Subhuman’s Quake 2 Bot Outpost Interviews Ridah and Grady Drew
Ridah and Grady Drew interview:
This interview took place on 3-25-98, and was conducted via E-mail. This is what was said:
1. Ryan and Grady Thank you for taking time away from your current projects to do this interview. Why don’t we start by having you tell us a little something about yourselves.
( Ryan ) I live in the northern hills of Adelaide (Australia), a city mostly known for the F1 Grand Prix before it was snatched by our rival city Melbourne(where Rowan ‘Sumaleth’ Crawford lives). I’m currently 22 of your earth years old, and spend most of my time either coding, drinking, or coding & drinking (not recommended).
( Grady ) I’m 28 and a recent graduate from Michigan State University. I received a B.A. in English – with a focus on Fiction Writing. I had minors in Computer Science, Chemistry, Philosophy and Art History. Kinda a well-rounded student.
I have always been interested in computers and programming – you know the type. I had my first computer when I was little – an Atari 400. In fact, I still have my Atari 800 packed away somewhere – and it still works. I’ve grown up with this stuff. It’s part of me. I learned Visual Basic in college when I got a job as a “grader” for their Visual Basic class. Within a few years, I was teaching a couple hundred students. They always freaked when they learned that I was an undergraduate English major. I think they were comfortable with me, because I taught them in a non-technical way. All I cared about was that they learned the stuff – not that they were Wiz Kids by the end of the semester.
Right now I’m employed at a company in Austin, TX as a technical writer. Basically, I write manuals. Nothing glamorous, but it pays the bills. I’m also under contract right now to Prentice Hall publishers to write a book about the Secure Electronics Transaction protocol; I’m about a quarter of the way through. Basically, it’s another full-time job on top of my tech writing job.
The only other thing that takes up time in my world right now is my running. I’m a pretty serious runner – and will be doing several marathons this year. I’m already signed up for the Chicago.
I’ve always been a little strange. Is that sharing too much?
2. How long have you guys been working on your respective projects, Eraser and Hotlaunch?
( Ryan ) Woh, almost 4 months now! Man I hadn’t realized how long it’s been going until you asked.. oh well, it’s been a lot of fun. If only I had someone to sort out all the tech support and bug reports, I could keep working on it forever. Actually creating a character, capable of mimicking a human player, is a very challenging, and worth-while experience.
( Grady ) Actually, only about two weeks now. I kinda pulled some heavy hours on the thing the first week.
3. As Your projects grew, did you guys ever envision them becoming as big as they have, and why or why not?
( Ryan ) That’s hard to say. I don’t like doing things half-heartedly, and I don’t like losing. If it had not been up there with the best, I would have worked on it until it was, simple as that. Once I get my mind set on something, and the inspiration is there, I’ll give it my best shot, to the end.
The competition provided by other bots like the CR Bot, and the Stupid Bot (soon to be renamed?) have been a great source of inspiration, and I have a lot of respect for their authors, and anyone else attempting to produce a high quality bot.
( Grady ) Hell no! To be honest, I started the damn thing just so I wouldn’t have to type in a command line every time, or I wouldn’t have to rely on .bat files. It was a tool for me to become more lazy. I thought “Hey! What better way to re-acquaint yourself with programming than to write something?” Well – it all went downhill from there. I noticed that there weren’t any other programs like this out (at the time, now we have hundreds), and figured I would distribute it and see if people were receptive.
I guess I ended up getting carried away. Right now its more than one person can handle. I may pass the torch on to someone else – but that’s a decision I’ll have to think about.
4. Are there any people you would like to credit, for helping you along the way?
( Ryan ) Gee, did I win an Oscar? anyway, here goes:
Everyone who has mailed in their thanks and praise, they’ve been the main source of inspiration for getting the Eraser to where it is, Redwood, Blue and many other news sites for their general support, especially when things got very edgy around the virus issue, rkm (Nigel Bovey) for the linux compiles, everyone else who has complimented me and/or my work over the last year or so, whether publicly or privately. Do I get a trophy or something?
( Grady ) Well, anyone who is using the program or is sending me feedback/bug reports/thanks. I’m not continuing this program because of myself – I’m doing it for everyone else. The program I wanted was finished in an afternoon. I guess continuing the project is my way of saying “thanks.”
I have friends and family I would like to thank, but they know who they are. There are too many to name here.
5. Did either of you have a particular inspiration for your projects? If so, what was it?
( Ryan ) I think the main inspiration came from the fact that a good bot generally earns a fair deal of respect. What I did with QuakeRally was probably far more complex and time consuming, but in the end, it didn’t have as much of a wide-spread impact as I was hoping (although I still get at least 3-4 emails a day from people that had just tried it and enjoyed it very much). I think in the end, I chose to do a Q2 bot, since all the artwork and other content was there. All I had to do was pump out the code, and that is the ideal situation for any programmer.
( Grady ) See question three.
6. Where did you guys get the names for your projects?
( Ryan ) I liked the movie, a couple of people suggested I call it the “Ridah Bot”, but I really wouldn’t have felt comfortable with that. I’ve actually had about 10-15 emails from people thinking I stole the name from them, since they use “Eraser” when playing Quake/Quake2. If had it a chance at giving it a new name, it would probably be “TheNeverEndingProject Bot”.
( Grady ) Oh, god. This is going to make no sense to anyone.
Well, my friend Matt was on a road trip with a friend and happened to catch a local radio broadcast of the Hicktown Elementary School’s lunch menu for the week. (Why would _anyone_ broadcast a school lunch menu?) I guess the tape was on a loop, and at the end of the loop was a beep. I guess the beep meant “tape done, we will do it again.” Well, I think the last words were something like “hot lunch [beeeeeeppp]”. Matt thought it kinda surreal. Ever since then, if anyone mentions any sort of hot lunch, or something similar, Matt and I yell “BEEEEPPPPP!” just to confuse people. (Matt and I confuse people well.)
The words hot lunch were stuck in my head the day I started working on it, I guess – so I named it Hot Launch just to get a laugh out of Matt. It stuck.
7. Both Eraser and Hotlaunch always seems to lead the pack in new features, and abilities. Is it a competitive field out there? Or are the other designers supportive and “friendly” towards each other?
( Ryan ) I’ve only spoken to a few other bot authors (through email), namely John Crickett (Oak bot) and Steve Yeager (Ace), and the Omicron Bot guy via IRC. We’re on friendly terms and all, but it is a competitive world, so there’s always going to be some tension there. I’m sure if you put us all in a room for an hour, we’d all get along extremely well, until one of us mentioned bots. Then you’d probably see a lot of gibs fly.
( Grady ) For the most part, everyone is extremely friendly. I have written several of them saying that they are doing cool stuff, and have received several of the same types of letters from some of the other “front-end guys”. I think some people feel the need to “compete” with other people, but its not an aggressive or mean-spirited thing. Hell – I think there’s room for all of our programs out there. I have continuously told people that are unhappy with my product that there are numerous other products out there.
I got mail the other day saying something to the effect (not from an author, from a user) that: “your program doesn’t do X, but this other front-end does. But then again, his isn’t the “official” front-end for Eraser.” Well – just cause Hot Launch is being distributed with Eraser doesn’t mean that it is the one for you. There are plenty of other ones out there that work differently. Just find one you like, and can use, and does what you want. If it’s not Hot Launch, that’s cool.
9. Grady, How do you fine tune a ’57 Chevy? … Hehehe
( Grady ) You need to chrome the Johnson rod and install hydraulics. With the hydraulics you can “flip the switches”.
10. Ryan, The CTF support has really taken off, and placed Eraser head and shoulders above the other bots that are out now. Did you think that it would be as popular as it is?
( Ryan ) Oh for sure. I mean, I knew people would like it, because it beats the crap out of plain DM. It also gives you a good chance to practice, since not everyone has a good net connection, and/or unlimited on-line time.
I’d like to spend a lot of time re-working the core AI for CTF some day, but that’s probably a long way down the line (if ever). For now, a lot of hacks and special case coding does the job quite well.
11. Ryan, How difficult was CTF to implement, and what would you like to see added to it in the future?
( Ryan ) From the stand-point of merging the CTF code, it was trivial. Getting the bots to understanding the new game was more of an obstacle. Especially when the normal DM and Teamplay code was in and working quite well, the last thing I wanted to do was have the CTF code screw it all up.
I’d like to see the Grappl Hook added to the bot’s arsenal in the future.Unfortunately it’s not as simple as it is for humans to get bots to calculate when and where the grapple can be used. So I’m taking my time with that, I wouldn’t doubt if it showed up in a future version, somewhere down the road.
12. Grady, Your Bots.cfg editing tools are really one of the strongest parts of HotLaunch, how difficult was that to implement, and what would you still like to fine tune or add?
( Grady ) Augh. Never try to parse files with Visual Basic, unless you are the one to set up the way the .txt files are formatted. Frankly? It was a big pain in the ass.
As far as changing or fine tuning things? Well – I think that the bot editing front-end is going to stay pretty much how it is. I like the way the sliders work – I think it makes it easy and fast. I may try to implement something that will allow the user to view the skins within my program – but that is something that is on the “wish list”. Maybe someone will write me a plug-in that I can just dump into my code. (Hint, hint. Skins and models? Anyone?)
I will change the team editing stuff down the line. That’s for sure. I really don’t know what to do with it yet, and there are still some problems with it. It was kinda a rough job, and was the hardest bit of code to put together. I can see it changing completely in the future.
I still need to add support for the Viewable Weapons patch stuff in the bots.cfg. I haven’t even touched that. Frankly, I don’t even know how it works right now.
13. You two have now joined forces, how is that going to work exactly?
( Ryan ) Basically, as the “official” Eraser add-on, it will come with the HotLaunch front-end built in. This will be used for gaming mags, and so forth to make it easier for people who don’t know much about Quake2 and might not have net access, to get it up and running, and be able to use the Eraser to it’s full potential. Grady has proven to be a very dedicated worker, and his product speaks for itself.
The deal is, that once we both hit a good version number, they get packaged together under one installer, and distributed as the “Official Eraser bot distribution”, since they will both be out of beta.
( Grady ) Yeah, and we will still have patches and updates available from both our respective sites (http://impact.frag.com and http://www.planetquake.com/hotlaunch), but we will also have a “full install” available for people (probably on both pages) that has an installation program, the Eraser bot, and Hot Launch. I will probably hard-code much of the path information into Hot Launch, so you don’t have to screw with it. It will be in the [quake2]\eraser directory with all the Eraser stuff.
14a. Whats in the future for Both Eraser and Hotlaunch? What new feaures do you plan on adding, and what else can we expect in the coming weeks?
( Ryan ) Right now, I’m focusing on getting all known bugs out of the system, and getting it in a position I can feel safe taking it out of beta. That means a freeze on major feature additions, since they are usually responsible for more bugs. Once this has been achieved, I will then take a few weeks off, to concentrate on researching and completion of some other work I’ve been involved in the passed 3 weeks. I may return soon after, with something new, who knows.
( Grady ) I don’t know.
1) The first thing is to get it to a point of stability, so I wont have a fire under my ass to keep the program usable. That way, I can work on breaking/enhancing the program and not have to worry about all of you finding millions of errors.
2) I may look for other people to help me. Maybe put a team of people together so I can back out of the process a bit. Being one person, and trying to work on a project of this size is tough. There’s mail to answer, bugs to track down, bugs to fix, things to enhance, more code to write, etc.
3) There are some more code additions that I want to make – things like saving more of your settings, support for .bat files (yes, I hear all of you), some more features. I would like to change the team edit stuff. I would like to make sure that everything works – right now, I know there is some stuff that doesn’t work. Quake 2 is very picky about what it accepts in it’s command line and where it is in the command line.
4) I want to make the damn thing “pretty”. I would like to play with Photoshop a little more.
14b. Ryan, after the source code is released, I am sure that alot of folks will be modifying the Eraser bot. What things that you didnt have the time to add yourself, would you like to see added or modified?
( Ryan ) I’d like to see someone else have a good shot at adding grapple support. Also, I’ve been approached by several other mod authors to add Eraser to their mod (lik battle of the sexes), so it would be cool to see it incorporated into another mod, like CTF.
15. I would love to see Rocket Arena 2 support, kinda like the new Omicron has for Rocket Arena 1. Is this something that could possibly happen? How difficult would it be?
( Ryan ) Hey that’d be cool. I might have a shot at that sometime.. probably after the official RA2 comes out. Of course, this is something others could do themselves, and I’d assume RA AI wouldn’t be that much different to normal 1on 1 DM’ing.
16. Grady, With the Source code release coming soon, Do you think Hotlaunch will support the Swarm of modified Eraser programs?
( Grady ) I don’t know. I very much doubt it will if everyone starts doing 100’s of different things. I have chosen to do one thing, and do it well. I just want to support Hot Launch right now.
17. Grady, Will there ever be a Hotlauch for other Bots? I know that alot of people would love to see it support bots like CrBot and OakII.
( Grady ) Ha! To be honest, I haven’t even played against other bots. I understand that there are quite a few people that like the CrBot. If I decide to keep working on the project, I may make another program. Hot Launch, though, will only support Eraser. I will not add support for other bots in this program.
18. Ryan, Ladders ( A pet peave of mine) seem to be a difficulty for almost every bot out so far. What makes this so difficult, and are you planning on modifying this further with the Eraser?
( Ryan ) I wasn’t aware this was a problem, although ladders can be a bit of a pain, since the ladder information is not directly visible from the game.dll. If I see a map that the Eraser has problems using the ladders in, I could probably have it fixed in a few minutes.
19. Do you guys have a favorite moment regarding Eraser and Hotlaunch? A certain obstacle that was rewarding to overcome, or a very memorable game experience?
( Ryan ) Probably the very first time I got the navigational code merged in with the Eraser AI. Watching him cruising around base1 with ease, ducking under the passage-way to get to the secret area was definately a high point. From then, I knew I had overcome the toughest part of creating a bot, 3d terrain navigation.
( Grady ) Actually, I think that time is still coming. As most people know, many of the “enhancements” I added at the last minute when I put the beta out actually ended up breaking lots of things. Lots and lots of things. I think I have most of them fixed, but as soon as I say that, something else will bite me in the ass.
When I get these bugs worked out, Ill call that my favorite moment so far.
20. Whats next for you guys personally, and what can we expect to see in the future from The Impact Development Team and from Grady Drew?
( Ryan ) Personally, I’m getting stuck into some projects that I (unfortunately)cannot speak about at this time. I think I can be safe in saying it involves game programming, and getting paid :).
I’m not sure what is next for Impact, but it’ll always be there as long as Sumaleth and/or I are around to keep it running. In fact, Sumaleth is putting the finishing touches on the final release of QuakeRally, which includes a (very large) new track, and some new vehicles.
( Grady ) A book. When it’s done I expect all of you to go to Barnes and Noble, or Borders, or where ever, and buy a copy – even if you don’t give a shit about electronic commerce.
Other than that? Hell, my Ph. D.? (Give that one a few years….)
21. It seems to be a growing trend to release Quake products commercially. ( Team Fortess 2, Navy Seals 2, Disposable Heroes, etc.) At any point did you, or are you considering releasing your projects as a commercial releases?
( Ryan ) No. Never. Eraser was purely an experimental and recreational project, and I prefer to keep it that way. If I’m working on a commercial product, I would have to know that from the start, so I make sure every decision made is the right one. With Eraser, I made a lot of “experimental” decisions, just to see how they’d work out. Some of them worked, some of the didn’t, but it didn’t matter if they didn’t work out, since I’d just release a new version to fix it, you don’t have that freedom with a commercial product, which is why I’d have to know that from the start.
I think it’s great that some other Quake products are going commercial, and I wish them the best of luck. I know how tough it can be creating an add-on to a game, with limited funding, it’s not easy, and the demands are very high. Much higher than that of a free product such as Eraser.
( Grady ) The thought never crossed my mind.I think that its too limited an audience to distribute commercially.
Now, if someone were to pick up the Eraser bot and wanted this as part of the package, that’s a different story…
22. Now that you two have joined forces, What changes can we expect to see feature wise and in general, with that combo?
( Ryan ) Not sure, I know that we’ll be making sure that each of our codebases cooperate, so any changes I make to Eraser, we have to be sure won’t effect how HotLaunch works, and vice-versa.
I know Grady is a proffesional documentation constructor, so you may see an expansion of the cluttered readme.txt into a more user friendly format.
( Grady ) We will let you know as soon as we figure it out.We have both been too busy to discuss it ourselves.
Maybe just an easier to use Eraser bot.
23. Ok guys last Question, If you could have pictures of any superhero on your underwear. Which would it be, and why? ( Hehehe…)
( Ryan ) John Carmack. Nuff said.
( Grady ) Bluntman and Chronic, cause chicks would dig me.
Any parting Words Guys?
( Grady ) Oh, look for Hot Launch to be included in the May(?) issue of PC Gaming World (on the cd). Its a european magazine that wanted my stuff to be included with the Eraser bot for the magazine. Cool.
Thank you very much for your time guys, I really appreciate it!