Hot on HuffPost Tech:

See More Stories
Free Switched iPhone app - try it now!
AOL Tech

Flipping the Linux switch: Linux gaming

ETRacerWhat do Linux gaming, jumbo shrimp, and government intelligence have in common with each other? Think back to your English classes. (We're not responsible for any traumatic memories that surface from this exercise.) Got it yet? Anyone?

Oxymorons. No, no, wait, we're not insulting you. Those little phrases are all oxymorons. If the memories of your English classes were too painful to bear, the quick and dirty explanation of an oxymoron is two words placed together to describe something that seemingly contradict each other.

We're reasonably sure you see the oxymoron in jumbo shrimp, and government intelligence. Linux gaming? Well, we guess it all depends on how you define Linux... and gaming.
There are people who play games on occasion, and there are gamers. Your mom plays solitaire on her computer. She plays games on occasion. You play Crysis and Gears of War every evening until your eyelids are heavy and you can no longer extricate your fingers from your input device of choice. You are a gamer.

So, there's Linux. And there's good news, and there's bad news.

Linux, traditionally, isn't known for its games. Great for internet browsing, document creation and management, security, server applications, general computing use. Gaming, not so much.

The person who plays games on occasion will most likely have no issue with this. Mom can play solitaire, or mah jongg. There are plenty of "Time Waster" type games for Linux (and we'll look at a couple that are really quite fun.)

Gamers will have a few more hoops to jump through for successful Linux gaming. They may have great success with some games, and none with others. So we're going to mention this: If you want to try a permanent Linux install, and you are a dyed in the wool PC gamer, dual boot. Either put in a second hard drive for Linux, or repartition your old drive.

Windows games can run in a Linux environment through Wine (an open source version of the Windows API designed to work with Linux/open components). Some games arguably run better than they do on some iterations of Windows. Some games don't run at all.

There are reasons for this that vary from game to game. (And keep in mind you can run other applications, not just games, with Wine.) For the gamer that doesn't want to dual boot, or has one or two PC games that are favorites but plays mostly console games, this could be a solution to the "I want to try Linux, but..." conundrum.

WineHQ has a handy Applications Database for checking out just how well a game runs as well as explaining how many (or few!) plushy animals will need to be sacrificed to get things running smoothly.

We have a confession though. We're really not all terribly hardcore gamers here at Download Squad. But it can't be said there's not a gigantic weakness around here for quickie games. You know the ones. You say, "I'll play till I feel a little inspiration come on." Suddenly it's four hours later.

We love these games. And there are really good ones in Linux. Think Minesweeper is the pinnacle of "let's kill time on the computer" fun? Aw, c'mon.

Enter our first diversion. It has simple game play for one or two players, or over a LAN. It has impossibly cute artwork. It has entirely too pimpadelic music. It can be no other than Frozen Bubble.

The object of the game is simple: shoot a colored ball into the air to knock down like colored balls before the whole screen shifts the balls down on your poor little (but impossibly cute) penguin.

Is it difficult? On early levels, no. On higher levels, it is more challenging, but certainly not frustratingly so. Is it addictive? Oh yeah. And be forewarned: the distinctively funky soundtrack gets stuck in your head.

Our second game has a rocky history, but seemingly simply can not be stopped. It started as Tux Racer, was split into proprietary and open source versions, when the open source project then became known as Planet Penguin Racer. It then sort of dried up (though some distributions and game sites do still offer Planet Penguin Racer downloads).

Because you can't keep an incredibly addictive game with really pretty nicely rendered 3-D graphics down, about a year later Extreme Tux Racer picked up the torch.

There are a few reasons we like this game. It's fun, of course. It also makes really nice use of graphics acceleration and video card capabilities. Sure, it isn't extremely high end, but it does look good and show off what the 3-D engine is capable of. We also really like the community contributions. The default courses too wussy and not challenging enough? Build your own course and upload it (or download someone else's).

The object of the game is to slide Tux down a hillside as quickly as possible, while Tux swallows (whole!) all the herring on the course. Once you get used to the keyboard controls, and the idea that you're giving a cute little penguin a horrible case of road rash, the game becomes quite challenging.

We are a bit ashamed to admit that in three months of playing, we managed to beat the first two levels. But have no fear, even if you play as horribly as we do, there are options to chose a variety of "practice runs" of all levels. You are not destined to play the first two screens forever. You can skip ahead to some pretty diabolical courses.

The hardcore PC gamer might have some difficulties making a Linux transition. They may always need to dual boot. But the more casual gamer needn't fear. There are plenty of fun ways to goof off and procrastinate with Tux.

Tags: diversion, games, gaming, Linux, linux-switch, opensource, time-waster