Five Great Games for Linux


Most of the time you hear about how great Linux is for business, how companies can save money deploying Linux on the desktop or server. What doesn’t get enough attention is that Linux can be really good for play, too. Linux users have plenty of games to pick from, though they don’t get as much attention as they deserve. Let’s fix that by highlighting five great games for Linux.

Linux, admittedly, doesn’t have the same kind of game ecosystem that Windows has. There’s some big bucks in Windows gaming, and a wide selection to be had. But if you’re a casual gamer or hardcore Linux fan who is looking to have a bit of fun on your favorite distro, there’s plenty of games to choose from.

OpenArena and other Quake Spawn

I’m going to cheat a bit and list “Quake 3-type” games here as one game. Why? Well, Linux has a lot of games that are modeled after and/or actually use Quake 3 Arena code. Id Software, the folks behind Quake 3 Arena, GPL’ed the source for Q3A in 2005, though the actual game data was not released under an open source license.

Of the crop of Q3A-spawned games, OpenArena is at the top of my list. Its gameplay is almost indistinguishable from Q3A and it has great graphics and maps. You have lots of game types to choose from (Free for All, Capture the Flag, Domination, etc.) and it’s all for the low, low price of “free.”

OpenArena isn’t the only Q3clone you’ll find, though. There’s also Nexuiz, Xonotic (a fork of Nexuiz), and the Urban Terror mod based on Q3A.

If you want the real-deal Q3A experience, look to ioquake3, a project that looks to provide “the open source Quake 3 distribution” for other projects to build on. You can use the original Q3A files with ioquake3 for the old-school experience, but with plenty of improvements on the original engine so that it runs well on today’s Linux distros.

Naturally, the Q3A games generally are not suited for kids and folks who like non-violent games. For my money, the Quake-style first person shooters are the pinnacle of gaming — but if you like your games with a minimum of gore, we’ve got you covered.

World of Goo

World of Goo is a fine example of fun without fragging. Goo is a multi-platform puzzle/construction game from 2D Boy. You use the goo to get from point A to point B, and ultimately to the next (and harder) level. That’s selling the game short, though — it’s a bit more complicated than that, and more fun. The art is easy on the eyes, and the game is capable of sucking you in very quickly. Unconvinced? Try the World of Goo demo and you’ll see what I mean.

The game starts off fairly simple, and escalates into seriously challenging territory. It’s suitable for kids or adults, and runs on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. At $20 for the full version, it’ll provide hours of procrastination fun.

Frozen Bubble

Another addictive, but totally non-violent game, is Frozen Bubble. It clocks in at 100 levels, and you’ll wind up playing all of them in one sitting if you’re not careful. The game sounds simple, you shoot colored bubbles at other bubbles to knock them all down and empty the level. It’s a bit more complex than that, though.

The game has been around for many years, and was originally sponsored by Mandriva. (Thanks, Mandriva!) It’s entirely open source, and has just continued improving over the years. It’s now capable of multiplayer, so you can challenge your friends, co-workers, family, or random folks at the coffeehouse to a game of Frozen Bubble. A few ports are available for mobile devices and Mac OS X, but Frozen Bubble is primarily for Linux. Most distros have Frozen Bubble packaged, so you should have no trouble getting hold of it.


Another non-violent entry is Osmos, a physics-based game that’s minimalist and almost serene.

I say almost because the objective of the game is to grow your mote to be the largest by absorbing other motes. You propel yourself around the game universe by expelling bits of your mote and absorbing bits from other motes. The game starts out relatively easy, but gets progressively harder.

Osmos is a good game for folks who don’t necessarily like typical PC/Console games. It’s one that you can lose yourself in and relax, at least until you hit a level where you keep getting absorbed.

The full version of Osmos is $10, but you can grab a demo first to see if you actually like the game. Hemisphere Games, the company behind Osmos, provides 32-bit and 64-bit RPMs, a Debian package, and a tarball with Osmos as well. Note that if you buy Osmos for Linux, you also get a license to run it on Windows or Mac OS X as well — so if you’re in a mixed-OS household, you can share the game with the rest of the family.

Battle for Wesnoth

Some folks are into fast-paced FPSes, some like puzzle games like Osmos, and others like long-running multiplayer games that take ages. If you’re in the “long-running” camp, The Battle for Wesnoth is right up your alley.

Wesnoth is a free software, turn-based tactical game for Linux. You can play alone, or online for multiplayer combat. The graphics and such for Wesnoth are a bit on the old-school side, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out. Wesnoth has a vast player community and a very active development community as well. If you find your fun in strategy and being immersed in a game, Wesnoth is a top contender.

Most Linux distros package Wesnoth, though they may not be right up on the most recent release. See the Battle for Wesnoth site for more info. Like many games, Wesnoth is also available for Windows and Mac OS X — so you can entice your friends on other platforms to play as well, and then lure them to the Linux side once their Wesnoth habit is well-established.

Where to Look for More

This is just the tip of the iceberg for Linux games, of course. Most Linux distributions have quite a few games packages, ranging from high-powered shooters like OpenArena to the GNOME and KDE collections of games. Whether you want to spend your free time fragging bots or playing solitaire, Linux has you covered.

To tap into the latest game news for Linux, check out Linux Gaming Database and Gaming on Linux. L covers all kinds of current gaming (on Linux) news, and Gaming on Linux looks at the Ubuntu side of gaming.

Have a favorite game that runs on Linux? Tell us all about it in the comments!