Monday, October 29, 2007

650 Days Later

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No, it's not another diabolical sequel... it's the number of days since the last major Freeciv release until yesterday when Freeciv 2.1 went gold.



People round on Freeciv for being unoriginal, but for me it fixes most of the problems with one of the greatest game franchises ever and is, well, Free Software. So for me Freeciv is everything that's great about Free gaming too! :-)



Hi-res graphics (well, relative to Civ2/Freeciv2.0) and a new SDL interface that got last minute save/load support *cheer*, better AI, and a lot of gameplay balancing - just some of the many features that went into this release. It's been worth waiting for and my brother has promised me a game once we acheive some work milestones! Multiplayer Civ is a lot of fun and very involving (who needs FPS games?) but importantly the Freeciv team place high value on the single player edition so it caters to the casual gamer as well as the intense one.



I came across another open source 3D flight simulator (some one commented on the open source flight combat article) - Palomino is an open-source flight simulator and 3D engine for Linux, FreeBSD, and Mac. No idea if it is new or what not, but the screenshots are intriguing albeit a bit simple.



I had some more stuff to post...



Ah, that's it, preliminary Linux port of Egoboo has been posted and it's got a subversion repository so development should be more organised [read: faster?] from now on. I've enjoyed seeing developer Zefz pushing Egoboo forward despite SoulFu attracting all the attention and Egoboo has seen a lot of new features recently and is subsequently a much richer game than SoulFu yet obviously has the style similarity. I would love to see some of the graphical Panache of SoulFu merged into the more evolved Egoboo world but until the SoulFu license situation is cleaned up I guess that is out of the question!



I should post screenshots for Freeciv 2.1 and Egoboo, but there are none on the websites and the FG hounds are hounding me into a midnight walk. So, er, annoying dogs win vs readership. You guys just don't whine enough!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Yeah, yeah, been quiet, will change, etc

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Some people can organise themselves really well and accomplish everything they want to each day. Sadly that's not me!



However now my girlfriend is away for 2 months which means I have a lot of extra time. ;-)




OpenCity


Anyhow, OpenCity 0.0.5beta is available for download. It's not much of a game yet but is a promising start. Underwater schools aside, the user interface is quite nice, it seems solid enough, and the codebase looks like it is engineered with lots of original features. "Starting earthquake subsystem" is one of the impressive phrases to read when starting the game.



I also had a go at the latest Ghouls and Ghosts Remix release. Nostalgic! It's very good fun except for two things 1) it's insanely hard [or is that part of the fun?] and 2) the keys are not Linux friendly. Using alt/ctrl for jump/shoot and arrow keys for movement isn't a good idea when ctrl+alt combined with arrow keys tends to interact with your window manager (as with most modern distros). Oops.



I have more important things to talk about though. FreeArtSearch is a project by Ghoulsblade/Hagish (SFZ developers, FG forum hosts, among other things) to create a place where artwork for games is indexed all in a single place. It has automated tag clouds and lots of other features engineered towards making it easy to track down art relevant to your needs.



They also set up Planet FreeGameDev, a place where people's Free game development blogs are getting syndicated. Want your blog there? Post here or in the forums. Where those two get the time to set up all these things, make games (interesting SFZ information/videos in that link), and attend university, who knows!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Galaxy Mage Redux

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Just as I was about to start lamenting the loss of a promising game, somebody steps up with a call to arms to resurrect development efforts.



Galaxy Mage Redux (placeholder site) will continue where the original Galaxy Mage team left off. They need pythoners and pixel artists so if that's you then make Santa's life cheaper by restoring a good Free game. There is already a forum and the game code is still available here.



His request for help has cropped up in a few places -- happypenguin.org and the FG forums are just two of them.



Another project in the doldrums is Mars: Land of no Mercy (website down). It is still available from the Sourceforge project and there's a post (from August) explaining the website downtime. SVN activity indicates that whilst the site has been down, so has development.



And... what's this... 0AD, the uber-looking freeware RTS game, may actually be released under an open source license? Too good to be true? It is, really, they won't release the whole thing, "for security reasons." (I'm not a fan of security through obscurity.)



I'm being lazy, no screenshots. There are some cool shots on the 0ad website though.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Freeciv 2.1rc1

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Freeciv 2.1rc1 is now available for download. I haven't yet played it but at first glance there's no 'save/load dialog implemented' in the SDL client part of the news announcements - which means, well, the SDL version is still incomplete. Also, at the moment, only source packages are available for download but expect binaries to follow soon.



Ultimate Stunts 0.7.3 is also out. More iterative improvements to a game with a long development history.



I'm looking for award suggestions, as I want to push the Free Gamer 2007 awards in November/December. (Won't that be a change, a set of awards whose year represents the actual year they apply to?) You can suggest in the forum or feel free to suggest in a comment here.



Anything else I can fit in with 30s left on the clock? The LibreGameWiki seems to be doing well in terms of collecting information on all the Free Software games out there so check it out if you have a minute. There's still quite some way to go (still a lot of missing / uncategorized games) but it's good to see Kiba & co sticking at the task in hand. Too many people start something then give up before it's even off the ground when it's not an overnight success.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

SilverTree and FIFEngine

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Two big releases in the last 48 hours - SilverTree 0.2, the RPG by Wesnoth developers, and FIFEngine that comes with a CC-by-SA licensed techdemo.



Starting with SilverTree, the main gameplay aspects have all now been implemented: you can explore, talk to NPCs, fight, learn skills, gather equipment, and so forth. There is a simple adventure included which can be played through to completion.



Version 0.2, which should run on the 3 major platforms and be portable to others, is still an unpolished game but the development momentum is there and since it is now playable you can get a very good idea of the direction the game is going in. I wouldn't be surprised to see a much nicer 0.3 release before Christmas.




FIFEngine Tech Demo


Turning our attention to FIFEngine, version 2007.2 comes with a very nice looking techdemo which has a syndicate-ish feel to it. There are major changes to the engine which brings with it a host of cool new features:



  • SWIG binding so more scripting languages are supported.

  • New 3d geometry system. Camera supports now tilt, rotation and zoom.

  • New event channel module. Scripts have full access to mouse, keyboard & widget input.

  • Improved action-based animation system.

  • A techdemo to give game creators a starting point. This is a common undertaking of the Zero-Projekt team and FIFE.


Author mvBarracuda posted more details in the FG forum.



I'm hoping that this rather awesome looking techdemo, licensed under the CC-by-SA after some lobbying by FG forum members, will be the starting point of a good game. Sometimes such a seed being sown can grow even if you didn't initially intend it to.



There's a new Snowballz release (0.9.5) that comes with some user requested features (grouping) as well as music and terrain elevation now affects gameplay, plus all the fixes that usually accompany a Free / Open Source Software game release.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

UFO:AI pre2.2 Review

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Want to know what's worse than a dog breaking wind? 2 dogs doing so... the Free Gamer hounds are gassing the place and making it very difficult to... oh god... no... not again! ARGH!



I will try my best not to faint but I can't promise I will survive the nauseating stench that keeps filling the room whilst the two hounds sit quietly satisfied under my desk.



I gave UFO:AI a try, the SVN version. It's really rather good - spiffy graphics, lovely sound, and very well presented. The music especially is excellent. Support for my laptop resolution of 1440x900 made me happy and is only the second Free/freeware game I know to do that - the other being Astro Menace. Whilst some people reported the beta as a bit unstable, the SVN verson has been as steady as a rock for me although I have only played it perhaps an hour in total so YMMV.



Overall it is shaping up nicely and is definitely one of the best Free games around. However, there were a few things that bothered me.




There's No Underwear!


The micro-management is too excessive and is pervasive throughout the game. I really don't think it's necessary to have the level of detail in terms of managing ammunition for individual soldiers that there is. It's difficult enough when you only have 1 set of ammunition to cater for (think any FPS game e.g. Half-Life) let alone having to be aware of 8 people's ammunition. Making sure stocks are there is one thing but having to give your guys and your space ships spare ammo and mess around rearming inbetween missions is not fun. If I wanted to manage stock, I'd go sign up at my local supermarket and count baked bean cans.



Your scientists have stats. Your workers have stats. Everything seems to have stats. And that means you spend far too long trying to understand and/or balance them. You assign production queues which take a certain number of hours, and you assign priorities to items in the production queue. This aspect of UFO:AI is less game and more factory management. They have a system probably not far off commercial CRM and ERP in terms of the depth of detail.



In my opinion, unless something is really meaningful, it should be automatically handled. Chalk it down to sensible management i.e. assume you hire the best scientists and workers, assume you're not being ripped off by buying stock - you are the "first and last" line of defense, I'm sure the world wouldn't be too picky about making a profit on selling you stuff! This is a game, not HR. Soldiers will rearm themselves if stocks are there, they shouldn't need to be rearmed by the player, etc etc. I would make basic weapons and ammo (i.e. everything available at the start of the game) naturally limitless (assume the world's military provide it) and leave the production / weapons management to only the alien stuff you research yourself.



I know this all was in the original UFO games but just because a game franchise is really good doesn't mean the gameplay is perfect. I think the amount of fiddling required with these things and the consequences if you forget them (e.g. going into missions without ammo) are a negative for the game.



Also I couldn't seem to intercept UFOs. Having to arm the ships at the start of the game seemed like needless administrative overhead (surely they should be armed by default). After arming them, no matter what order I clicked on the UFOs and my own ships as presented by the UI, I couldn't get my interceptor to go more than about 1 pixel away from the base before it turned back, which effectively killed the game for me. Hopefuly they'll have this sorted for the 2.2 release.




Argh! Aliens!

The FG Hounds Are Near


I think the isometric view (toggled in graphic options) is both true to the original franchise and also more usable as it's easier to visually understand the scene in front of you. I'd like to see that enabled by default.



I would also like to see the soldier buttons also carry some information about the soldiers. Perhaps partially fill them with a lighter blue to represent how many movement points a soldier has. Make the blue go red if they are injured, stuff like that.



There was only one thing that trully bothered me, and that's how the UFO:AI team have their SVN laid out.



You check out the ufoai module from SVN. This module contains both the game source (ok) and the map source. To play the SVN version of the game, you must run 'make maps' which takes 6 hours on a fast machine, probably more on mine (I left it overnight). These 'compiled' maps are in a platform independent format. Why include them as source in the main module? Surely you have a different 'maps' module for the map source and commit the 'compiled' maps to the main module or even another module. That way only 1 person ever has to compile a particular map (i.e. the person working on it) and everybody else gets up-to-date maps without messing around (svn up, and hey presto). I'm pushing them to do just that.



It's important to organise your SVN properly. Why? SVN is the 'starting point' for your most useful members of the community - addicted players and contributors. If your source layout causes problems for them, it means you'll have less people playtesting or trying to contribute because they'll get frustrated trying to get the latest and greatest version.



It's also important to ensure your dogs have a good diet because otherwise they'll kill you with biological warfare. Incidentally, talking of good diet, we did upgrade their dog food due to this problem. Unfortunately upgrading dog food also upgraded power and intensity, so I think I might find the cheapest stuff I can next time out in a desparate measure to reduce their emissions.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Game Announcements Now Onine

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There is now a Game Announcements section on the forum. Anonymous posting is allowed (but moderated) and any form of FOSS game news is welcome. The idea being is that if you want to publicize a game in any way, post the update there. New versions, new demos, new tournaments, new news, whatever. It is also fully RSSed so, well, if you have a website, include it. Let's get lots of Free Software gaming updates to the world so everybody can know about it.



You may notice a 'Chat' irc link above - #freegamer on irc.freenode.net - another community experiment. IRC has always been a popular medium for collaboration so we'll see if that works for Free Gamer too. ;-)



Good news for *nix users (Linux, BSD etc) who have wanted, but been unable, to play SoulFu - somebody has posted a modified download of SoulFu (~1.5.1) which should compile and run. YMMV. It didn't work for me.



Vega Strike 0.5 finally hits beta. Anybody who has read this blog before should know all about VS and how awesome this version is looking. Love space games? Go help test it.



Qudobup aka Uber-Q has been collecting links of new open source games he has come across in the FG forums. It's in the News Flash bit on Game Announcements (linked above). More tomorrow... hopefully! :-)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Scourge-erific

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Time flies when you're forgetting to do things, like update this blog. Damn, I make a post, have a nap, get distracted, and 6 days later I remember I was supposed to be posting again. I have umpteen drafts of half-finished opinions; games get released and I don't know about it. I need to invent an army of workers that will mine the web and report for me.



The Free Gamer forums got a facelift thanks to Qudobup, the guy also behind the look for Free Gamer. It looks really cool and since the forum supports RSS you'll see a few forum-related things going into this site in the nearish future.



Scourge 0.19 got released! Yay! No changelog on the site? Boo. Seems like binaries will eventually be available for all major platforms and will appear on Sourceforge. Despite the lack of information about this release on the site, having monitored Scourge development for a while, I can say 0.19 contains some really cool new features - outdoor environments and more storyline - and some important improvements - much better AI for route finding. It's on the cusp of being a really good game. All it needs is some slightly better artwork.




UFO2000


UFO2000 have had a major new release. Also their website got a facelift and it's probably one of the best looking FOSS game project pages you'll see. Beautiful. Somebody (fan? developer?) commented on a previous post that the community is struggling for players. UFO was (is?) a great series but it's primarily a single player game. I don't see how the multiplayer version can be quite as fun as a big part of the game was building up your team and researching new technology as you waged the war against the alien onslaught.



If the UFO2000 team could focus on a single player version I think they would see their community grow significantly, but they've got a lot of catching up to do with UFO:AI which has focused on SP from the beginning. Still, I do have a soft spot for UFO2000, having observed steady progress for many years on the project. Seeing the gameplay video on the UFO2000 site made me yearn for a single player edition. I want a game I can tackle at my own pace, y'know, multiplayer games tend to favour those who play a lot.



Battle Tanks is another multiplayer-focused game that looks great, and version 0.6 was released the other day. I'm tempted to try it, but again that multiplayer angle just doesn't appeal to me. Even if they offered a simple single player edition where you fought bots, that'd be fine. Please, let me play with myself. I mean, er, um...



I want to say more but no more time. I'll try to be more regular, perhaps doing shorter posts if I'm in a rush rather than no posting at all.