29 November 2009

In Memoriam: Robert Holdstock

Just heard that author Robert Holdstock has departed from this reality. I don't really know much about him as a person, but his Mythago Wood novels made a lasting impression. Back when I first read Mythago Wood, late in the 90's I think, it was a very refreshing experience in comparison to the clichéd high fantasy I read much of back then. Holdstock, along with people like Neil Gaiman, taught me just how original and imaginative fantasy could be.

25 November 2009

Wing Commanding

Update: Review of Wing Commander: Prophecy.

Back in the mid-90's there were two main game genres me and my friends were playing: fantasy strategy (namely Master of Mana and Heroes of Might and Magic II) and space combat simulations.

The game that introduced me to the latter genre, and probably the game of the genre I played most at the time, was Star Wars: TIE Fighter. (This was also around the peak period of my Star Wars fandom.) The other main proponent of the genre is, of course, the Wing Commander series. I bought Wing Commander III, IV and Prophecy back in the day.

Another defining feature of that era, however, was my lack of patience with games. I rarely beat anything, really. I played Wing Commander III some, but never got very far. IV I never really got around to playing at all. Prophecy I played most of the three, I think. I remember running into trouble in a mission somewhere close to halfway into the game and getting sidetracked with something else, never returning to it. (Which happens to me far too often, even now, although I have beaten plenty of games since.)

The games sat in a cupboard for years, until recently I got a sudden urge to revisit those golden years. Of course running them on my modern GNU/Linux system would likely be difficult. This proved to be the case for Wing Commander III. (It did start with DOSBox but suffered frequent crashes.) I didn't even try IV. However, I was surprised to find that Prophecy ran perfectly with Wine.

It's a week later and I've finally beaten a Wing Commander game for the first time. And it still was lots of fun.

16 November 2009

Free Software vs The Gamer Vol 2

In my previous post I discussed the relationship (or lack of it) of video games and the Free Software ideology. While the majority of games must exist in a commercial environment for meaningful development to be possible, there are of course many community based projects as well. Here's just a couple interesting ones I've run into. I'm only covering games that are entirely Free Software here, which don't rely on any proprietary content

id Software released the Doom engine source code, which has led to countless ports and improved versions for many different systems. The content of the original game, however, is not free. Freedoom provides a free replacement for the data. In combination with a Doom engine port it is, essentially, a whole new game with new graphics, monsters, maps and everything. What's more, it allows you to play many of the countless Doom maps and mods available on the net.

Another interesting entry on the FPS front is OpenArena, which basically does to Quake 3: Arena what Freedoom does to Doom. Fast paced deathmatch against bots or online, just the thing to kill half an hour on a boring day.

While the previous are basically free content for engines of originally commercial games, there are of course entirely original projects as well. One interesting example is The Battle for Wesnoth, a traditional turn-based fantasy strategy game. The overall quality is at least on par with classic 90's representatives of the genre and there are many campaigns to play, in addition to downloadable user-created content.

15 November 2009

Free Software vs The Gamer

As you may know, I'm a devoted supporter of the Free Software ideology. Practically the only piece of proprietary software I (grudgingly) use on a regular basis is the Flash plugin for my web browser. Except... I'm also a gamer. And obviously the vast majority of games are not Free Software, on the console front practically none.

However, although games obviously are software, their function, role, market etc. differ greatly from utility software. It is easier to compare the game industry to, for example, the film industry. For regular software the community based development approach of Free Software simply works better than a conventional capitalist approach. However, for games that can really make the most of the technology available today you really need a team of professionals working full time, something that is only possible in a commercial environment. Also, a game is only part software. It's just as much story writing, audiovisual arts etc. Commercial distribution of games is really the only practical option.

OK, none of this of course means that the software portion of a game couldn't be produced using Free Software standards. In fact, I think the whole game industry would likely benefit from it. But I'm afraid that, whereas a Free Software computer system is already a perfectly viable option, changing the entire game industry would currently be next to impossible. It's not like you can choose a Free alternative to your favourite game.

But of course Free Software games do exist, both games that are entirely Free and games with Free Software components coupled with proprietary content. id Software has famously released the source code of many of their games (allowing them, among other things, to be ported to GNU/Linux systems).

I was going to write about examples of entirely Free games I've encountered, but this post is getting pretty long as is, and it's getting pretty late, so I guess I'll leave that for another day. Good night.

8 November 2009

Even When You Don't Care

It's not really autumn out there.
But it sure as Hell ain't winter.
A Black Night,
Beyond the First White.
An empty space,
An in-between.
A night to light a candle,
Let the void devour,
For another flame
To light in that Darkness, even though
You know it never will.
It's the waiting that makes you human.
(Even when you don't care
To be one.)