At linux.conf.au 2005 in Canberra, kernel hacker Rusty Russell was heard to
voice a complaint. It seems that he had discovered The Battle for Wesnoth
, and his productivity
had suffered ever since. He mentioned it again some months later in
Ottawa, so one presumes that the problem had not yet gone away. Rusty is
not the only developer who has been afflicted by the Wesnoth disease over
the last year. If the pace of free software development appears to have
slowed recently, Wesnoth may well be to blame.
Battle for Wesnoth 1.0 was released on October 2.
Your editor, being a serious type, does not normally see fit to play
computer games (those past episodes with DND, rogue, empire, netrek,
nethack, etc. were just aberrations, honest). But a 1.0 release of a
popular, GPL-licensed game calls out for investigation; journalistic ethics
require it. So your editor pulled down the new release and checked it
out. For a while. In fact, the LWN Weekly Edition almost did not happen
this week, and it's all Wesnoth's fault.
Wesnoth is a two-dimensional swords, sorcery, and strategy game. In its
most basic form, the player must lead an army of elvish fighters against
the enemy (played by the computer), occupy villages, rape, pillage, and
wipe out the opposing leader. There is a variety of different character
types with different capabilities, and characters grow with experience.
The game includes a tutorial which makes getting started easy. There is
also a pleasant set of musical tracks and (sometimes less pleasant)
sound effects that go with the game. Your editor did not know, previously,
that ghosts would grunt when struck.
The game was designed to be extended. An editor packaged with Wesnoth (and
which is fun to work with in its own right)
makes it easy to design battlefields, and tools are available for the
creation of complete games. Many "campaigns" designed by users are
hosted on the central Wesnoth server; they are easily downloaded
from within the game and played. Wesnoth also offers multi-player operation.
It has often been said that gaming is one area where free software will
never come close to the proprietary competition. The high expense and
hit-oriented nature of the commercial game industry simply sets the bar too
high. And, in fact, Wesnoth is still a far cry from commercial battle
games available for proprietary platforms. The turn-oriented play,
relatively simple animation, and hexagonal-grid landscape all look
primitive compared to a high-budget commercial game.
But the gap is closing. Wesnoth as a game is engaging, challenging, and
visually and aurally pleasing. Wesnoth may not be able to compete with the
latest commercial blockbuster, but it does demonstrate that the free software
community is getting better at creating games. In this area, as with many
others, our reach is increasing.
There is another important aspect to Wesnoth's success which was also pointed
out by Rusty. There is plenty of good programming in Wesnoth, but it
doesn't stop there. Somebody has spent quite a bit of time designing
graphics and animated effects. Others have contributed music which one is
tempted to leave playing even after one has been crushed by the opposition
and seen one's castles go up in flames. As free software develops, there
will be more need for people who can make these kinds of contributions.
Wesnoth has set an example - applicable to a much wider range of
development projects - on how non-code contributors can be welcomed.
For that, if nothing else, the Wesnoth 1.0 release deserves hearty
Now your editor must go off and retry The Eastern Invasion one more time...
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