Influential games-developer Westlake Interactive has been behind some of the most successful games titles released for the Mac. Recent successes have included The Sims, Star Trek: Elite Force and Deus Ex.
Westlake is a development company, it develops titles for publishing houses, including Aspyr Media. The company's Mark and Sue Ellen Adams took time out for a chat with Macworld.
Mark Adams said: "We were very happy with the way our titles sold over the holiday season, The Sims has become Aspyr's biggest-selling title ever, and we sold two or three times as many games as in any previous year."
Award winning Sue Ellen was grateful for the readers choice awards given by a variety of US Mac titles, and for the Macworld US editor's choice award (Eddy) announced on the eve of Macworld Expo here. "These awards give us a really positive sense of feedback and support," she said.
Two fresh titles developed by Weestlake were announced during the show - Escape From Monkey Island and Tony Hawks Pro Skater. Mark said: "We're excited about Monkey Island as there have been very few adventure games released for the Mac recently - it's also the first title we have developed for Lucas Arts, and that's great for us.
"Tony Hawk Pro Skater is a skateboarding simulation, it's too much - it just sucks you in. It's one of those games that's easy-to-learn, but hard to master. No one is doing non-mainstream sports games, hopefully this title will spawn another genre for gamers on the Mac. This title should be released fairly soon - we're looking at an April/May release."
OS X support Mac OS X is scheduled for release on March 24, what challenges does Apple's new OS hold for games developers? Mark said: "It's definitely coming to a head for the publishers. They're asking us if they should begin developing titles with OS X support straight out of the box, or should we plan to release updates after it ships?
"Apple is definitely pushing developers and publishers to migrate to Mac OS X. I think it is possible that we'll see one or two flagship titles offering OS X-native support straight out of the box, perhaps at Macworld Expo next July.
"Once the operating system is bundled with new Macs and more Macintosh users migrate to it, I expect to see more support for it from publishers."
Mark continued: "We have been working with it for some time, but for games developers it takes more work to carbonize a title than we first expected. It's not an order of magnitude more, but supporting it will add a little time to our projects.
"It does depend on how quickly it is adopted by users - there is a possibility that publishers will begin approaching developers like ourselves asking them to create OS X ports and updaters for their titles. This could be an opportunity for people like us."
Competition With the entrance of MacPlay and Bunch Media onto the games market, Mac games development is more competitive than it has been for some time. Mark welcomed this, but said: "However, there is a shortage of good Mac programmers, and more publishing houses makes it harder to retain them."
Westlake shipped 14 titles last year, and increased its staff by 25 per cent - it now employs eight people. Mark revealed: "We're in our quiet period now - the industry tends to focus on the holiday season. We are working on the next Tomb Raider title, Tomb Raider Chronicles. We'll start working on this soon, and expect to see it released in early spring. We have another two or three titles we are negotiating at present."
Westlake has begun doing some work for console-games publishers. Mark was adamant that this did not mean the company is migrating from the Mac. He insisted: "We love the Mac, we began on the Mac. But, console-game development poses an interesting challenge, and it does make good business sense.
"When we finish developing a console title, it's always good to get back to Mac development. You see, with consoles, part of the challenge rests in their very specific hardware configurations - you have limited memory and this limits what you can do. Mac development is much more creative."
Graphics-card switch During his Macworld Expo keynote, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that high-end Power Mac G4s will ship bundled with nVidia graphics accelerators. Previously, Apple has only carried ATI's solutions.
This change came very soon after the collapse of 3dfx, a company always vocal in its request that Apple should at least offer alternative graphics cards as a build-to-order option. nVidia is in the process of acquiring 3dfx's skills and technologies. Such a move will have an impact on games developers.
Mark said: "We were surprised by the timing of this, but we are pretty excited about it as we have always maintained that it is healthier for the market to have a mix of competitors in the accelerator market. It inspires companies to develop better solutions.
"It's not an issue for us to support solutions from multiple vendors - we always supported both ATI and 3dfx accelerators in our games, now we support nVidia and ATI instead."
Why now? Such an announcement so soon after 3dfx's disappearance did inspire comment, Mark said: "It's hard to say why Apple chose to work with two vendors so soon after 3dfx's disappearance from the market, but we know that nVidia has been working hard to build a relationship with Apple.
"We also welcome the faster processors in Apple's machines. We think faster, single processors are a good move. It's easier to develop for a single processor than to develop titles that support multiprocessing."
On the sudden disappearance of multiprocessing machines from Apple's professional product line, Mark said: "This is a switch, because Apple was so into multiprocessing before. Six months down the line, when chip supplies improve, it's possible we may see multiprocessing 733MHz Macs. We'll be ready to develop titles that support them."
Mark also hinted that the company hopes to develop even more Mac titles this year, but was definite about one thing: "It's always been our goal to deliver top-quality games titles to the Macintosh community. It does become harder as the company grows, but we are absolutely committed to maintain that quality in the future."