How-to Become a Linux Gamer
There are several resources out there to assist you in being a Linux gamer. The WINE project (www.winehq.org) is a great, free example of this as it allows you to run Windows programs (and games) on Linux. Transgaming's Cedega (cedega.com) software also allows you to do the same but the difference is that there's a cost associated with this software. Today, though, we're going to introduce you to another option for being a Linux gamer-- the Linux-Gamers project (live.linux-gamers.net).
The Linux Gamers project is very unique in that the entire project is encapsulated within the confines of a live distribution (aka distro). Version 0.95, its most recent offering, of the project provides you with 34 free and open source games that run natively in Linux. I downloaded the "Big ISO" which is the DVD offering but you can also download the "Lite ISO" (CD) as well as the "Lite USB" and the "Big USB." Your computer will have to be an i686 or better, have at least 512MB RAM and have a video card that supports 3D acceleration. If your computer is more than 6 years old, you might want to try out the "Lite ISO" as it contains games mostly suited for older computers. Some of this distro's great features are that it has support for high-end video cards and it provides open source drivers with 3D acceleration for many other video cards. Plus, most of the games have multi-player modes. There's no software to install and no editing of config files. You download the ISO file, burn the image to a DVD, pop it into your DVD drive, reboot your machine, and off you go. There is an MD5 file that you can check against to ensure that the ISO image you burned is identical to the original. The only other thing you might need to double-check is that the first boot option in your computer's BIOS is set to boot from your CD/DVD drive and not the hard drive. However, this normally isn't a concern since most recent systems have that as the default already. In case you have a problem running the live DVD or CD, those are the first things to check: the integrity of the download image (via the MD5 sum) and your BIOS boot order.
Upon reboot, you're greeted with a GRUB menu where the default option is to boot into the Linux-Gamers distribution (you also have an option to play Space Invaders!, although it's only a rudimentary version and only one level, but still). Next, you're given the option to select your keymap choice (based on what part of the world you are in). If you have an NVIDIA video card, as I do, you're next shown a message saying that the system found a recent video card but that there's no free drivers for it. Scroll down and you see a message to kernel developers and open source enthusiasts letting them know that the distro developers respect their point-of-view of how proprietary drivers are tainting the GPL v2 (under which the kernel is licensed). Next is a message regarding the license for your video card. Next is a super short message asking you if you really accept the installation of said closed source drivers. While it sounds like there are too many messages, I thought that the authors of this live distro did a really good job of informing all parties involved and you speed through them so it hardly feels inconvenient.
You boot into an operating system-like desktop with the games as icons on the menu bars. You're also greeted by an HTML file with "Important Info," "Release Highlights," and "Known Issues." You can hover over the icons to see the title of the game. Click on the icon to load the game. You can also load a game by right-clicking on the desktop as doing so provides all the games in list format. The Live DVD provides you with the Gran Paradiso (version 3.0.11) web browser, a free and open source browser from the non-profit Mozilla Foundation (makers of Firefox). Testing the browser I discovered that my network drivers worked right out of the box!
Aside from the games and the browser, the right-click menu provides a few tools. An xTerm terminal is provided for your geeky pleasure. You're also given the Wicd network config tool (version 1.6.0) in case you have the need to configure network settings -- I did not. You also have an AlsaMixer sound volume tool as part of the offering (v1.0.20). Lastly, you have the XChat IRC client (version 2.8.6) at your disposal in case you want to setup matches with friends or for a little pre-match smack chat.
The distro includes 34 of the most popular, fun, free and open source games that run natively in Linux. Most, if not all, of them can be found and installed from your regular distro's repositories once you are back in the friendly confines of your distro of choice. You can find a complete list of games and download links at live.linux-gamers.net. Every single game played great -- a few even had cool soundtracks -- and while I was very familiar with many of the games, there were some I had never heard of. Naturally, I have a few favorites. Frets on Fire is a Rock Band/Guitar Hero-like offering where you use your keyboard to play the guitar -- the live gaming distro's authors claim that you can plug in a USB Wii Guitar and it will work right out-of-the-box, but I don't have one of those so I can't confirm that. SuperTuxKart is loads of fun and a great way to engage your little ones in some family racing. World of Padman is an extremely addicting, cartoony, multiplayer-only frag-fest (very colorful and kid-friendly). Urban Terror brings back sweet dreams (or are those nightmares?) of Counter-Strike days gone past. Secret Maryo Chronicles is very pretty and evokes nostalgic Nintendo memories. Foobilliard shows that good billiards games can be simple yet quite enjoyable. I could go on and on about the veritable bounty of games that the good folks from Linux-Gamers have provided us but I would rather suggest that you take it out for a spin yourself and find your own favorites amongst the wide variety of games offered.
The only thing I thought of as a "would be nice to have" was a Skype client on the live DVD. What better way to talk smack to your friends (or complete strangers, for that matter) than to have them quake at the sound of your voice and ever-present taunts? However, I cannot find much fault in not doing so as it is truly a rock solid live distro. Probably the best, yet most surprising, feature was that I encountered zero lag and no jerky gameplay -- the games played just as well as if I'd had them installed on my hard drive. What is really great is that it is a true live distribution and could be used as a standalone distro with the ancillary tools you are given. Burn a DVD today and give it to a gamer friend or maybe even a child in your neighborhood who does not have access to a gaming console. I am sure that they will thoroughly enjoy the Linux gaming experience.
NOTE (my system specs):
CPU: AMD Phenom 8650 Triple-Core Processor (64-bit)
RAM: 3GB DDR2 RAM
Video: NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX (768MB VRAM) (PCI-E 16x)
Motherboard: Biostar N61PB-M2S
DVD: Pioneer DVD-RW DVR-109
On-board audio & ethernet
Miguel Hernandez is the Founder & Head Geek at the OpenMindz Group, an IT consulting and web development firm in Los Angeles, California.
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