Forest Hale interview about Nexuiz and open-source

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Photo Credit: IllFonic

There is a lot of controversy and confusion about the upcoming commercial Nexuiz release for consoles, the re-licensing of the Nexuiz codebase, and what this means for the Nexuiz GPL PC release. I’ve spoken with Forest Hale (no relation to Saxton Hale), the lead developer behind DarkPlaces (the engine behind Nexuiz) about these issues:

Zachary Slater: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with regard to DarkPlaces, GPL Nexuiz, and the new commercial version of Nexuiz?

Forest Hale: I’m a 30 year old self-taught game developer known as Forest ‘LordHavoc’ Hale living in the woods in Oregon, doing freelance game programming, with a passion for game design and technology programming.

I started the DarkPlaces engine for my Quake mod also named DarkPlaces back in early 2000, it has steadily evolved since then, being expanded with features in various directions at different times (influenced by Tenebrae, Doom3, and others).

Starting in 2002 or so I was brought onto a little indie project called Nexuiz being designed by Lee Vermeulen, which aimed to be a very simple free-for-all deathmatch game with unusual weapons and contributed art, and in 2005 it came out on Windows and Linux (x86 and x86_64) with a modest feature set, using many maps from a variety of level designers, gamecode written by me, and a menu system written by Andreas ‘Black’ Kirsch (who also contributed a great deal to the QuakeC scripting capabilities of the engine, adding Menu QC and other features) and several artists, this original team is collectively known as Alientrap.

At the time of release, Nexuiz 1.0 was licensed for a commercial release, but the license was changed to GPL to bring more attention to Lee Vermeulen’s group Alientrap in hopes of attracting more professional developers to join his organization to make future games, however it attracted many more Free Software fans than conventional game modders and Alientrap as a group mostly dissolved.

IllFonic contacted Lee Vermeulen and I about licensing their favorite game Nexuiz to bring it to a new audience on consoles, once all the paperwork was sorted out, development started on a prototype to show at GDC, during this entire time nothing could be revealed to the GPL team until all the deals were signed (stock speculators and other hazards exist in the business world, rumors can end companies), which has lead to much upset among a portion of the developer community that Nexuiz’s GPL release had gathered.

A lot has changed on the engine side since Nexuiz started, but some of the art never advanced in the GPL Nexuiz (for example the player models are still the original ones from 2005!), it’s good to see professional artists making better use of the technology in the console Nexuiz.


Zachary Slater:
There are some issues involved with the GPL release of Nexuiz being re-licensed for commercial use. Could you tell us how this offer came about and what your role was with it?

Forest Hale: Pretty much it comes down to the fact that the IllFonic guys like Nexuiz a lot and thought that the innovative fast paced gameplay should be introduced to a new audience on consoles, which are currently dominated by slow paced bullet-oriented shooters, and in the process they would boost awareness of the GPL game as well.

My role is that of an engine technology licensor, providing ongoing support in the form of technical assistance and additional features that I retain ownership on, for this reason the majority of features I implement will be immediately public and available to the community.

My role also includes being co-designer and lead programmer of the original non-GPL Nexuiz gamecode based on Quake sources.


Zachary Slater:
Can a GPL game engine be used on consoles like the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3?

Forest Hale: Not directly, however copyright holders have the right to provide other licenses on a case by case basis, in this case, id Software has a technology licensing program with reasonable prices, I am providing IllFonic with a license to my modifications and the modifications of many contributors (with whom I had to individually arrange licensing for this purpose over the years, and contributions I can not re-license I will have to remove or replace).

All my cards are on the table, as the DarkPlaces engine is developed in the open.

So IllFonic has a license from id Software for Quake engine on Sony Playstation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360, and a license from me, which collectively allows them to use the DarkPlaces engine.


Zachary Slater:
Have the contributors to the GPL version of Nexuiz been contacted and consented to have their code included in this commercial release?

Forest Hale: The original plan was to contact every developer and relicense the Nexuiz 2.5.2 GPL gamecode sources for this title, to ensure authentic gameplay and return some important features to the community for the benefit of everyone.

However this gamecode relicensing attempt did not go well, with the former developers making claims of violations there was no choice but to reimplement the gamecode from scratch on non-GPL sources, as a result there will be no ongoing code contributions back to the community, and the gameplay may differ more than originally planned, this is a very unfortunate outcome but has no significant impact on development.

To make this perfectly clear – the game is being reimplemented from scratch, all they share is a name.


Zachary Slater:
Is there anything else you would like to address about the GPL versions of Nexuiz, Darkplaces, and the new commercial Nexuiz?

Forest Hale: This deal was made with good intentions, funding Alientrap to allow them to foster open development, funding DarkPlaces development, promoting the GPL versions of Nexuiz, and bringing a new kind of game to an untapped slice of the console gamer market.

Console games are a very closed market where GPL games can not go, publishers won’t touch them, and this was the only way to bring the Nexuiz experience to consoles.

Alientrap and IllFonic continue their best efforts to assist the community.

It is unfortunate that this well-intentioned product license has caused a fork of the GPL game, but new developers always fill the vacuum so I am looking forward to the next version of GPL Nexuiz, the release of Xonotic, and the release of the console Nexuiz.

The demoing of console Nexuiz at GDC went very well and I am enjoying the development process and player reactions, this game is turning out great.


Zachary Slater:
Thanks for your time!

Forest Hale: Thanks for the opportunity to clear a few things up.

Long live Quake and open development!