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Landscape of open source games

Yo Frankie! An open source platformer created using Blender.

Yo Frankie! An open source platformer created using Blender.

I recently gave a presentation on the landscape of open source software in computer games at the Univ. Rey Juan Carlos, where I am currently visiting the Libresoft research group. My slides are available here.

While much of the talk covered well-known libraries (SDL, OpenAL), game engines (Ogre, Irrlicht), physics engines (Bullet, Tokamak), and content creation tools (Blender, GIMP), there were a few surprises. One was how many open source game-creation systems I found (4, more than the zero I expected). These are Game Editor (2d with export to some mobile devices), Construct (2d, some 3d), Novashell (2d), and Sandbox (3d). Another surprise was the game Yo Frankie! (pictured above), which has very high quality animation and artwork, and was produced using Blender.

A disappointment was the state of open content sharing. While some sites, like OpenGameArt and New Grounds provide tagging with a Creative Commons license, far more common are sites like Google’s 3D Warehouse that have site-specific terms of use, and provide no ability for artists to indicate they are willing to share their work via Creative Commons or an open source license.

About the author:  Jim is Professor and Chair of Computer Science at UC Santa Cruz. He has research interests in procedural level generation for computer games, as well as automatic bug prediction. His favorite games are Radiant Silvergun and Civilization IV. Read more from this author

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  1. Posted October 29, 2009 at 12:49 PM | Permalink

    Where do you include game modifications or total conversions here? Games like Counter-Strike and such that grew from a mod community are also open-source, but I have a feeling that they don’t work like open-source teams that build other types of software.

    However, I have nothing to back up this gut feeling :)

  2. Posted October 29, 2009 at 6:14 PM | Permalink

    I’ve been dinking around with Flixel (a AS3 tile based game engine) in the past week or so and it is a pretty great. I’ve messed with a lot of game engines/building tools, and this is one of the only ones that actually worka the way you think it ought to.

  3. Posted October 30, 2009 at 2:36 AM | Permalink

    Thanks for the feedback! One of the challenges in putting together this talk was avoiding the desire to just catalog everything. Wikipedia has a number of pages that provide catalogs of open source game technology, and so I didn’t want to duplicate that. In the end, I aimed for coverage of major technologies and games all in one place, in hopes that this would at least provide a roadmap into the huge range of open source game technologies available.

  4. James Hofmann
    Posted October 31, 2009 at 8:17 PM | Permalink

    I’ve been following independent gaming for a while, primarily through TIGSource. There’s an interesting interaction between open-source projects and indie development – namely, that better open-source code acts to enable increasingly sophisticated indie projects.

    The typical transaction is that indie projects ship a game on top of open-source code without contributing back, because indies are acting primarily from self-interest, and the things they could contribute back are almost entirely specific to their project(game assets). For example, many indie projects are using Construct or Flixel now over Game Maker or MMF2 out of a preference for the open source codebase.

    But as Jim points out, the content-creation side of things is still lacking.

    The data pipeline I’m using for my own project has been brought to some kind of working state over a torturous six-month period. All open-source tools: Blender, Wings3D, Inkscape, Gimp, and various audio apps. The problem wasn’t with those tools, but with integrating everything in a way that would make it easy to iterate over assets and then adding the game-specific tools on top. A lot of indie projects use tile maps and pixel art because the tooling and skill requirements are low. Going to a more sophisticated paradigm means more complexity in all areas of the tech. The only way to resolve this, really, seems to be for someone to make the upfront effort and then release the code. (I’m going to do that.)

  5. Posted November 2, 2009 at 3:48 AM | Permalink

    Panda3D(http://www.panda3d.org/) made in Disney and maintained by CMU.

    Goodle Summer of Code (http://code.google.com/soc/) has supported some FLOSS game tools/engines communities that has active members who can mentor student developers.
    For example, game engines including Crystal Space, ScummVM, WorldForge.
    Tools like GIMP, Audacity(sound editor).
    Applications like Micropolis(SimCity for OLPC), Battle for Wesnoth, BZFlag, and tiny games embedded in desktop environments.

  6. Posted November 3, 2009 at 10:49 PM | Permalink

    Love that you’re working on an open-source pipeline! I wish I had the same get-up-and-go as you :)

    I was particularly interested in this: “For example, many indie projects are using Construct or Flixel now over Game Maker or MMF2 out of a preference for the open source codebase.”

    We teach at UCSC with Game Maker right now, and I’d enjoy hearing your experiences with Construct. Flixel is sadly out, as the course is a general education course, intended for all students, Computer Science major or not. Construct looks like it has parallels with GameMaker, so I’d like to know how you find it!

  7. Jonathan
    Posted November 17, 2010 at 8:36 PM | Permalink

    As this blog post was written slightly more than a year ago I am wondering where you feel the state of open source games is at now?

  8. clint herman
    Posted January 13, 2011 at 7:09 AM | Permalink

    This is great! This is really new for me.

  9. Lewis
    Posted March 5, 2011 at 3:00 AM | Permalink

    Game Maker seems to have lost a lot of its status since this post was written. Interestingly it looks like more and more indie studios/developers are choosing to move to more advanced techniques to produce games and as a result we’re seeing higher quality titles produced using open source software.

    Unfortunately, it would appear that this is a one way street. Gamers may be able to enjoy a higher quality of games but the open source community rarely receives anything back.

  10. IToons
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 9:20 PM | Permalink

    Nice article.. I knew about the blender but other things are also interesting.. Thanks

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    Posted May 21, 2011 at 3:24 AM | Permalink

    Nice blog, Excellent content, Keep up the good work, Thank a lot.

  12. oren
    Posted May 25, 2011 at 8:38 PM | Permalink

    very nice

  13. regalos - lele
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 10:50 AM | Permalink

    Open Source games for me are good especially like a lot, even if some are well with many errors

  14. metatrader indicators
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 8:51 PM | Permalink

    I really appreciate your post and you explain each and every point very well. Thanks for sharing this information.And I’ll love to read your next post too.

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  15. Josh
    Posted June 30, 2011 at 9:45 PM | Permalink

    It’s two years since your post. Do you think the open source gaming landscape has changed at all?

  16. Posted July 14, 2011 at 2:23 PM | Permalink

    I can’t speak for Jim, but there haven’t been any huge developments in open-source gaming that I’ve noticed over the past two years. On the other hand, I think that the steady growth of sites like OpenGameArt (which was quite difficult to find stuff on two years ago but is gaining momentum now) has made open source games easier to make.

  17. Colin
    Posted August 10, 2011 at 4:46 AM | Permalink

    I think with the huge uptake of mobile gaming I would love to get into creating games for the iPhone or WP7.

    This has given me a couple of ideas for looking where to start.

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