Andy Spence looks at how things stand on the Acorn games scene.
Another year has passed and things are improving for the RISC OS platform, but can we say the same for the gaming side of things? Well, the selection of forthcoming games is sparse to say the least but hopefully Artex and RCi will keep their New Year's promises by delivering some real gems.
We'll take an overall look at the state of the former Acorn gaming market, not only briefly touching on future releases, but looking at hardware developments and their impact on gaming. I have also written an in-depth preview of Artex Software's 3D stratagy game Iron Dignity.
At the moment the fastest RISC OS machine is the Risc PC SA model T which has bottleneck memory problems, a slow data bus and no PCI/AGP expansion options. To top it off the StrongArm doesn't utilise floating point, which slows down 3D engines dramatically. This basically leads to 3D and processor-hungry games using low resolution-modes and low frames per second: R-Comp Interactive's conversion of Quake being a good example.
Saying this, future is not all doom™ and gloom, as two projects set to tackle some of the problems mentioned are in full swing. These are Millipede's Imago card and RiscStation's Evolution machine.
Millipede's Imago card is an upgrade board for the Risc PC. Its original purpose was to improve the graphical capabilities in general for the RISC OS plaform, but with 9Mb VRAM it should seriously improve 3D gaming. Other problems have been addressed, as it now has no memory bottleneck and it boasts an optimised bus speed which should give new life to the old Risc PC machines. The current Imago specification does not include a PCI/AGP bus, but Millipede may develop other boards from the original design. When I asked them about PCI/AGP slots they replied: 'PCI/AGP bus is a possibility.' and 'future boards may add or omit certain features, according to market requirements.' Both the release date and the price are still up in the air, but expect this card to take a hefty toll on your bank account.
RiscStation's Evolution machine was supposed to be released before the end of last year, but after testing with original cheap PCI parts it found that the machine didn't live up to its expectations. So now Simtec has changed suppliers for more expensive PCI parts, which do the job. The machine's specification is still heavily under development, but at the moment the machine will ship with a ARM7500 56MHz processor which is slow but has an FPU. The idea is to use the PCI CATS mother board for StrongARM power as the board can accommodate up to 4 StrongARM processors. Although this all sounds impressive, there are several major problems: RISC OS 4's support for such a machine - particularly one with the newer 32-bit-only StrongARMs - is severely limited. RISCOS Ltd has been quoted at a recent meeting that the earlist time for a 32-bit RISC OS is 18 months away. We may be waiting some time before we can use the full power of such a machine.
There have been rumours about another upgrade for the Risc PC, but whether they hold any truth is unknown. A lot of future development lies in the hands of RISCOS Ltd and with multi-StrongARM and 32-bit support a long way off it doesn't look as though a huge processor breakthrough is going to happen any time soon.
All this will limit the possibilities for games development in the near future, so although games like Iron Dignity seem to be very advanced we will have to wait for some major hardware developments before we can see the fruits of the programmers' labour.
I've compiled a list of addresses, phone numbers, e-mail and URLs for all the developers and publishers on the RISC OS gaming scene.
Andy Spence firstname.lastname@example.org