With all the talk about Linux for the Desktop, Linux
for the Server, Linux for the Toaster, and Linux for
the Masses there's one area that gets consistent
criticism: gaming. Popular wisdom is that Linux will
never be good for gaming because open source developers
don't write games. Open source developers don't like to
have fun, apparently.
Well, it's not true. None of it is true.
I did a fairly exhaustive search for Linux games,
installing them and running them on my own machine, and
this article is entirely about what I found. Like many
applications, each game is lacking in some area. Since
most of these games are pre-1.0 versions, it's not
surprising at all. I ruled out any game that crashed my
X server, requires root privileges, or is unplayable
for any other reason. I've also ruled out games that
are generally bundled with CD distributions, since you
already know about those. So here is a list of games
that are playable, relatively stable, and fun.
My test hardware consists of an 800mhz Duron processor, 256MB of DDR
RAM, an nVidia TNT2 video card, and VIA's infamous
AC'97 onboard sound system. These games all ran well on
my system, so you should be able to compare your system
specs to mine and easily extrapolate how well they
should run on your own system.
is a pretty standard platform game. It is
structured in levels, but organized as missions. You
play Bob, a blob whose purpose is to rescue soldiers
that are marked Missing In Action due to an alien
invasion and subjugation. The game is playable and has
many levels, an excellent mod-based soundtrack, and
some pretty polished graphics. Some of the graphics and
levels are reminiscent of the old arcade game Strider,
and the plot itself is similar. Game play is different,
for the most part. According to Parallel Realities'
website, Blobwars is story-complete and all that's left
for a 1.0 release is testing and bug fixing.
I installed Blobwars from the generic Linux RPM
provided, and it ran fine. Like most Linux games, it
uses a selection of SDL libraries. Blobwars is licensed
under the GPL.
SDL Vexed 0.6
is a SDL-perl clone of the popular PalmOS
Vexed is a puzzle game. Your goal is to eliminate all blocks on a
level by placing each one adjacent to one another. When
you move a block, you can move it left or right. If
there is empty space under it, it will fall. Game play
is slightly different than the PalmOS version, so if
you've been a fan of the original game you will have to
adjust. The soundtrack appears to be minimal but good,
and reminiscent of the soundtrack in Frozen Bubble.
Here, again, I don't have any idea what is planned for
a 1.0 release, but the 0.6 release has many levels. In
fact, I looked in the levels subdirectory and saw that
the game was written to use the levels in the original
Vexed game. There don't
appear to be any new levels over the existing Vexed for
PalmOS, but it does look like SDL Vexed may well provide
a path to a level editor that will be advantageous for
both games. The graphics are good, but still a little
rough around the edges.
The game doesn't actually install, you just need to
make sure you have SDL-perl installed. Then unpack the
tarball, cd into the directory, and run it. SDL Vexed is
released under the GPL.
Armagetron Advanced 0.2.7.0
(A slight disclaimer, I am somewhat involved in this project.)
is a fork of the game Armagetron.
You may already know Armagetron from your distribution,
it comes with Mandrake, SuSE, and possibly others. In
Armagetron Advanced you are a light cycle on a grid,
and wherever you go this big wall appears behind you.
The object of the game is to coerce the other players
to crash into your wall. It's an excellent 3d gaming
version of the light cycle sequence from Tron. Like all
of the best games in history, game play itself is very
simple, but the game is not. Played as a network game,
you will find servers that range in abilities; some
will have a steep learning curve for survival, while others
will be more friendly to new players. There is a
sizeable and growing community around this game.
Armagetron Advanced has a decent collection
of sound samples and does a good job panning the sounds.
Many players have become dependent on the sounds as
clues to what is going on around them. The graphics are
excellent and fairly well-polished, but the game is
lacking a musical soundtrack. Sound effects are
present, non-intrusive, and actually reflective of the
game you see. The game is playable now, and continues
to get better.
I installed Armagetron Advanced using the generic Linux
RPM provided by the project. I was also able to
successfully build it with the SDL libraries provided
by Mandrake. Armagetron Advanced is released under the GPL.
is a first person shooter game. It appears that Cube
brings some interesting innovation to this field;
according to this statement from
their web page: "Cube is a landscape-style engine that
pretends to be an indoor FPS engine, which combines
very high precision dynamic occlusion culling with a
form of geometric mipmapping on the whole world for
dynamic LOD for configurable fps & graphic detail on
" Whatever that means.
I enjoyed the game when I played it.
Cube appears to have a very active
community of players and servers, and it doesn't take
long to find a server for you to get your brains blown
out. Game play was fairly typical of first person
shooters, but the Cube developers have made some real
strides in eliminating lag, the biggest problem facing
first person shooting. Speaking as a metal-head, the
heavy metal soundtrack was outstanding and varied. The
sound effects themselves were good, and with the
polished graphics combined well to make a fairly
realistic playing experience.
I almost didn't include Cube because it didn't fit some
of my criteria. Namely, it has a tendency to run out of
memory and crash, leaving my X environment stuck in Cube's native
resolution. Cube also didn't surrender
my mouse gracefully after one session. I decided I
could safely ignore these problems since they are
doubtless bugs that will be fixed soon. If you want
a good open source first person shooter, Cube is it.
Cube includes binaries for all supported platforms in
one tarball. It is released under the Zlib license.
Battle for Wesnoth 0.8
The Battle for Wesnoth
is a fantasy turn-based strategy
game with a twist. It is story-driven. Victory
conditions for maps range from "Destroy the bad guys" to "Run a player
character to a specific point on the map".
There are even factions on the maps that are allies,
but you don't get to control them. I found myself
getting sucked into a world of trolls, orcs, elves, and
magic even though I had thought I had outgrown such
things. The soundtrack is pretty complete with a good
variety of music and sound effects. All the little
bells and whistles appear to be present, with fun
animations for combat, walking units, and even
standalone hexes on the map. The map itself doesn't
have grid lines by default, and unless you turn on the
grid lines, you may not even notice the map is hexagonal.
I did have a little trouble installing Battle for
Wesnoth. The Mandrake packages provided didn't install
on my system, so I built the source code tarball. The
build went smoothly although it did take some time.
Naturally I recommend building from source, but you may
find the packages work for you. Battle for Wesnoth is
released under the GPL.
Crimson Fields 0.4.4
(A disclaimer for this one as well, I am pretty involved
with Crimson Fields.)
is a turn-based strategy game set way in
the future on another planet. You are the leader of
the Free Nexus Army, a rebel group whose purpose in
life is to overthrow the alien invaders and bring
independence back to the planet of Nexus. Crimson
Fields draws a lot of inspiration from the old Battle
Isle series, and supports the map format from that
series. It is still a very young project and only comes
with a few maps, but it is playable now. You can play
by email, hot seat, or locally against the computer. It
has a soundtrack of exactly one song, and during
extended play you may find that one song to be worth
disabling after a while. Sound effects are pretty
minimal as well, but both are at the level expected for
a pre-0.5 release.
I have installed Crimson Fields every which way, and it
installs smoothly. There are
user-contributed packages for every operating system
under the sun, and the project directly provides a
source tarball, source rpm, and generic Linux rpm.
Crimson Fields is released under the GPL.
is a flight simulator. FlightGear claims to
have a huge selection of airports and accurate scenery
to accompany its airports. I was unable to confirm any
of this because the few times I managed to get the
plane off the ground it crashed. That is actually my
litmus test of how good a flight simulator is. If I
can't get the plane off the ground, it must be good.
I'm starting to suspect I'll have to go to flight
school to be able to play this game, so if flight
simulators are your thing, you definitely need to check
this game out. I can say, however, that I'm dying to
see the beautiful scenery that I see in their
screenshots. FlightGear only ran at about 10 frames per
second on my machine, you will definitely need
more powerful hardware than what I have.
FlightGear can be tricky to download. For some of their
packages they depend on rpmfind.net, and for others
you have to surf through their ftp mirrors.
I have built FlightGear from source before, so it's
definitely possible, but it's a build on the order of
the Linux kernel itself--it takes a while. When you
manage to find a binary download it's going to be very
large, 98MB large. Luckily they offer it on CD as well,
so if either bandwidth or patience are problems you are
currently experiencing, consider ordering a CD.
FlightGear is released under the GPL.
There are a number of web sites you can visit that keep
tabs on the Linux gaming community. Here is a list of
- LINUXGAMES -
A community news site that accepts story submissions from its readers.
- The Linux Game Tome -
attempts to catalog every single game available for Linux.
- The Linux Gamers' Game List -
A searchable list that offers filtering and sorting of the games in
The list is fairly old, but is still a good way to find established games.
- Games for Linux -
Another searchable list that supports user ratings.
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