Interview with Ingo Ruhnke

Interview with: Ingo Ruhnke (grumbel) by zratchet

Ingo Ruhnke is a major force in Open Source Game
Development. Some of his most major works include Pingus and the
Game of the Month at Happypenguin.com. His personal website is
at http://pingus.seul.org/~grumbel/

--- start of interview ---

Mikey Lubker (zratchet): Do you work at a game development
Ingo Ruhnke (grumbel): Nope, I am currently studying computer
ML: Where?
IR: Bielefeld, my home town, in Germany
ML: What is your definition of Indie (as related to Game
Development)? You can include mods, open source, etc...
IR: Being independent means to me: not being forced to work on
stuff that I don't like, not being bound by a release schedule,
and in general being able to explore areas which I like to
explore, independent of what current commercial games currently
do. In general I am coming from the Free Software 'viewpoint',
so being independent is just one side of the story. I also work
exclusively with free (as in Open Source) tools.
ML: Would you ever want to work for a large game developer? or
start a game company? If starting a game company, would you use
an Open Source/Free Software method?
IR: The trouble with starting at a game company is that it would
basically mean an instant halt to everything I do independently.
Working on games both at work and at home in your spare time
would just be extremely tiring, and I have already seen quite a
lot of people that went into the games business and basically
disappeared from the Free Software world, so I guess it wouldn't
be much different with me.
About starting my own company, I don't really know. Sure, it
would be cool to make money with what I love, on the other side
I am not sure if there is enough money to make. The commercial
game market is already full of games and the money involved to
create commercial games is getting insanely large.
ML: What do you think about companies like Sunspire Studios or
Garage Games?
IR: I don't really know much about Garage Games, except that
they sell Torque engine licenses for around $100. I haven't
played any of the games created with Torque and haven't much
knowledge what is happening around them.
ML: Are you interested in the Torque engine?
IR: It's a closed source engine and it costs money, so no, I am
not really interested in it, there are already a whole bunch of
open source engines available that might serve as an
alternative. If they are of similar quality is of course
questionable, but if you want to produce open source software,
you can't rely on non-free dependencies, but have to use what
you can get as free software.
About Sunspire Studios, I really havn't heard anything about
them after TuxRacer. I'm not even sure if they are still alive
or if it's only their webpage that is still around.
I don't like TuxRacer much, Sure it's one of the better looking
open source games we have, but from a gameplay point of view it
gets boring pretty quickly. It doesn't provide enough control,
there aren't enough bonuses, and it is always just downhill.
That said, I have never played the commercial version, only the
GPLed (open source) one.
ML: Could you give me a little bio (i.e. experience in game
development/industry and/or in a field you feel prepares you for
IR: About my experience, I started with programming back in the
days of the Commodore 64. I never did go into assembler
programming, just toyed around with basic a lot. Later I moved
to the Amiga and again mainly toyed around with its basic, while
ignoring the rest of it pretty much completely. Only later on on
the PC, on which I of course also spent quite a while with
basic, I started to explore other programming languages, like C,
C++ and such.
The number one reason why I stuck with basic for so long was
simply that it always came with the computer and I have always
been a person that just uses whatever he gets first, without
spending too much time about thinking about alternatives that
are available. I never read any book on basic either, except
that stuff that came with the computer, learned most stuff by
trial & error and the examples that came with the basic
implementation (qbasic's gorilla game and such)
ML: What PC OS did you start on?
IR: DOS6.0 and Win3.1 I think. I continued that way until around
1997 when I got 'introduced' to linux and after that slowly
switched over to it. I started with SuSE 5 (only easily
available one back then), then later moved to Debian 2.1
(slink). I also used Windows 95 and 98 for quite a few years. I
still have Windows XP that I dual boot for gaming. And I've had
an hour or two on OS/2 once.
ML: Any other programming languages besides basic, C, C++ ?
IR: I have had a look at many languages, really I am only fluent
in C, C++ and Scheme, I also program in Ruby, know a bunch of
Python, have used XML and XSLT quite a bit, have programmed a
bit in Perl, Pascal, Haskell, Java, LUA. Haskell
( http://www.haskell.org ) is a functional programming language,
and has some very interesting concepts in it. I also have read
books on objective-C, Lisp, and CLOS (object oriented plugin for
ML: Do you manage any projects, if so how many and what
IR: I manage everything on
In addition I am heavily involved in the current Game
of the Month (tuxkart) and a bit involved in supertux.
Also http://pingus.seul.org/~grumbel/flexlay/ which is my only
non-game project, which is of course closly related to games.
(a map editor)
Of my projects, Feuerkraft, Windstille, Construo and Advent are
completely done by myself.
ML: Is Pingus your biggest project currently?
IR: For Pingus there have been numerous smaller and bigger
contributions by others. Pingus is the biggest and oldest
ML: Do any have a "permanent" team? And if so, do you have any
hierarchy (i.e. managers of certain sections)?
IR: None of Pingus and Co. ever had a permanent team. There
aren't any leader or manager positions in my projects. Supertux
and Tuxkart (Game of the Month projects) however do have
permanent teams. Everybody can join and leave those projects as
they want to, however.
ML: Isn't allowing team members to come and go pretty much
normal for open projects?
IR: More or less normal for open source, yes.
ML: In Supertux, there are maintainers... aren't they kind of
IR: Not really. It just happens that somebody needs to create
the Sourceforge project and those are then 'maintainers'. Who
actually still works on a project a year later is however a
different story. And sometimes, there are release managers
(after the original release)
ML: What experience do you have in game development? Just
programming or do you do art, music, design, support/quality
assurance, website, etc? All of the above?
IR: I can do everything beside music, at least more or less.
ML: Which do you consider your best talents?
IR: None, I am neither a very good programmer, nor a very good
artist, know enough of both to get my games moving.
ML: What game engines do/have you used? (if any)
IR: None, I have always written the engines for my games, which
is pretty common for 2d games.
ML: Don't you use Clanlib a bit for Flexlay? Or is it not really
an engine?
IR: Clanlib isn't an engine, just a library like SDL that gives
you access to graphics and sound.
ML: What about compilers? free/open ones right? ever any others?
MingW ever?
IR: Just GCC in all its flavours, which includes MingW and
Cygwin. I mainly use it only on Linux however.
ML: I guess pretty much the other languages you mentioned either
don't need compilation or come with their own compiler.
IR: (no comment)
ML: How old are you?
IR: 25
ML: why do you use grumbel for a handle?
IR: Mainly because I invented these little comic characters back
on the Amiga.
and then just 'recycled' that name. No idea how I came to that name
in the first place however. I also use an image like this on the
Happypenguin forums:
ML: Where do you see open source game development (and game
development as a whole) going in the future?
IR: How open source gaming will perform in the future is hard to
tell, for sure we won't see any commercial quality open source
games anytime soon. Open source games always seem to lag 10-15
years behind commercial games, and I don't see them getting closer,
there simply is pretty much stuff that you can't easily do at home.
For example SuperTux ( http://super-tux.sf.net ) may be pretty good
compared to 1984 SuperMarioBros maybe, but even then I would say
that SuperMarioBros had better level design and more features.
However I in general don't care too much about being behind, major
improvements in computer games have pretty much only been on the
graphics side, gameplay hasn't changed all that much. So being 10
years behind doesn't mean that the games suck, some of the best
games ever were created back then. It just means that graphics and
sound will be more weak.
ML: Examples of old good games being like SimAnt, M.U.L.E., etc. It
also seems like some open source games are pretty good graphics-
wise :) (TuxRacer, War3D, etc)
IR: TuxRacer is commercial, the latest GPLed version uses graphics
developed for the commercial version.
ML: Have you ever used game consoles, Macs, PDA's, or cellphone
games or done development on those platforms?
IR: Never developed for them, but since I use mostly portable
libraries most of my stuff should be compilable on Mac. I have a
PlayStation2 and a gamecube, a bunch of gameboys, snes, nes, but I
use them for gaming only. I'm not interested in ps2-linux, because
it seems to be extremely cut down, no direct access to the hardware
and such.
ML: What control method do you think is best for games (I know,
really depends on genre)? Gamepad, keys/mouse, camera (like
Toysight/Eyetoy), voice?
IR: I prefer a gamepad. For first person shooters and strategy
games a mouse might be more precise, but I really don't like to
abuse the keyboard as a gaming device.
ML: Do you think that camera/voice/dancemat control will be put to
good use in future games? (i.e. camera seems like it would be good
for martial arts and sports games)
IR: Cameras and dance-mats (even the NES had one) will always have
their place in the gaming world. However they are more party-tools
than usable for real gaming. Real gaming means a game with story
and such, not just hopping in the right rhythm. About voice use,
what would be needed is a way to have speech detection and speech
synthesising, so people could talk normal, but would speak with the
voice of the character they are playing, not their own.
ML: What is your favorite game genre?
IR: I don't really have any, I play everything that is fun. I
prefer games with a good storyline however.

--- end of interview ---

Some screenshots of games Ingo Ruhnke has worked on: