"Power to the Upstarts!" -- The RJ Mical Interview
by Michael Carney





Red Jade Inc. recently announced the appointment of RJ Mical as Vice President of software. Mical will be involved in identifying technical objectives for the company and will lead the internal and external software groups, working on the device OS and built-in application software. He will oversee development, Internet and distribution technology and quality assurance.

For those of you who might not remember, Mical is recognized as one of the innovators in today's home entertainment systems beginning with his time spent at Amiga where he played an instrumental role. He co-created the Lynx Handheld Game System, worked as a lead software engineer for Amiga/Commodore and was a special effects artist at Williams Electronics. He co-invented the 3DO gaming platform and served as vice president and fellow at 3DO, lending his expertise to the breakthrough 3DO console before its demise.

Mical has more than 17 years of console and PC software development expertise. He co-founded several companies, including Rjave Inc., a design and consulting firm and Glassworks, an entertainment and online system software company. We caught up with him recently to hear some stories about Amiga, find out want went wrong with 3DO, and to see what he's doing at Red Jade.

DGD: Tell us about your origins with Amiga, what projects and responsibilities you had during the earlier days of that OS.
Well, let's see, I started as Software Engineer at Amiga where I contributed to the graphics library development. I created Intuition, the Amiga's user interface and windowing/menu system -- what a haul that was: seven months of 100-hour weeks to get it finished in time for the launch of the Amiga! I was Director of System Software for a while too. I didn't help develop the Joyboard (a joystick controller in the form of a skiboard), but I was a user. We created a game for it called the Zen Meditation game. The object was to sit in lotus-position on the Joyboard and move as little as possible for as long as possible. The goal was to reach Nirvana by accumulating bonus kharma points. It's a long story; I guess you had to be there...

DGD: How do you feel about the new Amiga OS announcements? Are you still involved with the OS in any way?
Well, there's an interesting question. First, nah, I'm not involved with the Amiga currently. They have a next generation plan and there wasn't room for me. Will they create a product with the Amiga name on it? Yes. Will it be the Amiga? No, though it will have the same spirit as the original system. Will they be successful? The computer technology world has hardened into some very deep ruts these days, so they're in for a bouncy ride to say the least. I surely wish them well, though, for all the same reasons I wanted the original Amiga to succeed: They challenge our presumptions, offer us a different and possibly better way. Power to the upstarts!

DGD: From your experience in OS development, tell us what you think about the development of operating systems for game consoles.
Two parts to the answer. First, developers will always hate it. Second, system developers will always want it. The presence of an OS, if lean, fast, and close to the bare metal, has a minimal impact on game performance and makes game development vastly easier. Most importantly, an OS that keeps the game from touching the hardware directly then allows the hardware to be modified in the future without causing existing programs to fail. For instance, at 3DO we were able to cost-reduce the CD drive dramatically but the change required most control registers to be redesigned. We were able to make this change in a way that did not affect game performance. However, with game developers all of our arguments fall on deaf ears. They want to control the machine directly and completely. At Red Jade we have an OS for an even more important reason: Games, PDA applications and low-level system communication software all can run at the same time. We've found clever ways to let the underlying system run without impacting game performance. Our users will get the best of both worlds!

DGD: What happened with 3DO? What went wrong, in your opinion?
Marketing. Marketing, marketing, marketing. Lack of good marketing is what I mean. Plus the initial price tag of $700 didn't help either, but mostly it was the fact that the people who were supposed to market it either didn't have enough money or didn't have enough knowledge of what it takes to gain popular acceptance of such a next-generation entertainment device. Happily, at Red Jade we've got those bases covered already!