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The Future of Allegro
The main goal from Allegro 3.0 to 4.0, according to the Allegro programmers, has been portability. The different ports of Allegro are being combined into one big "super-library". "The aim is to make it very simple to write programs that will compile on any of these platforms with only minor modifications, if any, and it's progressing very well indeed. I think this will make it very attractive for people wanting to write multi-platform games," says Foot. Hargreaves states that, "Most of the code will work unchanged on any OS you care to mention, and the strength of being a nice flexible and easily understood API remains a strength wherever you are running it."
What about after 4.0? As the saying goes, yesterday is history and tomorrow is a mystery. "Over the next few months we’ll be finishing up the porting work and releasing version 4.0. After that, I have absolutely no idea. Peering around corners never works very well, so I’ll wait until we get there to see what there is to be seen," Hargreaves revealed.
Hargreaves plans to stay as head of the Allegro project as long as he enjoys it, which he said isn’t going to change anytime soon. He would, however, like to distribute the power in the Allegro project, since Allegro isn’t his only job. Hargreaves’ day job is lead programmer for Probe Entertainment, an Acclaim Entertainment subsidiary. He’s currently working with OpenGL on a hush-hush project that will eventually be made for Sony’s Playstation 2 and Nintendo’s new Dolphin console. He enjoys both Allegro and working at Probe, but admits it is a lot to juggle. "There are periods every now and then when I just don’t have time to be involved, and in the past Allegro development has completely ground to a halt when this happens." Hargreaves elaborated that, "I’m trying to work things out so this won’t be a problem in the future, so I can delegate control to someone else for a while. It remains to be seen how practical this will be, and if there is anyone else who would even want to do that (smile)."
With the glory comes duty. Emails and updates take up hours of his time, especially with the project being open source. According to Hargreaves, it is a rewarding job, but not an easy one. As he wistfully told us, "Now, if only someone would pay me to develop Allegro as a full time job…"
Impact on Independent Game Development
The success of Allegro shows the possible resurgence of independent game development. Allegro, like the popularity of Gameboy development or Game Developer Magazine’s own Independent Games Festival, recognizes garage game developers and basically says "Hey, you count, too." Small game developers outfits don’t need to license an engine or make a cookie-cutter product, because they don’t spend any money to make the game and they don’t need a return on investment from the players, except perhaps a pat on the back.
John Carmack isn’t losing any sleep over this, but people - not super programmers, just ordinary people - can now turn their concept into a game with intermediate programming skills. The game community can look forward alternative titles that sport a more polished look, using the Allegro library.
The concept of game development products for non-super programmers isn’t new, from the ancient Electronic Arts’ C64 game creation kit (to create "cut and paste" shooters) to the recent Sony Net Yaroze program (which allowed Playstation games to be made with C).
What is new is giving full access to the code, which allows game developers to learn, modify, and hopefully contribute to the Allegro library. Alternatively, game developers don’t have to look at any library code. In short, things are as complex or as superficial as the developer wishes, making the library good for both novices and experts.
As articulated by Hargreaves, "I’m a programmer. If something comes sealed in a box, all I can do is use it, and I’m not terribly interested in that. A programmer without source code is like a mechanic who can’t get the hood open: no use to anyone."
Amen to that.
Damon Brown started programming on his VIC 20 at age eight while winning his first award for writing: The Calbery Award. He is currently at Northwestern University studying for his Masters in Magazine Publishing. His hobbies include solo freeware game development, occult studies and deejaying. E-mail him at [email protected], or check out his website at www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Pines/6547/.