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Feature: Games

Open source software and games

By Alessandro Giusti on January 30, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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Today, for many computing tasks, the open source ecosystem provides programs that equal or surpass what the proprietary Windows-based world offers. Gaming, however, is not among those areas, nor will it likely be anytime soon. But if we look further into this fascinating field, we find a number of positive developments.

Open source games do exist, and the development scene is active and creative. You can get a taste of this by visiting sites devoted to Linux gaming, such as The Linux Game Tome, which highlights updated open source game projects every day. You can usually find a couple of announcements for new open source game projects every week.

However, most of these, despite often being based on innovative, interesting ideas and concepts, are disappointing hobby projects that lack a polished, solid user experience -- for several reasons.

First, compare the contributor list of an open source game you like to that of an open source utility you use. You will notice that games are often one-man projects. Developers rarely join forces and collaborate with existing projects. The momentum, collaboration, and synergy which characterize successful open source utilities is rarely achieved with an open source game.

Game development is a creative, funny, and extremely rewarding task at first. But before you can release a product, you must devote a huge effort to features that are not necessarily gameplay-related, but which are still important in the user experience. This includes menus, options, graphics, robustness, performance optimization, levels, the storyline, gameplay tuning, and more.

Good games not only need outstanding programmers, they also require graphic artists, animators, usability experts, musicians, and creators of sound effects. Most projects lack these contributors, and this is often apparent.

Countermeasures and perspectives

The Linux Game Tome's Game of the Month (GotM) project is an attempt to address this situation. Periodically, members choose a promising game project, and many developers join forces and merge competencies to polish the game and fix the most apparent defects to make it more usable and enjoyable. This is an intelligent approach to the problem, and has achieved important results so far. The Linux Game Tome also hosts a forum where game developers can discuss common problems and look for help from other developers.

The popularity of the Creative Commons (CC) phenomenon, which applies the philosophy behind open source software to other media, has created a wealth of quality content that open source game authors can freely use, although with some limits, depending on the specific license involved. This combination has not yet lived up to its potential, but eventually CC content creators, game developers, and users will benefit greatly. Just think of a driving simulator featuring a car stereo that plays music under a CC license, which gives the artists due credit and exposure. Who wouldn't love this?

Fun and simplicity?

That is not to say that all open source games are bad. A steadily (albeit slowly) increasing number of projects are mature enough to be enjoyed by many users, and be included in Linux distributions. For example, Foobillard, Armagetron, Chromium B.S.U., and Frozen Bubble are excellent open source games.

If you look for a common trait in these projects, you will find that they are usually limited in scope, without huge storylines, detailed scenery, or too many characters. In short, they are a long way from the complexity of current commercial offerings. Still, these simple but polished and well-implemented gems are a pleasure to play, thanks in part to their simple yet elegant graphics and solid, consistent gameplay.

Innovation, originality, and some examples

One of the advantages of open source is that innovation and creativity are free to emerge, whereas commercial settings often settle to safer, conservative concepts. This is especially true for modes of gameplay, where there is room for innovation that does not require huge effort from the development point of view.

Kenta Cho's games are a good example. Cho's games are written for Windows, but they are open source and use standard libraries like OpenGL and SDL, so many of them have been ported to Linux as well. They feature beautiful abstract and stylized graphics, characterized by fluid and elegant animation. Cho's games explore well-thought-out, balanced gameplay innovations.

For example, Gunroar is in many ways a standard, vertical scrolling shooter, but it implements an original scoring mechanism, where destroying an enemy instantly adds its bullets that are flying toward you to your score. Moreover, it offers several control modes: have you ever tried to control two ships at the same time? Many more original features are present in the game, and most of them heavily influence gameplay. For example, most ships (not only level bosses) have vulnerable parts, and the game difficulty is dynamically adjusted based on how you are progressing.

TUMIKI Fighters is another Cho game, and is even more imaginative and original. TUMIKI is a side-scroller shooter where the blocks you manage to detach from your toy-construction-like enemies stick to your ship if you fly over them while they are falling. The result is a weird-looking mass of incoherently-oriented blocks, which you try to grow as much as possible in order to gain shielding and fire power to defeat the level boss.

A7Xpg and its Linux port, on the other hand, have extremely simple Pac-Man-like game mechanics, but an incredibly deep gameplay which requires fast reflexes and experience: for example, points depend on the speed of the ship when it touches the golds -- but controlling the ship's speed is not simple at all.

In addition to Cho's games, you can find a number of other open source gems. For instance, Neverball and Neverputt focus on realistic physics and nice graphics, and are extremely enjoyable. Neverball is about tilting a floor with many obstacles in order to roll a sphere to a goal, while Neverputt is a miniature golf simulation. They share the same excellent game engine and graphics, but are totally different games from the player's point of view. They also feature an online hall of fame with replays, which is very active and conveys the success of the project.

We really hope that developer talent, creativity and cooperation, in synergy with Creative Common content, will help open source game developers to continuously improve their programs' quality.

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on Open source software and games

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Better Linux Games

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 31, 2006 08:06 AM
Linux games will get better when 3D graphic cards/chipsets get an open standard instruction set.
Supporting the ever changing environment of secret proprietary graphics instruction sets and interfaces is a royal pain for all games developers, commercial or otherwise.

Presently dedicated games machines seem the way to go for the serious game player. Many of the games on dedicated machines, particularly a well known Japanese brand, are actually developed on Linux and 'ported' over.


Re:Better Linux Games

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 31, 2006 05:27 PM
so, you might like this one:


Re:Better Linux Games

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 01, 2006 01:19 AM
I agree, as long as the only well configured video cards are those set by administrators in companies, there won't be any possibility to attract gamers nor game developpers to Linux.

It seems important to me to poin at another great open-source game with high quality 3D graphics: Vegastrike <a href="" title=""></a> . Even though it is still under early developpement, it is already possible and addicitng to play it for hours and hours.



Re:Better Linux Games

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 01, 2006 07:15 AM
I am not fit as a programmer to tackle linux games....yet. I understand the video problems as I have had my share even on high end gaming cards that support linux.

I would not mind seeing and creating some open source games for win32 in the meantime... plus I know it'll piss off billy boy if i make a better game and give it away<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)


Re:Better Linux Games

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 02, 2006 03:53 AM
The "open standard instruction set" for graphics is OpenGL ( Its well established and NVidia certainly provide excellent OpenGL drivers under Linux.

I work fulltime under Linux developing open source real-time graphics software using OpenGL, Standard C++, the platform is very mature for this type of development. See <a href="" title=""></a>

IMBO, Linux is now much better for realtime 3D graphics than Windows, the file systems and threading support are superior, and the NVidia OpenGL drivers are as good as under Windows.

There really isn't any technical reason holding back game development under Linux. A good chunk of the visual simulation industry now work under Linux, and the move from Windows to Linux is gathering momentum. The games industry is different, lets face gacts its the console that is king in the gaming industry - your have to compete with market on consoles as well as Windows and OSX to attract professional games companies to Linux.



Better Linux Games

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 31, 2006 11:31 AM
I'd put sucking every last bit of horsepower out of the next generation hardware third after the game itself which should be original and play worthy, drawing graphics is second and if you stretch the envelope too far the hardware will always catch up.

Lot of territory left for exploring new user interfaces with the old hardware and even one guy can still put on a pretty good show especially since arcade is making a come back.
<a href="" title=""></a>


Re:Better Linux Games

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 31, 2006 06:31 PM
You forgot to mention some of the best Linux games, but from the choice of titles I can guess you're simply not into strategies... I mean <a href="" title="">FreeCiv</a> and <a href="" title="">Battle for Wesnoth</a>.


There are a few

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 31, 2006 06:19 PM
Two very enjoyable open source games spring to mind that weren't mentioned in the article:

Battle for Wesnoth: <a href="" title=""></a>
I play this occasionally (usually on my laptop when travelling) and really enjoy it.

Planeshift: <a href="" title=""></a>
While still under development, this game boasts some stunning graphics in my opinion. Lacking somewhat in gameplay though.

There's a few other games I've tried that run natively on Linux but aren't strictly open source, such as Simutrans.

But generally, I would agree with the author's statement that Linux games have nowhere near the relative quality that most other apps do compared to counterparts on other OS's. Games are big business these days and require massive budgets (read cutting edge hardware) and manpower.


Stuck with cedega

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 31, 2006 11:02 PM
It looks like Linux users are still going to be largely ignored by the game production companies, and does anyone want yet another doom/quake?

I've tried transgaming's product on and off for a few years now, it's come along way and the last tests I tried worked once I tracked down the no-cd patches. However, looking through the forums shows people who take games far more seriously than myself are having lots of people with titles that are supposed to be working. After using Linux for something like 7-8 years, I really don't think it'll ever make it mainstream for desktop, regardless of it clearly being capable of doing the job if the relevant applications are available.


Classic strategy games for me

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 01, 2006 05:27 AM
Personally I've never been very much into the typical shoot-drive-smash-em-all type of 3D games. I usually find them unimaginative and rather boring. But I've always loved good strategy games and classic intellectual games alà chess, go, bridge, backgammon etc. There is lots of good chess (Jose) and go (glGo) software also available for Linux/Unix. Besides. also when using Wine, the chess/go software made for Windows tends to run quite well on Linux too.

Linux is a perfect gaming platform for me...<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:-) Well, ok, I might be interested in trying Rome Total War or Civilization IV sometimes, but then again, those kind of big strategy games, although perhaps entertaining, tend to take huge amounts of time, have a steep learning curve, and occasionally crash even on Windows. I don't need them and I am probably even happier without them.

So, here was an alternative view to this subject: Who needs those often time consuming, bloated, buggy, 3D hungry "modern* video games that also often lack real intelligent content that could keep you interested in them for more than a few weeks, when there are smart classic games enjoyed for hundreds of years already and that you can play on your Linux PC too.



Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 01, 2006 04:55 PM
Fortunately, for me, most emulators available in Linux are as good as (or almost on par with) their Windows counterparts and since I happen to like console games much more than your average 3D FPS, this suits me just fine.

Gngeo (Neogeo), ZSNES (SNES), ePSXe (original Playstation), XMAME/XMESS (arcade stuff, with good support for CPS1 & CPS2 games) and sometimes even Stella (Atari 2600!) are all that I need. I just wish that Mupen64 (N64) and the FinalBurn Alpha port for Linux (mainly for certain CPS1 & 2 games for which it has better support than MAME) were brought to the same quality that FinalBurn Alpha and Project64 both for Windows have. But that´s OK. I already have my hands full with I have so far...<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:-)

Console games are much more well thought and addictive mostly due to their simplistic nature I guess (especially those Nintendo´s ones!).


I think....

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 01, 2006 06:53 PM
...if I can get a next-gen console for about $500 USD, pluging in a HDD and the internet to it, with the mouse+keyboard peripherals....No system will have a chance of competing. Neither linux nor windows.

Developing games on linux will continue as a platform, and for the most tallented programmers will jump ship to a "real" gamedeveloper studio. So the greatest tallent wont be in the linuxgames camp for long.

Just some random thoughts about linuxgaming.


alas, I am not very optimisitc at all

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 01, 2006 11:00 PM
First, let me state this about myself: I am a 100% GNU/Linux user, totally Windows-free, all my computer run only free software (almost all of it Debian) and I am really a "foam at my mouth GPL/RMS/FSF/GNU zealot". However,

I have to admit, with much regret, that GNU/Linux games are not even close to their proprietary competitors. Yes, I know, you can run Unreal Tournament under Linux, and yes, Frozen Bubble is a neat game. But the sad reality is that there is no games as advanced (-: in purely technological terms, not in a sense of culture and humanstic sensitivites<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:-) as Counterstike or Unreal which can be called "free software". Emulators, Linux-binaries, small cute games, etc. are simply no match for the fact that profit driven companies produce far superior games.

I do not see that changing any time soon. I personally could not care less about it, but others do and they will continue to remain dependent on proprietary gaming software for a long long time and that I deplore. But I do not see a way out there. Maybe we should simply accept that our free software community, for whatever reason, is simply not capable/willing to offer a meaningful challange to the corporations.


I am more optimistic ...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 02, 2006 12:06 AM
The biggest hang-up for a lot of open source games is the vast amount of art work that needs to be produced for a game. In some ways, this is reflected in the games which could be considered to be complete, like foobillard, where there is a finite amount of work required.

There is also the question of technology. Things right now are starting to look better on this front - there are engines like Crystal Space and OGRE which offer a good mix of features and building blocks for new games. The id software engines for Quake 1,2 & 3 are also a good starting block for some developers. The ODE and Bullet libraries offer good physical simulation libraries.

Applications like Blender are also advancing rapidly, allowing models to be built more easily, more effectively and even tested in the built-in Game Engine.

Over time, I hope that a body of Creative Commons artwork will emerge that will allow new developers to pull in art elements into their projects to get projects rolling a little more quickly. I don't think we'll ever see Open Source games having the massive new artwork productions of the commercial games but I also don't see this as a problem if extensive libraries of prebuilt models arise for people to use and adapt.

Toby Haynes


Producing multimedia games can be very expensive

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 05, 2006 04:51 AM
Perhaps even most multimedia games have rather a short life. You play them through a couple of times and then all the excitement is gone. Really big hits that become classics and are played actively even for years by many are rare cases.

As the market for multimedia games is like that, it seems obvious to me that game designers usually want to get at least paid well for their hard work. Big game projects can take years, lots of expertise, and money too. Where do you get the money? Government or normal business is not likely to support game projects usually. In such a situation closed source development can be a big plus for game companies competing hard all the time in order to produce to next big hit.

Open source projects like or Mozilla are quite different from games. They produce useful software that can be used and developed for years, they have lots of busines backing etc.

However, here're some more interesting multimedia games for Linux/Unix, not mentioned in the article, and worth looking for, if you're looking for some more games:

- Cube
<a href="" title=""></a>
- Soviet Unterzögersdorf
<a href="" title=""></a>
- Spice Trade
<a href="" title=""></a>


Open source software and games

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on November 30, 2007 05:12 PM
Here are some more games to add to the list.


Linux Games

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 10, 2008 04:35 AM
Why is it that the companies that make games such as EA don't make games for linux.
i have no problem with paying for a decent, high quality game but they only come out on windows.


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