0 A.D. - Linux RTS Gaming History in the making!
Relive historic battles, ride with the powerful conquerors of ancient lore, built and control powerful civilisations, turn the tide of history, transport yourself to a bygone era, literally become God. These are the characteristics that captivated the fans of the popular Age of Empire series. However such popular Real Time Strategy games like AOE and Civilisation do have a downside. They were built mostly around the Windows scene and were down right proprietary in their nature, leaving little for Linux and open source enthusiasts. For a long time, games of such quality were thought to be impossible to be developed in an open source environment due to the amount of work involved and the lack of significant returns.
However these old notions and perceptions are beginning to change and there is a new RTS game on the rising in the open source arena. Called 0 A.D and like its name, it promises to be a turning point in the timeline of open source games. It is being developed by a start-up company called Wildfire Games and is completely free in every sense (beer and speech!) and strongly based on the popular Age of Empires series published by Microsoft.
To download the game we went to the official website -Wildfire Games. The game is presently in the alpha release stage, code named Bellerophone, after the winged horse of Greek Mythology and the antivirus in MI-2. To proceed with the installation we added the GPG key from the website to our Ubuntu 10.10.
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:wfg/0ad
Then we did the usual
sudo apt-get update
and finally the all too familiar
sudo apt-get install 0ad
To run the game we went to Applications->Games->0 AD or alternatively 0ad from the command line will suffice and the game loads very quickly. The home interface is reminiscent of the menu of the original AOE series. with the typical unscrolled map and other ancient artificacts. Without thinking twice, we jumped right into the Single player-> Celtic Buildings Demo. Hard Core fans of Age of Empires will immediately feel at home playing it, as 0ad was originally built as a mod to the series but eventually forked into a full fledged game. The game features six civilisations and is modeled around the era of 500 BC - 1BC.
Back to the game, the most prominent feature that caught our eyes was the artwork. We have just one word for it. Stunning!!! We would mistake it for the new Age of Empires III if we hadn’t known better. The artwork has been painstakingly done and has a very professional feel about it. The terrain is lush and realistic.The buildings are historically accurate. The movements of the water look believable and alive with the accurate rendering and reflections. Units put on a dramatic exit when they loose their lives. Beware, you need to have a decent gaming rig to get to juice the max out of this game. We noticed that running it on full graphics was bringing our core 2 duo with 2 gigs of ram to its knees. (Disable the shadows for a significant increase in performance but lower bling!)
One innovative feature that caught us unawares is the option to zoom right into the game.While scrolling down, 0 A.D places the player up close and personal with the action. Getting into those numerous battles is simply spectacular and breathtaking. However the most astounding feature was the option to move effortlessly into the third person view. This puts the game play into an entirely new dimension. The combination of Zoom, Third person view and Full 3d rotation is innovative and addictive.
Now onto the music. I am glad to say that 0 AD doesn’t fail to impress us in this area either. We did not expect a lot from the audio, but the music is ambient and softly puts you in a bygone ancient civilisation. Reminds us of the original Empires music. The other more common sounds are also quite well done
However the game has a few shortcomings. It was far from complete when we tested it (Hey,It is a development release !!!). We could not really play the game as there is a large amount of work to be done on the gameplay. You can’t actually play single player missions, as the enemy AI is not fully implemented, although you can host a multiplayer game. However there are numerous playable demo scenarios which show you what the game is eventually capable of. For instance there is a combat demo which shows you how the battles will feel like, when the game is actually released. The fishing and units demo display the characteristics and features of vesssels and units. We really wanted to see a ship combat demo (the likes of Ben Hur!).
The artwork needs some more polishing. Ships and vessels are amphibious and don’t seem to know the difference between land and water. Buildings can be built on water without any structural damage. Elephants and walruses seem like ghosts on the terrain (No leg movements). Units seem to have the ability to pass through each other. However we aren’t complaining. These guys sure did a real good job this far and that too without an immediate compensation. The testing release looks very promising and stands to be a landmark in Linux gaming. Being open source, the possibilities are limitless. This is one game that Ubuntu/Linux users should really look forward to especially if you are an Empire fan.