Q&A w/ Chacko Sonny


 

[MW2-3D] While searching around for info on the series I came across your IGDA.ORG profile and noticed that you mention an nVidia NV1 version that was not released. Any details on why it was not released? Weak performance, politics, and/or the NV1 becoming obsolete? And what becomes of something like that after it is decided against? Is it destroyed or locked up in a vault with the SC?

[Chacko Sonny] Nvidia was actually the first company to come to us suggesting a 3D accelerated version of Mech 2. They came in to our offices and demoed Panzer Dragoon and Virtua Fighter on the NV1.  We, in production, were drooling at the possibilities.  However, at the time, no one knew much about 3D accelerator cards, so while management wasn't opposed to the idea, they weren't initially very willing to spend money on creating these versions.  We offered them some support from the original programming team and a small production team (the producer and an assistant), but the actual conversion was to be done by an Nvidia engineer.  The guy from Nvidia was a brilliant programmer, and a great guy to work with, but in the end, it was just too big of a task to be done by one engineer, who was also working on other projects.  Between simply understanding the massive Mech 2 code-base and then figuring out how to convert it to run on the NV1 (pre-Direct3D days), there was simply too much to do.  The NV1 version was the first 3D-accelerated Mech 2 version to start production, and yet it was never completed.  I very vaguely recall problems with alpha blending, and z-buffering, but I can't be sure.  By the time the version got close to being finished, we were so busy with other accelerated versions that it simply slipped under the radar. And, as you know, the NV1 never caught on, so there was no pressure to have the version finished.  As for the state of that version, I'm sure all of the builds Nvidia provided us with were archived, documented and put into storage somewhere at Activision. (think big warehouse like at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark)

A quick note on Nvidia: I think their experience with the NV1 and ports to that chipset was really an eye-opener for Nvidia, and in some ways, the turning point.  Months after the Mech 2 NV1 experience, Nvidia sent their engineers down to our offices for a virtually day-long session in which they sat with our production teams to figure out what features were important to us in designing our 3D games, and what we would like supported in the next generation of chip-sets and 3D APIs. They were the only ones of all the 3D card companies who did that.  It seems failing at first teaches you excellent lessons on how to succeed.

[MW2-3D] Did you guys ever discuss a Rendition Verite port? I'd guessed that since all the ports were Win95 native, Rendition was the odd man out not having a native 3D API for Win95 until RRedline was released in early 1997. The Rendition people also had VQuake, so maybe they felt they didn't need MW2?

[Chacko Sonny] I recall working with the Rendition people quite a bit for some reason, and I think I have a RRedline shirt lying around somewhere. :) Seriously though...I think we might have been in discussions with them for a version and we might even have done some initial work on them, but I don't recall finishing one. Until RRedline, the lack of a 3D API was definitely a barrier, but I don't recall why we didn't eventually do one. Most likely it boiled down to politics or business terms or something. We were keen to have Mech 2 on every single 3D card out there. It was nice being on the cutting edge.

[MW2-3D] How was the work load split on these things between the Activision Studios and the hardware venders? IIRC, A long time ago Dan Kegel mentioned  [in alt.games.mechwarrior2] that some of the work was done by vendors.

[Chacko Sonny] Mostly, this was determined by the terms of the business deal. For some OEM bundling deals, the machine manufacturer (IBM, Compaq, etc.) would be offering a guarantee of so many dollars or so many units sold with a particular percentage royalty.  In those cases, we would field a team of programmers, and production staff. In other cases, the hardware manufacturer just really wanted to have the game on their hardware, or there wasn't an OEM bundling deal immediately tied to the project, so they would volunteer programmers from their staff to do the work.  In fairness to our programmers though, the bulk of the work (all but 1 of the versions, excepting the NV1) were done entirely by our programmers.

[MW2-3D] Any particular notable memories that stand out from working on these versions? Anything particularly hard? I'm guessing it was hell trying to get acceptable performance out of the S3 ViRGE.

[Chacko Sonny] I do recall encountering substantial technical hurdles while working on the S3 ViRGE version.To focus instead of on positive notable memories, I distinctly remember when we were going to get our first build of the 3DFX version of the game.  The programmer (one of their original guys...I can't remember his name...I think it was Scott something...) had mentioned nonchalantly that they had gotten the game running and were seeing around 50 fps on our test level. I mentioned it to a few of the original Mech 2 programmers...we all snickered, thinking that Mech 2 was the game that could bring any 3D card to its knees. (On some of the versions, we had even jacked up poly counts on the Mechs and some mission geometry).  We FTP'd the latest build and ran it on a test system we had set up earlier in the day. And there it was, running smooth as silk at about 50 fps.  There was a small problem with alpha rendering that slowed it down a bit during explosions, but that was fixed before release.  It was our first glimpse of how quickly technology was progressing in this arena.

[MW2-3D] One technical question: Did you guys ever create a way of running a pre determined demo sequence to compare the performance of the versions? Ala Quake's timedemo, but (without console) requiring a command line switch to activate or if not within the existing game, created a separate *.EXE to do so? I'm guessing the answer is ~no~ because of this feature seems to be added to games that were released much later than MW2 engine and tend to be FPS types.

[Chacko Sonny] Unfortunately, no, we never created a pre-determined demo sequence to compare performance. Instead, we just ran through the various levels playing the game and compared frame rates.  In addition, we would compare performance in certain situations (in the middle of a firefight...with lots of alpha, etc.) Comparing level vs level for each card gave us a rough idea of comparative performance. Plus, this was early enough in the life-cycle of 3D cards that differences in performance could be pretty substantial.

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Chacko Sonny was producer on Activision's MechWarrior 2 for Win95, MechWarrior 2 3D-accelerated versions and Heavy Gear. He left Activision in 1998 along with Tim Morten, John Lafleur and several other Activision veterans to form Savage Entertainment where he is CFO and a 3D artist. Savage has been busy working on their own next-generation 3D game engine for upcoming PS2, X-Box, and PC projects.

04/19/2002

 


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