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Hackers, Slackers, and Shackles 347

blacklily8 writes "What is the future of free software development for games? Is it possible? Will the games ever equal or surpass their proprietary competitors? Why should we care? After thoroughly researching the free and open source software model, and interviewing both indie and free software game developers, author Matt Barton decided that the future is indeed very bright. Stallman is quoted here saying that game engines should be free, but approves of the notion that graphics, music, and stories could all be separate and treated differently (i.e., "Non-Free.")"
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Hackers, Slackers, and Shackles

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  • Disagree (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 09, 2005 @03:22PM (#11305031)
    Just look at tuxracer. Since the company that was developing it turned it closed source nobody has continued developing it. Same goes for tuxkart.

    Modern games aren't easy. We could compete in the "graphics engine" field, but that's just 1/4 of a game - the rest is the "art": graphics, music, sounds, maps..."open source" works for code, not for "art". Also, today's games are a modern thing, you can get lot of geeks that can write a SCSI driver or a compiler, but how many geeks can you find that know how to write a 3d driver or a graphics engine or maps for a 3d game? There're a few, but they're not enought. We've can write msql/ISS/oracle/icc, even mac os x alternatives, but where're those unreal/need for speed/doom 3 alternatives?

    We need some kind of "open art" license or something, and people working for it.
  • by aendeuryu ( 844048 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @03:23PM (#11305037)
    The limiting factor is organization of talent. You'd think it'd be the artwork, but right now that's not the case so much as getting the artists to work with the core programmers. Happy Penguin's [] game of the month project (now called the Help Wanted project [], for instance, has led to some significant turnarounds for Linux games (especially with regards to graphics). Right now they're working on Lincity, and amazingly enough, people aren't worried about getting good 3d graphics for it, as much as they are about coding them in.
  • In general (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Solr_Flare ( 844465 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @03:24PM (#11305043)
    Independant games tend to have the potential of having far more innovative gameplay and/or unique storylines because they have the freedom to take a chance with a concept while gaming houses are generally more restricted because development costs money and publishers like to stick with safe bets.

    On the flip side, dependant games(ie games developed at cost by a gaming house) will generally have superior graphics and sound because those two areas require a lot of man hours to "get right". Thus, gaming houses are better suited to coordinate efforts to supply a superior graphic experience quickly enough before the graphics become dated by hardware advances.

    That said, as we slowly begin to approach the photo-realism barrier, and as the tools to assemble graphics improve, we are once again begining to turn back towards the days when gameplay and innovation were what set a game apart from its peers.

    In this, independant game designers will have the upper hand, as evidenced by the current generation of "big names in the industry" all having been independant designers back during the last time graphics were less involved(80s and early 90s).

    Independant game designers are on the rise again, and you can see proof in the concern the publishing companies are having as they slowly fall away, consolidate, and/or have paniced knee jerk reactions out of concern for their future(Valve vs. Vivendi, EA's buyout frenzy, etc).
  • by CaptKilljoy ( 687808 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @03:44PM (#11305156)
    Plot driven games, like movies, are something the player tends to go through once and then shelve. That doesn't seem likely to be compatible with the OSS model of incremental releases by which a package gets polished into an acceptable state. Non-plot driven games (e.g. the multiplayer modes of FPSes and other games) have better longevity but still tend to be relatively short lived.

    It seems more likely that OSS devlopment model would succeed with game development libraries and engines.
  • by Lindsay Lohan ( 847467 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @03:46PM (#11305164) Homepage Journal
    Code is just a form of instruction, it's not really 'art' in the popular sense of the word.
    There is an aesthetic to really good code. When I see a task or algorithm coded elegantly, simply, and efficiently... to me, it is a work of art.

    How can you review a piece of code and identify the team member that contributed it, without a hint otherwise? Because there's a personal and creative aspect to producing it.

    Having said that, however, I believe the same could be said of the serious practitioner in virtually any profession.
  • Code versus Art (Score:4, Interesting)

    by handy_vandal ( 606174 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @03:51PM (#11305191) Homepage Journal
    in what way does a coder differ from a graphics artist?

    I don't know Stallman's view on the matter.

    But if I had to guess, I'd say:
    Code runs on an operating system;

    Art runs in your mind.
    That's purely hypothetical, mind you -- I have no idea where RMS stands on the matter.

    In any case, code is art, in my opinion -- code, painting, music, architecture, literature -- it's all art, art, art.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 09, 2005 @03:52PM (#11305195)
    I've tried to play Nethack, and I liked it, but I just can't learn how to play it effectivly. I always die fairly early on (within the first 10 floors or so). Either I get paralyzed by a floating eye and die, or turned to stone by a cockatrice and die, or encounter a superpowerful enemy and die, or put on some amulet and get choaked and die, or drink a potion and die, or run out of food and don't find anymore and die, or take a chance on eating a corpse and die, or kick down a merchant's door and die. So many ways to die suddenly and unexpectidly.

    I've tried playing in exploration mode, where you can't die, but eventually I'll get to a point where the enemies are so much stronger than me that I can't kill them and can't proceed.

    The game is so complex I just can't get the hang of it, and I can't seem to find any good information on the net on how to be a good player. I've read the guidebook, but it didn't help that much. I need a guide on how to effectivly use items (tricks like putting on a blindfold so that floating eyes can't paralyze you), and playing strategies, but there doesn't seem to be one.

    Nethack seems like such an incredibly deep game, and because of my limited ability, I'm only able to scratch the surface. The amulet of yendor is forever out of my reach.

    I think my ideal game would be something like a cross between Azure Dreams and Nethack, where it has depth (which Azure Dreams was sort of lacking), but also doesn't punish you for every action you take (the way Nethack does).

  • by Glowing Fish ( 155236 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @04:08PM (#11305268) Homepage
    The problem with most games is that they aren't actually games in the true sense. They are more a form of entertainment. Most people play them for the bright graphics and sound, and the immersion of the game world. Which many people, including myself, love. However, as a Wesnoth developer said "Great graphics make a movie. Great sound makes an album. Great gameplay makes a game."

    As much as I love the Final Fantasy series, for example, I don't consider them "games" in the truest sense. They are wonderfully immersive stories, but that doesn't make them a game. The problem is, people are starting to really expect that out of their games. And even though Free Software developers could program a game with a much better engine, meaning it has a more challenging basic set of rules, then a Final Fantasy game; I don't think we can realistically expect free software developers to program the video and sound that people have come to expect. If you take the single opening movie from Final Fantasy VII, (a game that, at 8 years old, is ancient), I don't know how it could be put together without a lot of money.

    So I think the basic place for Free Games right now is games for people who love gaming. My favorite game right now, of any type, is Wesnoth [], a turn based strategy game released under the GPL. The graphics and the sound are fair, but the game play is truly engaging.

  • by Henrik S. Hansen ( 775975 ) <> on Sunday January 09, 2005 @04:12PM (#11305297) Homepage
    Stallman believes that music, etc. ("art") may be treated differently than software, as in not being under the GPL or the GFDL. None of his essays are under the GPL, for instance.

    He argues that software is useful to modify, making it different than most art and creative writings, which usually are quite personal. He does believe, however, that these non-software works should be freely distributable.

    He mentions these opinions many places, for example in this interview [].

    (I personally agree with him.)

  • by thumperward ( 553422 ) <> on Sunday January 09, 2005 @04:19PM (#11305346) Homepage
    Aside from making out that Defender was written in BASIC, or assuming that the crowd he was writing for didn't know what BASIC was anyway, was it really necessary to embarrass himself with that whole "Big game companies never innovate" thing and then mention Electronic Arts in the same sentence? Until ten years ago EA were the best thing that had ever happened to games.

    - Chris
  • No calls barred. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @04:24PM (#11305377) Homepage Journal
    Stallman's (commie-style ;) freedom includes "no revenue", so I'm not too crazy about it, as a developer who converts code to food and rent. But opening these game engines to plugins would make them much more popular, even offering a life beyond the publisher's product lifecycle. Much like Doom-style games got new life from opening the "level editors". As more games are networked, the game server can become the gateway for revenue, especially if Web Service APIs are signed, and require authentication, but are also open. Killer apps create demand for services, but are a development/management cost that subtracts from the profit at the server. I'd love to import my Halo2 team into Madden NFL 2005, if a programmer could write the import plugin. Open the APIs!
  • Re:depends.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kers ( 847541 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @04:25PM (#11305380) Homepage
    Indeed, but how many people will BUY the game - and not donate money in one form or another for it. RMS could sell emacs because there wasn't possible for everyone to get online and download it during the uber slow links that was set up over the world today. Good or bad, today people can download *everything* for free (gratis, without paying) even if it's not allowed by the copyright owner - things are indeed diffrent.
  • by dingfelder ( 819778 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @04:34PM (#11305448) Homepage Journal
    you obviously have not seen examples from the obfuscated C contest. If that is not art, I don't know what is. for instance: ed_c/winners/1995/
  • Older games (Score:2, Interesting)

    by saur2004 ( 801688 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @04:56PM (#11305570)
    I just wish companies that have determined that they are not going to bother making any money on older games, would at least consider open sourcing them so that the fan base can have it, and move the game they like forward.

    I know that there are actually a great deal of fans of Descent 3 [] who happen to be coders, who would be overjoyed if Volition [] would open source the code.

  • Re:How naive. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by iroll ( 717924 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @05:19PM (#11305704) Homepage
    No, I think that what they're saying is that instead of spending 'untold millions' developing the HL2 engine, Valve (perhaps in association with their competitors) should have spent 'untold thousands' kickstarting, shepherding, and cheerleading an open source engine project. A few engineers to do some of the heavy lifting (it being their job and only commitment) and to act as managers, farming out grunt-work to the excited masses. A few low-end marketing grunts to astroturf... erm, I mean "market" for them and build mindshare and other 'buzz' for the new engine (and by extension, the new games).

    Then they could spend 'untold millions' developing great games ON TOP of the engine. On miles of original art, grammy-winnnig scores, and original new stories. It seems as if once you've got a solid, continuously improving engine (with major releases every 18mos or so), you could devote more resources to producing more art (games) which would lead to more revenue streams than you would get with the current system (one blockbuster released every couple years). Once the engine is a commodity, the competition would be over the artistic aspects of the game, and we might see some more innovation in storytelling. When you have more resources to invest in the story/art aspect of the game, you can take more chances on new stories than companies seem willing to do these days--perhaps with a commodity game engine, we'd see fewer sequals of sequals of games from 1994, and more original games that make a mark as "innovative."

    The "open-sourcing" suggestion isn't a one-off suggestion about specific games, its a critique about industry and process, and suggests an entirely different approach, not a simple solution like "this game should be open sourced!"
  • by Quino ( 613400 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @05:48PM (#11305857)
    My understanding is that open source works on meritocracy, so it's great for the technical aspects of software.

    It's hard to have a meritocracy with something as innately subjective as art. With technical stuff, it's usually provable what works better.

    You can't submit patches to fix someone's crappy storyline (and if you did, I imagine chaos as no one agrees on whether your "story patch" actually improves the story or makes it too long, or too short, or hurts the original author's feelings, etc.). Can you imagine a bugzilla for "ugliness bugs" in the backgrounds, icons, monster design, etc. in a large game? Who gets to decide when a "garishness bug" is closed? Or that a "cacophonous section bug" in the soundtrack has been resolved?

    It's always seemed this way to me, hence for a long time Linux ran great (the technical part of it), but the default icons, themes, etc. often left a lot to be desired. I think it wasn't until companies started throwing money at Linux that it started getting pretty.

    It's now easy for me to imagine a complicated piece of software put together by committee (the proof was in the Linux pudding), but not a musical score (the proof again was in the Linux pudding).

    I think maybe Stallman is just being practical*.

    Back on topic, for these reasons I've long thought that games was one area where OSS would have a hard time competing with commercial software companies, since the important part of video games isn't the technical part, but the artistic parts where it's hard (if not impossible) to have a working meritocracy. You can't (I believe) have "bazaar like development" with 100 artists working on video games as you can with 100 programmers working on a web browser.

    * OTOH, it's also only with software that not having source code means you fundamentally don't know (or can easily tell) what the software is *really * up to, hence the GPL. This is not the case with art. It could therefore also be that Stallman is just being steadfast with his freedom thing (that sadly, a lot of people criticize), which is not as meaningful with a game's soundtrack for instance.
  • by servognome ( 738846 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @06:01PM (#11305926)
    Art is a lie which makes us realize the truth. -- Picasso
    That art is merely a distraction from reality.
    You can produce, enlightenment, understanding, emotions, inspiration, ideas and more art, with art.
    ANYTHING can produce those things. The clouds in the sky, taking a deep breath, dropping a book on your foot, can produce the same inspiration, emotions, and enlightenment as an orange dot on a white canvas.
  • Re:Planeshift (Score:4, Interesting)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Sunday January 09, 2005 @06:43PM (#11306119) Homepage Journal
    actually it's worse than that. Planeshift are now demanding copyright assignment for code as well as art. This is why I am no longer contributing [] to the project.
  • Certainly.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Seraphim_72 ( 622457 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @10:30PM (#11307182)

    1) Much Ado About Nothing.

    2) The Tempest

    3) Comedy of Errors

    4) Romeo and Juliet

    I was taught that there were only a few basic stories and tha Shakespeare had done them all - every thing else is just a variation on a theme, if you want to see the other four, get reading.


    P.S. Or at least rent the video of Much Ado About Nothing with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, IMHO it is some of the best film ever made.

  • Katamari Damancy? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by glasse ( 817373 ) on Sunday January 09, 2005 @11:16PM (#11307389)
    I'm surprised he didn't mention Katamari Damancy in the article. This game is probably the most innovative game of 2004, and Namco, the company that made it, isn't exactly the indiest of indie companies. (Oh, and it's for PS2, a console system.)

    I'm not sure you can truly say the innovation in gaming was on the computers and not consoles. Sure, MMORPGs were on computers first (but now there's also X-Box live).. but actual multiplayer games were on consoles first!


God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker