Outstanding game for Linux, or a plot to undermine productivity for Linux desktop users? The official release of the Ryzom client for Linux is, perhaps, a little bit of both.
Ryzom is a Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG), akin
to games like World of Warcraft and produced by Winch Gate. The big
difference for Ryzom, aside from a different storyline and such, is that
Ryzom is free software. The game, including both client and server
software, was released under
the GNU Affero General Public License (AGPLv3) in May 2010 and the
"artistic assets" are available under the Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) license.
The release of the Linux client is the latest in a long saga of taking Ryzom from the failed remains of Nevrax via a campaign to release the game as free software — not to mention keep it online for the community that it had accrued so far.
The community is still small when held up to massive moneymakers like World of Warcraft. Ryzom CTO Vianney Lecroart declined to give specific numbers, but said the game has "thousands of active users" spread across three servers — one for English-speaking players, one for German-speaking users, and one for French-speaking users. (Of those, about half of the users are participating in English, and then about evenly split between French and German).
Ryzom is set in a "science-fantasy" world, which combines elements of science fiction and fantasy. Picture the movie Avatar and you start to get the idea. The game is set 3,000 years in the future, but it has a very strong swords and sorcery flavor.
The game is being distributed as a binary that can be installed on most
major Linux distributions. Source is also
available for those who'd prefer to compile their own, of course. Ryzom
requires an account be set up to play — this is free for 21 days
without providing a credit card. Afterward, users pay $10.95 a month or
$105.95 for a year. (To compare, Blizzard's World of Warcraft subscription
options start at $14.99 a month.)
Admittedly, this reporter is something of a newbie when it comes to MMORPGs. Most of my gaming time over the past several years has been spent with first person shooters like Quake III Arena and OpenArena. Ryzom is a much different experience. Those who've played games like World of Warcraft will likely find Ryzom comfortable right away. For Linux users who may be coming to MMORPGs for the first time with Ryzom, it may be surprising how much there is to learn and do before becoming productive within the game.
Obviously, gameplay is much slower than a first person shooter. On the first venture out, it's possible to spend hours running (well, walking) through tutorials and training to "build" your character before actually being involved with other players. Users start by creating a character and configuring its race, appearance, etc.
Once you have a character, it's time to drop into the world and start
playing, or at least start with the tutorials. For newbies, the tutorials
are very helpful — if a bit dull. The Ryzom interface is somewhat
complex. Users have several boxes to monitor things like their ongoing
missions, health and vital statistics, and toolbars with spells and
attacks. Those who'd like to plunge right in can start with the Ryzom
Starter Guide comic [PDF], which has 18 pages of screenshots with explanatory dialogs. Additional guides are available for those who'd like to delve into the details of the game.
Some things in the interface are a bit unintuitive, at least for those unfamiliar with MMORPGs. For example, if your avatar in the game is standing particularly close to another character and initiates a conversation, the dialog bubble with speech is displayed off screen.
The game was tested on a Core Duo machine with 3GB of RAM and an
NVIDIA-based GeForce Go 7800 chipset, which was well above the recommended
system requirements. Note that the page specifies NVIDIA, but Lecroart
confirms that it also works with ATI chips and should work with
any card that supports OpenGL. Others confirmed that it works with Intel
chipsets as well.
Start up for the game was a bit sluggish, but once the game was loaded,
there was no lag or choppiness in the graphics and gameplay was smooth as
silk. Ryzom did not seem to like running in Twinview mode (NVIDIA's
proprietary solution for multi-head displays, similar to Xinerama). The
game crashed a few times or simply lost the display, but continued playing
audio and kept up the connection to Ryzom's servers in the background. After turning off Twinview, the problems disappeared.
The graphics are quite good, and the art is top-notch. Though MMORPGs are still not this reporter's cup of tea, Ryzom should please players who prefer the MMORPG genre to fast-paced shooters.
The Future of Ryzom
Now that Ryzom is out, what's next? On the community front, encouraging more Linux users and free software enthusiasts to contribute. Lecroart, who also wears the community manager hat, says that the community has already contributed a great deal, in terms of helping to improve the Linux version. "The community helped in finding and providing patches for bugs, for example. The community has also helped to make certain Ryzom features to work better, faster and on more systems. We've already integrated some of these features into the game."
Ryzom also participated in the past Google Summer of Code and is participating in the Google Code-In taking place now. Ryzom has a developer portal with the requisite forums, bug tracker, wiki, etc., and the company hosts an "open shard," for developers to connect to test modifications to client software without having to run an instance of Ryzom on their own.
The developer channel had 36 participants when I signed in to ask
questions about Ryzom's contributor agreement and copyright policies. The
Web site is relatively mute on this, and according to Matt Raykowski, a
community contributor to the project, the topic hasn't really "come
up" yet because "substantial contributions" that might require a contributor agreement have yet to come in. It was discussed on the developer message boards about seven months ago, and Raykowski wrote that the community was considering a contributor agreement:
The Ryzom community is considering a Ryzom Contributor Agreement modeled after the Sun Contributor Agreement or the OpenNMS Contributor Agreement in which you as an author you retain your copyright but also afford full rights to the work to Ryzom. This allows you to use your source anywhere you want and under any license you want but allows us to as well use it as we like in the project. This is important as if there are too many copyright holders involved in the infringement of the code legal action can be difficult if not impossible. Again, we're working on this and expect to have something ready before we have serious contributions.
For those thinking about contributions, the roadmap gives some insight into features planned for coming releases. Most are modest features and known bugs to be quashed. Lecroart says the next major step for Ryzom is to finish a native client for Mac OS X.
On the content side, Lecroart says that the company is always prepping more content for the game as well as special events for holidays. Lecroart says that the company is busy working on a "Christmas event" right now, and points to the recent Halloween event as an example, where players could explore special mazes, collect extra treasure, and see special artwork made exclusively for the event.
As a promotion for the release, the Ryzom folks are inviting Linux users to participate in a contest to win a ZaReason laptop. Through January 10, players can search for seven "GNU/Linux artifacts," and answer questions about the game world. The prize is a ZaReason Terra-HD netbook, with two runner-up prizes of free one-year subscription to Ryzom.
The release of the Linux client is, if not a happy ending to the story of Ryzom, at least a completed quest. After years of work to release the code and art under free licenses, the game is finally readily available to Linux users who are looking for a way to kill many, many hours in front of the computer.
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