Saturday, June 10, 2006

Open Source 3D Space Games

Welcome to a space game special on Free Gamer!

No Gravity

Vega Strike



Crimson Space

At the heart of open source space game development is Vega Strike, a 3D space trading and combat game. With a dynamic universe and dynamic econmies, there is massive depth to the game. However the current stable version (0.4.3) is aging. While there is an update to the development version, it is not yet stable nor easy to try but does include some great new models and art on top of various gameplay improvements. Feature-wise it rivals commercial counterparts and the next releases should restore Vega Strikes position as one of the showcase open source games.

Vega Strike is highly moddable and has spawned some excellent mods. There's something for Babylon 5, Star Wars, and Star Trek fans, with the latter moving forward nicely.

The most well-known mod is Privateer Remake, a modernization of Wing Commander: Privateer - an offshoot of the Wing Commander series. Privateer Remake was forked to form Privateer Gemini Gold, a version more true to the original Privateer. Both games breathe life back into a popular franchise, dragging it into 20th century gaming with vastly superior graphics to the original. There are more Wing Commander game remakes being developed out of the Vega Srike mod stable, springing from the meta-project Wing Commander Universe that spawned Privateer Remake.

No Gravity is a 3D arcade space shooter set in a fantastic universe made of 5 intergalatic worlds. The website is one of the best looking sites I've seen for an open source game. The game itself does not look as pretty as more recent titles like Vega Strike, but it looks fun nonetheless. It's gameplay reminded me of X-Wing vs TIE Figheter although it's been a long time since I played that so I could be mistaken.

Another space game whose progress has been steady is Oolite. It is basically Elite for the modern PC and was developed as a response to the withdrawl of Elite - A New Kind from the Internet (although it is still available from a few freeware sites). Oolite continues to exceed Elite in many ways and should delight fans of the original as well as attracting new players to the Elite brand.

Then there's FreeSpace 2. I was somehow under the impression that the whole game had been made Free Software. However, I could only find the FreeSpace 2 Source Code Project which did not contain much useful information, let alone a useful download. Increasingly convinced that the original FreeSpace 2 data was required and not Free, my interest quickly waned. If I'm wrong then could somebody please correct me.

Sadly there are those game development efforts that never quite make it. I came across Reaper whilst poking around the Internet. It's development ceased in 2002. Another space game whose candle went out a while ago is Andromeda 9, so it joins the echelons of once-promising projects.

Then there is Parsec. Once a darling of Linux gaming, Parsec suffered from being closed source. By the time the developers realised their mistake and open sourced Parsec, it was too late to interest a future maintainer.

Update: I have stumbled across Crimson Space that looks intriguing - you can enter a planet's atmosphere, it has several ships - although I'm uncertain of how complete it is and development ceased in 2002.

For people wanting an immediate fix, I would suggest No Gravity, Oolite, and Privateer Gemini Gold. No Gravity has the polish, Oolite has the depth, and Privateer the great 3D graphics. For people who are not afraid of rough edges, Vega Strike and it's burgeoning mod scene will push your 3D cards and engross you at the same time; Vega Strike is the open source future of this genre. One thing is certain, the open source 3D space game scene is very healthy.

Please comment if I missed an important open source 3D space game.


gnome said...

Nothing smart or funny to add here... All I want to do is congratulate you on the blog. Keep it up & great job..

Bookmarked already :)

Evil Mr Henry said...

Regarding Freespace 2:
Only the engine is free. However, the data files are under a rather odd license:
Freespace 2 FAQ

Basically, you can copy the game, and give it to anyone you know.

Anonymous said...

Just checked out oolite's license; it's Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike.

The noncommercial clause means it violates the Open Source Definition (as well as the Free Software Definition) by placing restrictions on your freedom to redistribute it.

Hardly surprising considering the author is a Mac luser.

Charlie said...

Oolite is open source and free; just not Free Software. This is why Stallman is so stringent on applying the term Free Software over open source - open source is an ambiguous term.

Something can be open source and not be an OSI approved license. They are merely an organisation trying to apply their definition of open source.

Anonymous said...

That's like saying something can be free and not be Free Software. A term is only ambiguous if you choose to ignore the definition.

Anonymous said...

in the article is not mentioned the amazing XShipWars:

Charlie said...

XShipWars is not really 3D although it does appear to use some rudimentary 3D graphics (I'm guessing from the screenshots - not played it yet). It is, though, essentailly a 2D game.

Anonymous said...

VegaStrike is highly mod-able?

well, it is, I guess, but you need serious modding experience!

Oh, yes, the main cfg files and so on are quite accessable and mostly plain text, but try to make ur own model....

anyway, it's the greatest space/3d/opensource game ever.

Anonymous said...

hey hey!

oolite somehow changed the license! it is now Free, free and open-source!!! nice to hear!

I hope they can now reuse code and art from their other GPLed cousins.

jonole said...

don't forget about xpilot now! great game. the whole class used to play at uni.

Charlie said...

XPilot is fun but not 3D... ;-)

Charlie said...

I ran an article on Freespace2 conversions which may be of interest.

Also Reaper3D is probably worth a mention.

Charlie said...

Oh and Oolite is now available under the GPL so is officially Free Software these days too. :-)

Charlie said...

I missed out Free Allegiance.

Also of course there is BSD:BtRL. Maybe I'll edit it and add those two.

Anonymous said...

Freespace 2 is free to download. If you visit the Freespace 2 SCP (Source Code Project) website (, you can download an installer (19mb I think). When you run the installer it will download and install the retail version of the game, the modified open source version of the game, and all files you need to run these programs. The only other step is to make sure you have OpenAL installed. If not, Google it and download the files. After you have done this run the launcher and you will be asked to configure the game. Then you can play.

*Note: Running the installer will download 1.5GB of data. In other words, you must have a fast connection to download the files.*

Timothy Parez said...

All of the games seem to suffer from the same illness that strikes nearly all open source games (including my own), that is that is never finished.

Of course the fact that development continues, on its own, is not a problem, but for some reason the games never reach the high quality we have come to expect from (some) commercial games.

Even something as old as Freelancer would be great, in fact I love Freelancer. I wouldn't mind paying for Freelancer 2, but there won't be a Freelancer 2 (at the time of writing) and if there does come a second game, it won't run on Linux or Mac... (and I just love my iMac)

The games you talked about seem more like attempts or proof of concept projects.

1 - Installing is usually a pita for normal end users
2 - User interfaces are dull and don't feel smooth
3 - 3D performance is sluggish at best

We'll have to keep looking for something good....

Timothy Parez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I was expecting to see a mention of Noctis.

fosseth said...

Here are some more cool FOSS games.

Anonymous said...

It's been 2.5 years since this article was posted. I've seen nothing to indicate any active space-game projects, FOSS or commercial. (The last commercial on I saw for Linux was Terminus, several years ago.) Someone please tell me I'm wrong and that someone, somewhere, is doing something.

Free Gamer said...

In the last 2.5 years there have been major updates to Vega Strike, Privateer Gemini Gold, Oolite, Vendetta, Beyond the Red Line and other Freespace2 SCP mod projects. And that's just off the top of my head. I don't think you bothered looking very hard.

Shipbuilder said...

I came across Oolite earlier this year and have found it to be a fantastic piece of free software. Their is also a very friendly and helpful forum and the game is easy to create expansions for. With no previous experience but some help and advice from the forum I have been able to produce and release a cylon raider, colonial viper and the USS Enterprise from Stat Trek 3. I am now in the process of developing a series of ships of my own design. I don't know how interchangable the models are but anyone interested is welcome to download them. If interested see the Oolite Wiki pages or search the Expansion section of the oolite website.

Alltimeplay said...

Great! But obviously the fact that development continues, on its own, is not a problem, but for some reason the games never reach the high quality we have come to expect from (some) commercial games.
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