Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Archive for the month “October, 2007”

Gutsy Release Party, the Netherlands, 27 October 2007

It was fun being at the Gutsy Gibbon Release party in the Netherlands. There is a nice photo impression here.

I was honored to give a presentation on Ubuntu myself. Some pictures of me in action:

janstedehouder-grp27102007-1.JPG

janstedehouder-grp27102007-2.JPG

janstedehouder-grp27102007-3.JPG



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Preparing for the next month

I have almost finished moving from one house to the next. Most boxes have been unpacked already and the only thing lacking is a cable from the router on first floor to the basement where the study (and all the computers) is located.  New surroundings provide new insights and new desires. I started Ruminations on the Digital Realm about a year ago and gradually it focused on W2L migration issues. I like Linux and open source, but also realize I have my own ideas on what is needed for it to make a serious leap to the endusers’ desktop.

Last month I spend most of my time on PC-BSD and -as I wrote before- I will spend some more time on the *BSD’s in the coming months. I do believe that the cluster FreeBSD/PC-BSD/DesktopBSD will provide a serious candidate for the open source desktop in the near future. The Linux world would do well to keep a close eye on what is happening outside it’s own realm. Microsoft is moving ahead with it’s own initiatives and even succeeded in getting some licenses approved as open source licenses. If ever there is a time for some serious consolidation in the Linux world the coming year might be a good time to start. But then again, that is just my opinion.

Anyway, today I launched a new version of Ruminations. The content is still the same, though the packaging has changed. I run this site on WordPress and my previous theme didn’t support most of the new features. This theme is somewhat brighter and more colorful, which seems to fit my mood and my intentions. I am still working on the new categories, the new tag system and some quirks here and there.

There are some more challenges ahead for the coming months, involvements in other writing activities, and an update on the dvd for the readers of the book. Enough to keep a busy man occupied.

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Writing a book in one month?

About a week from now I will start  a new series of articles “DesktopBSD: the first 30 days”. This coincides with the annual National Novel Writing month. It’s the insane challenge to write a complete book of 50.000 words (or 175 pages) in one month.

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month’s time.

Who: You! We can’t do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let’s write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.

Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era’s most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.

When: Sign-ups begin October 1, 2007. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.

Now, writing about DesktopBSD isn’t going to be fictional and I seriously doubt it will ever be considered “novell” enough to win the Booker prize, but I don’t mind giving the 175 page goal a shot. Or at least finish the month with a lot of pieces to work on a book for new users to *BSD.

Microsoft partners again: with TurboLinux. My, my, was I right ;-)

On June 15th of this year I wrote a brief article about possible partners for Microsoft after it signed a deal with Xandros and Linspire. The article was called Microsofts next partners: Mandriva and TurboLinux. I remember that time fondly because it created quite a stir in the Mandriva community, eventually leading to a formal statement by Mandriva that it wouldn’t make a patent-related deal with Microsoft, much to the joy of many Linux afficionados. Of course I was accused of spreading FUD all along. But was I?

Well, this Linux Watch article of October 22nd comes with the news that TurboLinux is the next company to sign a patent-related agreement with the guys in Redmond.

This isn’t the first time that Turbolinux has worked with Microsoft. Indeed, in 2004, Turbolinux was the first major Linux distributor to make a deal with Microsoft. In that agreement, Turbolinux got the rights to ship a media player that could legally play movies and music encoded in Microsoft’s proprietary WMF (Windows Media Format). Then, in July, Turbolinux joined the Microsoft-sponsored Open XML-Open Document Format Translator Project .

This latest partnership, however, goes well beyond the scope of these earlier agreements. While Microsoft downplayed the IP (intellectual property) assurance part of the agreement, the arrangement includes IP assurance for Turbolinux customers who purchase Turbolinux server. No mention was made of Turbolinux desktop customers. With this move, Turbolinux joins Linspire, Novell, and Xandros as Linux distributors who have signed up for Microsoft’s undisclosed IP protection.

For business customers, the key component of the agreement is that the two companies will work together on a single sign-on (SSO) program. The goal is to create an SSO enabling customers to use one set of credentials to log onto Windows-based and Turbolinux-based systems. This will be built, in part, on a WSPP (Workgroup Server Protocol Program) evaluation license, which Turbolinux signed to evaluate additional technical collaboration opportunities on which to focus in the future.

So it wasn’t all FUD, was it?

PC-BSD Day 30: The verdict

Thirty days with PC-BSD. One month that flew by. In this month I tried to work with PC-BSD every day, sometimes from a more novice viewpoint, sometimes by pushing the limits from the perspective of the more daring user. There are still issues that haven’t been tested yet like mounting network shares at boot time (always easy in a SOHO network) or trying to access the shared printer on my wife’s Windows XP desktop. I also didn’t test PC-BSD on my laptop and try support for wifi in that way. But, overall, I did what I would normally do on a Linux desktop or at work on a Windows desktop, which -for me- indicates I can make a decent judgment about PC-BSD as a day to day desktop. I know I have barely scratched the surface of *BSD, but this would hold true for many novice users.

PBIs: strengths and weaknesses

One of the key selling points of PC-BSD is the PBI system to install and manage new software. You might almost call it the Unique Selling Point for PC-BSD. In essence, the concept is a strong one. You provide novice users with complete, self-contained binary installers which almost have no interference with the core system.

Using the PBIs has been a mixed blessing. A brief overview of the negatives:

– First, not all mirrors work. There were a couple of occasions where clicking on a mirror resulted in an error message that the package did not exist.
– Not all PBIs work. This was most notable with the games.
– Not all PBIs include all the necessary dependencies. A case in point were the GIMP and Abiword PBIs, though I must say that the GIMP PBI was removed shortly afterward and work began on a new version
– The specific PBI pages do include a “latest date” indication, but don’t say which PC-BSD is supported by the PBI.
– The list of available PBIs is limited.
– Maintaining and updating the PBIs is left to individual developers.

This last point I found to be very risky, especially for a company that uses the PBI system as an important key feature. One might expect a somewhat higher level of central involvement. According to Matt they are working on a way to build more PBIs automatically.

On plus side the PBIs do provide an easy way to install and manage software. The strength of the system was provided by the non-official PBIs with which you could install Windows-based software under PC-BSD/Wine. This was mostly software that is needed in a W2L/BSD strategy. The PBI system also allows the building of ‘creatively’ constructed packages to circumvent present limitations in FreeBSD, like the PBI with Firefox under Wine and Flash 9.

With the PBIs being so important I can only recommend a swift increase in the number of PBIs and to make them easier accessible. The website is not bad, but I would prefer a GUI frontend from within PC-BSD itself where you can select, download and install the PBIs. Such a frontend would select the proper package for your version of PC-BSD. In the mean time a critical look at all the descriptions is definitely needed. I would also like to see some better indicators of the progress of the installation. Especially with larger packages it appears that they don’t work or are stuck somewhere in the middle. This is confusing and might lead to abortions of the install process. Finally, the PBIs should be flawless.

PC-BSD as a FreeBSD system

The Quick Guide describes three methods to install new software. Apart from the PBIs these are the packages and the ports collection. PC-BSD is positioned as a FreeBSD system with full compatibility. This is true as long as you keep the core system as it is and don’t start installing software via packages and ports. At that point I got the impression that PC-BSD is not completely in sync with FreeBSD. I have seen too many second and third digit dependency errors that made installing software via packages or ports a hit-and-miss thing.

One might argue -as some have done- that the PBIs are the method of choice anyway and that if you want to work with ports and packages you’d better use FreeBSD proper. If so -and I tend to agree with both statements at this point- don’t bother the novice user with explanations about FreeBSD, packages or ports. Acknowledge the FreeBSD roots and then explain the best way to use PC-BSD.

Related to this were the update/upgrade problems. I was kind of shocked to find out that upgrading from 1.3 to 1.4 or from the beta to 1.4 final were not recommended or deemed possible. If that is true PC-BSD definitely needs a new partition/slices layout with /home being separate from the rest. Or some good instructions for novice users on how to secure their data from within -for them- the new system.

PC-BSD and hardware issues

In this month I had two hardware issues. First I had to go through a stack of hard drives that have served me well on various occassions, but weren’t acceptible to the PC-BSD installer. I am grateful for the suggestions to fix this issue, but those suggestions are beyond the reach of the novice user. He/she wouldn’t have a clue why a perfectly fine desktop would be unacceptable to PC-BSD and give up on the OS.

The second problem was with the graphics card. The suggestion to change the aperture in the BIOS was good and the solution worked. But PC-BSD is the only OS that needs this change and I have tried quite a few. Again, not something a novice user would understand and hence not something I want to see in an operating system that caters to the desktop user.

I had some issues with mounting USB drives while being logged in. I would get error messages and the drives wouldn’t mount. Rebooting with the USB drives connected corrected the problem.

PC-BSD as an applications platform

I have become an agnostic as to the operating system. The availability of multi-platform open source applications and open source standards have made that possible. Hence, the phrase “applications platform”. KDE desktop is well enough. Working with it on a daily basis led to more appreciation for this desktop. What I didn’t like was the lack of consistency on where new applications would wind up in the menu.

When you think about applications I found nothing lacking. Productivity, communications, browsing, multimedia, financial applications, PC-BSD has them all, though mostly via the packages and ports. Multimedia support out of the box is sufficient, but not completely without glitches. The problems with flash 9 based websites or with DVD playback come to mind.
I am used to changing the look and feel of GNOME desktop whenever I want to and use the gnome-look website to find new themes. Installing a new theme is simply a matter of dragging and dropping. Doing the same with the KDE desktop proved to be somewhat more cumbersome and more hit-and-miss.

I was impressed by the DesktopBSD-tools. Though not part of the PC-BSD system it surpasses Synaptic on various points.

Is PC-BSD ready for mainstream use on the desktop?

That’s the real question, isn’t it? But what does it mean to be ready for mainstream use on the desktop? The slide show that PC-BSD provides during the install gives you pictures of everyday users at home, in school and in the office, happily working with the new system. Is it wrong to conclude that PC-BSD wants to be the desktop of choice for your current colleagues, friends and schoolmates that have been shackled to Windows up to now?

The first impression of PC-BSD is good, really good. But once I went further into the system and using it I regularly ran into snags, some bigger than others. The majority of those problems would be encountered by this group of users quite quickly, problems they hardly encounter under Windows today. Yes, I know that *BSD is more stable, more secure and ultimately a much better OS than Windows can hope for, but that argument becomes moot when a simple PBI fails to install properly or when your USB stick appears unusable.

Does PC-BSD have the potential to be a serious contender for the open source desktop? I answered that questions with a yes, because the potential is there. The solid *BSD roots, the very strong and very accessible information, the friendly and mature community and the PBI system provide the foundations for that potential. I don’t think it is ready now and I couldn’t recommend it yet to someone in the early stages of moving away from Windows to an open source desktop. But I do think that the PC-BSD team has the right target audience in mind and is building an system and a support system that adresses it’s needs. PC-BSD 1.4 is a solid step in the right direction. I can recommend it to the more playful and experienced users and encourage them to provide as much feedback as possible.

Next experiment: DesktopBSD

As promised I will continue with another desktop oriented *BSD, DesktopBSD, and write another 30 days series. However, first I have to move house and make sure I’ll get online again in my new study. I want to start this series on November 1st.
To those who have followed this series and all of you who provided feedback and suggestion, I thank you for your patience and help. If anything, you have assured me that there is a part of the open source realm where mature people simply enjoy life and their open source desktop.

PC-BSD Day 29: Back to GNOME, the bleeding edge and virtualization

In the course of this month there were various issues that couldn’t be solved immediately. In the comments there were quite a few suggestions on how to solve them and it is only fair to explore the solutions and fix the problems.

The bleeding edge in packages

In one the early articles I noticed the difference in being up to date between the ports and the packages. The program I tested -Bibletime- was available as 1.4.x in the packages and 1.6.x in the ports. Manolis then suggested to change the PACKAGESITE environment variable so that it would use the latest available packages.

I have been using Konsole with a root shell this month and it was enough to enter the following line:

# setenv PACKAGESITE ftp://ftp.freebsd.org/pub/FreeBSD/ports/i386/packages-6-stable/Latest/

After running a # echo $PACKAGESITE I was sure the new settings were accepted. The next step was to install Bibletime on this new box with # pkg_add -r bibletime, which led to a nice 1.6.4 version on my system. One thing I did notice. Before changing the PACKAGESITE environment variable there were already quite a few second and third digit dependency warnings which led to some programs that wouldn’t launch. Moving to the bleeding edge of packages only widened the gap between what was required and what was installed. This would lead to the conclusion that PC-BSD is a little behind on FreeBSD. I can imagine this is caused by a freeze some months ago on the part of the PC-BSD team after which they focused on ironing out the PC-BSD specific issues. For instance -as will be shown by the next sub heading- GNOME has a series of xorg 7.3 dependencies, while PC-BSD is shipped with xorg 7.2.2. In most cases the issue is limited to warning messages, in others it did result in non-functional programs.

GNOME issues

Installing GNOME on PC-BSD was easy enough (# pkg_add -r gnome2), but that left me a desktop with a window manager that wouldn’t accept any keyboard inputs. This problem was a familiar one to DrJ. When running as root the window manager -metacity- was running, but as a regular user it wasn’t. The issue should be solved by executing # metacity in a terminal window. However, I don’t have the ability to enter commands while under GNOME.

With the new PACKAGESITE settings on a fresh PC-BSD install I decided to install GNOME again. This process ended with a broken pipe error message. Nevertheless I could select GNOME in KDM and launch it. As expected it wouldn’t accept keyboard inputs. I thought it could be related to the KVM switch I am using and plugged in a PS/2 keyboard directly (after closing down the system of course 😉 ). Unfortunately it made no difference, which left this experiment without a good result I will try it again when running FreeBSD later this year.

Virtualization

In of his comments DrJ refers to using virtual machines under FreeBSD. I was interested because the FreeBSD handbook gave the impression that using FreeBSD as host OS wasn’t really supported, apart from having vmware3 in the ports collection. DrJ gave a reference to the BSDNexus website. In the forums I found some very interesting guides on how to install, setup and use QEMU and VMware 3 on a FreeBSD box.

Qemu
http://forums.bsdnexus.com/viewtopic.php?id=1536

VMware 3
http://forums.bsdnexus.com/viewtopic.php?id=1534

Both articles are well-written and describe each step in sufficient detail. I will give both solutions a try later this year when I start working with FreeBSD proper. However, I don’t think QEMU and VMware 3 are good solutions for the desktop user that I have in mind. When discussing W2L migration (or W2BSD in this case) there is always a small set of programs that some users need and which are not supported (i.e. the functionality is not available or insufficient in open source programs) thus requiring either emulation (wine) or virtualization. To get QEMU and VMware 3 up and running requires a lot more background knowledge and command line intervention than most W2l/W2BSD migrators would have.

Another option is the PBI for Win4BSD. Strange enough the link to that package has disappeared from the PC-BSD PBI referral page. The new Win4BSD website also doesn’t make it easy to download a trial or demo version, but in the FreeBSD mailing list there is still a link to the testing FTP server (ftp://ftp.win4bsd.com/pub/testing/pro/).

After doing a search on the website I found this notification by Kris Moore and the ‘ official’ download link: ftp://ftp.win4bsd.com/pub/releases/1.1/

I downloaded the content of the whole directory (just in case). By the way, it turned out the direct link was ‘hidden’ in the section Support. Anyway, launching a PBI isn’t much of a challenge anymore. After that it is a matter of clicking the Win4BSD icon and the One-Click-2-Windows window pops up.

What is One-Click-2-Windowsâ„¢?
Win4BSD Pro’s One-Click-2-Windowsâ„¢ is the world’s easiest way to install Microsoft® Windows® on your FreeBSD desktop. Once you have completed the Preparing for Installation step above, you can use One-Click-2-Windowsâ„¢ to install a Windows desktop as easily as just clicking the Install… button.
One-Click-2-Windowsâ„¢ installs Windows directly from a supported Windows CDROM, so you don’t have to load the media first as with the traditional installation method. This is particularly useful if you only intend to install one version of Windows, or one guest configuration. One-Click-2-Windowsâ„¢ installs the session under the default configuration winpro.

At this moment I wanted to grab the Windows CD, only to find out that it is no longer on the shelves in my study. Actually, there isn’t much of anything on my shelves anymore since everything is packed for our moving house next week. I did have a Windows 2003 test version lying around, but Win4BSD wouldn’t accept that. Ah well, nothing to be done about that.

PC-BSD Day 28: Crash test

As the end of the 30 days draws near it is time to do some crash tests. The more experienced Linux or *BSD user knows that you need to shutdown your computer decently. Even if the graphical user interface freezes up on you, you know there is a way out via on of the other virtual consoles. I still remember the days that a hard reboot on Linux would leave me with an unusable machine after a few times.

Ubuntu Linux -and maybe the other distributions as well- has become more crash dummy proof. But how would PC-BSD manage under the crash test?

Why necessary?

PC-BSD targets desktop users and non-technical users among them. Hence, we may not expect them to be able to change from a frozen graphical desktop to a virtual terminal, log in as root and reboot the system. If something goes wrong -and it will go wrong sooner or later- the reset button is just an arm’s length away.

The results

As I noticed before, PC-BSD isn’t going easy on the harddrive. If the harddrive isn’t good enough it won’t even install on it. Well, it doesn’t like you resetting the system without a proper reboot either. At the first new boot it recognizes the fact that there was no proper shutdown and starts to check the disk. This is time-consuming (good, that will teach you for the next time) and you see a list of error messages flashing by.

I immediately reset the system once this boot up was finished. And again. And again. PC-BSD then gave up and wouldn’t boot anymore. The fourth reset was one too many. Of course, you might not expect a desktop user to reset the system four times in a row, but it does show the system is more frail than current Linux systems.

In another instance the reset left me without a working boot loader after the first try. Restoring a boot loader will not pose a big problem for the more experienced user, but it is Mount Helena (seconds before the explosion) for the average desktop user.

I know it’s a bit of a short article today, but hey, after crashing the system I need to reinstall it again 😉

PC-BSD Day 27: Gaming under PC-BSD, part 2

One might almost think that gaming under PC-BSD is predominantly for those who like shooters. Well, not completely. There are other games, but I have found the FPS games to be among those who are well-developed and interesting. Other games pale in comparison to most of their commercial proprietary counterparts. Like the first two of today.

T.O.R.C.S.

When it comes to racing you can call me a fan of the xBox. I have various Colin McRae games, Project Gotham 1 and 2, Need for Speed and a couple more. Racing games should look slick and feel fast. When you race with a speed of 252 km/hours you should experience that.

TORCS is a racing car simulator.

TORCS is a highly portable multi platform car racing simulation. It is used as ordinary car racing game, as AI racing game and as research platform. It runs on Linux (x86, AMD64 and PPC), FreeBSD, MacOSX and Windows. The source code of TORCS is licensed under the GPL (“Open Source”). You find more information about the project in the menu bar on the left. If you need help have a look at the FAQ first. You can contact us on the torcs-users mailing list (you need to subscribe to use it because of spam).

There are various sites on the Internet dedicated to TORCS with additional content (cars, tracks, documentation, patches, etc.), you can find them in the “Related Sites” section in the menu on the left. If you are interested in racing visit the sites listed in the Racing section.

Well, you can race with these cars but it is far removed from the game experience I look for when racing. The graphics and speed experience are reminiscent of the mid 1990s.

TORCS

Vdrift

Vdrift is another racing game. The lingo is fascinating:

VDrift is a cross-platform, open source driving simulation made with drift racing in mind. It’s powered by the excellent Vamos physics engine. It is released under the GNU General Public License (GPL) v2. It is currently available for Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS X and Windows (Cygwin).

Right. I must say I might the impressed purely from the technological viewpoint that it isn’t easy to create a cross-platform game. I was far less impressed with the game description on the PBI site that failed to mention that keyboard support was not yet available and that you neede a joystick, gamepad or steering wheel to play the game. And it would be nice if the game would actually launch with visuals and audio. Barring that it becomes a bit tedious to play. If you get my drift.

Vdrift

Sauerbraten

sauercomp If there was one game in the last year that convinced me that gaming had come to the Linux platform it was Sauerbraten. Maybe there were games before (and I still like my Neverwinter Nights hours), but Sauerbraten was simply great. It could have something to do with the fact that it was one of the few online FPS where I wasn’t fragged in seconds.

Sauerbraten (a.k.a. Cube 2) is a free multiplayer/singleplayer first person shooter, built as a major redesign of the Cube FPS.

Much like the original Cube, the aim of this game is not necessarily to produce the most features & eyecandy possible, but rather to allow map/geometry editing to be done dynamically in-game, to create fun gameplay and an elegant engine.

Unfortunately this turned into another PBI disappointment for me. The game would install, it would launch and then crash. Again and again.

America’s Army

Should we call this a game or a piece of propaganda? It’s both but that doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting to test it out. Downloading the PBI does take some time. It 800 Mb plus which means you don’t get America’s Army on your desktop quickly.

The America’s Army game provides civilians with an inside perspective and a virtual role in today’s premier land force: the U.S. Army. The game is designed to provide an accurate portrayal of Soldier experiences across a number of occupations.

When a PBI is so huge it takes ages for it to launch. Please, take this literally. It takes ages, in my case almost an hour. When it finally launched it looked like the install was stuck at 92%. It isn’t, it is busy unpacking the linux-americasarmy.2.5.0 package. After almost two hours I was ready to get my first taste of America’s Army, only to be met by a crash report explaining the system couldn’t find the /bin/armyops file.

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory & True Combat: Elite

After a string of disappointments there were two games left to try: Wolfenstein Enemy Territory and True Combat Elite .

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (W:ET) is an online first person shooter. Some lingo:

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is a full free multiplayer first person shooter game. The game was originally going to be a retail expansion pack for Return To Castle Wolfenstein but the project was cancelled and the good folks at Activision decided to give it to us for free!
It’s a team game; you will win or fall along with your comrades. The only way to complete the objectives that lead to victory is by cooperation, with each player covering their teammates and using their class special abilities in concert with the others.

And I was impressed. The graphics in the game are crystal clear and it runs fast. I had a framerate of 90 and that is not bad on the mediocre hardware I am using. When you connect to a server you the program will download multiple pak-files (.pk3). The screen to select your server has various filters and there is plenty of choice. When you hop from server to server you notice the variety of gaming environments, which is a tribute to the map developers.

tce2_1024x768

True Combat: Elite is a complete mod of W:ET, changing the theme from World War II to a more modern Special Ops versus Terrorists.

Now, the most important question: “What can you expect from TC:E?” TCE is a tactical-team shooter, set up in a modern-world environment. TC:E puts you into the role of elite mercenary soldier in the conflicts of two internationally operating forces.
SpecOps vs. Terrors SpecOps vs. Terrors
The Global Intervention Force (GIF626) is a special force formed of the top of the world experts joining from US Delta force, UK SAS, German KSK and GSG9, to mention a few. An international mercenary organization known as “The Unit” is their opponent. It is reported that some of these dudes are were once with the above forces, but the lure of money is strong. You say “Yet another terror counter-terrorism shooter. Why the hell should I go for it?”. We say “Cause you don’t have to spend a cent and it features:”

The more modern settings demand different environments and I was stunned by the level of detail I found. The list of available servers is significantly smaller than W:ET and when I went online nobody was playing.

Playing some time with W:ET (and browsing throught the TC:E servers) left me with a very positive feeling that open source gaming can be very, very mature and of competitive quality. It was fast, responsive and stable. It was as close to perfect as I can imagine. If only there was sound to accompany the gameplay. There was sound with most of the other games, so it couldn’t be a hardware problem.

Conclusions

This isn’t a review of the quality of the various games themselves, but about how easy it is to use them under PC-BSD. The PBI system is a the heart of the PC-BSD marketing and then -in all honesty- a better performance was expected. Some games (Sauerbraten, America’s Army) simply wouldn’t run and that is unacceptable. Maybe the PBIs were made for the previous release, hence I can only suggest to update the information on the PBI website and add information about which release is supported. That alone would save some disappointments. Other games did run but with a glitch here and there. Again, this really needs improvement.

The games that did run fine (and I wish to include both W:ET and TC:E among these) deliver a good performance. TORCS has a dated look and feel, but it performs as promised. For W:ET and TC:E I look forward to playing these games with sound.

PC-BSD Day 26: Gaming under PC-BSD, part 1

Yesterday I was left with a system without a graphical interface. No doubt I could have fixed it by going into the xorg.conf file, but I took the easy route: a clean install. The next two days I will focus a bit more on the gaming experience under PC-BSD. I kept away from ports and packages and used only the available PBIs on the website. This means I also didn’t use the PBIs that yet have to be approved. My main focus is: (1) Will the PBIs run under this latest release of PC-BSD? and (2) Are the games running with a decent speed? My box is an AMD XP 2400+ with a nVidia N6200 256 Mb card (aperture set to 128 Mb) and 1 Gb RAM. Not exactly the latest model, but it should suffice for all of the tested games. I have tested most of the games before on a Sabayon Linux and an Ubuntu Linux box. For each game I will add some commercial lingo information. The screenshots are taken from the original websites.

Nexuiz

The first game I tested was Nexuiz . The game is described as:

Nexuiz is a 3d deathmatch game project, created online by a team of developers called Alientrap.

Once you launch the game you can set up your own player character. There are a few settings to please the tinkerers. When you press Join you get a list of available servers. Interestingly there is even a server for more novice players, which gives you a chance to develop your online skills. The PBI delivers Nexuiz 2.1 and most of the servers I tested returned the message that they were on version 2.3.

The local gameplay was good. It was fast and responsive. The online gameplay was a major disappointment. I only had a completely dark screen with some flashes here and there, mostly followed by a message that I had been fragged.

nexuiz

Action Cube

Action Cube is no longer called by that name but continues it’s life as Assault Cube. Some commercial lingo:

AssaultCube, formerly ActionCube, is a free first-person-shooter based on the game Cube. Set in a realistic looking environment, as far as that�s possible with this engine, while gameplay stays fast and arcade. This game is all about team oriented multiplayer fun.

AssaultCube runs on old hardware, with the correct settings you can run it on a P3 800Mhz gf2.

Thanks to the efficient networking code, AssaultCube requires very little bandwith, you can play it with a 56k modem internet connection.

You can go online with Action Cube as well, but don’t expect too much of it. Most of the servers reported that they used a different Cube protocol. When I was playing only one server allowed me access. The game wasn’t overly interesting and shooting with a bunch of cloned hooded guys with rifles becomes boring quickly. The online screenshots of Assault Cube are more promising, so maybe it’s a matter of waiting for the PBI update.

ac_shot_23

Warzone 2100

After playing with two first person shooters it was time for a change of pace. Warzone 2100 is a realtime strategy game in the tradition of Command & Conquer. Now that’s a challenge for any game developer. I spend many hours on the Tiberium games and the Dune Emperor game that uses the same engine. Warzone tries to take on another major title as well:

Warzone 2100 is a real-time strategy game, developed by Pumpkin Studios (Archived website) and published by Eidos-Interactive?.

Although comparable to Earth2150? in many significant aspects, it does contain some that are unique. These include various radar technologies, a greater focus on artillery and counter-battery technologies, more frequent in-game cinematic updates as gameplay progress, as well as a different vehicle design method. It was released in 1999 for both PC and Playstation.

3D realtime strategy on a future Earth.

Upon entering the game you land from your transport and establish your base. Here you conduct research, design and manufacture vehicles, build new structures and prepare your plans of global conquest. If the game goes badly you’ll end up fighting last ditch battles here to defend your base from enemy attacks.

Combat is frenetic, with extensive graphical effects and buildings giving rise to flying shrapnel and boulders. Within the game are many different structures and vehicles. From an initial Command Center, you then go on to build Resource Extractors to provide fuel for Power Generators, which in turn supply energy to Factories, Research Facilities and weapons emplacements to protect your base.

Now, the commercial lingo is impressive isn’t it? The game itself is less appealing when it comes to graphics. The gameplay is familiar and the sounds are environmental. Don’t try to play the tutorial, because it might crash on you. On PC-BSD the game isn’t stabile. It crashed on me and then it wouldn’t close the window.

Apart from the commercial lingo Warzone is actually a nice RTS to play with. It takes some figuring out what you can do and how the tech tree works, but it’s a solid game.

warzone

Quake 3

I can be brief about the Quake 3 PBI. Either improve the description or remove it from the website. Once you launch the PBI you are notified that you need pak0.pk3 from the original disks. This should have been mentioned in the description. Now it was just a waste of my time.

Alien Arena

I gradually moved up to the larger downloads on the PBI website. As the size of the PBI grows I noticed it takes substantially longer for the install wizard to appear. In the mean time you don’t see, hear or notice anything. At first I thought the PBI was flawed or that I didn’t double-click enough. Then, after a long, long time I was asked for the root password. Twice. But the game is worth it.

Alien Arena is a first person shooter. Again the online gameplay is the most important feature.

Do you like fast paced deathmatch? How about rich, colorful, arcadelike atmospheres? How about…retro Sci Fi? Then you’re going to love what Alien Arena 2007 has in store for you! This game combines some of the very best aspects of such games as Quake III and Unreal Tournament and wraps them up with a retro alien theme, while adding tons of original ideas to make the game quite unique.

AA2K7 is the latest version of a freeware online deathmatch game that was first introduced to the public in October, 2004. Since that initial release, nearly every aspect of the game has been revamped, in fact, all of the content and code from the November 2005 release of Alien Arena 2006 has been redone as well. It’s like an entirely new game, and it may shock people just how much it has improved in less than a year’s time. With over 30 levels, seven modes of play, loads of mutators, built-in bots, 11 player characters, 9 weapons(with alt-fire modes), the game has an endless supply of replayability. With so many new features, AA2K7 is nearly an entirely new game when held in comparison to it’s predecessor. With the trials and tribulations of software development, endless hours of playing, gathering feedback, COR Entertainment has been able to not only fine tune and perfect it’s flagship game, but add completely new dimensions to it.

Using the CRX engine, which is based on the Id GPL source code, AA2K7 now includes modern effects such as real time vertex lighting and shadows, lensflares, light blooms, reflective water, textured particles, stainmaps, 32 bit color, shaders, fog, and much more. Built into the game is a easy to use server browser which allows the user to query information about each server. CRX features rewards systems, as well as colored player names, winner podiums, and weapons stats. The best thing about the CRX engine however, is it’s netcode and speed. Even on a modest system, you will get excellent framerates, and movement is still extremely smooth and fast, even on high ping servers.

Okay, I agree, that was a bit long for the commercial lingo, but in this case it’s straight on the ball. Alien Arena is a fascinating game with a great look and feel. I found it highly responsive and kept me busy for some time. It had some quirks when I moved from the local gameplay to the online gameplay (would report that I was already playing on another server). And I need some more practice as I was fragged a bit too quickly. The array of weapons is pretty interesting as well.

aa2007_8

More gaming will have to wait untill tomorrow.

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