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The Open-Source Classroom

Slay Some Orcs!

Shawn Powers

Issue #256, August 2015

Test your hardware in the best way ever—play some games!

As I write this here in the US, summer is raging. The heat, humidity and relentless sunshine makes it miserable to go outside. So for this article, I figured I'd take an indoor vacation from the weather and play some games. Gone are the days when people would pretend first-person shooters didn't interest them anyway. Although I love Nethack as much as the next nerd, sometimes I just want to shoot zombies. Let's look at a few of my current favorite games.


Before I talk about games, I have to mention Steam (www.steampowered.com). I haven't been following the development of SteamOS very closely, but the Linux client for Steam is simply amazing. You can filter the available games by Linux compatibility and purchase games like anyone else. Other game-buying options are available, like Desura (www.desura.com), for example, but for the largest selection of commercial games, Steam is the platform of choice. Plus, if you have Windows and/or OS X, your games will work on multiple platforms. But enough about the underpinnings—today, I'm talking about games.


There's just something about zombies that I find appealing. Not that I want to hang out at a zombie bar or anything, but when it comes to first-person shooter games, zombies are my favorite shotgun fodder. I suspect it's because I don't really like shooting people in FPS games, but zombies are already dead. And creepy. And hungry for brains. Shooting them is a fairly easy call.

Because I'm not alone in my like of zombie mayhem, several such games are available. The ones I normally turn to are in the Left 4 Dead series (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The Left 4 Dead franchise is full of awesome zombies and has an easy mode for wimps like me.

Left 4 Dead (Original):

This was the first Steam game I played on Linux. I was thrilled (and admittedly surprised) how well it worked. The graphics are smooth, the controls are responsive, and the program is running on a native Linux operating system! Left 4 Dead offers individual or multiplayer modes, and either is fun. I'm not a terribly skilled gamer, so the on-line games tend to be more competitive than I'm up for. Thankfully, the single-player games with AI teammates are quite enjoyable—even for those of us who play on easy mode!

Left 4 Dead 2:

The truth of the matter is, although I did purchase this game, I don't find it any more or less entertaining than the original. If you're more of a gamer than me, you'll probably appreciate the improvements in gameplay, graphics and so on. The premise, at least for me, is the same. Shoot the zombies. If you have to choose between L4D and L4D2, I recommend getting the second game, because the improvements are worth it. If you have L4D and you're just a casual zombie shooter, L4D2 might be a disappointment. But still, zombies are awesome.

Dying Light (via Steam):

Dying Light is a zombie-esque game released this year that has a zombie feel, although the zombies are non-traditional—they're more monster-like (Figure 2). There is also an interesting day/night element to the game that actually starts to affect the player psychologically. I find my anxiety level increasing as the sun goes down.

Figure 2. The Dying Light zombies are non-traditional, but still creepy enough to tickle my zombie bone.

Dying Light is one of the pricier options for the zombie hunter. At the time of this writing, it weighs in at $59.99 and is available via Steam. If you've played the L4D franchise and want more action along the same vein, Dying Light might be right up your alley. I recommend watching the trailers first though, because $60 is a lot to fork over for a game you might not like.

Dead Island Series (via Steam):

I'm going to lump all the Dead Island games together, because conceptually, they're similar (although I admittedly haven't played Dead Island Riptide). At first it seems like just another zombie shooter with a tropical-themed background (Figure 3), however, Dead Island actually is a lot more fun than just shooting zombies. The world itself is very interactive (kick a beach ball, use it as a weapon), and with vehicle upgrades, side missions and the potential for awesome modifications, Dead Island is a series that puts a sunny disposition on a dire world. The disconnect between sunny beaches and undead zombies is refreshing—at least in a grab-your-shotgun-fun sort of way.

Figure 3. Zombies in paradise? The tropical environment is a nice change from the standard urban apocalypse.

Strategy Games (Turn-Based and Real-Time)

Strategy games have been on Linux for a while, largely because they don't require awesome 3D graphics in order to be incredibly entertaining. Unfortunately, most of my personal favorite RTS (real-time strategy) games haven't been ported to Linux. I'm honestly not sure why, because I suspect like me, many folks would flock to download Starcraft if there were a native client. Yes, there are ways to play games like Starcraft via Wine, but that's always a pain, and for me, it only mostly works. So for this article, I focus on native Linux games.

Battle for Wesnoth:

This has been a staple Linux game for many years. It's a turn-based strategy game and has great gameplay along with cool graphics. If I had to come up with a downside, it would be that Battle for Wesnoth is too robust! There are 16 races in the fantasy world, and it supports single-player, multiplayer and on-line modes. The initial learning curve isn't bad, but I had a tough time moving from single-player mode into multiplayer/on-line mode. I just got my rear end handed to me constantly. Still, the single-player mode is fun, and I really enjoy the game itself.


I'm not sure if Hedgewars falls into the “strategy” realm, but it's turn-based and tons of fun. If you've ever played (or seen) Worms, Hedgewars will look very familiar. Instead of battling worms, however, the soldiers are pink hedgehogs (Figure 4), because why not? In the same style as Worms, Hedgewars is full of fun, cartoony graphics and a surprisingly robust set of weapons, costumes and mods. Hedgewars is fun with a capital F, and it makes me smile every time I play it.

Figure 4. It's hard to hate pink hedgehogs—unless you're an opposing pink hedgehog.

0 A.D.:

This game actually started its life as a modification for Age of Empires II, but it has since become its own game entirely. It's a classic real-time strategy game pitting one group against another, but it has a unique take on world building. Maps are inspired by real geography, and although largely fictional, the game has a very historical feeling to it (Figure 5). 0 A.D. still is fairly early in development and likely will get better as time goes on.

Figure 5. 0 A.D. feels like it was filmed 2,000 years ago—which is odd, because 3D cameras weren't common back then.

Civilization 5:

Another in a long line of successful commercial strategy games, Civ 5 is available via Steam. If you like the Civilization franchise, Civ 5 will appeal to you. I personally never enjoyed playing Civ, so the latest iteration doesn't really float my boat, but it felt wrong not to include it in a list of strategy games.

Defense of the Ancients 2:

The last game on my strategy list is a frustrating one. Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA 2) is an incredibly fun game available exclusively on Steam. The problem is it's really hard! The on-line community playing DotA is huge, and n00bs like me really struggle to learn the game well enough to enjoy it. If you're a gamer that is good at picking up skills quickly, Defense of the Ancients 2 is a game you'll probably love.

Figure 6. Defense of the Ancients 2—it's so awesome, but it's so stinkin' hard.

First-Person Games

Generally, these are referred to as first-person shooters, but some have more than just shooting involved. Also, all the zombie games I mentioned at previously are first-person games; I just thought zombies deserved their own category.

Borderlands Series:

It's funny that games have become like movies and have sequels, prequels and so on. The Borderlands franchise is no different, with multiple games including a prequel. I personally like Borderlands because of the cross between RPG and FPS. The graphics also are unique (Figure 7). They're not quite cartoony, but they definitely feel less realistic, which oddly increases their appeal. The Borderlands environment makes me smile, which is an interesting trait for a game where monsters try to kill you. Check it out if only to see the graphics. It's a commercial game series, available on Steam.

Figure 7. Borderlands has awesome graphics—the perfect blend of realistic and cartoony.

Metro: Last Light Redux:

Metro: Last Light Redux improves graphics and gameplay to the fairly unique, not-quite-zombie-apocalypse game. Taking place in Russia, this game does include mutants, but it also contains a far more insidious enemy: other humans. Exploring the darker side of humanity in a post-nuclear world, Metro: Last Light Redux is an interesting game with a unique gameplay. Check out the trailers on the Steam Web site, and see if this game (and series) is your cup of tea.


If you're a Mario Cart fan or don't mind a little comic relief in your 3D racing games, SuperTuxKart is easy to love. It has lots of great tracks, multiple game modes, awesome characters, responsive controls and even a multiplayer mode. Much like Mario Cart, it's fun to play even if you're not a hard-core gamer (Figure 8). You can download this enjoyable open-source game from its SourceForge home page: supertuxkart.sourceforge.net.

Figure 8. Open-source mascots racing in a comical world full of awesome tracks? Yes please!

Other Cool Games

Many other games are tons of fun, but don't fit directly into my categories. The easiest way to discover new games is to browse the Steam Web site, check out the Desura offerings or watch for Humble Bundle game packs that almost always include Linux games. Here are a few I thought were important, but didn't fit into a specific category above.


First, a confession: I don't understand what people like about Minecraft. I really don't. I've tried, but I just can't seem to comprehend its draw. Nevertheless, if you like that sort of game, you should give Voxelands a try. It's free and under rapid development with new maps, tools and so on.

Tales of Maj'Eyal:

I guess this is technically a turn-based strategy, but to me, Tales of Maj'Eyal feels more like Nethack on steroids. The map is randomly generated, but the game doesn't suffer from lack of a planned map. In fact, it makes each game unique. Normally, Nethack annoys me with its randomness, but Tales of Maj'Eyal makes it feel like a plus as opposed to a negative. It's important to note that Tales of Maj'Eyal is free to download, but if you want to support the company and keep your games in one place, you can buy it on the Steam store as well. It's $7, which seems fair for a game that I enjoy playing. I recommend trying it out with the free download first and then buying it if you like it.


I'm not sure why this game lands on my short list. Don't get me wrong; it's fun and has a dreamy soundtrack that reminds me of the 1990s Nintendo world, but it seems like more modern-themed games would be better. Perhaps it's the nostalgia that draws me in (Figure 9). If you ever played the original NES games like Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy, Anodyne likely will appeal to you. You can get it from www.anodynegame.com for $9 and get a Steam key as well.

Figure 9. Why yes, we are going to party like it's 1991!

Game On!

Gaming isn't just for gamers, because if that were the case, I'd never get invited to the party. And although it's taken decades to get here, we're finally to the place where using Linux doesn't mean games are inaccessible or limited to crappy clones. If you like having fun or just need a break from the grind, give some of these games a try. I promise you'll find something worth wasting time!

Shawn Powers is the Associate Editor for Linux Journal. He's also the Gadget Guy for LinuxJournal.com, and he has an interesting collection of vintage Garfield coffee mugs. Don't let his silly hairdo fool you, he's a pretty ordinary guy and can be reached via e-mail at info@linuxjournal.com. Or, swing by the #linuxjournal IRC channel on Freenode.net.

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