So, my name's Josh. My friends call me Cheese. I run twolofbees.com with my wonderful partner Miriam, where we hope that our artwork brings a smile or two to people's faces. I'm a Free Software enthusiast and have contributed code and graphics to Neverball. I run the Tasmanian Linux Users Group meetings in Launceston (Australia), and I was on the organising committee for linux.conf.au 2009. I've also given talks to OCLUG in Ottawa (Canada). I have six guitars, a keyboard, a flute, a harmonica, a set of bongos, and play all of them very badly. I tend to write about things in Long Winded Fashion when they excite me. Currently I'm excited about interviewing people working on projects relating to Free/Open Source communities. I've worked on several Half-Life mods in the past and have a couple of work-in-progress games that I'm hoping to find time to complete soon. My first computer was an Amiga 500, and I suffer heavily from Amiga Users Syndrome to this day. My kingdom for a line break.
Below is an excerpt from an interview I recently published with Trent Gamblin of Nooskewl, developers of the Japanese style role playing game Monster RPG 2. The full interview can be found here: Cheesetalks.twolofbees.com
What do you feel motivates proprietary developers to release their projects under Free licences?
I think when you work on a game for 2 years or more you become really attached to it. And after a time, you realize your games aren't going to have a future in them if they stay closed source. So opening up games is a good way to renew interest and extend the life of your creations.
What kind of response have you garnered so far from the Monster RPG 2 crowdfunding campaign?
It's been unbelievably positive. From the first day people have been retweeting my tweets about it, sharing the links with their friends and donating to the campaign. I half expected to be booed off the internet, but people like you and others on gamingonlinux.com, the Allegro forums which I frequent, random people I don't know and my friends have all shown support for it. You know I can't think of a single instance of anyone having anything negative to say about this campaign to me, and I'm used to taking a lot of criticism for my work so it's been a great experience.
What prompted you to consider crowdfunding to support the source release of Monster RPG 2?
I decided I wanted to stop holding the game back when it could be so much more if it were free and open source. I'm still making money at this time from the game, more than I would make over time from the Indiegogo campaign, but I figure it's not worth it when many thousands more people could be enjoying the game for free. Some of them don't have money for foolish things like games. Open sourcing it adds to that. Also the fact that some people may end up using the engine in their own games is exciting and I want to help them do that. I want the game to be in Linux distro repositories where lots of people can access it for free. Maybe some of them will look at the code and be intrigued. There are lots of reasons.
You've recently chosen to reveal the first pieces of information about your in-development action-RPG Baryon. Is there anything you can share with us about the project?
It's big. In games I design I usually try not to make "Monday" games (I'll be surprised if anyone gets that reference :) I aim for something feasible and within my abilities. But Baryon is being "directed" by two friends of mine who have been partners with me since Monster RPG 2. They're really pushing me hard but I'm not hating it. It's a very ambitious game, but they seem to be up for the work (they're also the game's graphics artists). Just half an hour ago I learned of a new feature which I'll apparently be implementing for boss battles: we'll have skeletal animation/tweening like you see in flash for entities in addition to what we have now.
So I'm currently attending the Australian Centre for the Moving Image's "Game Masters" shindig - an exhibition the work of influential game designers, and a series of events including talks, panels and workshops by gaming industry and community figures.
I'm blogging my experiences and impressions over the four days I'm attending. My day one summary is already live, where I talk about an exhibition of IGF nominees and finalists that is currently being shown for free at the ACMI.
In two hours, I'll be attending a press conference for the launch of the Game Masters exhibition, with special guests of honour Tim Shafer, Warren Spector and Rob Murray. Exciting stuff!
Below is an excerpt from an interview I recently published with Robert Kooima, original developer of the open source game Neverball. The full two part interview can be found here: Cheesetalks.twolofbees.com
What motivated you to make Super Empty Ball (Neverball's working title) open source? Do you have any specific reasons for choosing GPL2?
There was never any doubt in my mind that my work should be open source. I had been an open source user for many years and I admired its philosophy. I was drawn to contribute to the free software movement, but I never succeeded in making so much as a scratch in the Linux kernel, emacs, gcc, or any of the other notables. If I couldn't contribute to something significant, then perhaps at least I could try to create something significant. Of course I knew that nothing that I could do would be as important as the kernel or the compiler, but there was an obvious gap in open source gaming that I stood a chance of helping to fill.
As for GPL version 2, it was simply the most current version at the time. I do appreciate the viral nature of the GPL under the right circumstances, and I do feel that it's not appropriate in all cases (so I apply the MIT license to much of my output), but GPL was definitely the right choice for Neverball.
What goals did you have for Puttnik (the project that eventually grew into Neverball)/Super Empty Ball when you began? How many of them have been realised, how many of them are still relevant, and how many has Neverball grown away from?
My primary early goal was to produce a stereoscopic virtual reality miniature golf game with a motion sensor attached to a putter. I did all of those things, but never did put them together. My work both with Neverball and with immersive virtual environments grew vastly beyond a simple putt game, so I don't feel there was an opportunity missed.
How did you go about opening up the project to community contribution? Did you find it easy or difficult to allow others to have input and bring their own ideas and priorities to the project?
It was very difficult, but I got past it once I let go of my ego. I think it's an all-or-nothing issue, like pushing a baby bird out of the nest. It's tough but necessary. Once the decision is made, then it's over. I feel that an open source project lead can have either total control or zero control, and anything else will lead to animosity, infighting, and failure.
How have you found the experience of working together with people from other countries and cultures?
Earthlings are easy to work with.
What do you think the most major and significant developments have been since/including the first community release? Have there been any surprises?
I really can't point to any one thing. I'm deeply impressed by people's ability to make sense of the bowl of spaghetti that I cooked years ago, tearing out single strands here and there and delicately threading better pastas in their place. It's a solid piece of work now, and everyone who has contributed to it should feel proud.
I guess the single biggest surprise was Nuncabola. Where a normal code fork begins at the source and heads somewhere else, Nuncabola is like an anti-fork: it begins with a completely different code base and ends up at the same place.
Don't forget you can read the full two part interview (as well as a detailed history of the Neverball project) at Cheesetalks.twolofbees.com
Below is an excerpt from an interview I recently published with Joel Kinnunen and Jukka Kokkonen from Finnish game developer Frozenbyte. The full two part interview can be found here: Cheesetalks.twolofbees.com
Last year, the puzzle platformer Trine passed 1.1 million sales. Can you talk a little about how Trine has grown in popularity since its initial release? Are there any significant events that have helped the Trine user base expand?
Joel: Trine was a sleeper hit. On this side we like to think that we made it a success despite the odds, really. The launch certainly wasn't huge, but it wasn't too bad either, it did well on the PSN. Steam is where we made most of our revenue though, and that's been a gradual rise. I think Trine brought us around the same revenue year-on-year in 2009, 2010 and 2011, which is quite amazing - it was because of the big sales on Steam in 2010 and because of the sales and Humble Bundle in 2011. Trine is our first game that has clearly made a profit, and it was that success that helped us self-fund Trine 2.
Linux versions of Frozenbyte's games have been available since 2009, but Trine 2 is the first game to have a native Linux port developed in-house. How did the decision to handle a Linux port internally come about?
Jukka: At least technology-wise, we had already gone with a major engine re-write for Trine 2. And as we did that, writing portable code was one of the major points of focus. So with an engine that was already portable to various other platforms, Windows, Xbox 360, PS3 and Mac OS X, it seemed like a rather easy task to port it to Linux as well. Specifically the relative similarity of the Mac port made the Linux port seem like a feasible thing to do.
Joel: We also wanted to be able to provide proper support for the Linux versions. There will always be problems and if we're going to be serious about Linux, then we need to be able to help our customers directly.
Has developing a Linux port internally proved to be a positive or negative experience? In what ways has it compared to the processes and results of outsourcing?
Jukka: At least now that the engine was in much better shape than in Trine 1, and much more portable to begin with, doing this internally was a positive experience. Outsourcing always adds some communication hurdles and management overhead, and with a good base code for the porting to begin with, it can often actually be faster to just do the port yourself, rather than write all the specifications, handle source code and data accesses, etc. for outsourcing. I think that in general, with Trine 2, the amount of effort that we would have saved in programming time by outsourcing, would have mostly been lost in the added overhead. This was somewhat different than with the old Trine 1 engine.
Joel: From the management perspective, everything has been very smooth. We - or rather, Jukka - knew what we were doing, and there's been only a few things that we've needed to check together. That's vastly different to some of the outsourced stuff we have done.
Are there plans to add multiplayer support for the DRM Free version of Trine 2 to the Steam version?
Joel: There are. :) We have plans related to these and we'll be announcing something soon-ish...
Will the upcoming Trine 2 expansion be a continuation of the Trine or Trine 2 stories, or a self-contained adventure?
Joel: It's a continuation from Trine 2. It's a "so the heroes were returning from the adventure" kind of a tale. I'm confident that the expansion will be our best story telling experience, we're still trying to integrate our story telling process into the game/level making process and Trine 2 suffered from that a bit, so with the expansion it looks like things will fall into place a little better. I guess we'll see!
Where do you see Frozenbyte in two years' time?
Joel: Hopefully we'll have just released our next big game! I hope we'll have been able to self-fund it all, and not be completely dependent on its commercial success either. I imagine we should have one or two new projects going on as well.
Don't forget, you can read the full interview (and my reviews of Trine and Trine 2) at Cheesetalks.twolofbees.com
This article is way too big to try to turn into a blog post here, so I'll invite anybody who's interested to read it on my site:
If you're not into reading what I have to say, the article is also sprinkled with quotes from Humble Bundle contributors including Notch (Minecraft developer), Garry Newman (Garry's Mod developer), TPJeff (of Team Phobic), ExpiredPopsicle (of Cryptic Studios), NimbleDave (of NimbleBit), Mt.Gox (a Bitcoin site whose CEO is excited about indie games) and tantepose (a technology journalist with DinSide.no).
Last night I rolled out the first major update to the Humble Visualisations, which includes additional graphs and charts I needed for an article that I'm writing on possible interpretation of the Humble Bundle statistics (which should be published within the week)
The two most exciting additions are a timeline showing the changes in frequency with which bundles have been released, and combined statistics for all bundles, indie bundles only and non-indie bundles only.
As always, the details for the current bundle is updated every 6 hours or so.
Below is an excerpt from a review of Trine 2 I recently wrote. The full review (along with screenshots and many more words) can be viewed at Cheesetalks.twolofbees.com
If somebody told me six months ago that I'd ever play a game as beautiful as Trine, I would have scoffed, and yet here I am, playing its sequel - a game that takes its astoundingly high production values and raises the bar to unimaginable new heights.
So, for anybody who is unaware, Trine 2 is the sequel to Finnish developer Frozenbyte's 2009 side-scrolling fantasy puzzle platformer, which refines and continues to build what I suppose I should be calling the "Trine franchise". All the majesty of Trine is present, though there are a few changes that are definitely worth giving attention to.
Visually, Trine 2 is a huge step beyond Trine's already stunning environments, with a big emphasis on further meshing foregrounds and backgrounds with the play area (something that, though nicely executed in Trine, has been dramatically improved), with streams and ponds that organically stretch off into the unused axis, fantastic lighting that de-emphasises the two dimensional play area, and enemies that clamber across the foreground foliage to reach you or jump out from behind rubble in the background. The game's 3D models are gorgeous, and the new enemies and giant creatures have let Frozenbyte's animation talent shine.
There are a number of new puzzle elements that help give flavour to specific areas and provide new combinations throughout the game's increased length. The most dynamic of these are pipes, which can carry air (that can be used to float players and boxes, as well as create bubbles), fire (that can be used to damage things and boil water), or lava (which is generally liquid death, but can also melt ice). The introduction of bi-directional portals dramatically increases the versatility of other puzzle elements, and there's also an interesting mechanic which requires players to direct or carry water.
Combat has a very different feel as well. The first thing noticeable is that there are no skeletons (much to Mim's dismay). There are also a broader range of enemy types with different behaviours, leading to more varied and dynamic combat. This combined with the tendency for enemies to jump out from behind things tends to make encounters a lot less predictable than they were in Trine, where skeletons would either be placed in visible locations on the level, or spawn from very obvious glowing circles on the ground. The lack of predictability leads combat to be more reactionary and less tactical, making enemies feel less like puzzle elements than they did in the first game (this is not a big loss though, as Trine 2's cast of giant creatures are used to fill the role of dynamic puzzle elements to great effect).
Moving onto multiplayer gameplay, network support opens up co-operative play to a much broader range of people, allowing me to play a few levels with friends on the opposite side of the globe. In addition to the "classic" multiplayer mode, where only one of each character can be used by any player at any time, Trine 2 has an "unlimited" mode, which allows players to become any of the characters independently of other players (as one would in a single player game).
All in all, Trine 2 is a fantastic game. It not only raises the bar well above Trine's originally high standard of presentation and charm, which alone is a massive feat, but also manages to do it for the duration of a much longer game. There are aspects of improved flow that seem to have lessened the impact and reward of individual puzzles, but the game as a whole is still fulfilling and ultimately, more seamless for it.
Don't forget, you can read the full review (and my review of Trine 1) at Cheesetalks.twolofbees.com
Ever wanted to know how many Linux users have purchased the Humble Indie Bundle? Ever wanted to see how the average payments for MacOS have varied across every promotion? Perhaps you're interested in the amount of money contributed by Windows for just the "Indie" branded bundles?
With approval from the Humble Bundle guys, I am proud to present the results of a couple of days' worth of work: The Humble Visualisations, a set of self-updating charts, graphs and calculated statistics that explore and compare the performance of Humble Bundles past and present.
Feedback is welcome, discussion encouraged.
Below is an excerpt from a review of the beta Linux client I recently wrote - the whole thing was a little big to copy and paste here. The full article (with screenshots and many more words) can be viewed at Twolofbees.com !
On the whole, I'm finding the Desura client to be a pretty good offering. It's great to see a more community oriented platform that encourages and empowers both indie developers and mod creators. The content servers are nice and fast, maxing out my connection with ease.
Desura's lineup of Launch titles is also fairly impressive, currently consisting of fifty one titles with more to come. It's interesting to note that this list does not include older games such as Freespace 2, any of the Unreal Tournament games or any of the id Software games that have been ported to Linux. It does however include a number of Free/Open Source titles.
As I find with most embedded web apps, the interface feels slightly sluggish and there's always that moment where you don't know if you've hit a button and it's taking some time to load your page, or if you happened to miss-click and are going to wind up sitting, waiting, feeling more and more like an idiot as the seconds pass. This is pretty standard fare though, and I get the same experience with Steam.
The Linux client beta has suffered a few bugs (most notably a flash bug that causes the client to crash any time there is a news pop-up), but most of these have either been fixed with subsequent updates or have been resolved internally and will be fixed with the next release of the beta client. Those issues aside, I would say that the Linux client seems fairly close to release-ready (though my personal experience alone is not enough to confirm that).
If I had a wishlist for things I'd like to see included/enhanced with future updates to the Desura platform, it would probably include things like an option for setting a preferred starting tab, a "home" icon with a more appropriate clickable area, and an indicator for each game's total playtime. It'd also be nice to have a way of knowing which titles are Free/Open Source (currently they are all labeled "indie"). The only other problem I have is that in Gnome 3, the Desura download windows show up as a separate application, which is slightly irritating and interferes with the new ALT+Tab behaviour. I consider all of these to be very insignificant issues though.
I've had a lot of people ask me what the fuss is all about, and why I keep banging on about Desura specifically when there are other native Linux content distribution platforms and game stores around.
The thing is that there is a perception problem with Linux as a viable gaming platform. Yes there have been significant challenges to that in the past few years with the Humble Indie Bundles and increases in support from independent developers and so forth, but the fact remains that the platform is all but ignored by the gaming industry (perhaps even more so if you count the Unreal Tournament series' abandonment of Linux and the lower priority of a Linux client for id's Rage, two previously stalwart and reliable friends of the platform) as a whole - not just developers, but gamers too.
Whether or not you care about games, it has to be acknowledged that this impacts on Linux's perception as a "desktop platform" as well. Gaming is as much a part of the expected desktop experience these days as a web browser or a spreadsheet utility, and the prevailing belief that gaming on Linux is not possible is preventing people from feeling like they are free to choose their platform.
Though there are individuals within the Linux user community who "dual boot for games", the real hurdle to acceptance is the non-Linux using community. Projects like Djl and Lutris and Wine are great ways for existing Linux gamers to access games, but Linux gamers already know about those (please check them out if you don't know of them) and the impact they will have on the broader gaming community is negligible.
By publishing Free/Open Source titles with no status above or below other titles, Desura is also raising the profile of open source gaming (another area plagued by misconceptions). There are parallels between mod development and Free Software development that I don't think have really been explored, and there's a fascinating potential for synergy and collaboration as these two styles of development communities are brought together.
Desura, carrying with it ten plus years of Windows based gaming community is about to send a very powerful message. In the same way that Valve convinced the world last year that it's OK to play games under MacOS when they launched a native MacOS Steam client, Desura will be making waves by releasing their native Linux client, putting Linux forward as an equally viable gaming platform next to Windows - not only for gamers, but for developers as well, and that's the key.
Don't forget, you can read of the full article at Twolofbees.com
Over the past few weeks, I've been corresponding with Protektor (Tim Jung), who has recently been appointed Linux Games Lead for Desura and is overseeing title acquisition for the upcoming Desura Linux client. Below is a transcript of the interview available at Twolofbees.com
In this, the third and final part of my interview with Protektor, we take a look at how Desura's Linux client might impact on Linux as a desktop platform. If you haven't already, make sure you check out part one and part two.
What sort of impact do you envision the Desura Linux client having on the "Linux desktop" and perceptions of Linux as a platform?
Strong Linux sales will send a message to developers that there is money to be made on the Linux platform. It will also send a signal to the computer industry that there is a Linux desktop/game market that should not be ignored. I think this will also bring even more attention to the Linux desktop and make it more apparent as a viable replacement for Mac or Windows. One of the common complaints you hear from people is they think there is a lack of games available for Linux, or at least no good games, when clearly that is not the case. It should show more users that they clearly are not stuck with their only choices for gaming being Mac or Windows, and perhaps entice even more people to make that switch to Linux. The Desura Linux client also shows users that getting games on Linux doesn't have to have anything to do with compiling or source code or any of that techie kind of thing. They can just pick off a list and it will be automatically installed for them and ready to play.
What do you believe is the biggest hurdle in the way of Linux being recognized as a gaming platform?
I suspect the biggest problem right now is the lack of marketing numbers for both Linux game sales, other than Humble Indie Bundle, and the number of Linux desktop systems in use. The other problem I hear from developers is the lack of unified documentation for game development. The information is available but it is a bit here, some over there and other parts people have learned from experience. It's not that it's impossible to develop Linux games, clearly people are doing it. It seems to be that documentation for things are not always easy to find, so some developers throw their hands up in disgust and move on to something that is simpler for them. If we could unify all the game development information in one place, and create some nice clean well documented development tools and platforms, I think that would go a long way to making developers lives easier. Developers would then be more willing to port their games to Linux. There are good game development tools available like SDL, OpenAL and OpenGL. It just seems that better documentation would be helpful.
It sounds like you're talking about a Linux Game Development howto. Do you envision that this sort of thing would be developed/compiled by Desura, or do you think it will come from developers sharing their experiences?
Our hope is that developers will work together and share experiences. They don’t have to be competitors. In the long run every one wins. Not every game is going to appeal to every gamer so there is no reason for the puzzle game developer to not share experiences with the racing or FPS game developer.
Are there any plans to match developers with known porters (eg: Icculus) to help support/supplement documentation?
No not at this time, we are however more than happy to point developers to well known porters within the Linux community.
There's been talk previously about leveraging Wine to provide access to non-native titles that run well. Can you talk a little about what you might consider to be the pros and cons of including a Wine wrapper?
The pros and cons are the same as many people have said over the years. The cons being that it could make developers think that just because a game runs in WINE that there is no need to port it to Linux, even though it would run better if it were native to Linux. No matter how much we might wish and want, some games will never be ported to Linux for a whole host of different reasons. WINE at least allows Linux users the chance to play some of those games that will never be native to Linux.
Are there any plans to encourage developers to support Linux natively?
Absolutely, developers put a lot of blood, sweat and tears in the making of their games. The more platforms a developer supports, the more opportunity they have for profit. The number of Linux desktop users is on the rise. I believe those numbers will begin to increase even more rapidly as more and more users become familiar with the huge number of low or no cost applications and games available for Linux. Developers should recognize that by starting with cross platform support from the get go, makes the it easier it is to support multiple platforms, including Linux, Mac, Windows, PS3, XBox360, Wii, Android and IPhone/IPad. If they are cross platform then they can easily support Linux. The reality is that the more platforms developers can get their games on, the more sales they will have. Being cross platform and supporting Linux is another step down that road that all developers should be looking at, not just indie developers.
It seems to me that not supporting cross platform development is leaving money on the table that they don't have to do. If they think cross platform and look at the available cross platform game engines and tools from the very beginning, then they can make more money. They should be looking at leveraging every possible tool to jump start their development, rather than trying to do everything in house. It's the old idea of don't reinvent the wheel. If they use existing tools it gets them to market faster, which means lower costs and faster revenue generation. It becomes a win win for everyone involved, both the developers and the users.
What is your Operating System, Distro, and Window Manager of choice?
Obviously Linux is the operating system. I like Ubuntu which I run on my desktop, and Fedora on my laptop. I like Gnome as a Window Manager.
And finally to close off, what is your favourite game?
I don’t really have a favorite game, but my favorite series is Deus Ex, although the Syndicate series runs a close second.
Flibitijibibo: Will we be able to use our distribution's Wine package for Windows games on Linux Desura? *
We are debating that at this point. The issue is support, and the fact that a game works fine with one version of Wine, and the next version breaks the game.
If we decide to support it, it will be on a very limited basis, and users will pretty much be on their own.
Joshua Hesketh: What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of gratis, libre/open and paid/closed development models? *
There have been many books and papers written on this topic, and I really can’t add to what has already been published.
Joshua Hesketh: How do you feel about the idea of charging for Free/Open Source software compared to distributing it for free? *
Just to be clear we have no intention of charging for Free/Open Source software, it will be distributed for free. We do have plans to set up a donation system in the future, which will allow users to support their favorite developers and projects.
Thanks for your time, Tim (and Keith)! Good luck with the upcoming release.
Questions marked with an asterisk (*) have been submitted by community members/friends/people who are not me.
Thanks for reading! It's been very awesome to share Protektor's thoughts with you, and I am very much looking forward to seeing how the Desura Linux client is received by the Linux user community and the broader gaming community. Keep an eye out for my upcoming beta review of the Desura Linux client.
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