Quake, Meet GPL; GPL, Meet Quake

What has spiders, bubble gum, rocket launchers and camo pants? Quake 3, of course!

Back in the summer of 2005, id Software released the Quake 3 engine to the public under the GPL license. For open-source enthusiasts, it was amazing news, but to the general public, it seemed like mostly marketing nonsense. Releasing the Quake 3 engine, unfortunately, wasn't the same as releasing the game, so the average gamer didn't gain anything—at least, not at first. In this article, I introduce some great new games that use the Quake 3 engine. They're all free, and they all run natively under Linux.

First, let's talk about what id Software really did when it released the engine under the GPL. As Linux users, we're familiar with terms like, “Free as in speech and free as in beer”. For the record, I have never understood the latter part of that motto. Beer is rarely free. Nonetheless, the Quake 3 engine is indeed free in several ways:

  • The program is free to download. You don't have to pay for it, and it's not crippled in any way whatsoever. You can give it to your friends, for free, and you won't be a pirate. (This is the “free as in beer” part.)

  • The program is free to modify, change, repackage and even sell—provided you include your source code. (This is the “free as in speech” part.)

  • The engine is not the whole game. You can't install the program and expect to frag your little brother in the next room. The graphics, models, maps and such are not free. If you distribute those things (from the retail Quake 3 CD), you, in fact, will be a pirate. That part is not free.

I tried to explain the significance of releasing the engine to non-techie friends of mine, but, alas, they had no idea what I was talking about. So, for those of you who have never really understood the whole game engine versus actual game thing, check out the “Grandma's GPL Cookie Recipe” sidebar.

My Gaming System

Before I begin talking about the games, I have a few confessions to make. First, I'm not a gamer. I am the player you want on the opposite team in pretty much any gaming situation. I'm horrible. Second, my computer is just about as adept at gaming as I am. Here are the specs:

  • Pentium 4 2.4GHz

  • Onboard Intel 915 graphics (shared 8MB memory)

  • 20GB IDE hard drive

  • 512MB of RAM

  • Ubuntu Linux 7.04

I chose Ubuntu because it's very common and easy to use. It doesn't really matter what distribution you have; they'll all work, but some of my examples might not look exactly the same. I'll try to be as generic as possible.

One key issue with getting any 3-D game working is to make sure you're using an accelerated driver in the X Window System. It's possible your computer already has this. A simple way to check is to open a terminal window and type:

# glxinfo | grep endering <enter>

And, look for:

# direct rendering: Yes

(I purposefully left off the r in the grep statement, in case the word Rendering happened to be capitalized.) If you don't have direct rendering, you need to configure your video card for acceleration before you can run any of the games covered in this article. In my case, I had to change my video driver to “intel” instead of “i810”. You might have to do some research on the type of card you have. Most semi-modern video cards are capable of acceleration in Linux, so it likely will be worth the effort. Now that you (hopefully) have your video system running properly, let's get down to the games!


Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


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Nexuiz is not quake3-based

David Watzke's picture

Kosh: Nexuiz is not based on the Quake3 engine. It uses improved Quake1 engine called "DarkPlaces".

+1 for Nexuiz

Anonymous's picture

+1 for Nexuiz

Open Arena

Anonymous's picture

If you are an Ubuntu user you best get Open Arena from www.openareana.ws It's the current 0.8.1 version, the one supplied with Ubuntu is two versions behind the times. There are not many online servers left using the old version. Just unzip in your home directory and you are ready to frag.

Forgot the best one.

Kosh's picture

I have played all of the games you mentioned except for Padman and you forgot the best of them all - Nexiuz. The game is very easy to install, straight forward to customize , has single and multi-player games. The only issues I have had is I can not see were I can turn on the grappling hook in single player mode and I am a terrible shot. But I can move fast so watch out when I am in the capture the flag maps.


John Hardin's picture

More grep nitpicking:

glxinfo | grep -i rendering

The "-i" switch makes grep case-insensitive.

-- "Sgt. Bothari" in Urban Terror


Anonymous's picture

The pipeline
glxinfo | grep '[Rr]endering'
would have
a) captured the information you wanted from the glxinfo report,
b) been more readable to your audience,
c) accomodated both the capitalized and the lowercased word, and
c) needed no explanation about why you left off the R

Just a thought

Quake 3 Arena

David Watzke's picture

Well, I am familiar with Open Arena, Urban Terror and Tremulous and I think that even though these games are good, they just can't compete with good ol' Quake III. Also, Quake III engine under GPL is IMHO a great thing even if one isn't a game developer. Think of the compatibility, if not anything else.

-- Proud owner of Quake III Gold.