Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Freecol, VDrift, Sauer... heaven!

View/Write Comments

I'll start by noting I messed up my last post. Despite making the post on the 23rd, it was dated the 18th so any frequent readers may have easily missed it. So, for those who haven't yet read it, check out Freeciv3 Part I.



Freecol


Now, onto the real meat. In the last week, Freecol 0.5 was - at long last - released. The original colonization had a cult following and Freecol is only going to enhance that community. It's got a lot of potential. It's got some very nice visuals for a Free game and they're improving with every release.



I've been lazy here and used a screenshot from 0.4 since I'm at work and can't load it up to take a new one, although to me it looks the same in 0.5 for that part of the game.



The game is now very playable with plenty of depth but there's still a few negatives for me:



  • The ugliness of Java does sneak through in places despite heavy UI customization. (God damn the default Java UIs are ugly - are Sun developers blind?)
  • Sadly I'd forgotten how to play Colonization and there's no tutorial so I didn't get too far. Hopefully a tutorial will be added in a future version.
  • The GUI tended to redraw quite slowly every time I closed a dialog.
  • Usability needs reviewing e.g. when moving a unit, if it finishes it's move, the game switches to the next unit automatically. That makes it really easy to accidentally move units in the wrong direction by pressing a direction too many times with the previous unit.


Anyway, since 0.5 != 1.0, I look forward to improvements in upcoming releases.



VDrift scenery


Following up the VDrift release earlier this month, the VDrift team have provided an autopackage to help people get drifting. I tried the Windows install on my laptop with it's integrated not-really-3D card and VDrift looked like a toddlers colouring book - bright and messy. Can't blame them for that though, and it's not worth fixing so I can play at 3fps.



There are some screenshots from the latest VDrift. It is beginning to look absolutely beautiful.



In what could be a Free Gamer exclusive, I spotted an update to Sauerbraten. Entitled, "normalmap version", this release presumably focuses on the introduction of normal maps to Sauer's rendering capabilities.



There's an amusing exchange in that thread between Passa (a Sauer developer, I think) and Aardappel (the main Sauer developer), where Passa notes community confusion over to Sauerbraten's identity.



Passa:



On the community promotion Aardappel, I have been trying to convince my ISP to host a server for Sauerbraten.. unfortunately the general community say its just a Quake 3 clone..


Aardappel:



well, so we are improving.



- I started Cube as an advanced Wolfenstein 3D clone :P

- It was then perceived as a Doom clone

- Once we got the really HQ maps like metl3 it was perceived as Quake 1, sometimes even Quake 2 Clone

- Sauer started life as looking like a Quake 2 clone

- Then with the better maps people thought it looked more like Quake 3

- and now with the bump maps I have heard comparisons with Quake 4!!!



So hey, even though people can't get it in to their thick skull that there are other things besides quake out there, and that this is not some kind of lame based on quake source project, we are certainly moving forward!


Sauerbraten isn't half bad for a Quake 3 clone.



What!??! ;-)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Freeciv3? Part I

View/Write Comments

There was an interesting discussion over on the Freeciv mailing lists on the goals of the project.



Freeciv developer Per started the conversation by stating what he believes is the main obstacle to Freeciv development at the moment, the clash between single player and multiplayer goals:



We can make a very good single player game... Or we can create a game that is fun in multiplayer... Because once we need to take into account the needs of higher amounts of players and a competitive and possibly hostile environment, the needs of single player must suffer...



...we must decide which is more important, single player or multiplayer.



I have no problem saying single player is more important... [since] multiplayer is inherently broken and unfixable without a redesign making multiplayer the priority.


He goes on to give more justification in the email for his beliefs, which I completely agree with. I do not, however, agree with the conclusion that only one of single player or multiplayer aspects can be effectively achieved.



To start with, there are reasons like this that I think are flawed:



The ban on modal dialogs has improved multiplayer significantly, but along with timeout and the undeclared ban on pausing the game to display information, it rules out many ways of displaying information to the player that can be highly beneficial for single player.


To me, that is a broken implementation. Messaging should be abstracted, thereby giving the option of both modal and non-modal implementations (or varieties on both). It should be a preference that is dependent on the context (in this case, whether the game is single player or multiplayer). It is both simple to design and implement if the codebase is sufficiently organised - that is, if the UI is independent of the game logic. Like this pseudo code:



private void some_game_logic = function() {

  Message.UserDialog("some_action", SIMPLE_MESSAGE);

}



public abstract class Message {

  public abstract Message GetMessage();

  public void UserDialog(string msg, int type) {

    switch (type) {

      case SIMPLE_MESSAGE:

        // set single close button

        Display();

        break;

      // other cases

    }

  }

}


Then implement a modal version that blocks until the dialog is closed, and a non-modal version that returns instantly and displays the dialog using a different thread.



The more important obstacles to Freeciv as a game are better identified by 'saywhat':

AIUI "good game design" involves boiling down a lot of game
elements until you're left with only the essentials. Elements which
dilute the fun are thrown out; elements which give the player "fun"
(in the form of interesting choices) are kept in.


He basically goes on to state that Freeciv attempts to handle too much by scaling the gameplay. Lost a city? Build a city. Got space? Build more cities. Bigger is better and once you have Democracy, there's nothing but positives to having an expansive empire. Roads and railroads are, once built, cost free, so build them everywhere.



I think the problem with the Civilisation genre of games as a whole is that they do not take how empires rise and fall as they have done in history. All empires that have tried to grow too much have imploded, then often risen again as smaller but more solid cultures. The Romans? Now the Italians. Persia? Now Iran. The British Empire? Now the UK and Commonwealth (which is losing it's relevance). The USSR? Now a flagging smaller Russia.



Freeciv would be better at looking at ways to make growing too big problematic. It needs to turn what is a race-to-grow game into a more tactical use-others-best game. Focus less on building and more on cooperating. Make growth painful. Quite simply, large cities should be nigh impossible to support without certain technologies. Look at how corrupt Rome was, for instance.



There are suggestions in that discussion at limiting growth by making it more difficult to found cities by making settlers more difficult to come by. I don't like this approach as it is introducing a limitation when the team should be looking at ways to address the flaws that make large civilisations too powerful and too easy to manage.



I think they need to start looking at more radical ways to change Freeciv. In fact, I think they should consider distinctively non-Civ changes to the gameplay, giving Freeciv it's own identity as a game. I say they should draft Freeciv3 as a total departure from standard Civilization and leave Freeciv2 as the Civ-like implementation.



I shall introduce my ideas for Freeciv3 in a follow up article. Please post any ideas you have!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Some Cool Game Updates

View/Write Comments

UFO:AI


Hot off the press is the 2.0 rc3 release from the UFO:AI team, which is shaping up as a flagship open source game after it briefly floundered due to developer desertion last year. This is another example of why indie games being open source is a Good Idea (tm). Had this been closed source, the promising initial release (tech demo 1) would have the end of the line. Fortunately it was the beginning of an era.



Another important Free strategy game was updated today - Warzone Resurrection. If you haven't played this yet, I don't know what you are waiting for. It's about as polished as you will come across for an open source game, mainly due to it's commercial roots.



When it rains, it pours. TA:Spring, the advanced Total Annihilation engine, was updated on the 17th to version 0.72b1. The changelog is impressive, with the main new features being a new shield system and custom explosions, both mainly for modders. I'm hopeful that TA:Spring will turn into a respectable standalone game in it's own right based on some of the budding mods. I know you can play it without the original TA but I hope they really back and bundle some officially.



There was also another major update to TA3D, a friendly competitor to TA:Spring. I haven't researched the difference between the two but I get the impression the latter is at a more advanced stage of development.



Automanic


In a departure from the tactical flavour of this post, the promising Carmageddon-alike Automanic saw it's second official release, achieving version 0.2 earlier in the week. I'm really enjoying the progress of Automanic, especially after seeing promising games like Slickworm and DIE stagnate and, er, die. I hope that a community builds around it and keeps development alive and kicking.



The original Carmaggedon was awesome and it would be great to top it and improve on the genre with a Free game. I hope the Automanic developers avoid the dreaded rewrite bug that tends to kill off a lot of open source games. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Essential Open Source Tools for Windows

View/Write Comments

Windows is not a platform oft associated with open source software, but we can not escape from the fact that the majority of computers world-wide run it as the primary operating system. Free game developers mostly seem to run a Linux variant, but there is an increasing number of developers on Windows who are coming around to the open source mentality without subscribing to the need to run Linux.



Some of the tools a developer will use are dictated by the chosen programming language. Outside of that, here is a run-down of my favourite tools for developing on Windows, most of which I use on a daily basis as part of my day job.



All of these programs are Free Software.



Planning



Got ideas? Freemind helps you "mind map" them into a tangible format. I find Freemind incredibly useful for both existing and new projects. It helps you intuitively organise your thoughts and I use it for developing feature plans as well as iterating new ideas into a coherent state.



When I have more definite plans and I want to create diagrams to visualise or document processes, I use Dia. It can be especially useful for helping others understand what your code is supposed to do by providing a process diagram.



Development (Editors)



I find Notepad++ to be indispensible. This multi-purpose editor has an impressive set of features yet a very small footprint and loads nearly instantly. I use it for quickly viewing and editing most source code, and use it exclusively for any kind of web design work. I even find myself missing this editor when I use my Linux machines!



WinMerge, a visual diff and merge tool, is great for comparing edited code. I often duplicate code bases to work on a specific feature in each and WinMerge is the simple solution for reviewing what I have done.



While the combination of Notepad++ and WinMerge cover all my basic development needs. If I really need a heavyweight IDE, I can rely on Eclipse. For something inbetween Notepad++ and Eclipse, you could try JEdit.



Development Tools



Some people find SCM tools a little intimidating. Those people have not yet used TortoiseSVN which makes working with SVN about as simple as SCM gets. It integrates directly into Windows explorer and is another tool that I really miss when I work on Linux.



Unimpressed by the compressed folders Windows offers as a way to represent zip files, I found 7-zip which takes care of all my file [de]compression and archiving needs. It handles pretty much any format going (including .rar and .tar.gz) which can be handy in this multi-archive-format world we live in.



And of course there is PuTTY. This ssh utility is simple but, "does what it says on the tin."



I used to use Cygwin a lot but began to find it more frustrating than productive and often using it when I would have been better researching Windows-oriented replacements.



Graphics



A lot of Free games use pixel art. For this, there is no better tool than JDraw, which totally focuses on the manipulation of pixels. If you want simple art or just want to refine your smaller images, this is the tool for you.



For more complex art there is Inkscape and GIMP. Inkscape is emerging as one of the leading vector graphics editors, surpassing it's commercial counterparts in many areas. [The curiously named] GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) is the open source equivalent to the popular Photoshop. Whilst the debate on which UI approach is better will never end, recent versions of GIMP have greatly enhanced it's usability and it is a very advanced, capable, and reliable image editor.



Communicating



I use HydraIRC for logging onto FreeNode. HydraIRC is the best open source IRC client for Windows that I could find. It is decent although a little rough in some ways. FreeNode is the first place to go if you want to get involved in the open source scene. Most notable Free Software projects have a channel there and you can often talk to the developers directly.



GAIM is good for instant messaging and can also be used for IRC.



Missing!



I have not yet found a decent open source task tracker for Windows. Anything I have encountered has either been web-based (I'm not looking to share) or not open source.



Please leave comments with any other tools you think I've missed out.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

More Upcoming Releases

View/Write Comments

There is a release imminent for Mars: Land of No Mercy, which got it's own .org domain name recently. This isometric strategy mech game is developing at a steady pace and sees version 0.1.2 released next week.



New Ecksdee Level


The next version of Ecksdee is shaping up nicely. There's some preview screenshots of a new level for the next version (0.0.9) one of which can be seen here. There's another level in development which is more ambitious and targeted for the 0.1 release of Ecksdee. The Ecksdee developers will be at the Crystal Space conference this weekend in Aachen, Germany. An Ecksdee talk should take place on Sunday at 1pm local time.



There's another stunt-like Free game on the horizon: Sturmbahnfahrer. The game describes itself as, "Simulated obstacle course for automobiles." As such, the gameplay is oriented around using physics to complete the levels rather than racing.



There's a curious new freeware game based on OGRE. The Blob sees the player taking on the role of a blob of paint who must, it seems, paint the city of Utrecht. There are screenshots galore in the OGRE featured projects section. Sadly it seems to be Windows-only and you'll need a 2ghz PC.



Finally I'll round by with the Planeshift release. This iteration on the 0.3 "Crystal Blue" version squashes many bugs, adds optimizations, and introduces features such as improved item crafting, item decay, new spells, and improved character handling. Read the 0.3.015 changelog for more details.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

VDrift - More Cars & Tracks

View/Write Comments

There's a significant update to VDrift, the open source drift racing game. Now it has a decent selection of cars and tracks, 19 and 12 respectively, to play on and development seems to be picking up pace. This is an excellent game and I urge any people interested in racing games to get involved. With a bit of community dedication this could be turned into a really polished commercial quality racing game.



At the moment they are looking for people to post screenshots. There is only a binary for Linux of the latest release but I'm sure other platforms will follow sooner rather than later.



Loose Cannon is a 3d Gauntlet-style post modern shoot-em-up. The previous release (0.4) was promising but shaky. I'll have to see what this update is like.



I see Eternal Lands has had an update too. I've known about this update for a couple of weeks, just forgot to post about it. Still, I'm not an EL fan. I don't really understand what motivates people to play a game where the main focus is on harvesting - that is, your character sat down with numbers occasionally popping up over their heads representing improvements or gained goods. Still, I have a friend addicted to EL so it can't be that bad, it's just not for me.



I was quite interested to see Dune Legacy make an appearance on the Linux Game Tome. I remember playing Dune II back in 1992 and really enjoying it's gameplay. I then remember playing Command and Conquer and noticing how they'd improved the graphics but the gameplay was always essentially the same.



Then, eight years later, out came Dune 2000. It still had identical gameplay to Dune II, right down to some of the real playability bugs (units not always defending themselves, especially if you accidentally set them shooting the floor - they'll craterise the landscape whilst being picked off by weaker enemies) just it had pretty 3D graphics. I was disgusted. Now I see references to it being a remake of Dune II, but at the time I remember otherwise and recall an interview with the lead developer describing how innovative they were being.



It's always great to see game innovation and Dune II was amazing for it's time. It's always dismaying to see a company like Westwood then become so unoriginal. It's like they sacked all the people with decent ideas. One of the great things about Free games is you don't see people sinking into a wash-rinse-repeat development schedule pumping out meaningless titles that stick to the same formula after a decade. Unconstrained by commercial handcuffs where the priority is the money and not the game, people work on what they believe makes a good game.



Are recent C&C releases still as pathetic? Still based on gameplay that hasn't really changed since 1992?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Freecol vs Swecol

View/Write Comments

The 0.5 release of Freecol is imminent! I've been looking forward to this. Freecol is one of the best looking open source games with a very artistic interface. This will be the first really playable version of Freecol, and as such I expect it to take off as a project after this point. Good open source games always have a critical mass point where they blossom from one or two man efforts into community driven projects. This, I feel, is that point for Freecol.



However, there is a twist! Well, I'm just being dramatic, but another Colonization project has cropped up. Proclaiming to be Colonization II, copyright violations withstanding, Swecol2 profresses to be an open source sequel to the 1994 classic. There is even a teaser trailer.



On the face of things, Swecol2 looks promising despite being graphically (and seemingly gameplay-wise) inferior to Freecol. However, there is some cynism about and the fact that this is not yet open source makes is cause for suspicion:



...this is an open source project (the code will be released later on, right now it's [too] embarrassing to show anyone our code).


Still, I'm not trying to discourage a prospective Free game. I just feel developers should be open if they are going to be open source... it keeps people's expectations on a level with the reality of the game. Teasing players with trailers and promises of classic game sequels should be backed up by downloadable code so people can see what is going on.



In a slight departure from games, I'm going to mention Notepad++. If you use Windows, especially if you develop anything on Windows, this is an indispensable replacement for classic Notepad/Wordpad as well as an excellent lighter substitute for heavier IDEs. Notepad++ combines a small footprint with tons of features such as tabs and syntax highlighting. Really, I don't think I could stand using Windows without it. Wusers, check it out right now! I'll go as far as saying it's the best multi-purpose editor I've ever used on any platform.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Dedication's What You Need

View/Write Comments

...if you wanna be a record breaker! Oooo ooo... </singing>

One of the great things about Free software games is that people are free to dedicate themselves to whatever makes them happy. Check out this ship, the Atlantia, created for a Vega Strike mod [not yet published].

Speaking of Vega Strike, the musings over the last couple of weeks suggest a new 0.4.x release [the current engine] later on in the year. I don't think the real juice [the 0.5 OGRE-based engine] will come until 2007, but when it does it will be good. Check out the screenshot to the right, a sample of planet shaders that VS developer klauss is working on. More images here.

That's simply beautiful.

There's a new dungeon game in town. Sadly it is a Doom 3 mod so it's not really free, but we know what happens with iD engines so there is hope! The game is Dungeon Doom and hopefully it will evolve into a stellar Free game in the future.

Another interesting mod [UT2004 this time] is Air Buccaneers. It looks innovative but again is based on a non-free engine. I wish people would create mods for free engines like Sauerbraten. Can you imagine the syndicated power of mod developers being focused on Free Software engines? If only I could control people's minds, the world would be a better place.

I tried a few games today.

Secret Maryo Chronicles is a high resolution remake of old-school Super Mario. It's fun for a bit but I don't have the patience to learn levels like I used to when I was younger. The game has no music and the way Maryo responds to controls doesn't quite feel right. Some parts of the game look great while others look distinctly amateur, but it has a lot of potential.

Ri-Li is a cross between a wooden train set and Snake. It's probably more aimed at kids, but the gameplay seems to get very hectic very quickly. Also I could swear that the train does not always go the direction you tell it to go. I tried pressing before junctions, pressing at junctions, pressing both before and at junctions, or just holding down the direction, and it felt hit-and-miss.

Then I tried Pang Zero and Don Ceferino Hazaña. The gameplay of both games revolves around throwing up a dagger or spear to pop balloons (?) that bounce around the screen and kill you on-touch. It's like a simpler version of asteroids. Don Ceferino is the more entertaining and polished of the two, even if the gameplay is essentially the same, with a nicely presented story despite the awful spilleng mistakes.

The Don Ceferino website is all in Spanish. I hate to say it, but the language of the Net is English. If you want maximum recognition and traffic, you had better translate your musings. Otherwise obscurity and International exile loom for your project.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Dark Days

View/Write Comments

I came across Zak McKracken and the Alien Rockstars the other day. It's a GPL cross-plaform fan-made sequel to Zak McKracken, a Lucasarts game. Whilst browsing for information on Zak1, I came across another ZM sequel, Zak McKracken: Between Time and Space. It looks even better than ZMAR, but is Windows only and seemingly only freeware. There's a rather impressive trailer available. It reminds me a little of the also-impressive The Silver Lining project (formerly known as King's Quest 9).




Simutrans


In other freeware news, Simutrans version 0.89 is now available. It's a preview release but this game is constantly moving forward and seems to update every few weeks, a practise I approve of. There's also a rather funky hand drawn "sketch" graphics set for Simutrans, shown in the screenshot here.



A topic I would like to cover more in the future is the sharing of content between Free game developers. Since volunteer resources are predictably limited, a way of getting more quality into Free games is to share good art between projects. People will disagree with the concept, thinking that it makes game content less unique and hence the game less individual, but I think that's an asinine perspective to take when game media should compliment gameplay rather than define it.



I came across Low Poly Co-operative, an initiative to create quality low-poly models for use in open source games. If you really need models then you can request them in their forum.



Recently due to job commitments I have been forced to return to the dark forests of Dr Demon. Fortunately there are friends in this forsaken place. I have come across Notepad++, a Scintilla-based editor that really makes modifying web pages a joy rather than a chore. I heartily recommend it.



It will be worthwhile, at some point, doing a special on various editors and compilers that power the Free game creator.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Like a Phoenix!

View/Write Comments

No, Free Gamer has not met a premature demise! I am merely temporarily really, really busy.



Still, there were a few notable releases in the last week. ScummVM hit version 0.9.0 which brings GUI enhancements and support for [at least] two [new] games.



Legends jumped 0.0.0.1 versions to 0.4.1.40, and you should see the changelog. I've already ranted about discussed versioning debacles issues.



Warsow bumped out another release and really seems to be picking up momentum both as a game and a community. They have started up a development blog. This is a great idea and it would be cool for every major Free game to have one; then we can have Free Game Planet!



I spotted yet another 3d engine on Freshmeat: Nelit2. Information is sparse but the screenshots show off some fancy features. It has a long way to go to compete with the heavyweights of this division like OGRE and Crystal Space.



I also saw Carworld as well. It looks like it could be a very cool driving simulator if the author got a bit more motivation (or a bit of help).



Speaking of driving games, VDrift looks to be gearing up for another release. Improved GUI, car handling, graphics, and more cars and tracks are part of what seems to be emerging as the leading Free Software driving game.



There's great news for Mario fans with updates to Mega Mario and Secret Maryo Chronicles.



Finally, a couple of updates sourced from the Game Tome - SEAR and Runescape have been updated. The former is a major component of the ambitious Worldforge project and the latter a popular Java-based MMORPG.



I hope I didn't miss much and I'm in too much of a rush to plagiarise organise screenshots. Next week normal service should be resumed, as well as the forthcoming layout update that will build on the current list. Enjoy your games in the meantime!