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Game of the Day - Quake Live

Date/Time Permalink: 05/06/10 10:01:16 am
Category: Linux Gaming

Quake Live ss1

I finally got curious as to what all the buzz is about, and tried out Quake Live. Running Ubuntu Linux and Firefox, I registered with the server and installed the plug-in. My expectations weren't very high, since I've seen countless attempts to run FPS and other 3D games in a browser before, only to find that the performance made them unplayable *anywhere*, let alone on Linux.

Quake Live ss2

I was not just surprised, but amazed, thrilled, and tickled at how well Quake Live works on Linux! I cannot tell the difference between running it in a browser and running it installed on my own system. Every effect renders perfectly, from the laser-lights over the teleporters to the smoke from a grenade launcher, fog, rain, lava, water, and all.

Quake Live ss3

Pardon the cop-outs with getting botmatch screen-shots, but it's kind of difficult to get everybody to pose for a group photo in your average deathmatch. "Wait, don't frag me, I'm taking a -" KABOOM!

Quake Live ss5

Some tips: Pings are a function of where you are in relation to the server you're playing on, and there isn't much you can do. I find that any ping rate under 100 is playable. The best weapon is usually the lightning gun, and two people fighting with them will remind you of a lightsaber duel. It's amazing how often you can frag another player just by rushing them with the gauntlet. Practice that crazy strafe-jump technique they talk about in the training center; it will pay off. Switch the zoom and jump to space-bar and right-mouse, respectively, and your movement will be more natural.

I would say "Drop by to give me a friendly grenade hello!" but I'm rarely on. And I do tank at it, at least in comparison to those who make a career out of it!

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Son of the Return of the Rock-n-Roll DOSBox Freak Show

Date/Time Permalink: 11/06/09 12:49:57 pm
Category: Linux Gaming

From here on out, game reviews for abandonware DOSBox titles should be in the fall and winter. Who wants to play video games when it's 76 and sunny out? But after the time change, when the sun drops dead as soon as you get off work and the frost is forming by six, that's the time when you want classic DOS video games. Because there's only so many hours you can spend reading the Internet before you go all Jack Nicholson on the snowbound household.

Cartooners
Cartooners

You're not going to believe this, but Electronic Arts published this way back in 1989. Yes, the same people who brought you The Sims! This is a doodle toy, plain and simple. Click and drag backgrounds, props, actors, and speech balloons to create little frames, which you can animate and add music to and so on. There must be 100 Flash applications online these days that let you do the same thing in your browser, but in 1989 this made everyone who owned a 386 PC into the next Warner Brothers, as they, too, could now make up frames about dogs and their pet crows with crushes on cats, who had no idea, while a squirrel watched the whole scene with a mocking grin. Sadly, you could not make them get so wrapped up in cooking dinner that they peed blue puddles on the kitchen floor and then wept in shame. You'd have to wait for the Sims for that. Get it here, you wascally wabbit.

Jeopardy
Jeopardy

You haven't lived until you've heard the Jeopardy theme in 8-bit PC-speaker beeps! This early, CGA version is kind of crude, although it's hard to say how much in relation to others - I've played Jeopardy on everything from Super Nintendo to Windows PCs, and the interface is always clunky and you end up blowing a question by spelling it with a hyphen when it has none or vice versa. It's just that kind of game. One thing I notice on this version is that you will not have time to read the clue before one of your opponents rings in, even if you're Evelyn Wood. I've tried slowing down the simulation with Ctrl-F11, and it doesn't seem to help. The only way to make it a fair game is to pause it (Alt-Pause) and then you can read it slowly, go look it up in Wikipedia, call your friend, whatever. However, your computer opponents will suicidally ring in and blow questions sometimes too, so it's up to you. Find it here at What Is Underdogs?

Wheel of Fortune
WheelofFortune

Yet another CGA game show DOS port! These things were lousy common back in the '80s, lemme tell you! Not like these modern TV game shows where the only skills you need are lying, gossiping, and figuring out who's got an alliance going with whom until the final four. Anyway, this is actually quite playable and enjoyable. I'm kind of puzzled at its playing Stars and Stripes Forever after a puzzle's solved, but maybe that's the only song they could get a license for. Vanna in 8 bits rocks. I'm stalker-crushy in love with 8-bit CGA Vanna. Here it is.

LHX
LHX

Probably one of the best-kept secrets of early-1990s DOS gaming, LHX is an attack helicopter simulator. And it is outstandingly impressive for its time! The downsides are that the graphics are rather dated now and the controls take some learning, but once you master it, it will provide days of challenging play. Fly combat missions across terrain both desert and jungle, day and night, facing a huge cast of both ground-based and air-based enemies who have some pretty keen A.I. Lots of features to tweak with. Plus it has the realistic touch that when you're hit by enemy fire, it might take out one of your capabilities while leaving the rest intact, resulting in some dicey situations which are still winnable. Get this classic here.

Castle of Dr. Brain
DrBrain

Dr. Brain seems a rather eccentric character, with his peculiar taste in decor and fondness for locking everything with a puzzle. This is amusing fun for kids and kid wanna-bes, but doesn't have much reply value since the majority of puzzles are the same, or very similar, every time. Dr. Brain had a whole series out there. This is candy for old Infocom and Sierra fans, having some of the same flavor. The puns, for instance, made me groan about as loud as anything Sierra pitched at me. Will also require passing a copy-protection trap at one point; Abandonia has both the game and JPG of copy-protection codes.

Stunts
Stunts

Stunts gets special mention as the greatest driving simulator of the DOS PC era, certainly one of the better ones available on the PC, and possibly one of the best (but not realistic!) driving simulators ever, period! To deal with the nitty-gritty, I had the best luck playing the 'stunts_k.exe' version; when it asks you to enter a word from the manual (now lost in time) just leave it blank and hit 'enter' - the game should start anyway. That includes a custom-track builder, and you can also download and install custom cars and other player's tracks. Now then, if you want to talk to some real fanbois of this game, head over to ZakStunts, where you will be enthusiastically indoctrinated, and also check out the Stunts Wiki, for tips and reviews, and the Stunts racing portal for a jumping-off point to much, much more. That's right, this driving simulator from Brøderbund Software in 1990 still has an active, vocal, foaming, ranting, international fan club today! Join the cult when you download it here.

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Game of the Day - Neverball

Date/Time Permalink: 10/23/09 04:08:09 pm
Category: Linux Gaming

Neverball screenshot 1

It's about time I paid attention to Linux gaming, isn't it? My fancy new machine with excellent OpenGL support can finally run games like Neverball smoothly and flawlessly.

Neverball screenshot 2

Neverball, for those of you lagging behind, is a game of skill where you attempt to move a series of platforms and structures in such a way as to move a ball around collecting coins and then over a goal. Obstacles and perils lie in your path - you'll have to navigate catwalks, bumpy roads, bumpers, blockades, ramps, and every crazy path element you can possibly draw in GTKRadiant. Without falling off. This is much, much harder that it looks. Anyone watching you will conclude that you're drunk as a sailor.

Neverball screenshot 3

Some tips I've discovered so far: Screenshots go to your "~/neverball/" directory. Go into the "~/.neverball/neverballrc" file and change the mouse_sense number to a lower number for greater sensitivity - I have mine to 100 for a bog-standard Logitech Trackball. Most of the time you want camera on 'manual,' because when the camera is on chase it will swoop around and change the direction of your ball with it. Most of the rest of the time you'll want the more precise control of using the arrow keys.

Neverball screenshot 4

Even at that, this game is pretty darned challenging even if your reflexes are perfect. Except for the first eight or so of the tutorial levels, the level designs range from merely difficult to maniacally sadistic. I'd kind of like to see some granny levels made, where you could practice on tricks and stunts without worrying about falling out or beating a timer. I'm sure they're out there, I just haven't Sherlocked them yet.

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Game Review: Simon Tatham's Portable Puzzle Collection

Date/Time Permalink: 09/15/09 10:58:37 am
Category: Linux Gaming

some of the puzzles from the collection

While I'm usually happy blasting away demons in a FPS or pushing a necromancer with skeleton escorts to conquer yet another level-grinding dungeon, sometimes I just want to get back to the basics.

Casual puzzle games are the unsung champions of the modern game scene. The blockbuster titles get all the attention, and yet it's the simple solitaires and brain-teasers that are in every PC's menu, on every mobile phone, and bookmarked in every web browser. These games have the advantage of being portable, simple to learn, fast to start and shut-down, and providing stimulation for your little gray cells in between more pressing tasks.

So this is Simon Tatham's Portable Puzzle Collection, which I just discovered as a Zenwalk package on the kids' system, and liked so much that I went to get my own copy. My Slackware compiled the tarball without a single hiccup. After inserting the games into my Fluxbox's menu file, I've been only too happy to become addicted to fiddling with them. Here's a review of all 27 of them, without too much butter:

Black Box
I've never understood Black Box in any of its incarnations, and don't understand it here. Mysteries make Ogg nervous.

Bridges
Just puzzling enough to keep you busy for a minute. Each two circles can be connected by drawing one or two lines.

Cube
Now this is unique! Roll the cube around, try to get a colored square on each side. Also has other shapes, but I have no idea where to begin with the icosahedron.

Dominosa
Infuriatingly harder than it looks. Not for the impulsive player!

Fifteen
You've seen it before.

Filling
A "just right" challenge of space management. Plus it looks like a crossword puzzle.

Flip
Lights-Out on a flat plane, also a standard.

Galaxies
"Divide the grid into rotationally symmetric regions -" whoa, any game that has big words like that in the description is too confusing for Pooh.

Guess
Can you guess? It's Mastermind again, the first game that every code-cracker got as a kid.

Inertia
Close to being an action game, this interesting little puzzler hooks you in with being easy at first, but almost confounding when it comes to sweeping up that last seemingly inaccessible diamond.

Light Up
A unique puzzle of placing lamps to illuminate a grid.

Loopy
I understand this one, and have yet to solve even the simplest board. I am reduced to staring at a new board for a few seconds, hitting 'solve', and then staring at it some more going, "How does it do that?"

Map
Ever since I heard of the four-color map theorem, I always said it would make a cool little game. Now it is one!

Mines
Minesweeper again. No surprises.

Net
The network game that you've also seen many times, although it's not as old as other examples; I only remember first seeing these a few years ago. One of my favorites.

Netslide
So here's a twist on the network game; you can't spin the elements, you can only shift them in wrap-around columns and rows. Way to make a previously undemanding game 100 times harder!

Pattern
Merely looking at this colossal beast is enough to scare me off. It looks impenetrable.

Pegs
The jumping-peg game you've been playing since you were a kid and your parents bought you the wooden version they were selling at that restaurant you went to on summer vacation.

Rectangles
Another unique puzzler. Math and geometry geeks will love it.

Same Game
The same SameGame game, like any same game you can name. But not lame!

Sixteen
Some smart aleck took the 'fifteen' puzzle, added a tile, and made it like a combination lock where you rotate columns and rows to solve it. Find him and spank him.

Slant
Almost too hard to grasp, but I kind of got the hang of it after awhile. Probably the only puzzle game in existence where the solution is to draw a maze. Huh.

Solo
Soduko... or is it Sudoku? Or Sodoku? Or S[ou]d[ou]k[ou]? So I'm all in favor of changing this game's name to 'Solo'. But anyway it's the fill-the-number-in-the-grid puzzle that came out of nowhere a few years back and has now taken over the puzzle-book aisle.

Tents
Very, very unique. It's like something Martin Gardner would have thought of when he was in Boy Scouts.

Twiddle
Kinda difficult take on the numbers-grid puzzle, where you rotate four squares at a time.

Unequal
I've tried this a few times, and maybe I was tired from the other puzzles, but Latin squares are difficult enough to figure out by themselves without following extra constrained rules.

Untangle
Cute little spacial reasoning puzzle. I've only seen it once before as a Flash game.

Now, the games themselves are just the beginning. Because, you see, each game has different levels and layouts that you can choose, as well as a 'custom' feature where you get to set your own parameters! This adds tons of replay value, as you get to see what Mastermind would be like with eight rows and only two colors of peg, or what Peg Solitaire would be like with random-blob shaped boards, or whether Soduku will drive you insane with a jigsaw layout.

All in all, lots of bang for a tiny investment of time. I've known Nintendo DS cartridges that couldn't say as much.

Update In my Fedora system as of 2012, the package can be found under the name of "puzzles-9023".

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Return of the Rock-n-Roll DOSBox Freak Show

Date/Time Permalink: 08/20/08 12:25:03 pm
Category: Linux Gaming

Summer's going too fast, man. The kids are almost back in school, already, which makes this the perfect time for the grown-ups to huddle back to their simulated DOS directory and play at some goofy, childish fun. So once again, we crank up DOSBox and grab random stuff off the abandonware buffet. Sometimes for nostalgia, sometimes for thrills, and most of the time just for the endorphin rush from the masochism.

Secret Agent

Secret Agent

A little-known and hard-to-find Apogee classic, this game sports harsh Windows 3.1-era colors, buzzy 8-note beeps, and is doggone hard to play. This game is pretty low-quality for an Apogee title, and you get the feeling that they wrote it more to test an engine or fill time between blockbusters than for the game itself. The splash screen is the best part. But it still beats working. Because there's a man who leads a life of danger, and to everyone he meets he stays a stranger. With every move he makes another chance he takes. And something about odds. Get it here.

MicroProse F1 One Grand Prix / World Circuit

Grand Prix

As far as I can tell, this game was doomed by having its name be too long. After that, it's a game of ups and downs. Ups: graphics, handling, realism. It looks fantastic for 1993. Downs: sound (minor) and controls (major!). The controls have a maddening default setup, and you will find yourself in nested-menu-maze hell trying to change anything. Well, what do you use to accelerate and brake? The 'a' and 'z' keys. So, with that in mind, you'd expect to steer with the arrow keys? No, you steer with the mouse by default - which is set to this slow tracking speed so you need to frantically spin the mouseball at Mach 8 to get the car to change its heading by one degree. Oh, so you shift with the mouse buttons? No, silly, it's space bar to shift. Oh, and if you try to steer it with the arrow keys, that will either (depending on mode) switch drivers (you have co-pilots in practice mode), or switch camera views, which will startle you when, without explanation, you teleport to the sidelines to watch your now out-of-control shark fly off the road and nerf a chicken coop. Here it is, good luck!

Barbie Super Model

Barbie Super Model

Meanwhile, while we were all sitting around wondering why there aren't any girl gamers, the executives at Hi-Tech Expressions, Inc. were puffing their stogies around the big walnut table in their Star Chamber trying to figure out how to get girls to game. Their solution was to make games be all cloying pink hearts and diamonds and glitter and bouncy techno music. Barbie must train to be a super-model, which will involve riding a motorcycle through flaming hoops, wrestling crocodiles, beating a Kung-Fu master with nunchucks, and taking off her belt and using it to whip the flaming Jesus out of corporate game executives just like that big Indian dude did to Steve Buscemi in Fargo. You wish. Actually, it involves doing The Catwalk. You want to do The Catwalk? It's Alt, Down, Alt, Left, Control, Up, Control, Up. Better practice that a dozen times so you don't blow it in front of the crowd. Get it here, fer shure!

7 Colors

7 Colors

7 Colors is just the kind of quirky, one-of-a-kind game I go looking for when I go abandonware snarfing. Since it isn't given in the game, I'll say here that you switch colors along the row at the bottom with the 'z' and 'c' keys, and select a color with the 'x' key. Switch colors on your home group to match all adjacent groups, and your home group will absorb more groups and grow to dominate the board. Gain more territory than your opponent and win. This is a thinky game, with classical music and a set-your-own-pace playing style. It's more fun than you're thinking it is, and I could see it making a good casual Flash game. Discover it here.

Family Feud

Family Feud

In the category of "My God, I can't believe I'm playing this!" comes this ancient hoary relic from 1987. Yes, kids, they had computers then. To look at the screenshot, if I told you it was actually a LiteBrite board, you'd believe me. Anyway, the game is very playable, albeit some of the questions date the game severely. If anybody out there can figure out how to edit the questions files and update them, we could start a revival around this thing. But, see, I always sucked at F.F. and Wheel of Fortune type games, because when the question is "Name a specific food some people like with sugar and some like without." and two of the answers are 'coffee' and 'tea', I stand up and howl in rage "Coffee and tea are beverages, dammit, not foods!" And then I just tearfully flail at the ushers until they haul me out of the theater. You can have it if you want it.

Previous in this series:
The Rock-n-Roll DOSBox Freak Show
Son of the Rock-n-Roll DOSBox Freak Show

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Why I Think Games Aren't a Focus on Linux

Date/Time Permalink: 03/14/08 09:35:53 pm
Category: Linux Gaming

It is perhaps a sign of advancement of Linux as a platform that people are starting to seriously ask the question: "Where are the Linux gamers?" Just recently, I've seen Mad Penguin ask it, followed by this indie-game developer's blog. The question also got batted around on Slashdot.

Of course, we enter into the discussion with the assumption already established that there are fewer Linux users, and that game companies mostly take no notice of Linux except to burn it in effigy. Duh, we know. Even if you adjust for that, there's a lower percentage of Linux gamers. Onward:

First, my own experiences:

For one thing, I have the experience of having run both Linux and Windows extensively. Back in the pre-Linux days, it was a monthly family expenditure to go to the mall and buy the latest hot game title. Now, that sentence contains the seed of an epiphany: Every month, we'd get sick and tired of the games we currently had and want something new. Every game that we brought home would be played obsessively for about two weeks, then the interest would taper off.

After seven years living Windows-free, I related here that I was allowing a discarded Windows machine to live under my roof. It's running five feet away as I type. We still have a box of Windows games left over from several yard sales' worth of weeding out, so I loaded those up. I've also downloaded new freeware titles to run there.

And guess what? Nobody touches the machine for weeks at a time. Even the kids burned out on it after awhile. You know who plays on it the most? My wife. What would she gravitate back to Windows for? Warcraft, the Sims, Quake, Diablo? Nope, she plays... solitaire! Apparently, Windows solitaire will be the unbeatable epitome of desktop card games for all of time. Yes, I've loaded card games galore on her Linux machine, but they just aren't the same. That's OK, I'll happily hand Microsoft the solitaire crown. It's just too amusing that a four-person household considers solitaire to be the only thing Microsoft ever did right.

Anyway, we all have our own Linux computers. And those, too, are loaded with every kind of game we can find for it. Which is considerably more than it used to be a few years ago.

So, now, what do I think is the general explanation? Why isn't there more demand for Linux games?

For one thing, Linux users self-select a lot of the time for work-oriented activities, as opposed to playing. Hey, if you go work as a freelancer online, it's kind of like a real game where you keep score with checks in the mail! I have just as much fun building something nifty or drawing cool artwork as I do playing games. Add to that the developers and system admins who gravitate to Linux. When they play at all, they play Nethack. Not the fancy Falcon's Eye version, no, the text mode in the console.

For another thing, there is an explosion of free (as in beer) games. I'm not just talking about GPL'ed games (though some are worthy of consideration alongside commercial titles), but the legacy stuff that the industry has been cranking out for about three decades. Linux is up for consideration as the king of emulation platforms. We've got Wine, XMame, ZSNES, and DOSBox; basically every game ever released ever for any platform is playable on Linux, as long as it's mature (over about seven or so years old) - a few exceptions aside. When I recently went on a binge of indiscriminately downloading classic DOS games and reported on it here and here, I was having a blast. It didn't matter that the games were old - they were new to me. So that's another thing, is that there's a growing archive of perfectly good abandonware out there that's basically just as good to play as anything you can buy today anyway. We're talking play value here, not graphics.

One small factor in the lack of demand for Linux games might be emotional. I know if EA or Blizzard suddenly released games for the Linux platform (and that would only happen if they spiked the water cooler with LSD and forget to take their mean-capitalist pills that day), I'd be all, "You treated us like dirt for fifteen years and now you want us for a customer?" Perhaps game companies are aware that they have burned bridges with the open source community. I sure as anything hope they are.

But one bigger consideration might just be: There's more to life than games. We're all aging here. To take a wild guess, I'd say the average age of the Linux home user is higher than the norm. Certainly, people have an easier time adjusting to Linux if they knew something before the Microsoft boom. Those of us who grew up with games and are now raising kids, tend to take them in stride, and our kids absorb some of that attitude. As these digital generations age, they just tend to get burned out on *any* game, no matter how engrossing.

Did I hit it? How about the rest of you? Are you so sorely missing the gaming action on Linux that you'll actually spend money on it, or is it just not an issue?

A mock O'Reilly manual for Penguin Pete

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Son of the Rock-n-Roll DOSBox Freak Show

Date/Time Permalink: 02/08/08 04:38:29 pm
Category: Linux Gaming

Well, here it is, Friday afternoon with no upcoming StupidSuperbowl or StupidSuper Tuesday to distract us... an even better time to plug in DOSBox and wallow in DOSBox retro-gaming coolness! So here's some more random roadside attractions on the way to DOS gaming Valhala:

Monty Python's Flying Circus

Monty_Python_game

Sure, you're like any geek; you hear about this and go, "There's a Monty Python game??? I must play it!" Yes, and I feel guilty about posting the screenshot. It really does look like a playable version of Terry Gilliam's animations. And it plays very nicely (well, for a Monty Python fan looking for a fix anyway) except for one. small. detail. You can't tell from the screenshot. It plays the TV show theme. In PC speaker-beeps. "DEE-doop doo-doo-doo-doo-DEEP DE-DOOP de-Doop de-Doop de DEEE..." Over and over and over. In a continuous loop you can't shut off. I tried playing as far as I could, getting to about the fourth screen before I was screaming "GAAAHHHH! I CAN'T TAKE IT ANY MORE!!!" You could replace waterboarding with this. Get it here, masochists.

Ringworld: Revenge of the Patriarch

Ringworld

In another moment of rampant fanboy fever, I tried this. We've been waiting for a Ringworld movie for so long now, it feels like it's in a race with Duke Nukem Forever. I am such a raving Niventard that after this much time, nothing less would satisfy me than to have Peter Jackson do the trilogy with the same budget he had for Lord of the Rings. But on to the game any way; it's a ho-hum adventure game with not much to distinguish it. Ringworld fans will be immediately familiar with the concepts - non-fans will probably be lost. Story-wise, it fits kind of in between the first and second Ringworld novels, with more of an interactive-fiction feel to it than an adventure game. I'd give it a one-word review: mediocre. Get it here.

Scrabble Deluxe

Scrabble

No kidding, a Scrabble computer game where you can play against the machine. Word game fanatics will love it in spite of its faults, but the rest of you should know: it shows you the opponent's letter rack at all times, spoiling one of the tactical aspects of the game. And another thing, its dictionary is one of those weird Scrabble ones that has words like "qua" and "ai" and "naoi" that nobody uses, and it isn't a plain text file like /usr/share/dict/words so editing it (or even updating it) becomes difficult. But what the foo, its free as in beer, and it's still good, challenging fun for all ages. Get it here.

Ford Simulator

FordSim

When the marketing department designs software, this is what you get. A showcase of the Ford models available for the given year (1992 in this case), a way to look at them in different colors, and a "driving simulator". Contrary to the rave review over at Underdogs, I didn't think the simulator was all that great - it's primitive even compared to Pole Position. But I suppose this gave the software crew at Ford something to do during downtime. It is useful if you want to generate a quick car model in a specific color for later Gimping... Get it here.

Primal Rage

Primal rage

Of all the fighting game ever made, it was Primal Rage that caught my attention. Dude, fighting dinosaurs! I mean, D00D!!!11 This actually worked quite well, although I discovered that you must install it to the same directory as the installer itself. Also, it has a minor bug where returning from pause (Ctrl-Pause in DOSBox) makes it loop with an error, but using its own pause (spacebar) doesn't. I also discovered that you have to play it by starting INSTALL.EXE every time, and just skip to play; PRAGE.EXE exits with an error when called alone. And you're going to have to re-discover all the special move-combo key sequences again, as there are a dozen conflicting lists I've found on the web and only half of the key combos as given seem to work. It's just about close to as good as the arcade version. Get it here.

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The Rock-n-Roll DOSBox Freak Show

Date/Time Permalink: 02/04/08 08:08:35 pm
Category: Linux Gaming

I'm glad that somebody who can get away with saying these things has finally said it: Linux is becoming more Windows-compatible than... well... Windows! Of course, we can quantify that to mean "open source software, which hangs out with Linux a lot".

Yes, I too, have been noticing how GNU and Linux are becoming the de-facto standard bases for virtualization and emulation. Over and over, I see people in forums complaining about some favorite game or application not working on Windows, and several people pop up with recommendations for DOSBox and Wine. Even on Windows, DOSBox is held up as a solution to many problems.

What Windows-native programs have I gotten running on Wine this year? Incredible Machine, Starcraft, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Quake, and the Windows-version of MakeHuman, to name a few. Not five feet from me sits a running Windows XP box, and yet when I get hold of a Windows program, the first thing I think is to see if it runs on Wine. It usually does.

But DOSBox - ah! This is getting to be one fun program. Version 0.72 has shown a stellar boost in performance - there's almost nothing I can find that won't run in tip-top shape on it now. Since my recent explorations of Heretic and Hexen, I've started to snarf DOS games at random just to try them out. About 80% of what ran on DOS is now freeware, shareware, or abandonware, so it's just one big all-you-can-snarf buffet out there.

So, what would a typical day look like if you simply spent the whole thing searching and downloading at whim and wild hair random, running every DOS game you can get your hands on? The good, the bad, the cosmetically challenged, and to no further purpose than to stop every now and then and reflect, "I can't believe I'm playing this"? Let's find out now.

Rings of the Magi

ROTM

An innovative puzzle game of arrow buttons and sliding rings which look like Froot Loops, all on a wooden board with some "magickal" hugger-mugger behind it. Speaking of Froot Loop, who's the Aryan Brother in the gay sapphire robe who mentors this thing, with Jedi-wannabe quotes like "You must try harder." and "When I am gone, you must take my place."? Every time I play it, I feel like I'm being drawn into a cult. Get it here.

Ms. Pac-Man - PC

MsPacPC

A freeware implementation of Ms. Pac-Man, just like the arcade. Really! Only the screen scrolls up and down so it will fit into a 640x480 buffer without tarnishing its glory. And it always exits with a simple "Have a nice day". Get it here.

Brutal - Paws of Fury

Paws_o_Fury

A typical Street Fighter clone, done with martial-arts-using critters. Play as Prince Leon of Kenya, Kendo Coyote, Karate Croc, and many more. Since I haven't mastered the complex keyboard control yet, nor have I dithered out how to slow it down without crashing it, my experience with this game so far has been: (1) Pick awesome cute critter. (2) Suffer humiliating defeat at the hands and feet of a killer rabbit who is always the first character. (3) Goto 1. Do it drunk - twice the hilarity! Get it here.

Captain Comic

Capt_Comic

Sure, it's ancient. It uses about eight colors, knows how to beep in about eight notes, is crude, slow-paced, and really, really simple. But I think this is probably the very first PC graphical game I ever played, back when one of my kid friends showed up with a floppy disk full of freebies he'd gotten off a bulletin board site. This is the kind of experience filed away in my memory along with the oldest computer jargon I know ("nup"). So it always has a fond place in my processor. Don't be dissin on my homie Comic! Get it here.

Alien Carnage - a.k.a. Halloween Harry

Alien_Carnage

All kidding aside, this game is ten pounds of awesome in a five-pound bag. As popular as Apogee's 2D shooters always were, it's amazing that this, their crowning jewel in the genre, isn't better known. It's been officially released as freeware, and I'm darned if it isn't better than half of the games I've paid for! Incredible graphics for the time, bouncy music, huge levels, smooth play, innovative features such as buying ammo from vending machines and vertical travel with a jetpack instead of just jumping, a sense of humor, and surprises around every corner! The opening splash screens and dialog alone will remind you of a very well-produced demo-scene show. As smooth and polished as this is, how could it possibly have been released back in 1994? Get it here.

OK, everybody back to work...

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The Unique Problem of Go

Date/Time Permalink: 10/11/07 11:46:50 am
Category: Linux Gaming

A Go board I drew in POVray

This Slashdot article reminded me of one of my favorite games. It is about the continuing effort to try to make computers good at Go.

Go is an active topic in the free software community. There's the excellent GNU-Go engine, the CGoban GUI front end, and then there was Hikarunix, the Linux live CD devoted entirely to the game of Go. It is a shame to see that Hikarunix appears to have closed since this review was written. Here's the Wikipedia article on it. Damn, I'd be happy to host that distro myself, if anybody out there is connected to the project and reading this, and it's not too late.

I also blush a little bit whenever I hear a discussion of the difficulty of programming Go, because... I took a shot at it. This was back in my grasshopper days when I was tinkering with the SDL library and C. At the time, GNUGo was much slower, and I tried to make a one-piece engine and GUI front-end, that would be faster. It's fast alright, and it plays worse than a drunk monkey.

It was an experimental theory of mine. I looked at Conway's game of Life, the Go board, and thought, "What if you tried to make the computer play its pieces like a cellular automation?" And so, my Go game had no clue about how to win the game, but instead played according to a set of rules. It would evaluate each move with numeric values that were added and subtracted according to the rules, then pick from amongst the highest-scoring moves using a bubble-sort.

First, I coded an array of integer board position values, which gave a slight bias for playing along the fourth and third lines of the edges and corners. Then I made a huge algorithm which would sweep the board, noting which spaces were enclosed by a color, which stones were part of which group, how many liberties each group had, what influence each space had (i. e. if the nearest stones were all one color, even if it wasn't enclosed), and so on.

Then the rules. Like the crackpots who pursue perpetual motion, I was naively convinced that if I could put in the right rules in the right balance, decent Go playing would magically occur. Some of the rules were pretty easy to get right, such as not playing into one-stone atari and not filling in your own eyes. It could spot when it had the opportunity to capture a large group. And because I gave it an aversion to putting too many stones in one place, it tended to surround territory instead of filling in huge blocks.

But the rest of the rules faltered. Due to the subtle nature of Go strategy, or due to my own inability to do it right, I never got it to a basic strategy level. I was particularly frustrated at getting it to close off an opening in the event of a peep. It is also prone to obvious boners like playing a single stone right on the edge in the middle of nowhere or not recognizing a ladder, and it is woefully vulnerable to captures, particularly snap-backs.

Like I say, I was researching an idea. It is certainly a time-consuming little hobby...

If you're confused at the jargon I'm bandying about, the fantastic Sensei's Library is the place to start. It is a Wiki-like database of information for everything Go-related you could possibly imagine. The sheer size of the database helps to underline the point that Go is one flaming heck of a complex game.

If anybody else out there has been taking an individual stab at programming Go, do please talk about it in the comments. Maybe we could trade notes. I used to say GNUGo is good enough, but I have recently beaten it, which means that soon I'll be beating it regularly if I play it enough. Perhaps Go is just one of those things that computers weren't meant to be incredibly good at.

Update: According to Distrowatch, Hikarunix is discontinued. You can still get it from this download server.

I am going to try to find out more. Go really *needs* a Linux distro - the FOSS resources for it are scattered to the four winds, and a tight distro like Damn Small Linux (which is what Hikarunix is built on) is a perfect match. It really is valuable to both the Linux and Go communities to have it all on one iso, ready to boot.

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