Kevin Miller

Runtime Revolution

Posted by Philip Jong.
First posted on 07 August 2007. Last updated on 12 November 2008.
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Kevin Miller
This is a photo of the team at Runtime Revolution. Front row (left to right): Ben, Mark, Elanor, Jo, Heather, Mark. Back row (left to right): David, Guy, Marcus, Oliver, Kevin, Jon, Chris.
Kevin Miller
This screenshot shows the media management (such as a backdrop in Alida) within Revolution Media running in Mac OS X.
Kevin Miller
This screenshot shows the editing function within Revolution Media running in Windows XP.

For more information, visit Runtime Revolution Ltd.

All images are courtesy of Robin Miller, Runtime Revolution © 2007.

Choosing the right development tools can be a difficult decision for an independent adventure game developer running on a tight budget and with limited resource. Revolution Media from Runtime Revolution is a low-cost alternative among third-party authoring tools that can provide a feature rich gaming or presentation framework for a development platform. Founded in 1997, Runtime Revolution is the developer of Revolution that owes its origin as an integrated development environment for MetaCard, a popular cross-platform development application modeled after the original HyperCard from Apple.

Today, Revolution has grown to offer a full suite of authoring tools (which Revolution calls User-Centric Development Tools) that include templates for creating media rich applications such as adventure games. In this interview, Chief Executive Officer Kevin Miller speaks about tips on picking the right authoring tools for creating adventure games, example of an adventure game already developed on the Revolution platform, other alternative development environments such as Macromedia Director and Adventure Game Studio, and what holds in the future for the company.

What are the most important elements that make for a solid framework as a development tool for an adventure game developer?

It's important the tool provides all the features you need to support making the game - other than the content portions of the game. The tool needs to be able to handle all the media and logic needed to make the game work and allow the developer to implement any interactivity you want - as well as the ability to extend the logic later.

What are the common mistakes that a developer may make when creating or adopting a framework for an adventure game?

Not planning ahead. It's important to have a good plan for your game - not only for the logic portion but also accounting for the shear magnitude of the amount of content you need to have.

What is the Revolution suite of development tools available? What are the differences between these tools which an adventure game developer may find of importance?

Runtime Revolution offers a broad spectrum of products. Revolution Media is an excellent way to get started and it's only $49. We focused on putting in features that are really required for rich media playback - exactly what you need for adventure games - handling of video playback, logic, text, audio - plus a huge toolbox to go far, far beyond that. It isn't a stretch for example to add QuickTime VR videos or allow users to modify the content in a game. Plus, you can make your games available on both Windows and Mac OS X.

Revolution Studio adds a huge number of professional features, including true compilation, Linux, interacting with web sites and database connectivity. Revolution Enterprise is our high end development tool that comes with additional business features and deployment options. You can directly upgrade to these products from Revolution Media at any time.

What is the history behind the development of Revolution Media, including its origin from MetaCard?

Revolution Media is the latest evolution of the Revolution product line. We wanted to make it easier for people to get started with Revolution in their free time, especially musicians and artists. If you're a creative professional or weekend graphics artist and want to add some interactivity to your artwork, Revolution Media is an ideal way to do that and a lot more.

Revolution started out as a front end that ran on top of an engine called MetaCard. Runtime Revolution acquired the rights to it in 2003 and has been selling the product as the Revolution product family.

Alida, published by Dejavu Worlds, is an example of an adventure game that has been developed using Revolution. How is Revolution used in Alida as a development tool?

Alida is a great game - a 3D walk through game similar in format to Myst. What is particularly impressive to me is that it was entirely produced by one person. The story line, 3D rendered graphics, interactivity and even music were all produced by the author, Cos Russo. Revolution really supported the development of Alida, allowing Mr Russo to build the interactive elements, even without a background in professional programming. Alida as you may know became available in many markets and retail - from CompUSA to the Apple Store.

Aside from Alida, what are other examples of adventure games, both commercial and amateur, that have been developed using Revolution?

Unfortunately, there isn't much I can say here because of NDAs in place. It doesn't take much though to find educational titles that are primarily adventure-like built with Revolution.

Illustratively speaking, what are examples of adventure game titles developed on other platforms that can easily be developed in Revolution instead?

The current template for adventure games handles video, sound and graphics playback - with some additional text coding you could create a Lucas Arts style game. There is an add-on for Revolution called Animation Engine that works with Revolution Media. This adds a significant number of routines for simplifying geometry animation (such as you might find in Flash). Adding Animation Engine enables you to add "in game" arcade style games, shooters, and more.

How well does Revolution handle multi-platform (PC and non-PC) development that is a common need among adventure game developers? How well does Revolution support language localization?

One of Revolution's key strengths is that it allows you to create and deploy your work on multiple platforms. Revolution Media supports development on both Mac and Windows. Revolution Studio adds support for Linux and Unix platforms. It's really easy to create a multi-platform title, you can exchange files seamlessly between the two platforms. It usually takes only a little time to test and tweak to make sure everything looks just right. Language localization is a relatively straightforward process too. Revolution supports Unicode.

In the case of an adventure game, it's usually a case of rendering any text in each language you are going to be support and setting up the program to switch graphics appropriately. This is one of those areas where you really want to plan ahead - if you are going to sell your game, plan on it.

How well does Revolution support media that have been developed externally by third-party tools such as QuickTime and Flash, including digital image, video, and sound data?

Very well! Revolution has full support for QuickTime, including streaming and VR movies. Flash movies can be played back using QuickTime. In Revolution Studio a browser plug in also allows you to render Flash using a browser "object" and the Flash plug-in, and of course web pages themselves. Revolution supports a number of sound and image formats natively as well as whatever QuickTime supports. If you really want to dig into our toolbox, you'll also find a way to interact with QuickTime callbacks, text-to-speech and a whole lot more.

Many commercial adventure games have been developed using Macromedia Director. How similar and dissimilar is Revolution to Macromedia Director, particularly as a competitor? What are the advantages of using Revolution over other platforms for an adventure game developer?

In Revolution it's easier to produce non-linear games and interactivity as you don't have to use a timeline. We get many Director developers coming to us because the paradigm of the timeline fits well with the original intent of Director - interactive animation - but is less intuitive if your approach is scene-based or screen based. In addition, Revolution lets you create applications that are "real" applications - you can't inherently tell they were created with Revolution and they use all the native appearances of a Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and other application. Revolution projects can look like accounting software or look and sound like a rich media experience - you get both rich media and development paradigms.

Revolution is very actively developed and supported, with a vibrant third party tool market.

Revolution has had several updates throughout 2006, including support for Universal Binaries on Mac OS X and even special support for deploying Revolution projects on secure flash media drives such as the U3 smart drive. It's not clear what Adobe's plans for Director are, but I know that Director developers are anxious about Mac OS X on Intel processors.

Adventure Game Studio is a development tool that is specifically designed for creating graphical adventure games. Why should an adventure game developer consider a paid but more mature tool such as Revolution instead of a free and more specific tool such as Adventure Game Studio?

Adventure Game Studio is a Windows only tool. It's free for non-commercial use, but if you want to use it commercially later there are a number of very complex licensing restrictions. Both Revolution Media and Adventure Game Studio have an interface that guides you through the process of creating a game. Revolution Media is actively supported and it also has an upgrade path that supports a real transformation of your hobby into a profession - once you hit the limits with AGS you don't have anywhere to go. Just look at what Mr Russo was able to accomplish with Alida, with high resolution graphics, rich sound and video playback.

Scripting is most commonly used in adventure games to dictate the interaction between the player and the game world. How is scripting handled in Revolution Media? For an adventure game developer who is already familiar with programming in languages like C, what are the similarities and dissimilarities in the syntax between these languages?

One of Revolution Media's greatest strengths is its English-like scripting language. It is really easy to get started scripting in Media. Because Media is English-like you have to write vastly fewer lines of code than you would in a traditional language like C. It's really easy to get started even if you are a non-programmer. And unlike programming languages you may have used previously, once you have written code you'll be able to read and understand it later much more easily as it is closer to English.

A lot of old style C coders start their coding process by writing out pseudo-code to explain the logic in their programs - then get on to the coding itself. The Revolution language itself is so easy to learn that you do not need that extra step at all because what you are writing reads much like that first process the C developer has to go through.

What is the profile of a typical adventure game developer who may most benefit from adopting Revolution as a development tool?

Someone who produces graphics as a hobby or professionally and wants to stitch them together into a game. Anyone who wants to be able to any kind of unlimited interactivity using an easy to use English-like language.

Most adventure games are built on a propriety engine that is internally developed ad hoc for the game. What are the advantages and disadvantages of adopting an external development tool to use as framework or engine for an adventure game developer?

Writing an engine ad-hoc takes a considerable time and effort. The Revolution system was developed by a team of professionals who have experience in engine development. The system is tried and tested and allows you vastly more flexibility out of the box in much less time than it would take to produce even a tiny fraction of the functionality yourself from scratch. A sad fact of many ad-hoc engines is that to accomplish shipping a game, massive limitations creep into the engine - for example, many acquire some startling limits on the numbers of objects that can be displayed - and if they go back and try to change them, it breaks the entire engine.

What holds in the near future for Runtime Revolution?

We have a range of exciting upgrades planned for 2007, including some big additions to our adventure game creation tools and Revolution Media. Keep up with developments at our web site - we also have a set of forums (in English and Japanese) where users share their experiences, as well as an active mailing list.

Thank you for this interview. We look forward to hearing more about Revolution Media and other development tools from Runtime Revolution.

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