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Up Close and Personal with Greg Lovette

Some folks enjoy meeting the people behind the scenes of Ambrosia, some are curious about what goes into a new program, and some are just plain nosy. So each issue of The Ambrosia Times we will interview a member of the Ambrosia family.

Ambrosia Times - Name, rank, and serial number please.

Greg Lovette - Greg Lovette
Associate Thaumaturgist, Ambrosia ROTC

AT - What gave you the idea for Barrack?

GL - I've always wanted to do a capture-the-area type game. I loved QIX and its clones. But, besides the fact I couldn't find a Mac version, there was something missing from these games. There wasn't enough action and no real strategies to play on. I wanted a little more mayhem, some explosions, laser guns, and a more dynamic scoring system where good players are given a chance to score big in a level, but also -- in a blink, lose it all. I hope Barrack dutifully represents that effort.

AT - What prompted you to work with Ambrosia? Describe the experience (the good, the bad, the ugly - we can take it!)

GL - Reputation. The best quality shareware for the Mac. Really, the only bad part was the work involved in creating a finished product that lived up to previous Ambrosia releases. Mark Conge (artist) was very receptive to the spec sheet I thought no one could read. He is incredibly talented. I still don't have any idea how he did some of the artwork. You guys (Gayle too!) were great to work with, very professional. The distance (3000+ miles) proved interesting at times, but I'm happy with what was achieved.

AT - Where did you begin? What does your computer background entale?

GL - My background is in database and communications programming. When I started fooling around with game writing a few years ago, I really had to change my mode of thinking. Random events, in database terms, are read/write errors. But in games, they are a fundamental aspect. The whole point is to surprise the user, something quite frowned upon in other disciplines.

AT - Are the rumours true that you are planning to have a BBQ with Ambrosia's mascot Hector as the main course?

GL - Ssshhh! I've been watching him recently on the Hector Cam, carefully calculating the perfect time to pounce. When my marinade is done curing, I'll pack up the Hibachi and catch a flight to NY. He'll never know what hit him.

AT - What is your favorite thing about Barrack?

GL - The subtle strategy involved. There are some not-so-immediately obvious tricks to achieving high scores. I love games where a good player can sit down, start playing and just knock the socks off a novice observer looking over his or her shoulder. The 'how the heck did you do that?' effect.

AT - What do you consider your wisest Mac purchase?

GL - My TurboMouse trackball. It's an amazingly efficient device. But I didn't really purchase it, it was a given to me by a co-worker more than 5 years ago. I hated it so I threw it in my closet for a year or so until my trusty Apple ADB mouse died one day. Took me awhile to get used to it, but now I can't stand to use regular mice. If you can find em, try the older two-button version first, I think it has a better feel than the newer 4 button.

AT - What do you do with your spare time?

GL - Anything outdoors. Mountain biking and kayaking are two favorites. I live in California, two hours away from Lake Tahoe where there's fresh air year-round.

AT - Any thoughts on the state of Apple Computer these days?

GL - Apple is in much better shape than people think. The press, as usual, has really blown things out of proportion. Sure, they should have released the OS to clone makers years ago, should have done this and should have done that. Hindsight is 20/20 and, from what I've read, the press doesn't realize this. The fact is, they're selling a huge volume of Macs to a very dedicated public. Using a Mac is a magical experience. Apple is just dealing with the business issues of bringing their products down to a competitive price.

AT - What advice would you have for budding game authors?

GL - I'm not in a game programming bible, but from what I learned: Don't try to do everything yourself unless you have a lot time and machines to test on. Keep up to date on Mother Apple's developments and use any and all tools available.

AT - Back to Barrack -- give us the gory details on the tools used to create it.

GL - The game itself is about 12,000 lines of straight C code. The grafix toolkit upon which it was built is another 4500 lines of mostly C and some special case mixed-mode assembly. Ambrosia's in-house tools were essential. Sound_Tool was used for 8-channel binaural sound effects and Monitor_Tool was used for monitor and depth selection. The whole thing was wrapped up, compiled and linked in CodeWarrior 8.

AT - How did Barrack evolve from the first prototype you created? How did the creative process work?

GL - It began as a tripped out, freeform version of Pong in which the blocks moved around and bounced off each other. It evolved nicely into its current form. I may still release the old prototype into the bitstream sometime. It's kinda fun. Anyway, the creative process? I don't know. I guess it works differently for everyone. I've found it doesn't really lend itself neatly to structure. It is the programmer's job to put a nice structure to it. This is the fun part for me.

Coding-wise, luckily I realized early that it's nearly impossible to combine gameplay code with the code that drives the hardware. You just end up with a big, unapproachable mess in the end. So the first part of the project involved extracting non-specific, reusable parts into separate code libraries.

I guess the hardest part, gameplay-wise, was striking a balance between frustrating and the elusive "I could have gotten farther.." syndrome. It has to be addictive and challenging enough but not leave the player with a bad taste after a game.

AT - Is it true that you are one of the 12 horsemen of the apocalypse, and that Barrack is insidiously designed to drain productivity from unsuspecting victims?

GL - All rumors have been denied. The pain is right here and right now, man.

AT - Tell us a little about your personal life. National Enquirer-type material, if you please.

GL - Sorry, I have too much dirt on Andrew. Giving away any juicy bits would kill my advantage. Seriously though, if you're really interested, please do drop my web page at the Ambrosia site for up-to-date info about me, my background and other things I find interesting (Ed Note: under 18 requires parents permission).

AT - Sounds good. Will we be seeing more games from you in the future?

GL - Yes, though I need to concentrate on getting my degree for the next year or so. I think Barrack will keep people busy for awhile, I know it does me. Of course that's between games of Maelstrom.

AT - Thanks for the interview -- any parting thoughts?

GL - How about "Rock the Vote". Just heard it somewhere.

Ed Note: Greg Lovette tells us that writing Barrack was the most enjoyable experience of his life. I guess he can say that now that it's complete ;)

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