New Projects - Fresh from the Labs

Widelands—Real-Time Strategy (xoops.widelands.org)

I covered this game only briefly in the Projects at a Glance section in last month's issue, so I'm taking a closer look at it this month. Widelands is a real-time strategy (RTS) game built on the SDL libraries and is inspired by The Settlers games from the early and mid-1990s. The Settlers I and II games were made in a time when the RTS genre was still in its relative infancy, so they had different gameplay ideals from their hyperspeed cousins, where a single map could take up to 50 hours of gameplay.

Widelands' main emphasis is on base building and how you build it.

Widelands also has a lot of different settings and stories available to keep things interesting.

Thankfully, Widelands has retained this ideal, where frantic “tank-rush” tactics do not apply. Widelands takes a much slower pace, with an emphasis not on combat, but on building your home base. And, although the interface is initially hard to penetrate, it does lend itself to more advanced elements of base building, with gameplay mechanics that seem to hinge on not necessarily what is constructed, but how it is constructed.

For instance, the ground is often angled. So, when you build roads, you have to take into account where they head in order for builders to be able to transport their goods quickly and easily. Elements such as flow are just about everything in this game—you almost could call it feng shui.

Installation

If you head to the Web site's Downloads section, there's an i386 Linux binary available in a tarball that's around 100MB, which I'll be running with here. For masochists (or non-Intel machines), the game's source is available farther down the page.

Download the package and extract it to a new folder (which you'll need to make yourself). Open a terminal in the new folder, and enter the command:

$ ./widelands

If you're very lucky, it'll work right off the bat. Chances are, you'll get an error like this:

./widelands: error while loading 
  shared libraries: libSDL_ttf-2.0.so.0:
cannot open shared object file: No such 
  file or directory

I installed libSDL_ttf-2.0-dev, which fixed that, but then I got several other errors before I could get it to start. I had to install libSDL_gfx.so.4 and libsdl-gfx1.2-4 before it worked, but Widelands relies heavily on SDL (as do many other games), so you might as well install all of the SDL libraries while you're there.

Usage

Once you're in the game, the first thing you should do is head to the Single Player mode, and choose Campaign to start, as there's a good tutorial, which you will need. While the levels are loading, hints are given to you for when you get in the game, speeding up the learning process.

Controls are with the mouse and keyboard. The mouse is used for choosing various actions on-screen, and the keyboard's arrow keys let you move the camera around the world. Left-clicking on an insignificant piece of map brings up a menu for all of the basic in-game options. Right-clicking on something usually gets rid of it.

From here on, the game is far too complex to explain in this amount of space, but it's well worth checking out the documentation and help screens for further information. Once you've finished the intro campaign, check out the game's large collection of single- and multiplayer maps. You get a choice of multiple races, including Barbarians, Empire and Atlanteans, coupled with the ability to play against the computer or against other humans (or a close approximation). It also comes with a background story to the game, and if you spend your Saturday nights playing World of Warcraft instead of going to the pub, I'm sure you'll find it very interesting.

Delve into this game, and there's much that lies beneath the surface. It has simple things that please, like how the in-game menus are very sophisticated and solid, with none of the bugginess you get in many amateur games. But, it's the complete reversal of hyperspeed in its gameplay that I really love. I always want to get back to building my base when playing most RTS games, but I'm constantly drawn away by fire fights. This game lets you keep building, and places serious emphasis on how you do it.

The Web site also has add-ons, such as maps, music and other tribes, along with an editor, artwork and more, so check it out. Ultimately, Widelands is a breath of fresh air in an extremely stale genre, whose roots ironically stem from way back in the past in RTS history. Whether you're chasing a fix of that original Settlers feel or just want a different direction in RTS, this game is well worth a look.

______________________

John Knight is the New Projects columnist for Linux Journal.

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