Sunday, February 19, 2012

Developer interview: SuperTuxKart team.

Hi folks,

My name is Artem (KroArtem in IRC) and I wanted to post an article here almost for a year. Nowadays I have an opportunity to do this. Let me introduce myself: I'm studying at St.Petersburg State University, Faculty of Applied Mathematics and Control Processes, trying to become a programmer and a mathematician :) In my spare time I like to test some linux games, report bugs, give feedback, translate them and so on. Actually this is the way I've met SuperTuxKart developers. Today I want to obtain an interview from them.

Firstly, let me remind you what SuperTuxKart is. SuperTuxKart is a kart racing game that features free software mascots, has a cartoony style, includes different game modes and supports multiplayer (split-screen). You can visit STK's site and receive some more information about the game.

SuperTuxKart's new track, Blackhill Mansion

Secondly, I want to name our beloved developers and contributors: Joerg «hiker» Henrichs, Marianne «Auria» Gagnon, Magne «Arthur_D» Djupvik and Jean-Manuel Clemençon aka «samuncle». Please note that there are some more contributors but unfortunately I didn't manage to contact them. I think 4 people would be enough for the interview, though :)

I've prepared some questions and sent them via emails and here are the results:

FG: Please say some words about yourself/your job.

Arthur: My name is Magne, and I am an avid fan of SuperTuxKart. I'm interested in computers, music, animated cartoons and of course games.

Auria: My name is Marianne, I work mostly as a developer for SuperTuxKart. I am going to complete my computer science studies at university in the coming months.

Hiker: I've studied computer science in Germany, and am now working as a consultant for the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. I help them using their supercomputer for their operational and research numerical weather and climate predictions.

Samuncle: I like drawing and hiking. On the professional side, I am currently studying telecommunications to become technician.

FG: Explain in a few words how and when did you join STK's team?

Arthur: Well, I had been playing the game's predecessor TuxKart as one of the few 3D games my computer could handle back in the day in Linux. Later my brother said a fork of the project had appeared in the repositories, so I went on to install STK 0.3. I was impressed by the changes, and decided I would try to follow the project's mailing list. Of course, I couldn't manage to keep quiet, so I engaged in discussion and asked questions, and got always nice, friendly answers back, which made me want to stay with the project and get involved where I could.

Auria: I liked kart games like Mario Kart. So many years ago I downloaded STK - version 0.3 I think. However this old version had major issues; so I decided I might as well do small improvements, like replace the then cylindrical lighthouse with something better, etc. And a few years later here I am, core developer :)

Hiker: I discovered TuxKart as part of a suse Linux installation, and soon found that a 'Game of the Month' had started intending to improve TuxKart. That project had basically been abandoned (due to some disagreements between the original developer and the GotM-team). A fork was created to save their work, but the project was dead. I basically picked up the project from there, fixed the bugs and performance issues, and did a first playable release of STK. Then I was hooked on ;)

Samuncle: Initially, I wanted to propose ideas that could help improve the graphics. I liked STK but I thought we could do better visually.

FG: Say what role do you have in the project? (Leader, package maintainer, etc)

Arthur: I mostly test and give feedback on the project, report bugs, write updates on our blog, and make some trivial changes now and then, mostly graphics related.

Auria: I am a core developer to the game itself, and occasionally work on 3D modelling. I am second only to our benevolent dictator Joerg :)

Hiker: I am one of the two project leaders.

Samuncle: I work on the graphics of the tracks. I build new tracks from start to end, or I improve existing tracks. I use mainly blender for the 3D, gimp for textures and mypaint for drawing.

FG: Why do you work on this project?

Arthur: Because I like the game, and because it's a very unique project in the world of Free software. It's an arcade racing game with only mild cartoon violence, and it has a very distinctive gameplay. Most other Free racing games are more realistic and doesn't have a cartoonish theme. Also because the developers are very nice people, and the community as a whole is good to be in.

Auria: I like kart games, I like programming, I like the STK team.

Hiker: Originally my main motivation was to give something back to the open source community by fixing the performance problems STK had after the GotM project. But then I got interested in the game, and still have some ideas I might want to implement once I have an engine with all features I need. Additionally I hope that STK might serve as a teaching tool as well, it would be easy for schools to pick up and perhaps use STK in their lessons.

Incidentally, the fact that it is like Mario Kart was never a point for working on STK - I had never played any kart game till two years after I started working on STK (and people kept on telling me: "It's like MK", so after a while I decided to have a look).

It also keeps me entertained on my way to work, since I mostly work on the train on my way to work :)

Samuncle: Because I would like supertuxkart to have nicer-looking graphics. Along the way, I also use this as an opportunity to learn blender and another tools. It's also fun to play a game you contribute to.

FG: Are you satisfied with existing development? Do you think STK needs more contributors/testers/artists?

Arthur: I am satisfied with the direction of the game, I only wish things would happen faster! But for that to happen, we need more people to help contribute. So if you have something you think would add to the game, please come forward with your skills, or just your ideas (though we get millions of those, and usually fall short on man/woman-power). Programmers and 3D artists are especially welcome, but as said everyone can get involved as much as they want to. And we're all a friendly bunch, so getting involved isn't hard. :)

Auria: We could certainly use with a few more developers and artists :) the networking feature, for instance, is often requested and help would be welcome in making it come

Hiker:r: Well, the team could certainly be bigger, with atm two code developers and about two regularly contributing artists many things take much longer than necessary, or need to be postponed till later.
But the team itself works quite well together, so I am quite happy about this.

Samuncle: I think a network mode is what STK lacks most, so if someone could work on this it could help get things moving forward.

FG: How do you see STK in the future?

Arthur: I see it as an even greater game, with more fun, more polish and a larger community, and also an online multiplayer community. In short, I think it can only get better from here. :)

Auria: As any open source project, it's very hard to see the future. Let me just say that I would like STK to grow with a solid set of nice-looking tracks, improved AI and better single player mode as well as multiplayer.

Hiker: By switching to a more modern graphics engine we have opened the way for much better looking tracks, and slowly we are replacing older tracks with newer ones. Support for networking will certainly give STK more appeal to a wider audience. By then I hope to find some time to implement more game modes to make STK a more unique and interesting game, and less of a 'copy' of other kart games.

Samuncle: Hmm, I don't really know ^^ I would like it to be more cohesive (not less fun though), that there is more unity (between tracks, most notably). I would not be against reducing the number of tracks to improve their quality (because maintaining a world takes time)

FG: What do you think is important, what do you like / don't like in stk's development/community/etc.

Arthur: The important thing is to have fun, and stay cool. We are blessed with very stable project leaders, who have been pushing the game forward for many years. So even though I'd sometimes wish development would be faster, it's important that people do things in a tempo they are comfortable with, and don't burn out. Also, there are more important things in life than STK, but I do say it has made mine a little richer. So if you like the game, feel free to register at our forums, join the mailing list and IRC and take part in the discussions. :)

Auria: It's important and very welcome to get help with testing, especially when betas or release candidates and released; translations are also very important. The less fun aspect is managing everyone's expectations, people have many ideas of what they would like us to code for STK but it would take 10 of us to do it all :)

Hiker: In contrast to commercial game design we have only limited influence on the 'style' of tracks, since especially the kart and track design is done by various artists, mostly following their own taste. We nevertheless try to maintain the vision where we want STK to be at. With the addon-server we luckily have now the option to publish karts and tracks that might not fit in the main game for everyone to download. It of course means that Auria and myself sometimes have to be the (hopefully) benevolent dictators, but I think that is very important in order to keep STK on track.

The most disappointing point is that we often get people interested in helping to develop STK, but they then disappear leaving a less than half finished mess of code behind. I guess many people overestimate their available time, or underestimate the complexity of STK.

Finally I want to say that we're waiting some new and interesting additions, like Overworld, a big track from where the player will start his journey, or... but hey, feel free to follow SuperTuxKart updates via forum, blog or mailing lists! :)