The My Mac Interview – Leon McNeill

Veteran readers will recall that My Mac Interview was a regular column that I did where I would interview some of the developers, artists, and writers who use the Macintosh regularly in many different ways.

Well, I’m happy to say that the column is back again, and what better way to continue than to speak with someone whose computer and software experience predates the Macintosh itself. This month’s interview is with Leon McNeill, developer of PixelToy, which is, as he puts it, “a visual plaything for PowerPC based computers” and the person who ported the game Ultima III over to the Mac from its Apple II origin.

So sit back, relax, and learn a little about Leon (Beastie) McNeill…

My Mac: Can you give us some information on your background and how long you’ve been involved with Macs?

Leon: I started on an Apple II+ in 1982 as a freshman in High School. After graduating, I attended the University of New Mexico for 6 months(!) before figuring out that they weren’t going to teach me much of anything on computers that didn’t run Unix. For the next four years I was exclusively an Amiga user, and didn’t touch a Mac until 1990 when I worked as a repair tech at an Apple dealership.

I’ve also worked as a Systems Engineer for Apple dealers for several years; my “day job” for the last 4 years has been producing Earth Science educational CD-ROMs LairWare is my home business.

My Mac: What kind of Mac do you use at work? At home?

Leon: Nothing cutting edge… a Power Computing 604/132 at work and a StarMax 4000/160 at home. I like Apple hardware, but they didn’t approach the price of clones at the time. Next, I really want a PowerBook G3.

My Mac: What kind of software and other hardware do you use at work?

Leon: Work is almost exclusively Mac-based, using Intel machines just for testing purposes. I use Macromedia FreeHand, Adobe PhotoShop, Strata Studio Pro, Bryce 3D, Macromedia Director, and Metrowerks CodeWarrior primarily. I usually use two Macs almost simultaneously — can’t beat *real* multitasking. 🙂

My Mac: What’s a typical day for you and your Mac?

Leon: It wakes up a few minutes before me and gets my email (Eudora Pro) via a QuicKeys macro so my email is waiting for me. At work, I bounce between CodeWarrior, Director, and Photoshop constantly. Back at home, if my wife and daughter let me :-), I might spend an hour or two playing games (buy Myth!) and zipping around the Internet.

My Mac: You used to run the Lair of the Beast, a BBS, for many years. What made you stop?

Leon: The Internet. I couldn’t compete with ftp, usenet and Internet email. Forget the Web! The Lair BBS is where I met my wife.

My Mac: Where did you come up with the idea of PixelToy and what does the future hold for it?

Leon: It started out entirely as something purely for me to play with. I wanted to see what some Photoshop-type effects (blur, emboss, etc.) would look like in a live situation. I had a lot of fun writing the different effects filters and animation options; particularly insect swarm. I’ve been fixing little bugs and irritations, plus I’m in the process of making PixelToy able to generate QuickTime movies at the suggestion of someone from Sweden.

My Mac: Ultima III is a game that you ported and upgraded from its origin as an Apple II game. Can you provide background on the game, what you did and where you would like to take it?

Leon: Ultima games are the first of a category known as CRPGs, computer role-playing games. Quite a bit like Dungeons & Dragons, with the computer managing all of the little details for you instead of the game referee (“Dungeon Master” in the case of D&D). You design personas for your adventuring party such as a dwarven fighter, elven wizard, etc., put them together and go wandering the countryside looking for evil creatures to kill, speaking to townspeople and slowly learning more about the “story line” and what quests you’ll need to fulfill. A lot of the enjoyment of games like this is in building up your adventurer’s abilities.

At any rate, Ultima III was the first game of this kind that I really got addicted to. In 1994 I set out to learn the C programming language on my Mac IIci, and remaking this great game was one of my first large projects.

Since I had spent so much time learning the ins and outs of Apple II computers, I was able to “disassemble” the original program code of Ultima III on the Apple to decipher the program flow and logic so I could recreate it in C on the Mac — the original writers of Ultima III weren’t about to give me the program source code. After it started to really take shape, only then did I realize that it might someday be something that other people might want to play.

I’d like to port it (and other early Ultimas) to BeOS and perhaps Windows, but Electronic Arts won’t let me have even a partial copyright on any such works, even though they still wouldn’t be providing me with any kind of source code. It’s doubtful I’ll port another unless this changes.

My Mac: What would be the ultimate game you would like to see developed or ported over to the Mac?

Leon: I think most of the best titles seem to have been ported to the Mac already. We may get them after a long delay in almost all cases, but most of the games we don’t see ported to Macintosh are mediocre, at best.

I’d like to see Microsoft’s Age of Empires, Quake II, and (not surprisingly) Ultima IX (Ascension) on Macintosh. From what I’ve read, Ultima IX sounds like my opinion of the “ultimate game”. (There are some Ultima IX screenshots (mockups) at

My Mac: What do you have in store for the Mac public in the way of new games, projects, etc?

Leon: At work, I’m building a multimedia database for geologic terms. It’s pretty spiffy. At home I’m not working on anything at the moment, but I have a lot of ideas for a simple networkable role-playing game like Ultima. Think Ultima Online, but on a much simpler, smaller scale to be played between just a few friends. Now I just need the spare time to do it in…

My Mac: For those readers out there with an interest in developing or writing games, what do you recommend they do to begin?

Leon: Once you’ve learned the basics of C or C++, a couple of good books are “The Black Art of Macintosh Game Programming” (~$40) and “Tricks of the Mac Game Programming Gurus” (~$50). Both include CD-ROMs full of games and source code. “Black Art” leans more toward 3D programming, while “Tricks” is a thorough 2D tome which leaves no question unanswered.

Beyond these, the comp.sys.mac.programmer.* heirarchy on usenet is great for asking specific questions.

My Mac: What are your feelings for the future of the Mac and the Mac OS? Where would you like to see the Mac OS go?

Leon: Eventually, the way of the dodo! Rhapsody and BeOS are both great operating systems that I’d like to see co-rule the computing world. With Blue Box and SheepShaver (respectively) for Mac OS programs that don’t get upgraded, it should be a pretty painless transition. Until Rhapsody gets a foothold, I’m glad that Apple is still fully supporting Mac OS, however.

To clarify, I mean the *Mac OS*; not Apple, Rhapsody, or the computers they design. The Mac OS is getting pretty long in the tooth, but I very much like Rhapsody and Apple’s hardware.

I have lots of Windows-using friends and only a couple of Mac-user friends; the PC guys sometimes razz me about using Macs. I’ve got to say that I write software because I enjoy it, not just to make money, and I find Macs a *lot* more fun to use and write software on than any of the alternatives right now.

My Mac: SheepShaver?? For those readers not familiar with it, can you provide some basic information about what it does?

Leon: SheepShaver is to BeOS what Blue Box is to Rhapsody: an environment in which to run Mac OS programs. It’s just as fast as running Mac OS alone on your Mac now. Drop by for details.

My Mac: A final two-part question for you… For someone interested in starting to learn programming for the Mac, where do you recommend they start? What’s the best program for them to use or learn?

Leon: I used Dave Mark’s “Macintosh C Programming Primer”. It was great, but there’s a similarly named 2nd edition (~$35) now that brings everything up to date. It includes a CD-ROM with a limited version of MetroWerks CodeWarrior C compiler. I’ve seen a similarly priced CodeWarrior C++ book/CD-ROM as well. Neither of these books assume you have done any programming before, but they’re also appropriate if you have some non-Mac programming experience as well.

My Mac: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Leon.

And for those of you not familiar with Leon’s site, PixelToy or Ultima III, check out

Russ Walkowich

Websites mentioned:

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