Linux Gaming Projects That Need a Little TLC (or How You Can Contribute)

Interstate Outlaws gameplay screesnshot (source: HappyPenguin.org)

My favorite PC game of all time was Interstate '76. It was really unique in its gameplay and has the best soundtrack for a game ever, featuring 70's funk, where I would pop in the cd on my computer just to play the music. I've never done that with any other game, before that or since (the site has archived the soundtrack and you can download the mp3 files from there). Later, I'd find out that there were some really heavy hitters who were a part of the soundtrack. In January 2007, I started searching out more recent games that were similar in gameplay- where you are an auto vigilante, completing missions in your weapon-infused, tricked-out vehicle (but that ran on Linux). Lo and behold, I came across such a game in Interstate Outlaws.

The basic storyline of Interstate '76 is that it is set in an alternate version of 1976 with the oil crisis of the 70's still in full swing and has gone to unprecedented levels. Gas is such a high priced commodity that outlaws use vehicles to perform their heists since law enforcement could not chase them very far. You are placed in the role of an auto vigilante who is trying to help out the law in reigning in the terror caused by these mobile outlaws. You start off in some variation of the 70's LeCar (all the in-game vehicles were based on actual automobiles of the period) and you have some basic weaponry outfitted into your vehicle. This is standard faire in the world of auto vigilanteism -- vehicles strapped with turrets, guns, cannons, flamethrowers and even obstacle deployers like dropping an oil slick -- all in an effort to gain the upper hand. You go through several missions to complete the game! There was a sequel to the game -- Interstate '82 -- but like so many sequels, it just did not measure up to the original so the franchise slowly died off.

Beyond the gameplay that I desired, what really drew me to Interstate Outlaws was that it ran natively in Linux. I tried a demo version then that was in super early alpha. While it was far from complete, it had the makings of greatness. I really liked the community and got involved a little bit, but not very much. Fast forward to earlier this year and I remembered the game again so I visited their site to see if, hopefully, it had been released by now. Sadly, it was now in late alpha which meant it had not even made it to beta yet. I looked around and noticed the developers still needed a lot of help from the open source community -- C programmers, artists, sound engineers. You name it, they needed it and I thought this a tragedy since it was a very promising open source project. Somehow, the limelight had not been directed its way which would, invariably, help their development process along. All of this got me thinking.

Sure, there are great resources for open source projects to gain exposure like freshmeat, github, ohloh and the like. The obvious first step is for open source projects to gain exposure. But then what? How do those open source projects in need enable folks to contribute easily? To my thinking, the missing cog in the equation was a bridge for folks wanting to contribute to open source projects. Basically, some way for folks squeamish or unsure about their skills to contribute. Areas like documentation, translation and reporting bugs are great entry points into open source contribution since they do not necessarily require strong technical skills. This makes it less intimidating for folks new to contributing to jump in and feel like they are making a difference through their volunteer efforts.

While we are discussing open source contributions to gaming projects (and just one gaming project, in this case), the buck need not stop there. This is all applicable to any open source project out there. So I encourage you to go out, find a project you are passionate about and find some way to contribute. It does not have to be a technical contribution. You can contribute documentation, translation, bug reporting or even marketing & advertising. Figure out what you're good at and contact the project lead(s) and ask how you can help out and share with them what areas your skills lie in. While my own open source contributions are super duper minor in the grand scheme of things, I really liked the way OpenOffice.org broke down the areas where you can contribute. More open source projects need to embrace solutions for allowing potential contributors easy access to the "low hanging fruit," if you will. To that end, there's a project called OpenHatch which is providing these very types of resources and one which I will be spotlighting in the very near future.

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