This month, Ambrosia Software announced an update to their highly-addictive and award-wining game, Apeiron X. This update didn’t steal many headlines. It was only a point-release, after all. And it didn’t add a bunch of new levels or secret weapons. When you’ve got a track record like Apeiron has, you don’t mess with success.
So what’s the big deal about version 1.0.2? Apeiron is now a Universal binary. And what’s so special about a universal version of everyone’s favorite mushroom shooter, you may ask? Easy. Now that Apeiron has added Macintels to its list of compatible machines, it officially runs on every generation of Macintosh.
Intel macs? Check.
G4s? G3s? Come on! You’re not even trying! Check and check!
PowerPCs? 68k Macs? Yes indeed!
Tiger? Panther? Jaguar? Puma? OS 9!? All of the above!
I recently had the chance to ask John Champlin — PR guru of Ambrosia and self-confessed Apeiron addict — what sort of borderline-psychotic condition leads a company to support a single product over five generations of processors and (counting the original classic Apeiron) eight operating systems. It turns out, it’s all about the fans.
“I think that continued support is just one of the things that has always set Ambrosia Software apart from all the rest,” said John. “We really do enjoy the products we create and distribute, and truly wish to make sure that our customers are cared for. Not just at the point of purchase, but for as long as they might need.”
Need in this case, apparently defined as: Anything up to and including updating the game you bought eleven years ago to make sure it runs on your new iMac.
Ambrosia’s support works in the other direction as well, keeping Apeiron up-to-date on older systems. This latest 1.0.2 release includes no fewer than four OS 9 fixes along with its universal updates. Are there really enough OS 9 users left out there to warrant this attention to detail?
“We obviously don’t have the large OS9 base like we used to,” John admits. “But it’s shocking to see how many users still have OS9 running on one of their machines.”
Come to think of it, what could be a more fitting purpose for old Flower Power iMacs than to turn them into dedicated Apeiron machines? John agrees. “We still have a few people, what seems like daily, contacting us about our OS9 games and utilities. And many of them with the intent to purchase it once we point them in the right direction.”
So as long as customers are using their old OS 9 machines or shiny new Macintels to play games, Ambrosia is there ready to support them. But what sort of burden does this put on the company’s developers? “Luckily Ambrosia is blessed with some of the most talented programmers out there,” says John. “I think Apple has done a great deal of work to ensure to make it as easy as possible for developers to achieve transitions to newer machines. But, in the end, it’s up to the skill of the developer to utilize the tools given to them.”
So no check-box-in-Xcode-and-your-done x86 ports for Ambrosia?
“We all realized that it wouldn’t be quite as easy as Steve Jobs’ demo at WWDC, where he simply clicked a little checkbox that would, almost magically, make all apps run on Intel,” John reflects. “But, I have to say that the checkbox working as well as it does has gotten kudos from our programmers here.”
But it is still not effortless. “There is always a bit of tweeking and fixing of applications for it to work on the new machines.” John affirms. Though sticking to published APIs can help. “Our games are usually significantly easier to handle the transitions, where our Utilities are less so. Many of Ambrosia’s Utilities do things that, in truth, Apple never intended have done on their machines.”
Ambrosia is without a doubt dedicated to its fans. And it has some serious talent backing up its commitment to them. Still, Apeiron has been though at least three major ports now. Is this ever hard to justify?
John doesn’t think so. “There was a saying by Arnold Bennett: ‘Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.’ This is probably a great quote to think of when dealing with Apple. While we might be discomforted by the transitions forced upon us by the release of new technology it really is not something that we can control. And in the end, the change is for the better. So, it is in our best interest for the developers of Ambrosia’s products to learn what we need to make our software the best it can possibly be.”
“And,” John adds, “Apple has always been willing to help the developers in this aspect, with new tools and support.”
So Ambrosia supports legacy platforms because this ultimately supports their customers. And they dive in to new technologies because this ultimately helps them make better games. But what about the financial side of operations? Does Ambrosia ever look to the bottom line?
“As with most of Ambrosia’s products, the reason we keep them running is that we have fans that really enjoy playing or using them,” explains John. “We really do most of our decision making not from the standpoint of ‘What is financially best for Ambrosia’ But rather ‘What is better for Ambrosia and its Fans’. It’s funny how often companies drift towards the money side of it as they become older, where Ambrosia has always been one that looks towards the entertainment and general happiness of both itself as well as its users.”
Given that Ambrosia Software has now outlived two generations of Macintosh and shows no sign of slowing into the third, it would seem this strategy is working well for them.