If you're reading this magazine, you've probably played video games at least once in your life, be it on those old Sega controllers or on today's mean consoles. Over the years, games have evolved from the simple but highly addictive Dave to Contra and on to today's near-realistic-physics-and-animation games and massively multi-player online (MMO) games like Gears Of War.
Users of platforms other than Windows have always felt like second-class citizens when it comes to gaming. Hardware and software issues forced gamers to stick to Windows when they wanted their dose of guns, cars and the occasional babe. Graphic cards had drivers only for Windows, and lesser users were stuck with poor graphics. Even if you didn't mind playing without the eye-candy on, most games required DirectX 8 or higher.
It's better now, though. Both NVIDIA and ATI have released Linux drivers for the GeForce 8800 and Radeon series cards respectively. Game developers have started using OpenGL, an open source 3D graphics API, which is compatible across most platforms. More graphics cards are now compatible with OpenGL.
All this has contributed to increased attention to gaming on non-Windows platforms. Many developers have opened up the source code for commercial games (Quake 3 is a good example). Linux ports of commercial games like Quake 3, Doom, Neverwinter Nights, and Unreal Tournament have been released by the developers, while third-party companies have ported many Windows games to Linux. In addition, some open source projects have aimed at remaking classic proprietary games into open source or free versions (such as FreeCiv, a remake of Civilization II, while OpenTTD is inspired by Transport Tycoon Deluxe).
Here, we've picked 10 games from diverse genres: FPS, RTS, Simulation, Racing, RPG. Some are free, some are paid. All of them run on at least Windows and Linux. May the strategising, shooting, and non-blinking of eyes begin-but remember to eat and sleep!
A FPS deathmatch game based on the very popular Cube, Sauerbraten is strictly for the trigger-happy: shoot, duck, and then shoot some more! It's a free and open source.
Frankly, the game has no storyline. You are plonked into the middle of a map: choose from Jungle, Factory, Shade, and many other options. Grab those guns, ammo packs, and rocket launchers lying around-and start shooting at critters that swarm from all around. Your enemies look like they came straight out the dreams of a darkly disturbed teenager-misshapen trolls and human-headed tyrannosaurs who go by names like Slith and Rattamata. Depending on the skill level, the gameplay becomes more fast and furious.
The AI is dumb: your enemies will be drawn to you like moths to a flame, and they sell their lives cheap without even sidestepping your shots. Stand still and you are apt to be slaughtered. Use cover wisely-some environments provide ample cover while others are virtually empty spaces.
For the masochistic: monsters keep kicking your body after you've died-bug or feature?
Fans of the FPS deathmatch genre will find Sauerbraten right up their alley. The game can be played in single-player, multiplayer, and online modes with either human players or bots.
Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
June 6, 1944. Operation Overlord. While the world waited with bated breath, the biggest armada of ships in history descended on the beaches of Normandy to free Europe from the Nazis. Operation Overlord and the subsequent operations would not have been possible without the spies and saboteurs who risked torture and death to infiltrate deep behind enemy lines.
The bloody SchÃ¼tze has seen you. Shoot! Now if you're a WWII freak, teenaged or not, you will like this game-because you actually get play an officer. (Stay away from the game if you'd rather be a RottenfÃ¼hrer!) To be precise, you play Lt Mike Powell from the American Office of Strategic Services. Your aim is to infiltrate German military installations and carry out activities like sabotage and intelligence gathering. You would also have to occasionally liaise with other covert officers to advance your objectives.
The game emphasises realism-all the weapons, vehicles, aircraft, and scenery look straight out of WWII. Powered by the Quake 3 engine, the sceneries are highly detailed and rendered in 3D. Both single-player and multiplayer modes are available.
With the tutorial in the beginning, you get to familiarise yourself with your weapons and the controls. Each mission starts off with a briefing; at this point you are outfitted with some weapons. You can also pick up stuff from fallen soldiers. On some missions, you get to wear a German uniform. Missions range from blasting sea-facing guns in North Africa to infiltrating U-boat bases in Norway. Whee!
You get a good dose of history while you're enjoying the game… yes, it's that detailed.
EA Games' MoH: AA was released in 2002- 2003, and retails at $17.45.
Rating : 8/10
Battle for Wesnoth
Wesnoth is one game that isn't too demanding on hardware. A long-time favourite with gamers, this is a turn-based strategy game, distinct from real-time strategy games. So you do what you want to do-based on your strategy-and then your opponent does what he wants to, and so on. The best known game in this genre is Civilization.
The Orcs, The Elves and the Mage The campaigns here are set in different times and places in the fantasy world of Wesnoth. First, you built an army of races: you choose from among Elves, Orcs, Trolls, Humans, Dwarves-you get the idea. The challenge here is to build your own army such that each unit can be positioned to exercise its strengths. For instance, if you have an Elvish army fighting Orcs who don't have archers, position your archers near the marauding Orcs when it's your turn, and finish them off.
Each unit has a "favourite" terrain. One complicating, challenging feature is the day-night cycle: different units have more power depending on the time of day.
The AI is pretty good overall, and you can set the level of difficulty. Each campaign has its own scenarios and characters; you can also create customised maps and characters. If online, you can access user-generated content, too.
It's a good thing newbies can learn the ropes quickly-there's even a tutorial so you can familiarise yourself with basic commands like moving units around the map. In the end, the game feels like chess; you need to exercise your grey cells more than your aim-and-fire instincts!
Fancy being a commander of a vast robot army? Do you want to rain down death and destruction upon your enemies? (Need we ask this?) Well, here's one chance: Spring, a free and open source game based on Total Annihilation.
The Armada gets a roaring welcome
This is an RTS where you command an army of fearsome robots. (May we emphasise the "fearsome"?) It is best played in multiplayer mode, which has lots of options for maps and campaigns, though you have one single-player practice campaign. You start by controlling the Commander, a fighter-worker droid, and construct vehicle plants, bot fab units, energy farms-the works. The resources are-interestingly-metal and energy; you could also build machines to convert energy into metal. You'll need to build fast and furiously, and continuously lay claim to resource-rich areas.
The game AI is robust. For instance, set a fighter plane to bomb a facility and it will, unless attacked from the ground, fly more than one sortie to get the job done! Shoot missiles at planes, and they will arc and swoop until the target is blasted into, you guessed it, smithereens.
The cool thing is, Spring does not demand familiarity with the RTS genre. And though they're fearsome, we must admit that if you're good at controlling human characters in RTSes, you can control the bots here.
Lin City - NG
For aspiring city planners buried under loads of FPS, RPG, and RTS games, Lin City - NG comes like a breath of fresh air (or smog, if you want to be brutally realistic). It is a refurbished and slicker open source and free version of the classic city simulation game Lin City. Go ahead and unleash the Corbusier in you!
3... 2... 1... Fire!
So well, naturally, you start off with a random village or an empty space. The terrain is mostly flat with water bodies thrown in. With an initial corpus, you start constructing communes, residences, roads, schools, industries-the works, literally. As the simulation progresses, your tech levels increase and the city will expand, forcing you to deal with all the problems a modern city planner faces-population pressures, spiralling pollution, infrastructure bottlenecks, creation of employment opportunities… yes, it's that realistic!
On a sad note, if you can't make city liveable, your citizens will die and you'll lose the game (their lung cancer shall be upon your head). But if your city is flourishing, you reach the high-point of technological development, and… now hear this-you're considered just too advanced, and you get the option to evacuate your citizens using rockets! Some warped imagination at work here…
The highpoint of Lin City - NG is definitely the graphics. They are mind-blowing, and we won't go into more elaborate adjective use. The UI is a bit confusing initially, though.
On the downside, newbies are likely to be hampered by the lack of a tutorial, and the water bodies don't have depth, as in, rivers look like puddles.
Lin City-NG was the Linux Game Tome game of the month in January 2005.
If you love flight simulators and want something that can be played outside of Windows, and also have played Microsoft Flight Simulator-pretty much top dog in this genre-too much (or can't afford it), Flight Gear is what will fit the bill. It is a realistic, sophisticated, and highly extensible game that has been in development for about 10 years-and has finally come of age.
Flight Gear is all about options. You could fly the Wright flyer (yes, that stringed contraption from Kitty Hawk) or break the sonic barrier in the cockpit of the Concorde. They even have a UFO (in case you want to know how our green friends manoeuvre those saucers). Could you ask for more? The choices are equally esoteric in terms of locales, and you can take off and land from international airports, cramped dirt strips, and-hold your breadth-an aircraft carrier! The environment settings are detailed, and you can choose the time, cloud cover, wind conditions, and more. Whether on the ground or in the air, you have several views to choose from, both inside and outside the aircraft.
You can play Flight Gear using either keyboard or joystick. Remember that if you're new to flight simulations, you might be overwhelmed by the plethora of key combinations.-but only initially.
Ground scenery is not as detailed as in Microsoft Flight Simulator. This lack of detail works to your advantage, really: you don't have to watch the plane suspended in mid-air as the ground maps continue loading. The sound, comprising ATC traffic and static is as realistic as can be, although it must be said that if you crash, the radio will not let you die in peace.
Another unique feature in this game is sloped runways-try landing on them and see gravity in action. You can fly in formation with other players and download sceneries, runways, and planes from the homepage.
TORCS (The Open Racing Car Simulator)
A well-known free and open source racing simulator that's been around for years, each and every aspect of TORCS' gameplay can be configured. It's also surprisingly CPU-light.
The default package is limited in terms of tracks and cars-but more resources are available on the Web. To get the most out of TORCS, you'll need to visit sites and download cars, tracks, and scenes. There's a list of related sites at the homepage. The packaged tracks include dirt tracks and roadways. Most of the cars that come with the default installation are, looks-wise, the NASCAR rally type.
There seem to be a few bugs: the number of competitors you select in the beginning might not be how many you end up racing against! Then, the AI-powered cars in front of you often look like they're spitting flames from the exhaust Ã la The Fast and the Furious, though you might call this a feature that makes the cars look cool. In-game graphics like skid marks are pretty realistic, and what is more gratifying is that unlike in most other games, the other cars, too, skid uncontrollably along tight corners.
This game can be played online: there's a World Endurance Championship where players design their own cars and race them.
Norse mythology has been one of the most favourite themes in popular fiction. In case you didn't know, several themes in Lord of the Rings come from Norse-land. It's been affecting games, too, for a long time; themes from Norse mythology-Valhalla, Odin the King of the Gods, The End of the World, and such-have been a recurring feature of many games, especially in the fantasy RPG genre, both online as well as offline. There has also been the occasional title in the RTS genre-recall Age of Mythology. Rune, though, is a bit like a square peg in a round hole. It is a first-person hack-and-slash game that combines elements of fantasy RPG and FPS. Released for Windows, it has been ported to Linux by Loki Software.
Rune follows the adventures of Ragnor, a keen young warrior who journeys across the worlds of the un-dead to mountainous regions in order to prevent the evil god Loki from unleashing Ragnarok-the end of the world. Sound interesting enough already? He fight monsters, goblins, dwarves, and other races in his desperate fight to save Midgard, the world of men. Ultimately-and this has something to do with a pond, but we won't reveal more than that-you get the powers of Loki's fearsome monsters. At that crossroads, it's up to you whether to remain Good or go to the Bad.
There are no long-range weapons in this game, only melee weapons like swords, maces and battle axes. You can throw weapons at enemies from afar, and also throw severed limbs and chopped off heads-whoopee!
In fact, the game is more suited for single-player mode because of the nature of the weapons-it's kind of boring to spar for a long time with a human player unless you're an expert at fencing! "
And then there's the usual idea: the more levels you complete, the more skill and strength you acquire, which unlocks more weapons. Rune is based on the Unreal Tournament engine, enhanced for spiffy graphics like shadow effects and natural outdoor environments.
Rune and its subsequent titles are property of Human Head Studios. Released in 2000, it retails at just $11 (about Rs 500).
Rating : 8/10
An expansive game with an epic storyline, Neverwinter Nights has been a long-time favourite of fantasy RPG gamers. It is based on the rules of Dungeons and Dragons and the original NWN MMORPG, which was the first graphical game in its genre.
As in other such games, you select characters from different races-a Barbarian, a Rogue, a Wizard, a Paladin. The characters can be customised to a large extent: you can assign specific skill sets, for example. The main aims in NWN are (a) to find a cure for a plague that's decimating the population of Neverwinter City by collecting "reagents" from different sources, and also (b) to defend the city
The gameplay is not linear: you have a choice in many scenarios, and your choice determines the outcome of many side-plots. An interesting number of twists and turns will keep you entertained throughout the game-a thoroughly addictive experience, we'd say.
The Windows version of the game ships with the Aurora tool kit, which enables custom content creation in both single-player and multiplayer modes. Another feature that sets this game apart from other RPG games is that as your levels advance, you get to become a jack-of-all-trades instead of becoming a specialist. In a world where you have to fight diverse enemies, this is pretty cool; in fact, it's a lifesaver.
NWN was released by Bioware in 2002 to 2003 across different platforms, and retails at $14.99 (Rs 625). The Linux client is available for free at the homepage.
Ragnarok is a fantasy MMORPG mainly based on Norse mythology (we told you game developers love Vikings), where you inhabit a vast fantasy world, fight battles, marry, trade, and go on with the business of life. But mainly fight.
First things first: to play Ragnarok, you need a decent Internet connection-by that we mean at least a sustained 256 Kbps. Otherwise you'll be pretty much staring at your screen most of the time. You also need to pay to play-depending on the payment scheme, it works out to about $10 (Rs 400) per month.
Registration and all completed, there is a choice of four servers-you can connect to any one and start playing. Choose your character's attributes like hair colour and length, though your gender is automatically assigned (because you indicated it when you signed up at the site). As a novice, you select your job and steadily advance up the ranks. Examples of jobs are swordsman, thief, merchant, and magician. Combat styles, quests and any in-game behaviour depend upon the job selected for yourself. If you connect to a different server, you'll have to go through the entire process all over. Players advance their character levels based on their quests and/or credit points, which they can also buy. These points let you acquire stronger weapons. There are player vs. player encounters, and also guild battles-depending on time of week and the server. The graphics are Japanese anime-style, which really does not mesh in with the Norse backdrop of the storyline. Sad-but they probably have a reason.
For a newbie, Ragnarok, or any other MMORPG for that matter, takes a lot of time to master. There are too many quirks and idiosyncrasies-due in large part to the fact that you're interacting with other humans here, not bots.