Free software games, the return

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All my previous posts were pretty much technical in essence, and several were related to my work habits: 3D desktop productivity enhancements, virtual machines, etc.

This time, I’ll go back to something else entirely: GAMES!


You miss the mustachied plumber? Why not get a penguin or a blob instead? They can jump too, you know.


SuperTux is a run’n’jump game that initially wanted to imitate an early incarnation of Super Mario Bros. Milestone 1 was actually a nice attempt at recreating the experience of the first NES opus: it handled sweet, was actually fast and smooth, difficulty was scaling nicely, and the bonus islands’ levels were here for those aficionados that like it hard.

Milestone 2 isn’t out yet; 1.9 is, though, and it adds some stuff to SuperTux: level bosses, multi-directional scrolling, extra moves (they are here, but have no real effect yet), better interaction with environment (building blocks, wind, switches, springs, slopes...) will provide you with a few more hours of fun. It also makes use of a joypad, and it is actually better for this kind of game. Still, there are a few bugs: strange slowdowns can REALLY throw your timing out of whack... Still, it means hours of fun and level stats add a nice replay factor.

Milestone 1 was either SDL or OpenGL for graphics; further versions will require OpenGL. However, on fast systems Mesa should be able to handle it even without 3D hardware.

Blob Wars: Metal Blob Solid

Blob Wars: Metal Blob Solid takes place in a very... interesting world: suffice to say, you end up as Bob, a spherical, yellow, blob killing-machine (with the obligatory red bandanna). It plays pretty much like, say, Coolspot coupled with Duke Nukem 2, with simplistic animation and graphics but multiple targets, a large array of varied weapons, complex environments, and a large replay factor (if only to increase your max combo—heh).

What to say... I started playing it recently, and as such I haven’t conducted a very thorough test. It is, however, complete and now only open to bug fixing. Rejoice though, since Blob Wars 2: Blob and Conquer is reaching late beta stage and adds 3D, auto target, several new enemies and much more action. I haven’t tested it yet, but screenshots show it to look quite nice.

Metal Blob Solid can be played on pretty much any system; Blob and Conquer will require 3D hardware.

Gentlemen, start! Your! Engines!

Yeah, what he said. Squeeze that gas pedal dudes and dudettes!


A retake and improvement upon TuxKart, SuperTuxKart features characters from the platform game SuperTux and many more tracks than its predecessor. All in mapped 3D, it implements weapons, different capabilities for each driver, power-ups and gotchas. It is best played with analog joysticks, you can do wheelies, tracks go up and down... Mariokart on steroids.

It is, however, not perfect: sometimes the kart will be completely out of control, you can see the track “build" in front of you at some angles, the karts drivers are completely static, and physics are not perfect (it sometimes takes ages to fall down to the track and recover either acceleration or steering—or both—after a wheelie or a bump).

3D hardware required.

TORCS (The Open Racing Car Simulator)

Torcs is a highly realistic racing game with very nice graphics, nice sounds, very complete physics and programmable AI. It is somewhere between Need For Speed and Colin McRae Rally, as it is fun, but highly realistic—which can be a bit daunting for gamers who don’t know how to handle a “real" car. At first, you will crash... a lot. You’d better get your steering wheel out of the mothballs—you’ll actually drive better with it!

Requires not too old 3D hardware.

PlanetPenguin Racer

Started as TuxRacer (which then tried to turn commercial and subsequently disappeared into oblivion), PlanetPenguin Racer pushes Tux on snowy slopes; gather herrings and gain momentum, and beat your best score—or at least, manage to finish the level...

No engine here, but it doesn’t mean Tux can’t go fast (200kmph isn’t too bad for a penguin, is it?).

3D hardware required for enjoyable play.


Do you miss Tetris? Well here, you’ll get the latest in puzzle and reflex games. And let’s get started with the all-time free software winner, I name...

Frozen Bubble!

I don’t need to introduce it. It’s been the most played game on free software systems. Winner of most (if not all) free software oriented magazines’ best game awards since it came out in 2002, it has very nice music, very funny graphics, redefines “addiction" and even caters to colour blind people.

For those of you living under a rock: Frozen Bubble is basically a reimplementation of the 1994 Taito hit Puzzle Bobble, where two cute dinosaurs sent coloured bubbles onto the screen and you had to match colours so as to clean up the screen. Here it’s a goofy penguin, but it’s still fun.

Frozen Bubble 2 is out. Freeze your opponents over a network, enjoy remastered music, 3D generated graphisms (from the very same Ayo73 who created the first opus’ pictures), new transition effects. Frozen Bubble, impeding productivity since 2002, will now saturate your network too.

And yes, you’ll still love the pathetic “No!" the penguin makes when you lose.


Remember Marble Madness? What would it look like in 3D? Here’s the answer: Neverball. Relaxing music, pure 3D graphics, ultimate difficulty. You use the mouse to tilt the board, and make the ball roll. Too slow, you may not jump some chasms; too fast you may go overboard. Frustrating as hell and incredibly addictive, you’d better have an “ultimate frag" mouse (or at least, a well cleaned and calibrated one) to play this delicate game.


Still looking for the amulet of Yendor? Other challenges await you sire. Choose your Quest.

Battle for Wesnoth

Turn-based strategy game taking place in the fantasy world of Wesnoth—meaning you’ll get elves, sorcerers, undead and other such pleasant things, you can increase your stats on ALL the characters (if they don’t get killed too soon) over the course of your missions. Reasonably difficult with a nice tutorial, nice music and nice graphics, it has reached final some time ago (meaning it’s stable). Further versions add missions, characters and some engine refinements.

You don’t need special hardware to run it, but still you may prefer a large screen and a hefty processor—and lots of free time.

Final Fantasy: Endless Nova

That one actually runs on Windows using RPG Maker 2000, a well-known resource set and engine for 2D adventure games. If you like Final Fantasy 1 to 6 by Square, you’ll enjoy Endless Nova too—graphically it’s a bit poor, but the story and battle system are innovative enough that you’ll find it interesting. Music is a medley of nice MIDI retakes of various FF game musics plus a few extras.

Sadly, I haven’t yet found a way to make it run under GNU/Linux...

Please note that I haven’t tried to find the amulet of Yendor yet, as such I’ll only mention the various Net Hack incarnations in passing—here, done :P

Mindless fraggin’

Grunt. Aim. Fire. Heh.


You liked id Software’s Doom? You’ll love Cube. Using a souped-up Doom-like engine (adding slopes and 3D props), it just frags. No, seriously! Best enjoyed in multiplayer, several missions are tough enough due to tricky AI and puzzling level design that you can frag alone or in groups.

Cube likes 3D hardware; it may run in software emulation mode, but I won’t guarantee it.

Sauerbraten uses the Cube2 engine, which is closer to the Quake engine—on steroids too: High-range Dynamic Lighting, all 3D, pixel-shaded water effects... Some screenshots are just plain breathtaking.

The Cube engines allow in-game level editing—as such many levels look real nice due to their modifications being done in “real time" with instant testing being possible. Edit, save, frag.

Of course, for that, Cube2 requires a recent 3D card able to handle pixel shading.

Chromium B.S.U

Stressed out? In need for an adrenaline rush? Play Chromium BSU! It’s a simple, OpenGL-accelerated vertical space scroller with a few twists that make it quite unique. It never ends: the single music track is brutal; graphisms are simple and efficient; it requires 3D acceleration; enemy types are few but pretty much cover the spectrum of space shooters in all its NeoGeo-like greatness.

What’s so unique about it? For starters, limited ammo; only the pea-shooter (largely insufficient past level 2) is unlimited. You must not let an enemy past you (you lose a life if you do). You don’t have “super" weapons, but you can self destruct (and wipe the screen clean). It is sometimes better than to waste ammo, can you imagine?

Resolutely innovating in those aspects, the game can be played again and again—even though you always eventually die.

It is recommended to play it at the end of the day after a stressful work day. Having a kitten to cuddle afterward gets rid of side effects (twitchy fingers and shaking knees notably).


One of my first articles in FSM was about GNU/Linux and games. You know what? Free gamin’ keeps gettin’ better.



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Nexuiz is perhaps the coolest GNU/Linux game there is right now... kinda like a totally community-developed GPL version of Unreal Tournament 2004. Anyone with an average-to-top of the line PC simply cannot ignore this great game/project!

Mitch Meyran's picture

Nope, no Nexuiz - it's network only (Sauerbraten can be played by your lonesome against the computer). Too bad though, the engine looks awesome indeed.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

Mitch Meyran's picture

I gave it a whirl. Got fragged too easily - it's been a long time since I played such a game - and then started getting the hang of it back. Still, it's essentially multiplayer.

Cube does have a little bit of story mode; for Cube2, Eisenstern will eventually turn into a RPG. Nexuiz' is a simple bot-based fragfest.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

It is also nice to see several free gaming projects are taking part in Google Summer of Code 2007:
Thousand Parsec - a framework for space strategy games
BZFlag - a 3D battle tank game
ScummVM - a software to run old adventure games
Crystalspace and OGRE - 3D game engines

Mitch Meyran's picture

Thousand Parsec: never heard of it. Seems very interesting.
BZFlag: I simply forgot to talk about it. 3D version of the very old principle of Tanks! with the added difficulty of 3D aims (thus more complex wind compensating), 'I don't care who you are it's funny right there'. On the same basic concept, as a copy of Worms, there is Wormux.
ScummVM: is actually the engine developped by LucasArts for games such as Day of the Tentacle and Sam & Max Hit the Road.
CrystalSpace: seems interesting. Ogre3D: I've seen it evolve, it is a very interesting concept which has been validated professionally. However those are engines; I've mentioned Cube and Cube2: they are engines, but they come with complete Free games.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

"ScummVM: is actually the engine developped by LucasArts for games such as Day of the Tentacle and Sam & Max Hit the Road"

Just to be clear, it's a free software reimplementation of the engine. I think some of the original developers have been surprised it works with all the games it does, as originally they kept reimplementing it rather than using the same engine for the games. It has their blessing, but not their code.

Mitch Meyran's picture

You're probably right about the origins - however I don't think they reimplemented it every time, as it wouldn't make much sense business-wise and in practice. They may have improved their own source code over releases, otherwise scummvm wouldn't be so good at running all these games resources.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I think you have another game in mind when you talk about bzflag (something called scourged earth or something?).
BZFlag is a kind of FPS-tank game and it's not at all like Wormux.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

The following are all in active development and are in varying states of construction.

Don't overlook VDrift: this is a new racing GPL'd game which uses the same tracks as the now closed-source Racer (although sources are available for 0.5.0). Definitely one to watch.

For the realtime strategy crowd: TA Spring is a project I've watched for over a year. For those of you who lost hours to Total Annihilation, here's the remake in true 3D, complete with reflective, rippling water (for those with monster 3D cards), extreme pyro effects and thousands of units. For TA, you need to own the original but there is a GPL'd-only content mod that is worthy of a few days of play.

guydjohnston's picture

Unfortunately, Sauerbraten isn't free (as in freedom) software as you've suggested. The game engine is, but the rest of the game isn't (see the bottom of I think the same might be true for Cube, but I'm not sure. I can't find that out from the website, but in the README in the source code, it reads "Game media included in the cube game (maps, textures, sounds, models etc.)
are not covered by this license [the zlib licence], and may have individual copyrights and
distribution restrictions (see individual readmes)". I can't find any of those "individual readmes", so I can't find out if the whole game is free software.

One completely free software game I've found to very good (after trying it out in Windows) is Tremulous, though it's network-only. However, I can't play any games which require 3D acceleration on my GNU/Linux system without using any proprietary software, because there's no free driver which allows that for my graphics card.

GNU - free as in freedom

Mitch Meyran's picture

the software is using a Free license and redistributable copyrighted material, that's true - resources are not free.

As far as I know, the GPL doesn't cover well resources such as maps, graphics and sound samples - it resorts to copyright law here.
The programmers may have been afraid that some unscrupulous game maker would take the package as a whole, modify it some and then resell it, that the GPL wouldn't protect them in that case, and copyright couldn't be enforced.

It is noted though that you can add stuff pretty much at will, and that there is a possibility of getting authors' authorisation to modify the resources.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

guydjohnston's picture

I don't think there's a particularly big problem in using the GPL for the "game media" such as artwork and sounds. There's something about this on the GNU website at If anything, I think it might be too restrictive or confusing for the user, because of the "source code" requirements, rather than allowing people to circumvent the copyleft provisions. I think the game media of most GPL'd or LGPL'd games is under the same licence as the rest of the game. The non-software parts could also be put under a free licence which is more appropriate for them, for example, the media for Tremulous is all under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike Licence.

It's true that you can distribute the game media for Sauerbraten, and you can get the copyright holder's permission to distribute modified versions (as you can with all copyrighted material), but that doesn't mean it's free as in freedom. Although it's strictly not software, it's an integral part of the game, and it's needed to play it, so I don't think the game should be described as free software. I definitely agree that the game engine is free software though.

GNU - free as in freedom

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Scorched 3D is pretty cool. Check it out!


Mitch Meyran's picture

Yup, I tried it - it's just plain fun, but it's been a while and I need to test its most recent version.
I must however admit to not enjoying this kind of game a lot, and I wouldn't play it very often.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

okooubuntu's picture
Submitted by okooubuntu (not verified) on

One of the games that really got me into linux was that I could run a flight sim. Flightgear is very realistic and I would say great if you want to learn properly.

It is not an arcade game, so you need to earn your wings, but it really is a cool game.

Mitch Meyran's picture

...which is why I hadn't included it (I almost removed TORCS from the review because of it): FlightGear is a beautiful, extremely realistic, very complete flight simulator. It is, in fact, not really a game.
Which doesn't mean it isn't fun - it really is, as a matter of fact.
Edit: tried latest version. It really IS a simulator. Don't play it without a fine joystick, it requires very precise handling.
A computer is like air conditioning: it becomes useless when you open windows.

Daniel Cejka's picture
Submitted by Daniel Cejka (not verified) on

On the subject of simulators: you really should try VegaStrike and its spinoffs:

The full universe simulator, or rather a framework for sim games
Privateer remake
For all lovers of that fantastic early 90's game
Trekkies unite...

Excellent graphics and playability even on modest hardware. 3D card required, joystick highly recommended but not necessary
wok, n.: Something to thwow at a wabbit.

skypjack's picture
Submitted by skypjack on

Don't forget Tremulous, an excellent FPS!
What do you prefer? Aliens or humans??? :-)

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Mitch Meyran's picture


Have you ever fixed a computer with a hammer, glue and a soldering iron? Why not? It's fun!