June 21, 2004

GarageGames embraces Linux and open source

Author: James Hills

Eugene, Ore.-based GarageGames doesn't just benefit from the open source philosophy, it embraces it -- an odd thing for a company in an industry that traditionally thrives on closed technology and secrets, and where marketers often dictate development. On April 20 GarageGames released the Torque Network Library (TNL) technology behind the Torque Game Engine's multiplayer network code under the GPL license.

GarageGames was founded in 1999, the product of discussions that began even before games industry pioneer Dynamix closed its doors following the release of Tribes 2. Veteran game developers Mark Frohnmayer, Rick Overman, and Tim Gift joined longtime games visionary and Dynamix founder Jeff Tunnel in creating this new company, built around the idea of opening the source code for the engine powering Tribes 2 and offering it to the public for a small fee.

"We were inspired by the open source movement in our mission to redefine the game industry publishing model," Tunnel says. "We wanted to take technology out from behind the curtain and commoditize it."

This open philosophy gained GarageGames some early attention. In September 2002 the company made Torque more attractive to developers by announcing that games created with the Torque Game Engine could be published by anyone, not just GarageGames. There are now hundreds of projects in various stages of development listed on GarageGames's site, and people propose new games spanning nearly every genre daily in the company's forums.

This collaborative development philosophy at GarageGames extends past sharing code to sharing talent. Two of GarageGames's top developer studios are doing this right now. 21-6 Productions, creator of Orbz and the forthcoming GravRally, assisted fellow development shop MaxGaming with AI for Dark Horizons: Lore in exchange for help with models for GravRally. This kind of cooperation is unique in the games industry.

How deep does this open philosophy go in the company? According to Jay Moore, GarageGames's evangelist (yes, that's his job title), the "main goal for applications is to be as Microsoft-free as possible, both from a security and philosophical standpoint. Those that don't make a stand to support open platforms and open source today will have to live with the consequences in silence tomorrow."

Speaking of Microsoft-free, GarageGames has banished Outlook and Microsoft Office in its 10-person shop, and instead use Firefox, Thunderbird, and OpenOffice.org. Moore personally uses a PowerBook G4 running Mac OS X and a Windows 2000 machine for testing and reviewing games. Of the 25 desktop machines in the office, five run Linux, five are Macs, and 15 are Windows-based. All the servers in the office run Linux.

Moore says, "We're more excited about what we see coming as part of open source projects than anything else. We see huge potential and opportunity coming to world in Linux, both as a market for our games and as a hotbed for developers to cost-effectively build games."

Open TNL, the code that was opened in April, allows game developers working with any engine or platform to take an improved version of the code that powered Tribes 2's online play and incorporate it into their game. To date, the code has been downloaded nearly 3,000 times.

To serve the company's closed source partners, the code was also released under a commercial and an "indie" license for $995 and $295 respectively. Under those licenses, the TNL can be used in closed source projects otherwise prohibited from using GPL code.

This indie games community created by GarageGames is one of the greatest sources of Linux and Mac OS X games today. For a brief period it seemed that Linux games would be dominated by porting houses like Loki, Linux Games Publishing, and Tribsoft. Instead it seems that independent developers like GarageGames and the community of developers they helped foster will be the leaders.

Though GarageGames remains officially platform-agnostic, nearly all of its top developer studios, including BraveTree Productions, 21-6 Productions, and Chronic Logic, actively support Linux versions of their games. Additionally, NewsForge has learned that MaxGaming Technologies, developer of Dark Horizons: Lore, is about to announce a Linux version of its game as well.


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