Apex Designs (James Daniels) Interview

Hooka: Would you introduce yourself a bit?


James: Hi, I'm James Daniels. I'm 28 years old and live near Banbury in the UK. I've been working on Payback in various forms for almost a decade now - so hopefully it's getting pretty good by now. :)


Hooka: When did you get your GP2X hardware? (I'm assuming that Craigix probably sent you guys a dev board or something, but who knows...)


James: I got a "First Edition" GP2X in November 2005.


Hooka: What was your main motivation for making a GP2X port of Payback?


James: I thought it would be possible to make a really cool version on the GP2X - the CPU is similar to the GBAs which meant getting the game running wasn't too tricky, but the extra power allowed for much improved graphics, sound and more fluid gameplay.


Hooka: Did you enjoy programming on the GP2X?


James: It has its quirks like any platform, but once you get past those it's pretty good - it improved a lot during the course of the project, thanks to Squidge's MMU hack and Ryleh's minimal lib.


Hooka: What was your biggest hardship with coding for the GP2X?


James: I wouldn't say there were any significant hardships with the GP2X itself, although some features did take longer to implement than I originally expected. (The PC tool that calculates and compresses all the lighting in particular.)


Hooka: Have you been happy with the amount of sales and feedback this release has generated?


James: I don't have the full sales figures from gp2x.co.uk yet, but so far it looks pretty good.


Hooka: Would you consider using the engine for a different game, or licensing it out to another GP2X dev house?


James: That's certainly possible.


Hooka: Where did you come up with all the quotes at the bottom of each webpage? I love 'em :)


James: No one place - they're pretty eclectic.


Hooka: Did you enjoy all the advancements you made to payback specifically for the GP2X?


James: Yes, I'm really pleased with how the GP2X version turned out. It's definitely the best yet. At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, the much improved lighting, higher framerate, extra game modes, mid-level saves, new front end, recorded dialogue and new music tracks really add a lot I think.


Hooka: Wow, I always thought it was "toot my own horn", but that works too! Anyways, having made a GBA port using arm asm already was it fairly easy to get the GP2X version up to speed?


James: Yes, it was fairly straightforward. The only major complication was that the GBA version uses a lot of self-modifying code which meant a fair number of assembler routines had to be reworked or totally rewritten.


Hooka: Are you proud to be the creator of the first handheld game using HDR?


James: Yeah, that's pretty cool. I guess it's the advantage of using software rendering - you aren't limited by the features the GPU supports.


Hooka: It was probably a nice change to get back to the CDDA tracks, was it nice to breathe some new life into the game with a few new tracks?


James: Yes, the greater selection of tracks helps improve variety, and the tool to allow users to add their own tracks should allow people to change it to their taste. I also added a little widget that slides on and tells the player the current song and artist, which wasn't in previous versions. It's even got a translucent oscilloscope in the background! :)


Hooka: Do you have plans for improving the music encoder? Say Linux support or a GUI?


James: Major changes like a GUI are unlikely as the encoder was really just an extra freebie that I included because I had already implemented it to encode the original tracks. Linux support is possible, the only reason it isn't already supported is because I don't have Linux on my machine - although I gather it runs through Wine so it is still possible for Linux users to use the tool.


Hooka: How long have you been a commercial developer?


James: I've been working on Payback since 1999.


Hooka: When you first made Payback for the Amiga did you ever figure it would make it to so many different platforms?


James: No. At the time, GTA was fairly new and hadn't yet achieved the level of success it would later achieve with GTA3, and I just wanted to take that idea and improve on it, as well as writing it for my platform of choice at the time. Of course, since then the game has improved massively as it has been adapted to each new platform.


Hooka: What are some things you find yourself impressed with/disappointed with in your GP2X port of Payback?


James: I'm really happy with almost everything - especially the new lighting, 3d models, improved audio, the new front end and the many gameplay improvements. The only missing feature is multiplayer, which unfortunately wasn't practical as (AFAIK) there's no built-in way to connect GP2Xs together.


Hooka: Same as above question with a more broad range (what shortcomings/triumphs did you feel there were on Amiga, mac or GBA?)


James: These are pretty much the same as the features that were added for the GP2X - the old front end wasn't very good, the lighting either didn't exist (the GBA) or was simplistic (the Amiga and Mac) and the car models were very low poly. The game lacked the slickness of the GP2X version in general. Prior versions were also quite short, but the 11 cities and the additional Challenge Mode in the GP2X version extends the game considerably (it took me around 10 hours to complete from start to finish, and I know the game like the back of my hand - I'd guess most players would take 15-20 hours).


Hooka: Are you going to offer developers the ability to use the AAS (Apex Audio System) on GP2X also or is that GBA specific?


James: At the moment the audio code on the GP2X is quite closely tied to the game. It would be possible to separate out, but that would only make sense if there were a large market of commercial developers who were willing to pay to use the system, which I don't think is currently the case on the GP2X.


Hooka: Is there any way you feel you could have sped the helicopter up a bit? or was that pretty much reaching a bottleneck on the GP2X causing that slowdown?


James: Yeah, it's basically just a performance issue - at twice the height, there are four times the numbers of polys visible, which obviously has a performance impact. It's still playable though, and you generally aren't in the helicopter often or for very long.


Hooka: What possessed you to add in the irony bonus when you drive over the owner of the car you just stole? It's a nice added touch!


James: I must confess I, err, "borrowed" that idea from GTA. :)


Hooka: Are you planning on making a patch for some of the bugs that have been found in the game? (here's a good reference for info about what I'm talking about... ignore some of it though, it's not all rational: http://www.gp32x.com/board/index.php?showtopic=34036&st=40)


James: I released a patch since you sent this email that fixes pretty much all the issues raised there. It's worth pointing out that there were only a few bugs reported - people's main complaint seems to be the lack of a mid-level save, which has now been added.


Hooka: How did it feel to know you made the third commercial game released for the GP2X?


James: It's not something I really thought about to be honest. I'd much rather make the best game than the first game.


Hooka: What kind of creative use did you find for the second core in the GP2X?


James: I didn't use the second core as almost all the time-consuming routines in Payback are memory bandwidth limited rather than CPU limited so the benefit would be marginal.


Hooka: Ok, I'm really good at doing this once per interview, but I can't help it! I'm glad you put gameplay before graphics, that's the way it's supposed to be if you ask me! No question here, just wanted to point that out...?


James: Thanks!


Hooka: Have you thought about releasing a linux version of payback? Since the GP2X is linux based the move probably wouldn't be too hard :)


James: It's a possibility. A port was started a while back, but that's currently on hold.


Hooka: Would you consider doing the referral program for the GP2X also, or is it just a GBA thing because they have a large enough user base?


James: The GP2X version isn't being sold directly on the Apex website (there's a link to gp2x.co.uk instead), so a referral program isn't practical.


Hooka: Do you think that the lack of a US release of Payback for the GBA hurt your sales? (or did it get released in the US and I'm just dumb...)


James: It didn't get released there, and that certainly hurt the sales - especially since our deal was with a US publisher (they sub-contracted to a European publisher for the launch on this side of the pond).


Hooka: Are you considering any other ports of Payback at this time? Do you have any other game plans or projects in the works that you'd be willing to share with us?


James: Sorry, you'll just have to wait and see. :)


Hooka: Would you consider adding the multiplayer support to the GP2X version? or is it there and I just don't know about it?


James: As far as I know, there's no straightforward way to directly connect two GP2Xs which is why that feature isn't supported.


Hooka: Would it be hard to add in the vehicle starting on fire for a second or two before the car explodes? (my friend mentioned that it's one of the things that always gets him...)


James: I could add that, although it does already start to smoke when it's badly damaged.


Hooka: Did you add any cheat codes to the GP2X version?


James: There's only one and that's just for test purposes (it unlocks all the levels) - nothing very exciting I'm afraid.


Thanks again for doing the interview, it was quite informative and I can't wait to see what you wind up doing next!

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