Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Bit Artifical

Today I'd like to highlight two Artifical Intelligence based games - The breve Simulation Environment and NERO: Neuro-Evolving Robotic Operatives.

NERO (1)

NERO (2)

NERO describes itself as,

"A unique computer game that lets you play with adapting intelligent agents hands-on. Evolve your own robot army by tuning their artificial brains for challenging tasks, then pit them against your friends' teams in online competitions!"

It's not as scary as it sounds. In a training mode you place and play with your robots, teaching them combat tactics. The gameplay is essentially training your team to beat somebody else's, trying to evolve your squad into an undefeatable automated army.

Version 1.01 was released in 2005, and version 2.0 is currently under development. I originally thought NERO was open source, but there is no evidence of this on the website although it seems to be the plan. However, with decent 3D graphics and innovative gameplay, this is probably a bit of an understated freeware title.

The only problem with NERO is, well, your robots don't know very much at all to start with. Imagine teaching kids basic maths - think 1+1 - and how long it takes to get them started on it. You'll have similar problems training your robots, it's a game of patience and dedication. However it is satisfying once they start executing attack patterns that you have worked on and winning battles but the actual training is more of a preverbial battle than the game itself!

The breve Simulation Environment takes a different approach. Using an easy language called "steve", you define the behaviour of "agents" in a 3D world. The world is a complete sandbox and your agents can be, well, anything. It's very open ended and as such pretty abstract. It's less of a game and more an education tool, but for AI enthusiasts it is probably a perfect tonic.

Simutrans 0.99.01 was released. With full climate support and many bug fixes, it is a decent update to this long-running freeware title. I believe they are waiting on an update to the hires 128bit graphics set [currently 0.99.01 only works with 64bit graphics] before declaring this the official stable release. It's been a long time since the last stable release and the difference between 0.99.01 and is substantial.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Slow News, XMoto, SuperTuxKart

It's been slow news on Free Gamer, partly influenced by alcoholic intake and partly by the fact not too much happened in the last several days.

XMoto 0.2.1 was released as was SuperTuxKart 0.2rc2. Of course, anybody following will be aware of this. XMoto development continues to be strong although the game is still pretty tough. This SuperTuxKart release addresses a few big bugs that made 0.2rc1 difficult to play so please playtest it if you had problems so the final SuperTuxKart 0.2 release can be as solid as possible.

Here's a small but interesting thread on the Linux Game Tome forums where a few people highlight their favourite Linux games. They're all mentioned here but still it's nice to get the opinion of more than one person [since this site is basically all my opinion].

There's an ongoing request to make Machine Ball the LGT "Game of the Month". I think the current "Game of the Month" idea seems to be languishing since only a few people ever participated and their motivation has died out, but it would be nice to see it rekindled.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Unidentified Flying Objects

UFO: Enemy Unknown was released by Microprose over a decade ago. For those not familiar with it and it's predecessors, or for nostalgia, here's a thorough review of one of the all time great games. It is abandonware these days and as such can be downloaded for free although you'll need DOS emulation at the least to be able to play it.

The UFO series of games has a massive fan base and has such there is a number of fan-made games.

Probably the highest profile project is UFO:AI , a 3D remake of the original UFO: Enemy Unknown. Now it's come out of the shadows of closed development, the project is thriving and it is evolving into a showcase open source game. There's still a little way to go - you're going to struggle if you are not familiar with standard UFO gameplay - and there are frustrated players but their issues are being addressed and, with great graphics and great music, once playability is polished the final 2.0 release should be one to savour.

The road to the 2.0 release has been a fairly long one, and the developers relatively quietly released version 2.0-RC4 at the end of last month. (I don't remember seeing the announcement anywhere.) Call me old fashioned but I really think they need to just say, "Hey this is version 2.0 and the next release will be 2.01 or 2.0.1 or something." RC stands for Release Candidate, not for Remarkable Changelog. Anyway, I am digressing.

There is an even more ambitious open source UFO project - Project Xenocide. Again a 3D variant of the original game, this is a long term project with a steady history of planning and, lately, steady development. They recently added SVN tracking to their forum so activity is more obvious. Currently the only aspect of the game I'm aware that works is a gorgeous GoogleMaps-esque 3D Geoscape.

Some of the renders in the image gallery for Xenocide are of a very high calibre. I'm looking forward to seeing such high quality art incorporated in an open source game and I expect this game to emerge later next year in spectacular fashion.

The final part of the open source UFO puzzle is UFO2000. This is an old school project, taking the original game and it's graphics and turning it into a multiplayer deathmatch-style tactical UFO-fest. These days there is enough art that you do not need the original game to play UFO2000. However, whilst in its day UFO looked good, it looks very dated now. Despite supporting the use of scale2x to enhance the graphics a little, UFO2000 really shows the age of the original and will probably only appeal to hardcore fans - or those with older PCs like mine.

Like all great jigsaws, we complete it to find a leftover piece, X-Force. That's because the last open source UFO offering is Windows only. X-Force is a remake of the original and it's sequel, UFO: Terror From The Deep, modernising them whilst staying true to the 2D isometric tactical gameplay.

The website is mostly in German making it hard to really learn that much about it. From the screenshots, the game looks to be at a similar stage to Project Xenocide - more of a tech demo than a playable game. There is a download though so any Windows users or WINE experimenters might want to give it a go and leave a comment.

I'll be updating this article with screenshots later - I'm too busy falling asleep right now.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Sauerbraten, Site Upgrade


There's a new Sauerbraten download and this one is looking beautiful. Just check out the screenshot... wow! This update introduces reflective water, performance improvements, bug fixes, and lots of other little features.

Well the time has come to upgrade the Free Gamer site. Things to expect:

  • Tags
    Blogger beta introduces tags so now I can tag all my posts. What will this mean? Automatic listing of article types plus game name tags - so you can get a list of e.g. all reviews or e.g. all posts referencing game X. I'll be going back through my posts and tagging them all appropriately to adhere to this.

  • Sortable Games List
    I'm not quite sure how I'm going to do it yet, but using an AJAX table I'll have the games in a proper list sorted by genre, type, etc etc. I'll still maintain my own little top-ten but a full list where you can order by what you are looking for will make browsing the list much easier. Plus it'll be on a separate page so the information should be more direct.

  • Smaller Front Page
    The front page at the moment is somewhat massive. Only the latest article will be in full on the front page, with other recent articles summarized with links.

  • Free Gamer Logo
    I'm going to come up with one. Or if somebody else submits one, I'll take that too. ;-)
The idea is to make the site:
  1. Easier to navigate
  2. Easier to read
  3. And by virtue of the above, more useful as a resource

If anybody has any concerns or ideas, please speak up!

That downside to all this is that, due to the nature of the templating system, during the implementation period things might break or go weird or not work. This isn't because I'm erasing the site and removing the list or trying to kill newborn puppies. It is simply a consequence of trying to get the best out of which frustratingly involves doing a lot of update development directly on a live site.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Nexuiz 2.1, Savage

Nexuiz 2.1 is out (changelog). Not much to say other than this builds upon the success of Nexuiz 2.0 and continues to establish Nexuiz as a first class open source game.

I forgot to mention (sorry!) that Savage: The Battle for Newerth is now officially freeware. I read this a while ago but at the time I couldn't find links to where to actually download it. These days it's listed as a free download on the official website - at the time I came across this it seemed more conjecture than reality that it was freeware.

Savage is one of these hybrid RTS/FPS games that seem to be cropping up more regularly these days e.g. Tremulous. It's got great graphics and is free (I would attach a screenshot but I broke Firefox!) so, well, why not!? Still, I wish they would make games open source rather than just abandoning them as freeware so at least the community can fix any problems. I guess S2Games are probably a little scared of competition for the upcoming Savage 2.

Speaking of formerly commercial games being open sourced, Battle Chess is apparently now open source freeware! It would be an interest project to port it to modern operating systems. Thanks go to benjamin for pointing this out in a comment on a previous post. However I'm wondering whether sadly it is a mistake though because although the page says it is GPL there is no link to any source - there's none in the linked zip file.

Edit - thanks nelipa for point out Battle Chess is only freeware; liberated games is telling a fib.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Oh So Evil

I don't know how this game isn't more well known, but I only just found out about XEvil. This game is a cross between Commander Keen and Quake and it's very fun, if a little dated. Action packed and chaotic, it's all about extreme violence platform-style. Be warned, this game contains lots of violence and lots of adult language so really is not one for your kids should you have any.

I'm keeping an eye out for the next release of Privateer Remake or Privateer Gemini Gold. In the latter they are busy taking the rather garish low-res base and npc graphics and overhauling them, so the next release should be much more pleasing on the eye. When I downloaded PGG, I found the low-res bases too much of a clash with the gorgeous 3D space flight and it put me off considerably.

There's also a new release of Battle for Wesnoth around the corner. The amount of people contributing to this game is phenomenal and as such version 1.2 will look absolutely gorgeous. There's a massive amount of graphical polish going into the 1.2 release - lush new terrain graphics, superb portaits, and many unit updates - and a lot of new features in the game that will make it an even more pleasurable experience.

Also scheduled for a newer release is Boson. Whilst the release plan seems to have slipped a little, this is one of those open source games which has just chugged steadily away, incrementally improving without really setting alight the open source gaming community. It'd be nice to see them focus on the single player element a bit more because I think people are generally fed up of having to find opponents and engage in constant deathmatch style competition.

My opinion is that single player games are probably more valued by players, but the industry MMORPG / deathmatch polarisation has tilted development goals needlessly in favour of multiplayer gaming. I like to play a game casually to unwind, not get whooped by some ultra competitive online obsessive!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Brutal Chess, Warzone, Balder2D

Does anybody remember Battle Chess? I loved that game. I think it was one of the games that really got me hooked on using a PC after years of dedication to a spectrum. Well, great news Battle Chess lovers, there's an open source modern equivalent: Brutal Chess. It obviously needs better models and there's plenty to do (current release is 0.3 alpha) but it's an exciting find nonetheless!

There's a new Warzone 2100 release - 2.0.5rc1 (changelog) - which addresses a number of problems people had with 2.0.4, especially single player games. If you downloaded Warzone and found it buggy, it may be worth trying this update.

The author of Balder2D is looking for help testing packages for Debian/Ubuntu. The game is an overhead 2D shooter. I can't really comment on the gameplay because I don't have time to try it right now.

I just came across FreeAllegiance. If I ever hand out awards, this game will win an award for the most uninformative web page - no screenshots or information about the game? Thank the Lord for Wikipedia. It was originally developed by Microsoft Research around 2000. After failing commercially and being abandoned by Microsoft, they eventually released the source code in 2004 to the dedicated fan base. A 3D space game, it is a mixture of space combat and RTS with deathmatch based gameplay. Sounds interesting!

Thats enough for today.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

New Releases on the Horizon

There are imminent releases for OpenCity and Pingus.

OpenCity 0.0.4beta is looking a lot more playable than it's version number suggests with the TODO looking like 0.0.5 will contain most elements you'd expect in a city simulation game.

Pingus will probably be a 0.7 alpha release because the project is struggling for developers and Pingus 0.6 is getting withdrawn from distros as it needs the deprecated Clanlib 0.6 to run. It'd be nice to see a new Pingus release since the game is pretty much there, it just needs a few more levels and a tiny bit of polishing and it'll be better than the original Lemmings titles.

SuperTuxKart 0.2rc1 is available for download. There's been a lot of code activity so I'm waiting on the next rc to try it out although I think you need a good PC to play it - I've heard a few murmours that the graphics engine really needs optimising.

Enough of games that are gearing up to releases, there was a new game announced on the Linux Game Tome: Max Fighter, a 2D shooter with a strong asteroids influence. It's got nice graphics and is quite fun but the gameplay quickly becomes very repetitive and it's nowhere near as addictive as SolarWolf nor has the depth of Chromium BSU. It was also very choppy / low fps on my 1ghz laptop. In times of CPU/GPU affluence it seems that increasingly developers are caring less about optimising their games.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Hero of Allacrost

Hero of Allacrost

Hero of Allacrost is a Free single player 2D RPG game that's been in development for some time without any real release. Posted in the Wesnoth forums (rather than their own) is an update on the status of the game which is looking like it could see at least a playable demo release in the near future.

I must admit that after the initial flurry of activity that followed the initial talk about this game in late 2004 and early 2005, it seemed to have suffered the usual "my dream game" death that afflicts a lot of early start-up Free games. However it looks like the main developer(s) was patiently plugging away and congratulations on what looks like shaping up to be a fine game.

A while ago I mentioned Stunt Playground, a free stunt car racer game that was released under the GPL. Well, the same guy Walaber has released another freeware (not GPL) game - a rather cool looking 3D trampolining simulator called, er, Trampoline. Check out the website for screenshots and video links. Sadly it is Windows only.

Slightly off-topic, I was thinking about ways to make my Google ads campaign pay out a little better. I get ~250 (to ~300) views a day and make about $4 a month from this. I've been trying to redesign the site a little for a while. Breaking down the pages (i.e. have the games list on a separate page) might help as might presenting the posts as a summary linked to a separate article page. However my primary concern is not making money but presenting good information - i.e. I don't want people annoyed by ads or having to click too many times. Have we got any readers with good tips or advice? Site improvement ideas not releated to Google ads are welcome!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Review: Fish Fillets NG

Fish Fillets NG is the fan-project result of the open sourcing of the original commercial title Fish Fillets from Altar Interactive. It is a fiendishly challenging and addictive puzzle game and is refreshingly original in a genre epitomised by evolutions of popular classics.

You take on the role of two fish who are caught up in a fairly silly plot to, I think, save the ocean. The gameplay is oriented around using the two fish - one is small, the other strong - to escape a series of fiendishly difficult levels.

Clever Level Design

Lovely Graphics

You can only use your fish to move obstacles in certain ways. They can lift objects - although only the shark can lift metal objects - and push them over ground or other objects. They can't carry objects on their own though and moving an object directly over the back of a fish or dropping an object on a fish will kill it.

The level design is very clever. On many levels, not only must you perform a sequence of manoevoures to overcome obstacles but you also have to be forward thinking to make it possible to escape once the initial challenges are beaten.

The graphics are very nicely drawn, as you might expect from a formerly commercial title. The characters and levels are well animated and the fish often engage in witty banter between themselves or with other characters in a level. There are voices to accompany the subtitled text but sadly they are currently only available in Czech (the roots of the original developers). The music is palettable although repetitive after a while - and playing this game takes a good long while.

Oh so small yet so hard!

Multiple Branches

Then there is the main attraction of this game. It is hard. It is really hard. So many games are just so easy, using the same wash/rinse/repeat cycle of throwing enemies or similar puzzles at you. Not Fish Fillets. The levels vary greatly and get tougher and tougher as the game goes on. Some will take you days or even weeks to complete. It is also addictive, highly addictive. A challenging game draws you back for more and this will have you pondering over potential solutions for hours and hours. There are 70 levels to tackle and that is plenty if you consider how long some levels take to figure out. This is a game that the vast majority of players will never complete, which probably makes completing the game even more satisfying - I haven't completed it yet!

A clever thought by the original designers was to use branches for accessing new levels instead of a linear progression. Given how challenging some levels are, if there weren't other options you could easily just give up and stop playing, but fortunately there's always several levels to play at any one time.

Just in case the allure of beating the puzzles wasn't enough, there's also a global hall of fame to see who has come up with the best solutions for each level in the game. Equalling the best score for a level can often be harder than beating the level itself.

This game is released as version 0.7 at the time of writing. It is fully playable from start to finish and I haven't come across any significant bugs in probably close to a hundred hours of playing time. For immediate future development I'd like to see consolidation of existing features into the options - such as fullscreen or toggling speech. Currently you have to specify fullscreen or speech as a parameter when starting the game which is a little daunting for a novice computer user.

In the long term it would be nice to see perhaps a level editor for fanmade contributions, a transition to vector based graphics so they scale better, and voicesets for other languages - especially English. Currently the development list is a little quiet but one can always hope.

I recommend this game to anybody who fancies a challenge. It's a refreshing break from the usual 3D-fest games that you can't escape from these days. Who knows, maybe you can escape from some of the Fish Fillets levels instead!

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