Interview realized by David Brunet - May 2014)

Szilárd Biró Szilárd Biró is known in the Amiga communauty, since some few years, due to his numerous software ports. His Web page, bszili.morphos.me looks like a treasury for AROS, MorphOS and AmigaOS 4 users.

- Hello dear Szilárd Biró. Can you introduce yourself?

Hi, I'm Szilárd Biró aka BSzili, I'm 25 years old and I live in Hungary. I'm currently doing my master's degree in Computer Science and Engineering. My main passions are computing and music, most of my hobbies are centered around these. In particular I like programming, tinkering with old computers and consoles. I also collect vinyl records, and I play the guitar for my own amusement.

- What was your first computer?

My first computer was a PC my parents bought around 1999. I still remember the configuration: Intel Celeron 466 MHz CPU, 64MB SDRAM, some C-Media sound card, an S3 Savage4 video card (it had awful drivers!), and a small Quantum Fireball HDD. At first, I only played games on it, but then I discovered Turbo Pascal, and started writing my own programs.

- When and how did you discover the Amiga?

My first encounter with the Amiga was an A500 I got in the mid-2000s. I bought for next to nothing at a flea market, with a 1084S monitor. I guess they had no idea what are they selling. I was immediately hooked by the colorful graphics and great sound of the games. Later, I got a Workbench disk too, so I could try AmigaOS. I was fascinated by how much you can do with so little hardware resources.

- How did you become interested in AROS?

In the late 2000s I started to look for modern incarnations of AmigaOS. Both AmigaOS 4 and MorphOS looked nice, but they ran on expensive PPC machines (this was before MorphOS 2.4 came out with the Mac mini G4 support). Then I found AROS which was free and ran on cheap x86 hardware. I tried the VmwAROS distro, which was nice, but it didn't really spark my interest.

I got back to AROS in 2011. By then it had Gallium3D, Poseidon USB stack, more drivers, etc. Seeing how much progress has been made is what got me interested in the end.

- You are very active in porting games on the Amiga scene since 2012. But what did you do on Amiga before?

I mostly played games on my A500 and experimented with old AmigaOS programs. Transferring data through a null modem cable was an adventure by itself.

- Most of your ports are for 3D action games. Do you think they are the most wanted on Amiga or it's a personal taste?

My personal taste has little to do with my choices regarding which games to port. I'm doing my best to broaden my palette, but there's a real shortage of good open source games in other genres.

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy

- Is the port of a big game (like Return To Castle Wolfenstein or Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory) is a real challenge or it's nowadays quite easy?

It depends on the game. RTCW took me about a day to port, because I used the MorphOS version and the AROS Quake 3 port as a base. On the other hand Jedi Academy (OpenJDK) took me months, because I had to fix every part Raven added to the engine (skeletal models, scripting engine, ingame animation, etc.) to work on big endian processors. Not to mention that OpenJK uses SDL 2, so I had to write the platform specific layer for it. I reused some code from various Quake ports (thanks to Mark "Bigfoot" Olsen!), but I ended up rewriting a lot of it to tailor it to the modified Quake 3 engine.

- You have ported lots of games on AROS. Do you plan to port some of them (Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, Zod Engine) also on MorphOS and AmigaOS 4?

I have attempted to port most of these games to non-AROS platforms, but they've all had some issues so I never got around to release them. For example Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory has an almost finished MorphOS port in its main repo, but I couldn't track down the source of a serious bug. Zod engine has a heavily multithreaded design, which makes it a real pain to get it to work with the bsdsocket.library interface. Someone else have already ported it to AmigaOS 4, there Newlib has a thread-safe socket implementation.

- Apart official SDK, which programs/tools do you use for programming on Amiga? (all systems)

Other than a text editor and the Shell, I use various tools for debugging, mostly GDB with the Linux hosted version of AROS. The Grim Reaper on AmigaOS 4 and Logtool on MorphOS have also helped me to catch some bugs.

- What are your favorite Classic Amiga games? And your favorite games nowadays?

On the Amiga, I like LucasArts-style point & click adventure games: Beneath A Steel Sky, Flight Of The Amazon Queen and Monkey Island 1-2. Worms and Lemmings are good fun too! I sometimes pick up platformer (Thalion games have amazing graphics!), but I really suck in them.

From the current generation, I really liked Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.

- Apart ports of already existing software, are you interested in the creation of original stuff?

I do have a couple of ideas, but I currently lack the time to realize them. One of these is a game for classic and NG Amigas. It would be a clone of an old SoftDisk game called Paragon. I also want to code a couple of smaller programs after I've learned MUI.

- You are working on a Spotify client named Despotify. Could you present this software? Is the development finished?

The port is finished, but unfortunately some recent changes in the Spotify service broke Despotify, so it no longer works on any platforms. Its development has stagnated since 2012, and there's not much hope that the situation will change. Eventually the donors of the bounty will be refunded, or their donations will be transferred to other bounties if they want.

- One of the most needed software on Amiga NG is currently a word processor. Do you have some projects about this?

Not much I'm afraid. A most plausible solution would be a LibreOffice port, but that's too much for me to tackle alone. Trying to create a competitive solution from scratch is not realistic.

- You have developed on AROS, MorphOS and AmigaOS 4. According to you, what are the strong points/weak points of each of these systems?

I won't go into the user experience for each, but try to answer this from a developer's perspective.

AROS is open source, so I can always look at the source to see a function works. It supports cheap and powerful x86 hardware, and has an OpenGL 2.x compatible graphics stack, which has allowed me to port newer games using shaders. The Linux-hosted version of AROS can be used with GDB for debugging. The downside is the relative lack of polish compared to the other two.

MorphOS has really good binary and source code compatibility with existing Amiga software, since it has expanded upon the 3.1 AmigaOS API in a backward compatible way. TinyGL is fast, but it's only a subset of OpenGL 1.2, and some of its functions are just stubs without any indication in the documentation. I found the debugging to be the hardest on MorphOS.

AmigaOS 4 has many forward looking internal changes, but I didn't like some of the API changes. It also retained some outdated components like Warp3D, so it's kind of a mixed bag. While MiniGL has a more complete OpenGL 1.x implementation than TinyGL, it's slower because it's built on top of Warp3D. I really like Newlib, it has made porting software much easier.

- Are you interested by taking part of the development of these systems? For example, AROS really needs core developers.

I have toyed with the idea, but they wouldn't have much use for me for developing the OS internals. For the time being I'd prefer to focus on porting/developing 3rd party software.

- What is the situation of the Amiga scene in Hungary?

I'm not really an active participant in the scene, so I don't have an informed opinion on this, but from what I see, It's mostly centered around classic machines. There are a handful of AmigaOS 4 and MorphOS users too, some of whom I met last year. There is a weekly meeting called Amiga Klub and an other one called AmiCon which is usually held twice a year.

- What is your opinion about the AmigaOne X1000, AmigaOne X5000 and hardware development for the Amiga NG?

New hardware is always good news, although they are out of reach for most people due to their high price. The small production run drives up the manufacturing costs, and the CPUs aren't getting cheaper since Apple left the PowerPC business. To be fair, they have made a few odd design choices too with these boards, which drove up their price even more. Apart from the hefty price tag, these are the fastest machines to run AmigaOS 4 on.

- Is there a question I didn't asked you, and that you want to answer to?

Not really a question, but rather a small addendum: I cannot port closed source software, so there's not point in requesting these. Convince the companies to release the source, and we can get back to it. :)

- A last message for the Amiga community?

Keep on trucking!

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