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Page updated Friday
22nd 2002f November 2002
23:54:40 UTC
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  Computer Games Development - Ratbags

Date:November 8, 2002
Time:7:00 pm.
Place:WEA, 223 Angas Street, ADELAIDE
Presenter:Cam Dunn

ratbags3.jpg (13K)

The RatBag Pty Ltd racing car computer games' company headquartered right here in Adelaide is one of the world's leading computer games companies.

In spite of being aimed at recreational computing - and there is no denying it's lots of fun, particularly for the under 30s target group - the business itself is very serious and complex. This leading edge technology incorporates into its software lots of heavy 3D maths, extensive use of physics, uses artificial intelligence algorithms to enhance the experience, demands an intimate knowledge of the hardware platforms that these games run on, and provides plenty of scope for graphics artists.

Four members of the Ratbag company in order of appearance were Cameron, Tony, Mike, and Amy who provided the evening's presentation.

Cameron leads the development team and introduced the presentation by showing us a few laps from two of the company's present games' releases. He then gave us a brief background of the company that was founded back in 1993 by Greg Siegele and Richard Harrison with the Powerslide game that runs on the PC platform. He said the company had now focussed almost entirely on Sony PlayStations (presently the PS/2) since they offered such a large market with many millions of them out there. The PlayStation also has the advantage of highly standardised hardware compared to, say, the PC with so many variants to design for.

Tony is the hardware expert with experience dating back to the Commodore and the Amiga, but his time is now almost totally devoted to the Sony PlayStation's architecture which he outlined for us on the whiteboard. The key components were: the EE (Emotional Engine) which clocks at 300 MHz and includes some very fast Cache RAM, a DMA register, VO1 and VO2 (Vector Processors), the GIF (Graphics InterFace) with 4 MB of RAM, the Main Memory of 32 MB, Input/Output (I/O) section, and the 64 bit Main Bus. While the present PlayStation's hardware performance is amazingly high it does impose considerable constraints on the software design mainly with respect to memory size and bus congestion. Future PlayStations' hardware designs should allow much more freedom for software developers.

Mike (aka Dr Mike) has been employed by RatBag to introduce exciting Artificial Intelligence (AI) concepts into their games to give more realism and make them much more playable. This is, as far as RatBag know, the first time AI has been introduced into gaming and marks an important landmark in game design. Mike described the fundamentals of Neural Networks using interconnected nodes with variable weightings that are the basis of most AI design. Apart from his interest in AI, Mike described the method of constructing all the graphics images using triangulation and rendering. He also described how the software needs to avoid triangle truncation (when images extend outside the screen edges), and wrap-around. Then there was the physics! This is where the going gets really tough, especially when you are handling multiple car collisions and you want a convincing result.

Tony and Mike have spent some time watching real car racing to make sure they get the games' track lighting, progressive track wear during races, car damage, and visor tear-offs as real as possible. Tough life isn't it guys?

Amy manages the testing group at RatBag which put all the games through an extensive, prescribed set of rigorous error detection and performance measurement tests. Amy's software background is vital to clearly identify and describe the nature of any problems found during testing. Beta release testing is not used by RatBag as experience has shown that the user reports are too vague, too subjective and the risk of software piracy is too great.

Obviously to get to the top and stay there, as RatBag has, you need to be pretty good.

Many thanks Cameron, Tony, Mike, and Amy for an interesting and informative evening's entertainment. I do hope you can come back again sometime and show us some of your future products.

You can see more of RatBag at http://www.ratbaggames.com and download some demos of their original PC games, PowerSlide and DirtTrack Racing.

ratbags1.jpg (8K) ratbags2.jpg (7K)
Fig.1 View taken from PowerSlide Fig.2 View taken from DirtTrack Racing

. . . Rick Matthews