FOSS games and development
This post would be about gaming, one of my hobbies and passions. It would attempt to share some of the games I played, enjoyed and also some of the issues I feel the FOSS world has (in the gaming scene) and some things they could improve upon.
One of the games I first played which I remember was ‘Space Invaders‘ . Over the years played many a game right from RPG’s to simulations to casual what have you both in the Windows world as well as FOSS . In my teenage years, like most of my ‘group I was into Doom and its ilk but quickly became dis-illusioned by them as this is not something I really enjoyed.
I did try my hand at playing MMORPG‘s but gave up, right from connection issues to being diplomatic and not be looked at racist in any way were what bogged me down. One of the games which I played for quite some time was eternal-lands which was cool though exhausting. I did come to know of the community kinship that some of the people have/had and the kind of money and efforts that go through maintaining it. At that time also had seen some sites where people had married in real-life as well as virtually and paid hard cash to have a private corner in EL where they gave away some custom content to the guests they had invited to the marriage reception.
I did also try ‘Second-Life‘ on a friend’s PC and was turned off by the crass commercialization within the game-world at that time. I hear now it has become even worse although people still seem to enjoy it. Whatever works.Another thing is that the games in MMORPG are unending so unless one is looking at doing something like couple of years investing in game-time or have bots do the dirty work for you, its not worth it.
A sort of crossing came when I came to the land of RPG’s, Simulation and casual game. All of them were more and less what I was looking for. The Sims (developer Will Wright) was one of the most loved game by me. I wasted/was addicted to many a month to see all my sims reach to the pinnacle of their professions and personal relationships. Like many others I too was drawn into that world, downloading custom content, barbie-dressing my characters, getting into theming the sims (say complete western sims or space sims) . There was lots to dig into and only time (and some places money) were the only requirements to do the self-modifications. I didn’t get into any creating any stuff and was happy to see others do the needful.
RPG’s was not such a nice experience as most of them are big, bulky and mostly dark. Most of them are some or the other way inspired either by Mr. Lovecraft or the LOTR lore and more into killing stuff than open exploration, fetch quests whatever.
Then found the world of casual games thanks to a friend and ‘Virtual Villager’ became my best friend. After they became big they also started doing the same thing and not doing really any innovative work but I liked that sort of genre.
I do like some of the features of the genre :-
b. lots of interesting things to do
c. No time pressures
d. Could simply explore the world.
Now when I moved to FOSS world, I also look/ed for games which are similar to what I like because Operating Systems are enriched if there are games which can be played and become more of a home. While I did find lots of games which were finished but mostly liked the games which are in development and I try to support them as much as I can in the free time. Some of the ones I liked are :-
a. Dawn-rpg :- Site
b.Adonthell :- Site
c. Dungeonhack :- Site
d. Sumwars :- Site
I’m sure you would notice that all of the above are RPG’s which are violent in nature but what to do, didn’t find any sims which I would liked to play. I managed to play ‘Island Castaway’ and ‘Wandering Willows’ on a friend’s PC and had quite a bit of enjoyable time.Playing those games also told me some of the frustrations that casual gamers face while playing FOSS games.
There are lots of tips and requests that I as a gamer would like to give to the developer community :-
a. Document, document , document :- i just can’t stress this enough. Especially more in FOSS games where you need a community to get anything to a critical mass. I was actually herded into writing this blog post after reading Bart’s blog post on Freegamer blog although he talks on a different though related topic. I had been thinking on the same lines for about a month or so before I took this up.
b. Market yourself :- Put your game out and put it to as many people as possible. Even if they do criticize it, it’s a good thing, even negative feedback can sometimes be good. I see so many games fail miserably because they don’t put it in other sites and talk about it.
c. Have a good website :- If you have hosting issues or lack money, sourceforge.net is good. They have mediawiki, trac, Phpbb3, mailman the works all of which are good for starters. Having good screenshots is vital for getting the in-game feel.
d. AWSD is passe, point-and-click is here and now and of course gesture gaming is the future :- I still see so many games which rely either on the AWSD or the arrow keys for navigation in-game. While this may work for veteran gamers (read Unix,keyboard driven junkies) it’s not going to work with youngsters who are more happy with the mouse. Some developers go half-half way which tend to confuse gamers more than anything else.
You should be looking at not pushing people’s digital environment. Most people are happy with the mouse and making them learn some keyboard combos are going to lose you lot of gamers. So its better to have mouse support in the beginning.
Gesture recognition is a big technology and I’m convinced that once the technological know-how becomes democratized both in hardware and software and the hardware becomes cheaper (to say something like a headphone or something) it would become an integral part of the comp. It would take maybe a better part of the decade but I do not see one escaping from it.
At the end of the day its a control system issue. If your gamer audience has to fight the control/navigation system while also fighting the virtual villains they are not going to have a good time. While some of the masochistic may enjoy it, most of the regular people will just dump it.
e. Be aware of new libraries and functionalities they have :- Few years back the GNU/Linux world only had the SDL to think of but nowadays developers are spoilt for choice between SDL, Ogre3D, JME, Bullet for starters. I am sure there are many, many more , for instance the whole worldforge thing which if you are a developer should know about and have tried them out enough before re-inventing the wheel. Lots of projects still end up doing that and in the end fade away as well 😦
f. Be a gamer :- Most of the developers somehow (for reasons unknown) do not do a face-to-face meet with gamers of all ilk and do not see how gamers interact with the game. A very good article on this topic has been shared by Dave Grossman on Mobygames. Every game developer irrespective of whether he’s into FOSS development or otherwise should read this article and take the lessons learnt to heart. Also experiment the same with your testers and if possible have diversity with people who know the genre, do not know the genre/game/interface whatever. You may get some interesting feedback which you had not anticipated.
g. Funding :- This is one of the most talked about topic. I think it relies on all of the above. Nobody is going to fund you unless you have some previous work to show/share and are able to somehow visually pitch your game idea and get them interested. Right from meeting investors to putting it online has become easier. Sites such as Opengameart which is more for art assets though , Kickstarter (US only atm), 8bitfunding are good places are good places to pitch your stuff. The only thing you have to take care of is they need to see some previous work so a complete project or two (which is playable) is good enough to start as well as a vision of the future.
The Humbie Bundle is a good example to take note of but it might be an exception, who knows you have to try it.
Now one of the issues that do take plague the FOSS OS world.
Unlike the Windows world where you have multiple libraries of the same or a higher version of a .dll (one of the reasons of the bloat associated in the Windows system), the GNU/Linux world believes in the world of shared libraries (also known as .so) in the world.
This works great if the developers are maintaining the libraries and new games which use new libraries or new versions of libraries. This does require though an active community of requesters as well as interested core group of developers and maintainers who are interested in maintaining the most recent version of the library.
While I can’t speak for the entire GNU/Linux world (as its so vast and each OS has their own community, ways and means to keep things current), Debian (a distro I love and do use 24*7 although at times have to use different OS’es at times) has such a community at debian-devel-games where one should engage actively if interested in a library or getting a FOSS game into Debian.
But of course, this all would happen *only* if you do get into some kind of stable versions and all the libraries which your game requires is already there in the GNU/Linux OS of your choice.
At the very end, there are two specific threads I wanted to address :-
a. I feel that the Video game industry does have lot of value to the Operating System Industry as well as to culture as well. For Operating System stuff, see for instance how much DirectX influenced and continues to influence Microsoft’s development (in the Windows world) and in games see how Japanese and South Korean game development companies and titles have made their own strong niches in the gaming world.
b. The issues before both the indie game developer and FOSS game
developers are much too similar. They need to be working together in
many a ways rather then working at cross-purposes as I have seen
some do. They could benefit from lot of symbiosis.
c. Lastly, not a developer or anything.Just somebody who enjoys taking a side-view look of all the action which happens in the gaming world.