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Apple game developers sound off on OS X change

With its new operating system, the company will change the way its computers process sound, input devices and other gaming functions, a move that has drawn praise and anger from game developers.

    With OS X, Apple Computer will change the way its computers process sound, input devices and other gaming functions, a move that has drawn praise and anger from game developers.

    The schism surrounds the phasing out of what are known as "Sprockets" in the Macintosh programming lexicon. For several years, game developers have used Sprockets, applets bolted onto third-party programs, to handle tasks such as managing network connections, input devices and sound. A Sprocket, for example, could allow a developer to add joystick functionality. Although mostly of interest to programmers, Sprockets can change how consumers interact with their games.

    Apple's current OS 9 allows developers to use Sprockets. In the forthcoming OS X, such tasks will be handled by new parts of the main operating system.

    While acknowledging the move will mean more programming work for game developers who want to make their titles operate on both OS 9 and OS X, Apple defended the move as a tighter integration that will boost performance. To demonstrate how cool games can be on the new operating system, Apple is touting an enhanced version of "Quake III Arena," which will be available for download this week.

    "The payback is to have a really great game title," said Phil Schiller, Apple's vice president of worldwide product marketing. The OS is apparently gaining momentum with developers. "Myst 3: Exile" will be available for OS X in January, Schiller pointed out.

    While the OS X version of "Quake III Arena" will be available to all owners of the existing program, the operating system itself remains only in the hands of developers. Apple said it plans a public beta testing of OS X this summer, with a final version coming in January, after previous delays.

    "It's a very, very good OS," said Graeme Devine, design director at Quake developer ID Software. "It's solid."

    Not everyone is happy, though.

    Brian Greenstone, founder and lead programmer of Pangea Software, said he believes he will have to build two separate versions of his game: one to run on OS X and one for earlier operating systems, which will constitute the lion's share of Mac users for the near future.

    "It's going to add several weeks, if not a month, of programming time," Greenstone said. He disputed the idea that the new implementation is better, saying the device manager in OS X that replaces the Input Sprocket is less graphical, a bad thing when half his game's users are from other countries.

    "I'm not happy at all," Greenstone said.

    Devine said that, in a matter of days, his company was able to port a game that used at least two different Sprockets to the new operating system.

    "It was not a difficult, daunting task," he said.

    Devine predicted tensions between Apple and some game developers will ease as improvements are made to Carbon, the development environment used to add OS X features to earlier Mac programs.

    "There's more ground that needs to be covered by Apple, but they're doing a good job of listening," he said.

    Greenstone disagreed that Apple is taking care of its developers. But as a Mac-only developer, he will nonetheless have both an OS 9 and OS X version of his new caveman racing game, "Cro-Mag Rally."

    "I don't know how I'm going to do it on OS X," he said.