All work and no play makes for unhappy users. For Linux users, finding satisfying games to play can be a challenge, though not an insurmountable one.
History and Failed Attempts
Many have hoped to replace Windows and other proprietary desktop systems
with Linux, so it has naturally been a focus of many commercial and
community efforts over the years to target Linux as a gaming
platform. Many, if not most, of these efforts have failed or have only
enjoyed a modest amount of success.
Consider, for instance, Loki, which struggled and ultimately failed in its bid to port Windows games to Linux. The company landed several major publishing deals to port major (at the time) games to Linux. It brought very popular games to Linux, including Unreal Tournament, Sid Meyers Civilization, and (this author's favorite) Quake III Arena. Despite providing a decent selection of popular and current games for Linux, the existing Linux desktop market in 2000 and 2001 was simply too small to support the company — and the existence of a selection of popular games was not enough to drive adoption of Linux.
One of Mandrake's (eventually Mandriva) unsuccessful products was a Gaming Edition based on Mandrake 8.1. The Gaming Edition added TransGaming's WineX to help install Windows-based games, and a copy of The Sims. Despite being only slightly more expensive than buying The Sims standalone, the Gaming Edition didn't merit a repeat and Mandrake never released a second attempt.
WineX was a customized version of Wine optimized to play Windows
games. Eventually that became Cedega,
which is still in active development and competes with the, similarly
Wine-based, CodeWeavers CrossOver Games.
All of these efforts were or are proprietary in whole or part, and
derivative of existing efforts. They were either porting proprietary games
to Linux, or enabling proprietary Windows-based games to run on Linux. But
several projects are also trying to bring quality, native, open source
games to Linux.
Going Concerns and Native Efforts
Finding games for Linux is not difficult, particularly if one seeks only
simple puzzle, card, or board game analogs on the computer. For example, GNOME and KDE each ship a handful of simple games
that provide ample amusement during conference calls or to while away a few
minutes between more productive tasks. Users who enjoy card games, Mahjong,
Sudoku, Chess, and other similar games will find the selection much to
But users looking for games that are competitive with more complex,
immersive, arcade-style games that one can find easily on Windows will come
up with just a handful. For example, Armagetron is a multiplatform game that
takes its cue from the lightcycles in Tron. Several games have been
developed based on the GPLed engine released by id Software from Quake III
Arena, like OpenArena, Nexuiz/Xonotic, World of Padman, Tremulous, and ioquake3.
Players who enjoy role playing games and multiplayer action have found Battle for Wesnoth to be particularly satisfying. Other players prefer old DOS games reimagined, such as Scorched 3D, or clones of Super NES games like the addictive Crack Attack! Aspiring air guitarists might enjoy the Rock Band clone Frets on Fire, which lets players test their virtual guitar skills via the keyboard.
Ryzom was a popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game
(MMORPG) that went through a long journey before
being released as open source. After various campaigns starting back in
2006, it was finally released as
free software in May. Ryzom looks to be under active development and if you poke around long enough on the developer site you can find the install instructions for getting it running on Linux.
Another MMORPG is WorldForge,
which has been under development since 1997. It seems to be a fairly active
community with plenty of
development going on. It's no substitute for World of Warcraft, as it
is under active development, but it does look like something that will
provide a rich environment for many styles of MMORPGs down the
Bundling Linux games
Still, Linux doesn't quite match Windows for games in terms of variety
or quality. One can find a handful of quality games for Linux if you are
willing to look, and certainly enough to while away a few weekends or
evenings in front of the computer, but hard-core gamers are going to be
dissatisfied. The latest and greatest blockbuster games usually don't run
Casual gamers will fare better if they can find Linux games. Users who are new to Linux and searching for games can have a hard time discovering suitable games for their tastes without guidance. It helps to have a unifying project that pulls together a selection of games, such as the Fedora Games Live DVD, a "spin" of Fedora that focuses on Linux gamers.
The Fedora Games Spin serves several purposes. First, it's good test
disc to see whether hardware is suitable for 3D gaming on Linux. It also,
of course, bundles many native Linux games that are fully free
software. Not only the standard-issue arcade and FPS-type games are
included, but games
suited for kids, and flight simulators as well.
The full list of games is available on the Fedora Wiki. The
current release is based on Fedora 13, and it is the third release since
the project started with a spin based on Fedora 11. The DVD doesn't
actually contain all games that are packaged for Fedora, but a selection that the spin team feels is most representative of the best gaming on Linux.
Another showcase effort is produced by Linux-Gamers.net. Like the Fedora
spin, live.linux-gamers.net (the name of the distribution) is a live image
that can be booted from CD, DVD, or USB key. Based on Arch Linux, the live
CD contains fewer games than the Fedora spin, and focuses primarily on
action games, rather than also including educational content.
There's a new site for Ubuntu users called Ubuntu Gamer that provides tips and news about Linux-based games. The site has only been up for a bit over a week, but it's off to a strong start.
What seems lacking is any concerted effort to encourage more game development on Linux and open source platforms. While you can find plenty of games on Linux, they do lag significantly behind offerings for Windows and the popular gaming consoles in terms of production values, and maturity of the gaming engines. Developers can find resources via pygame if they're interested in writing games in Python, but there's little specifically encouraging game development on Linux.
As users turn to Web-based applications in larger numbers, it seems
natural that they would look to Web-based games as well. In fact, many
already do in the form of (annoying) Facebook games like Farmville,
Flash-based games, and multiplatform plugins like Quake Live. Linux users are on equal
footing here, since these browser-based options are all supported on Linux
as well as Windows and Mac OS X. Linux users on non-x86 platforms, however,
are left behind because the games are tied to proprietary pieces that run
only on x86/x86-64 Linux systems.
The Mozilla Project is attempting to encourage development of Web-based
games using "open Web technology." The Mozilla Labs Gaming project was announced
in early September, and kicked off with a contest
launched on September 30th.
Dubbed "Game On 2010," the contest calls for developers to create a game
server-side code that can be PHP, Python, Java, and other languages. No
plugins are allowed. The games will be judged on six criteria, including the game's polish, aesthetics, how original the game is, and whether it showcases the "power of open Web technologies." Submissions are due by January 11th, 2011, and winners will get a trip to the Game Developer Conference
in San Francisco on February 28th.
Aside from the contest, though, the Mozilla Labs Gaming project is little more than an idea. Whether it will pick up steam remains to be seen. It should be interesting to see what the contest produces, but it would be nice if the labs project at least had some developer resources or guidance for getting started on developing browser-based games.
For now, Linux remains a poor cousin to Windows when it comes to gaming. While you can find many good games for Linux, the selection and quality are not comparable to the thousands of titles available for Windows and proprietary gaming consoles. If browser-based gaming takes off, it seems likely that Linux users will be on even footing with Windows and Mac users.
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