A Game Development Essay

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This page is not about Piga Software itself, it is being hosted on this Wiki to help other Free Software Projects.

A Game Development Essay is a document written by Graham L. Wilson during the summer of 2008 CE and finally published on the Piga Software Forum on July 5, 2008. It discuses free software and open source (defining open source as a development methodology, free software as a philosophy) and how the two relate to game development. He notes on how open source development methods can actually hinder the development of story-based computer games, although he notes how it might be good for arena and arcade games. It also discuses how "corporate competition" can hurt game innovation, he takes on a light hearted tone as "I want people to think not to argue".

It is released under these terms "Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts". The essay, is ongoing, and may be edited at any time by its original author.

The Essay

A Game Development Essay

By Graham L. Wilson, game developer for Piga Software.

The following is in no way intended to cause offense to anyone, even those who in all probability I would greatly dislike. (I am joking, didn't you know?) My writing style for this piece: entirely non-confrontational, I want people to think not to argue.

I am not claiming that my following definitions are anywhere near what the main-stream nay official ones are, it is just the way I see them as a development cycle.

Free Software: software that is free in all aspects from creation, to source, to multimedia, to distribution. Free being defined as in having all access to build anything atop off or to modify, unless removing the freedom of the media.

Open Source: software that has openly distributed source code but does not believe in total "freedom", as such non-source does not need to be available. Also requires that all stages of development be “open”. It also vouches that openly developed software would be better quality than closed ones.

In general based on MY definitions I must argue for free software on the following level. One of the most important things for me in my projects is the access to the works of free media artists and composers. I am a coder not a digital artist and thus these free resources are invaluable to match with my code. As a hacker I definitely commend the freedom of source although I use other's code less. Mostly just tech samples from joint-coder sites that I use to learn from, as getting into the trenches and looking at actual working code is better than a book any day. Also, open source methodology for development does enhance free software, but we must not loose sight of the ethics and freedoms of digital media in an increasingly digitized culture. Keep that in mind.

Also citing that an open development cycle has it's place, notably for things like office suites (OpenOffice.org) or operating systems (such as Fedora GNU/Linux and the Linux kernel). However in the gaming realm it leads into issues, now it is PERFECT in most cases for arena or multiplayer games or story-less games like Cube or FreeDoom. Story based games do however run into problems when it enters an open development cycle. Take FreeDroidRPG for example, for a free software game it has an EXTREMELY detailed story-line. However for each open release the story is reinvented such as in more recent releases involving a town resisting the "MS Bots". This does definitely add to the storyline but makes the plot confusing over different revisions and is likely to make all the revisions into different versions of the same basic plot, it may also cause “fan-wars” over which revision is better. Now a "closed development cycle but free results" can lead to more coordination and cohesion for a game storyline and design. This is in my opinion the only way we can have a spur of story based free software games. As such an openly developed program is not ALWAYS better than a closed development but free results project. Keep this in mind when you start a project, consider which should bring the best results.

Now for the more controversial topic, now I will concede that development and ingenuity can be advanced from corporate competition. Though it must be said that is it truly a good sign that humans can only develop by "beating each other over the heads"? Take the commercial first person shooter industries for example. All the big players are fighting for the gamer markets and are in many cases trampling on innovation.

Lets take this for example in 1998 CE Monolith Productions released what are in my opinion some of the greatest first person shooters ever made (along side those of id Software): Blood II: The Chosen and Shogo: Mobile Armour Division*. Their engine LithTech, was quite an impressive feat for a relatively unknown developer that only a year ago released a Build engine title (and what a masterpiece Blood was), and the stories for both games where fantastic (with Shogo's being more striking but Blood II's being a little more fun in some ways). Now both these games have spawned devoted cult followings with the Blood games having the largest. Though these games where far from market-place successes despite their innovations. Half-Life a shooter that in my opinion was a stale rehash of what id did best, dominated the market through aggressive marketing (which as a hacker I defiantly can not commend). Now I am sure that Half-Life has its good points but to smash the masterpieces from Lith was just wrong and inherently bad for the gaming community as a whole.

Now lets look at the other side of the coin at the current state of the free software first person shooters. In this part first let me commend John Carmack for his dedication to hackers everywhere for releasing the source code for Doom, Quake, Quake II, and Quake III and greatly helping us all make great games. There are several notables in this area, largely games like: Nexuiz, Cube, Sauerbraten, and OpenArena. Now some of these games are similar and some are different. However unlike the case stated in the corporate realm these games are created in a spirit of cooperation and a love of gaming. Sometimes I even see that the games share sounds and other media files. A happy community of hackers and gamers together building very fine games. In this world if games like Shogo/Blood II and Half-Life where to meet they would not try and tear each other apart but both would play, contribute and commend each other. Say what you want about corporate versus free but in the end you do have to admit: which shows better on our species character? Brutal competitive warfare or buckling down and working together to make great games? Gaming as a metaphor on our whole species? How existential.

  • As a Canadian I spelled Shogo's full name with a "u" in armour, the official name is: Shogo: Mobile Armor Division. Also as GNU/Linux users are the ones most likely to read this I would like to note that Shogo has a Linux port thanks to Hyperion Entertainment. Look it up in Google or your favorite search engine. For more information on Blood & Shogo see the Blood Wiki which covers both games: http://blood.wiki-site.com/index.php/Main_Page
  • When I say "corporate", I mean in the sense of companies putting out rival products. I am not saying that corporations can not produce free software.

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