Obligement - L'Amiga au maximum

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David Brunet



Interview with Gunnar von Boehn
(Interview realized by David Brunet - March 2007)

Note : The version in French is here.

Gunnar von Boehn - Hello Gunnar, could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

I'm 35 this year. I'm project leader of a software development team in a major company. I started writing software as a hobbyist developer on the C64 and Amiga. I have been working 15 years now as a so-called professional software developer.

I'm married to my wife, Anja. Here we are on a night out (photo).
Our daugther, Annika, is one year old now (photo).
We own and love both dogs and horses : our Arabian stallion Fox and one of our Greyhounds Jordi.

My hobbies are computers (mostly Amiga/Linux) and our animals.

- When and how did you discover the Amiga?

I was active on the C64 scene. On the C64, I used to write small tools, intros and actually even finished one shoot'em up, King Of The Air, which was a clone of the arcade title Dragon Spirit.

When I saw the first Amiga 1000 in German computer stores, I immediately got fascinated by the machine. After getting a loan from my parents, I got my first Amiga 1000. It was one of the early models which shipped with only 256 KB and AmigaOS 1.1 at that time :-). I paid a fortune to upgrade the Amiga 1000 to 1 MB and was "hired" to write demos and intros by a hacker crew which moved from the C64 to the Amiga.

I was still at school at that time and used the Amiga for writing demos, intros, boot block loaders, cracking a few titles and writing trainers for games and, of course, I played a lot. :-)

At that time, I wrote the "usual" range of tools like trainers, crunchers and a few kickstart patches, e.g. I altered the file format to make cracked games unreadable by other Amigas (as there was always the risk of getting busted by the police. :-)

The early Amiga development times were really a lot of fun. I think it was the best school to learn effective programming that I could have visited.

During my development time, I accumulated quite a number of Amigas. I bought new Amigas when they came out and when I needed some for testing. I still have one Amiga 1000, one Amiga 500, two Amiga 2000s, one Amiga 4000 and one CD32.

Writing demos for various Amiga groups was a lot of fun. I met all the people from Quartex, Red Sector, DOC, etc. and swapped code with a lot of them. Around 1990, I wrote a few scene games. I wrote two shoot'em ups, a strategic space conquest game, an unreleased beat'em up and what, in my belief, was the best voxel engine ever written on the Amiga. ;-)

- Did you ever leave the Amiga scene?

After Commodore's crash, I stayed on the Amiga for a long time. But the decline of the Amiga market resulted in cancelling some projects that I was involved with (e.g. the 3D Amiga GFX card).

At that time, I got involved in web development, for which I used my A4000 for quite a while. Linux became popular at that time and I ran a dual approach. First, I was developing C programs on the Amiga and compiling them in Linux, then I installed and used Debian on my A4000. Finally, I actually moved to x86 Linux, as it was easier to do Linux development on a cheap x86 box. It was in the late 90s when I left the Amiga and started working as a Linux consultant for a Linux company.

- When and how did you discover MorphOS?

This actually happened by coincidence. I was working for Sony International Europe at that time. We needed a non-x86 box for a special Linux project and, by accident, I stumbled over the Pegasos. We got a Pegasos I, which we used successfully for the project.

To install Linux on it, I needed to install MorphOS first. I thought : "Gee, this is AmigaOS and this is fast and nice ! I like it !" After playing around with MorphOS on the Pegasos for a day, I dug out my A4000 and used Amiga at home again. Seeing the nice and fast AmigaOS again on my A4000 put tears in my eyes and I said to myself : "I need to have such a Pegasos myself". I called Genesi and got a Pegasos I some days later.

- What was your first development on MorphOS?

When I got MorphOS, I realized that web browser development had not advanced much in recent years. I think it's clear that a good web browser is crucial for the success of the Amiga, so I approached the IBrowse, Voyager and AWeb teams to help them. Only the AWeb team was interested in getting support, so I joined the AWeb team and made some contributions to it (Editor's note : Gunnar has compiled a special version of AWeb here).

- Which computers / operating systems / consoles do you own and use?

The number of computers I have is probably too many to count. My wife will start nagging me if I write them all down. :-)

I got many computers for development and testing of software and I have never actually thrown any of them away. :-)

I have about 6 or 7 older Amigas, one Archimedes, 4 PowerPC Macs, a few Windows boxes, numerous x86 Linux boxes, a few Pegasos and an Efika 5200B.

Today, I'm mainly using the x86 Linux, Pegasos Linux and Windows for my daily web and database work. The MorphOS Pegasos is sometimes used for my hobbyist development, like working on Robin Hood.

- How and in which circumstances did you start coding "Arcade Game Construction Kit" (AGCK) ? Could you describe this software ? What is its goal ?

Some years ago, I saw that Bill Buck and Raquel Velasco wanted to revive the Amiga scene by producing an Amiga set-top box.

I liked this idea very much. I think a cheap commodity computer (like a set-top box) running AmigaOS might be the only remaining way of selling Amigas to a bigger audience.

As we know, the set-top never arrived. I see the Efika 5200B as a possible second attempt in this commodity sector. It's small and relatively cheap, and could be sold to a non-Amiga audience. I think an Efika 5200B version could be sold even as a satellite/video recorder.

When I saw the Efika 5200B announcements, I thought that if it ever got sold in stores like "Media Market" as a satellite/video recorder box with an AmigaOS installed, then it would be really nice if people could play a few games on it too.

This was what gave me the idea for the "Arcade Game Construction Kit". I figured that a kit that helps non-developers very easily create games for such a box would be nice too.

And as I had experience in writing games, developing the kit was no real challenge for me.

- What games, or kind of games, do you have planned with AGCK ? In which ways can the Amiga/MorphOS community help you ?

The goal of the AGCK is to be as easy to use as possible. To be easy to use, it purposefully offers no scripting language, but instead only very easy to use click and select options to create a full game.

The main idea is that if you are able to paint a picture in DPaint, then you are able to create a game using the kit.

Currently, the AGCK is optimized to create one type of game : shoot'em ups in the style of Hybris, Menace, Katakis or the 194x series.

But it would be possible to extend the kit for other types of games like jump and run or beat'em up.

Actually, creating a new kit just for beat'em up games is what I would like to do the most right now. It's clear that if you have the graphics, then creating a fun to play beat'em up is really easy. Creating a good shoot'em up with balanced gameplay requires a lot more design work than creating a game like IK+.

I think that a talented graphic artist will find it quite easy to create a beat'em up once he has done the graphics.

I would very much like to create a good beat'em up game for the Amiga/AROS/MorphOS community.

My problem is that I'm very slow and not very good at painting :-). Writing the kit and building the 194x game with it took me only a fraction of the time I spent on copying and polishing the graphics for 194x from an arcade box.

What I need now are one or two graphic artists to help me. With some help from a graphic artist, I could easily bring out something like an "IK+ Deluxe" in a very short time.

- Recently, you have helped to port Robin Hood and Air Line Tycoon, two games from Rune Soft. Was it a difficult task to port such games ?

The old C compilers and the missing debugger on MorphOS make porting quite challenging.

The major work with getting Robin Hood working on MorphOS included developing debugger tools for MorphOS and porting newer libraries and GCC versions to MorphOS first.

Another challenge was the SDL version used on MorphOS. Actually, speeding up PowerSDL handling of 16bit screens up by 100% was quite easy. I benchmarked this and actually wrote a small patch for it 12 months ago. But it took about 9 months to convince people to get it included. :-)

By the way, Marcin Kurek did some great work on the Robin Hood port. Without his help, Robin Hood would never have got out for MorphOS. He helped debug the MorphOS version and he added some excellent disk cache routines to the game to improve the disk performance.

I think development for MorphOS can be very frustrating if you speak with the wrong people. Some people in the MorphOS team like Marcin are very knowledgeable and very nice people, and they actually try to help others. Some others are just the opposite.

- Robin Hood is still unstable. Do you plan to make another patch ? Do you know the reason why Robin Hood freezes on MorphOS ?

Yes, unfortunately, Robin Hood is not 100% stable. We suspect that the crashes are caused by external parts like SDL or linked libs which might have multithreading issues. Not having a debugger on MorphOS makes fixing this very challenging. But Marcin and I are looking into it in our spare time.

- Do you know which games will be published by Rune Soft for MorphOS in 2007 ?

My two guesses are Northland and Chicago 1990. I think that if these games sell well, then more will follow.

- Are all the games in Rune Soft's catalogue portable to MorphOS ?

Rune Soft has acquired licenses to port many, but not all, of the games to MorphOS. Most of the games are technically portable but, again, currently not all of them actually are. In theory, all the games could be ported if all the tools and libs required are first ported too.

- As a developer, what do you think about the SDK of MorphOS ? Is it good enough or can it be better ? In which way ?

The idea of the SDK is good, but it needs to be updated urgently. The old, officially supported compiler makes porting of new programs nearly impossible, and the lack of debugger is a real problem for all bigger projects.

I think another issue which works against the progress of MorphOS is that parts of the MorphOS dev-information are classified and not available to public developers. This makes development of certain types of tools and drivers impossible.

- What are your favourite games ?

Oh, I like many types of games. If you get me started the list will be huge. :)

I like good shoot'em ups like Hybris.
I like good jump and runs like Super Frog or Metal Slug.
The "Quest For..." titles of Sierra were great.
And I very much like "Heroes Of Might And Magic III", as it's a high quality work and was done with attention to detail.
Many of the Blizzard titles were great games, too.

But I don't like 3D first person shooters at all, because I don't enjoy the idea of my character being shot in the back during play.

- You have also taken part in the development of a 3D card. Could you describe this hardware, its goal and development status ?

I participated in design studies for high performance graphic systems. The design included cards that were build on a new type of 3D graphic chip with fast local memory and local RISC host CPUs (hyperstone). Multiple cards could be chained to produce one combined picture. The concept was designed to be able to create graphic output for real time military/professional flight simulations.

The design conceived over 10 years ago was in many ways comparable to today's graphics cards, which come with multiple GPUs, shaders and large amount of local memory.

The 3D graphic Amiga card was a simplified spin-off from the graphic chip put into a Zorro card. But it never went into production as the Amiga market was already in decline at that time.

- What do you think about the Efika main board ? Can it be a commercial success ?

It's nice, cute and small. It's inexpensive. I think that if you added an onboard graphic chip and a nice case it would make a really nice product. I think there is a good chance that it will become a success. I see a system like the Efika 5200B as the best hope for the Amiga market. It's cute and, if produced in volume, it could surely be sold for a low price.

- What is your opinion about Apple's switch to x86 processors ? Is the PowerPC still alive or competitive for a desktop processor ?

Difficult question. Apple had its reasons to switch. But frankly, I don't think they published all the real reasons.

I don't think that the x86 is better than PowerPC at all. But Intel and AMD are much more focused on the desktop market than IBM and Freescale were. IBM was not interested in the desktop market to any great extent and I think that Freescale was often a bit late with its developments.

I actually believe that the Freescale 8641D is a super chip. And I'm sure that Freescale could have produced it two years ago, if they really had wanted to. Unfortunately, Freescale is not really driving the market; they have often been late, e.g. the 68060 was also a great chip, but just too late.

Competition in the desktop market depends fully on the ambitions of the involved companies. Unfortunately, I don't have inside knowledge about IBM's and Freescale's plans here.

- What do you think about an eventual port of MorphOS on a x86 architecture (or a NG console) ?

When I hear this, my first thought is AROS. While I like the polished look of MorphOS and OS4, I'm sure that for the Amiga community, in the long run, AROS could be the better solution and has the better chance of survival.

Please allow me to give you an example : when I looked at the Amiga web browsers some years ago, I quickly noticed numerous bugs in Voyager, IBrowse and AWeb. The bugs that I reported for IBrowse and Voyager were not fixed. The bugs in AWeb were fixed and, thanks to the open source model, I could actually help fix a few of them.

Closed source software has advantages too. Especially if you have strong companies that are able to invest huge resources into development you will often see great closed source product.

Unfortunately, the current Amiga market does not allow a company to plough huge funds into Amiga development. No Amiga company can pay hundreds of developers like Microsoft or Apple can afford to.

I think that with the current market situation, the open source model of AROS has some clear advantages. AmigaOS 4 and MorphOS, being closed source, can easily lock users into the same trap of being without support and development again. All the problems that we had after Commodore's crash 15 years ago could happen again with AmigaOS 4 or MorphOS.

I think that open source is the much better OS model for our small and non-profitable market.

- What is your opinion about Amiga Inc's projects ? (AmigaAnywhere, AmigaOS 5...)

It's clear only the name "Amiga" is the same here. In reality, these projects have nothing to do with what we understand by Amiga.

- What do you think about AmigaOS 4 ?

In my opinion, AmigaOS 4, AROS and MorphOS represent three possible evolutions of the Commodore AmigaOS. All three have talented people working on them. All three are good and I'm hoping all of them are successful.

- Gunnar, thanks a lot for the interview. You have the last word...

Thank you, David !

I want to thank you, too, for your beta testing of Airline Tycoon !

I very much hope to find a graphic artist to help me build a new Amiga beat'em up. I'm quite keen on winning the next Amiga game award, but this time with a new game created fully on Amiga and not with a port. :-)

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