Interview with Timothee Besset of id Software – 07 August 2006

07 August 2006 by Dustin Reyes

I had the opportunity to catch up with id Software’s resident Linux expert, Timothee “TTimo” Besset, who has been responsible for
every id-produced Linux port since Quake III: Arena, at QuakeCon this past weekend. Since Quake 4 was recently released and
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is on the horizon, I asked TTimo if he wouldn’t mind answering a few of my inane questions:

Do you anticipate that the ET:QW client will ship at the same time as the
Windows retail?

Hopefully. We’re going to have a pretty extensive beta-testing period, so I
hope that will be enough time for me to put together the full Linux client. I
mean, in previous games when it turned out we couldn’t release the full
versions right on time, it was because we were still working on our other game
clients. Since it’s not my project directly, it’s Splash Damage’s
game, I should be able to maintain the Linux version. I
think the Enemy Territory client was right on time with the Windows version;
I’m not sure. I think it did – the only one that was delayed was DOOM 3, by two

Do you still keep tabs on the GtkRadiant project?

Spog, William Joseph, has been mostly in charge of that. Since we actually
went GPL on the licensing it seems that a number of people have actually
picked it up, to much of my surprise because personally I always considered
that it wouldn’t really make such a difference between the GPL and our
license, which was already pretty open in my opinion. It depends on
what you’re doing, if you’re doing a game or end-user product, it really
matters to have the GPL, but Radiant is a project with a very strong
user-base, and most of the people want to produce maps and art for the
games they don’t care too much what kind of licensing it is. As long
as they can install it on their computers and use it, they’re fine with it.
Moving to GPL for all the Quake 3 technology tools was really good, I’m kind
of glad to have that out of the way. We have been saying for years that we
were going to release it under the GPL and it finally happened so that was

It has been mentioned that Radiant has been updated to accomodate the new
technologies in Quake Wars – does id plan on helping the GtkRadiant project in
rolling these changes into the open source editor?

I really can’t say what the plan is right now as far as releasing the source
to those tools. It seemed that with the DOOM 3 technology, the company has
kind of moved away from releasing tool source. I’m not really in on those
decisions, to totally know what’s the balance between the pro and con of not
doing that.

Can you elaborate on the changes to the editor?

The Splash Damage editor has all the Megatexturing tools, so it has the
additions of laying down roads and stamping. I haven’t personally used it, so
I’m not really aware. As far as our internal project, I can’t really comment
on that. I’m not sure, I think it’s been mentioned that we use something we
call id Studio, which now goes way beyond being just a simple editor, we’ve
integrated a lot more tools with the game to make production a lot easier.
You’ll have to wait for John’s keynote to see what sort of information goes
out about that.

Is id satisfied with the utility of and community reaction to the iddevnet

It’s a bit difficult to know how many people actually use it, actually go on
the website and get useful information from there. We have a pretty strong
DOOM 3/Quake 4 modding community, we’ve been using invite-only mailing lists
to get a group channel with mod developers, and I think that’s working out
pretty well. I mean, I really like the Wiki format we have on the Quake 4
stuff. I had started one that was only for Linux things or related to the
games, and when we wanted to put an iddevnet for Quake 4, we said hey, why not
do a Wiki? Raven wanted to submit some content, and we did have some content
on our own, so we said, let’s just open a Wiki format and get everyone on
there. We’ll keep putting more stuff on there, and people are going to get
used to checking that site more often. For instance, on the Wiki we have some
pretty good information on the add-on pack system that’s in DOOM 3 and Quake
4. We have some pages on the network demos which are very useful, and on
benchmarking as well. Those are recent additions, and, of course, on top of
that there’s all the mapping documentation and examples. It’s really complete.

That sort of public documentation and developer feedback for public code and
tools is rare in the industry; does id plan on continuing to maintain it for
Quake Wars and future projects?

Yeah, I would think so. Quake Wars is really Splash Damage’s project and since
they used to be a mod team they’re really into making most of their stuff
available to the public to modify and tweak the game. We also know that Quake
Wars is really the type of game where you want to get as much as possible in
the hands of the community, because they’re the ones really making the game
alive and pushing it to new things.

What are your goals and anticipated features for the YoYoDine Assets

I should probably sum up what it’s about: When I was still contracting in
Paris, the DOOM 3 assets were fairly big and I didn’t have such a good network
connection, so I was really looking into decentralized solutions for our
asset and code management, with some amount of versioning and branching. So I
started the YAM project, which is mostly research and documentation, putting
ideas together, and summarizing what everyone else is doing as far as
commercial solutions, open source solutions and everything. There are some
good commercial products that do asset management that work decently well when
your team is distributed. The most common ones are usually Perforce and
Alienbrain. id is using Alienbrain internally, and a lot of our sister
companies are using Perforce. I really wanted to look into something that
would be open source, because of what I’m interested in, and because I know a
lot of mod teams and, actually, commercial projects spawning off from our
Quake 3 GPL releases are facing the same type of issues of having to manage a
distributed team and a large amount of assets. So I started the YAM project to
try to find a few solutions. Most of my designs so far have been based on
using Subversion as a backend for managing assets, and then having an extra
layer on top of that to distribute the content and to replicate and mirror it.
Actually, Splash Damage deciding to use Subversion to store their assets for
Quake Wars was a pretty big step in my opinion. I was a bit suprised to see
that Splash Damage would go with Subversion for assets instead of with
Perforce because Subversion is really good, it’s a really good project for
source code but for assets we are kind of wading through a brand new path
because the files are a lot bigger and Subversion still has a few hiccups on
really large files. The Subversion repository for Quake Wars is about 20GB,
and the main repository is in the UK office of Splash Damage and we run a
mirror at id that mirrors out exactly what is on Splash Damage’s repository.
We have synchronization scripts which are based on SVK, which is a Perl
extension to SVN functionality, and we use a SVK mirror to synchronize both
and so we have id and Nerve working in Dallas, and they can check in to a
Subversion repository and it goes back to Splash Damage. I think we really
have a good setup, especially based on open source tools and on a product that
is still primarily designed for source code and shows how flexible it is. It
wouldn’t be possible if Subversion was not open source, because the SVK guys
have been digging in the SVN source and working with the Subversion people to
get some extensions in there and tweak a few things so they could do their own
extensions on top of that, so it’s really good how the project has turned out.

Are there any plans to release the source code to the id-produced
Quake 3-derived games Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory?

That would be nice, I guess we have to talk it through in the company
internally, and decide. It’s usually mostly an issue of spotting where we
might have a few days we can spare on going through that source and putting it
together for a GPL release. It would be nice, I’m sure eventually it’ll
happen, at least for Enemy Territory and Wolfenstein. The thing is, Enemy
Territory is still doing really good online, and really we see it a lot on the
competition scene, so I would assume there’s going to be a bit of resistance
as far as releasing the source right now, because it’s still doing so great on
competition. I love watching those ET matches.

Does id and/or Raven plan on releasing additional level packs or alternate
gameplay modes for Quake 4?

We’ve released a lot already. If you try to count how many extra maps we’ve
put out… 1.3, the patch is around 250 or 300 megabytes, the full patch. In
there you have, I think about 10-15 new maps, something like that. I think we
got a really strong extra content base at this point. I can’t really tell if
there are plans to put new maps out, but that’s really a lot to play through
already. We will see through the keynote and everything if we decide
to announce more things on Quake 4. The company is still looking at product
and looking at if we plan on any server updates and what’s going to go in the
new updates but I really can’t comment much on that.

Are there any outstanding issues/planned features that are slotted for future
point releases?

I think in 1.3 we really covered a lot of the current things. At this point,
it’s probably up to whether we decide to push the game further.

Any comments on the state of NVIDIA and ATI’s OpenGL drivers in Linux? Are
there any missing features which would aid in development/porting?

I still mostly do my development with NVIDIA cards. It’s been working
really good even for our internal project. I just fix the gcc compiling issues
and bring it up, and usually the NVIDIA drivers will work just the same as
they do on Windows. ATI is obviously doing some very good work on putting out
new updates and been very responsive to users on Linux. I’m really expecting
that their drivers are going to be really up to par with the NVIDIA ones
within a few months I think. I moved my development system to a 64-bit
machine, but I still compile 32-bit binaries and running 32-bit binaries on
64-bit machines I had to stick to NVIDIA because I couldn’t really get it
going with an ATI card. But still, I’m always ready to swap it out and try
ATI. We haven’t been really in a situation where we’ve had to test new
rendering on both cards yet.

Are hobbyist mod projects viable with modern first-person shooters, especially
with the rising cost of producing professional-quality assets (models,
textures, sounds)?

I don’t know. I’ve seen the amount of work that has to go into doing content
for mods, it has gone way up since the Quake 3 days. Maybe it’s just me not
looking with that much attention anymore at the websites and everything, but I
remember in the Quake 2/Quake 3 days there were Rust and Gamedesign, there
were a lot of websites with custom home-made maps, there was the Polycount
website, and all of those websites were really big. I’m not seeing the same
kind of thing anymore, maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s been toned down a
bit because it’s just a lot more work to put content together nowadays. We
still see a number of mods, you gotta have artists, textures, level design,
you gotta put everything together now a lot more; it used to be a very
individual thing. One guy could make character models, one guy could make
levels, it’s no longer true. Modding’s still doing pretty good on DOOM 3
technology, including Quake 4 though.

Epic sponsored UT2004 mod development with a contest – has id ever looked at
doing anything similar?

I don’t know actually, I don’t know if it’s been something that’s been
discussed or planned. We have an approach where we let people come to us and
we give them some technical advice. I think it’d be mostly up to the sponsors
we work with for events such as QuakeCon. I guess if they would ever come
forward to us and say we want to sponsor some event, then I guess the QuakeCon
guys would probably look into it.

I know Human Head and 3D Realms are only licensees, but are you aware of any
plans for a Prey Linux client port?

I’m really not involved with the Linux aspect. Obviously Ryan Gordon is
working on the dedicated server, so that’d really be a question for him. I’d
love seeing a Linux client, I’ve been holding off getting the game, waiting to
see if there’s a Linux client showing up. I know if I buy the Windows version
I’m going to play the Windows version and I’m not going to play it on Linux,
so I’m just waiting it out.

Any comments on the state of 64-bit architecture support in Linux? Will ET:QW
ship with 32-bit and 64-bit binaries?

I don’t know yet. My main problem with 64-bit binary is that it’s one extra
compile to do every time you want to release binaries, so you have to maintain
one build system for your 64-bit binary and then every time you have to make a
build you have to make sure you get both the 32-bit and 64. Really honestly,
there’s not any kind of significant performance increase. If you have good
compatibility you’re able to run 32-bit binaries on a 64-bit machine, that’s
the performance you get. If you run a 64-bit binary, it’s not going to make
much difference. The technology is cool, but there’s really not that much
point for doing it. We do use 64-bit internally, we do use some 64-bit
binaries on Windows for the extra memory, because we are hitting the limits
where we need to address more than two gigabytes of memory at the same time
for a single process. That’s really one of the main advantages, but I don’t
expect any of our games anytime soon to require a machine that has more than
4GB of RAM, that would be stretching it.

In the past year or so, the Ubuntu Linux distribution has made major strides
in community acceptance with their emphasis on ease-of-use; do you feel that
Linux in general has reached the point to where it’s a viable alternative to
Windows and OSX for the average computer user?

It seems to be really happening. I mean, my parents are using Linux. The setup
is still the tricky point, but I set the machine up last time I was in France
and they’ve been actually catching on and start to use it. They like
OpenOffice, they like having GAIM and Firefox, they’re really happy with that.
My brother-in-law, who’s really a Windows guy, just decided to install Linux
because he was tired of his machine being slow and spyware and everything. He
really didn’t need that much help from me to get his stuff running, doing mail
and chatting and all that basic web stuff, so I guess it’s really picking up.

I’d like to thank TTimo for taking the time to address these queries, and id Software for putting on another fantastic event! If you want to read more about how TTimo became id’s Linux guy, check out our QuakeCon 2004 interview.

-Dustin “Crusader” Reyes