Grubby Gems

Three great stocking stuffers for kids of all ages.
The Games

With the interview over, it was time to kick my kids off of my computer and discover for myself what these games do right, and what they don't.

Grubby Games' current trio of games can be split into two types. First, there's Professor Fizzwizzle (PF) and its sequel, Professor Fizzwizzle and the Molten Mystery (PFMM). Both are puzzle games where the object is to get the Professor from the starting point to the ending point utilizing various gadgets and objects along the way.

Second, there's FizzBall, which is completely different. It is an arcade-type game in the Arkanoid tradition with very little in the way of puzzle solving.

All three of the games are suitable (and fun) for all ages, from 3–103.

Purchasing the Games

Because I so seldom purchase Linux software, it felt weird when I bought the games. Despite the strange “I'm buying a game for Linux!” feeling, the actual process was very easy. Essentially, it's the same as purchasing anything else on-line. Your receipt and the games themselves are delivered to you via special links that are sent to you by e-mail.

The games range in size from 10–20MB, so if you're on a slow Internet connection, you may want to leave the downloads running overnight so that they'll be finished and waiting for you in the morning. I was able to download them in just a few minutes.

After the download is complete, you will have a .tar.gz file (or two or three) sitting in front of you waiting to be unpacked.

Installation and First Run

The games are distributed as .tar.gz files, and untarring them is how they are installed. I put mine into /usr/local/share/games/grubby/, but they could live anywhere on your system.

Start the games using a shell script called on PF and FizzBall. On PFMM, the game is started with script called run.cmd. It would have been nice if all three were named consistently. A graphical shell script installer of some sort, like CrossOver Office, would be another alternative. Quibbles aside, the .tar.gz method will, at least, work almost everywhere.

One of the first things I did after unpacking the files was to create some launchers for my GNOME panel, so that I didn't have to launch the games from the command line. The icons included are ugly, at least they're there.

Launch the games from the command line the first time you run them, just to be sure they're working properly. When run in this way, you will get some helpful diagnostic output in your terminal if things aren't quite right. In the case of PF, you must launch the game from the command line the first time, because it asks you which sound system and driver to use. I'm very glad the two more recent games have eliminated this step.

I think the command-line oriented installation process on all three of these games, although relatively painless for me, could be a big stumbling block to nontechnical Linux users. Additionally, such a manual install process is out of character with the otherwise very good-looking games. I hope they come up with a better method for future games.

There also were some libraries I had to install on my Ubuntu 7.04 box to get the games to work right: zlib1g-dev and libpng3 for FizzBall and libsdl-ttf2.0-0 for PFMM.

Installation and library issues aside, once the games are up and running, they look and sound great. They're all very polished—exactly what I expect from games I paid real money to get.

Game Play

Each game starts up into an easy-to-use menu system that you can navigate either with your mouse or keyboard. The Preferences section of each game lets you set things like whether to play fullscreen or in a window, the volume of music and sound effects and so on. Everything is simple and well organized.

Professor Fizzwizzle

The focus of the two Professor Fizzwizzle games is on puzzle solving. The easiest, or “kid's” levels, are basic runs from one side of the screen to the other, often with neat pictures built out of different level parts filling the screen.

Figure 1. One of the Kid Levels from PFMM

The other levels are divided into “regular” and “advanced”. These range from fairly easy to nearly impossible.

Figure 2. One of the Advanced Levels from PFMM

The replayability of individual levels in each of these games is not very high, because once you know how to beat a level, you easily can do so at any future time (unless, of course, you're like me and forget). Thankfully, the games come with enough levels to keep you busy for a long time. What keeps my children coming back to these two games are the level editors built into each one.

Figure 3. The PFMM Level Editor

My kids spend hours fiddling and perfecting their levels, and I have to say, I'm impressed with the sophistication of some of their best ones. I've even taken a stab at level design myself and came up with a Linux Journal-themed level that, although not very hard to beat, was still fun to make.

Figure 4. My Linux Journal Level

I've uploaded my level to the Grubby Games Web site, so feel free to give it a try.