Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ecksdee 0.0.9 Release and Developer Interview

For those of you who remember my Next-Gen Linux Game Roundup, you might recall Ecksdee as one of the games that was highlighted. In the months that have passed, the developers of Ecksdee have been hard at work tweaking and adding new features to the game, which has started to evolve into a playable fast-paced racer. A few days ago, the team released Ecksdee 0.0.9, which features the slick new Ciy map (video) along with some new ships.

With this new release, I had the opportunity to ask two of the Ecksdee developers, Vincent Knecht (vknecht) and Amir Taaki (genjix), a few questions:

Q. What was your original motivation for creating Ecksdee?

VK: I had free time when Amir came up with his hovercraft prototype, and thought it deserved a game project, like XRacer. At that time I was making a visualization application with Crystal Space, and wanted to do something more
fun with CS...

AT: I found myself working with the Crystal Space community, and on a under development game called Crystal Core. Since it was set in the future I imagined some type of hovering vehicle would be useful and began work on a CEL property class for hovering (basically like a kernel module that can be loaded in your game to do stuff). To go with it I made a demo to demonstrate it.

Since Vincent is an active Crystal Space developer, he managed to catch wind of it and started asking questions about the status of it - "Is it a game?", for which I had no ideas about :D Needless to say a week later I got a tarball back with a build system and proper application architecture... This was a great blank canvas to start working from since now everything was properly organised as it should and from there that was real good kick starter. I doubt I ever would've gone at this on my own otherwise.

Nonetheless after some time, the game started to play but looked crap -there were no ships, a poorly designed main menu... Luckily Pascal (who is also a Crystal Core artist), made us all the ships (we've taken some out for this release), the Ciy level and other textures and special effects.

Q. How has your decision to use the Crystal Space engine impacted the development of Ecksdee?

VK: Well, I've be following Crystal Space development and learning it since a few years. When we started, Crystal Core (technical demo for CS) was one of the best source of inspiration to kickstart Ecksdee. So I think Ecksdee wouldn't exist without CS :-)

AT: Very much, all of us come from the Crystal Space community. Using CEL is the biggest help since it simplifies many worked concepts in game development.

Q. What about Python?

VK: Currently, we're using Crystal Entity Layer XML scripting, which is great for simple things. However, we will switch to CEL python scripting to get more control and possibilities. Hopefuly, it will be easier to read and modify too.

Q. You're one of the only open source games that uses Nvidia's Cg Toolkit. How has this enhanced Ecksdee's graphics?

VK: Cg support is actually a Crystal Space feature, so all projects using CS use Cg to some extent. So far, we don't have really specific shaders, and use the ones provided with CS. Afaik, Cg is about shader portability, and is supported by CS since a few years.

Q. Can you tell us more about the Blender integration you're working on? How will it make content development easier?

VK: Basically, it's about having a straightforward way to get Blender models and maps running in the game. Blender and blender2crystal export script are the recommended tools for Ecksdee content creation. There are a couple of HOWTOs in our wiki about that.

AT: Hopefully Ecksdee will become more and more easier to modify in the future. I am also a blender2crystal developer and want to make it easier for people to quickly build levels and ships to make a huge load of quality content rather than developing a game like a traditional closed team.

At the moment you can set a few properties in blender, and click "Run" in the b2cs overlay and just start playing your level. With ships you can make a ship, drag it to a specific directory and the game will automatically show it in the menu.

For those who are interested I encourage them to check out the Blender conference video about Crystal Space, the blender2crystal page and the artists documentation section of our site.

Q. Lastly, what's on the roadmap for Ecksdee in the future?

VK: First there will be some porting from XMLScript to Python, especially for menus and head-up-display handling. Sure, there will be new tracks and ships. We also will look at networking and multiplayer support, though we cannot say now when that will be added.

AT: The addition of python will allow some interesting things like little drones following your ship (as a weapon system) and easier extending of the game for new features and options to the main menu among other things.


To wrap up, I'd like to thank Vince and Amir for the time they've both graciously spent on Ecksdee and this interview. Ecksdee is in good hands, and I'm looking forward to the future of the project. Finally, if anyone would like to get involved with Ecksdee (be it artists or coders), the Ecksdee documentation is a good place to start.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Show Ballmer the Money

"Mr. Ballmer, Since you live in a fantasy world, thought we'd pay some fantasy money for your fantasy claim."

I think Tristan Sloughter might be on to something.

If you haven't been following the whole Novell-Microsoft deal, Novell's customers basically get protection from being sued by Microsoft. Microsoft believes that the Linux kernel infringes intellectual property it owns (heard this before?), and that Linux users are liable.

That's right, Microsoft wants you to think it's going to sue you for using Linux. (It's yet to be shown if they actually have a case or not. Many Linux advocates believe they don't.)

In either case, I find it ironic that Novell, who takes a strong stance against proprietary drivers in their kernels, admits that it thinks there's "proprietary" intellectual property in heart of it's Linux distribution, SUSE. That doesn't make very much sense, does it?

Little associated with Microsoft seems to make sense these days...

Sunday, November 19, 2006

We need better presentation software

Let's face it: Impress is a lame, boring presentation program. What if you want to do something really fancy? Something Keynote fancy?

Well, if you're a Linux user, you're out of luck. Impress is the best you can do, but it's not for a lack of other people trying. A few years ago, GNOME's Agnubis was a potential candidate for a some new presentation software, but it unfortunately never took off. Even more recently, Criawips (aka AbiShow) seemed to show some promise, but never ended up making it very far. Currently, the project looks dead.

So in 2006, if you're going to make a presentation on Linux, it's going to look like it's from 1995. If you're a serious developer looking for a new project, the libraries seem to have fallen into place since Criawips in order to make this a viable project:

  • Cairo provides a nice SVG 2D graphics canvas.
  • GStreamer (which has finally reached maturity) makes it easier to handle embedded audio and video.
  • OpenGL (which has been there all along) is also a fairly straightforward graphics API (can do 2D as well as 3D), and can be used to do funky 3D transitions and such easily.
  • Hell, even SDL would be a good choice for the graphics API.
  • If you're feeling rather C#, Mono's Tao provides bindings for both OpenGL and SDL. I can't vouch for how strong GStreamer# is, but it at least seems to exist.
Maybe someone can fill me in as to why nobody's created the killer open source presentation application yet. The libraries are there to handle the fancy stuff, and the simple stuff (allowing creation of text-boxes and insertion of images) should be straightforward to do.



Thursday, November 02, 2006

Edgy and Beyond

It's been a few days since Ubuntu 6.10/Edgy Eft was released, and you haven't upgraded already, here's a few reasons to:

So what are you waiting for?
Upgrade to Edgy now, or if you still haven't given Ubuntu a shot, now would be a good time. You won't regret it.

If you're interested in finding out what's on the drawing board for the next Ubuntu, version 7.04/Feisty Fawn, here's some things we might see:
If there's one thing that's clear to me from running Ubuntu 6.10 for over a month now, it's that Ubuntu is still getting better and seems to be making great strides toward becoming the most usable operating system on the planet. I can't imagine where we'll be in three years.