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August 11th, 2015

Making the Switch to Open Source Gaming

There was a time years ago when Linux and gaming weren’t fit to be in the same sentence. I first made the jump to Linux around the late ’90s with a copy of Doom II. There were glitches at times: the occasional crash, loss of sound and lack of some features. The flaws of the Linux version in contrast to its Windows counterpart turned me away from Linux gaming at first.

Mugen

Homer Simpson fighting Giga Bowser, illustrating one of the many ways the game can be customized.

It wasn’t until around 2002 that I discovered M.U.G.E.N, created by Elecbyte, which was one of the most successful games for open source platforms available. A freeware 2D fighter game, with free customization for fans of all kinds, M.U.G.E.N was my first taste of gaming on open source, and it made me a believer of the future of open source. It was also very user friendly for those with a minimum of tech skills: If there were any issues in how a character behaved or performance slowed due to an error, a quick search was all that was needed.

Since then open source gaming has only steadily gotten better, but there have been some barriers stopping younger users from transitioning from Windows. Although it’s easy to endorse Linux as an operating system for its ease of use and simple user friendly UI, there hasn’t been a solid argument to convince my gaming peers to try gaming on Linux. This isn’t due to a lack of effort on the part of Linux game developers, but because Linux’s gaming capabilities haven’t been up to par with Windows. However, with a variety of new resources becoming available to open source developers, the days of Linux gaming being the punch line of a joke are at an end.

Another reason open source gaming has had trouble getting traction is because it doesn’t get much coverage. With luck, there may be a booth at a convention devoted to the topic, but this will usually be related to emulation on Raspberry Pi, which is nothing to discount but which doesn’t address the needs of newer gamers.

For commercial titles, Valve is a key player. Many gamers already know Valve for their Steam platform. What some may not know is that according to ExtremeTech, through Valve’s efforts DirectX to OpenGL translation is being brought to Linux/SteamOS. This is what allowed Valve to make available titles that only operated on Windows DirectX systems. This is completely free to use and any modifications can be submitted to GitHub. While this won’t be perfect at first, it’s definitely a leap in the right direction to making any Windows based game available to the community.

So open source gaming is on the rise, and being a work in progress means that now is the best time for those on the fence to make their start with a do-it-yourself attitude. Being a developer in the open source gaming community affords professionals and newcomers alike top resources for free.

To those wishing to start with no experience there are developers such as Unity and Blender. Unity has been an industry favorite for the past decade and its game engine uses the now open source .NET Framework. This software includes some of the top named products in recent years, especially for mobile gaming. Among those titles are Angry Birds and Temple Run 2, as well as fan favorites such as Firefly Online and Game of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms. Unity Pro is a paid version with more features, but beginners will still have all that is needed with the free version. Blender is simple 3D software with a built-in game engine. Blender primarily uses python for its scripting. Blender is great for 3D modeling and animation, and if the need arises, using this in conjunction with Unity makes game design much simpler.

Another great thing about open source gaming? Whether you’re a beginner or professional, any free resource you need is likely just a short search away.

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Hunter Banks has been a part of the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) Family for the past 13 years. When not writing about open source gaming, he's working on creating his own games. Follow him on Twitter @SilvrChariot

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