June 20, 2001

Linux gaming gaining ground, just not on your desktop

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -

Linux is starting to show up on some gaming machines, but they're not coming to your desktop. While Linux is still playing catch-up to Windows in the desktop gaming market, a couple of companies are using Linux with games you'd see in a bar or on a casino floor.

Since last fall, the Illinois-based Incredible Technologies, makers of the popular Golden Tee and other bar games, has been using Linux to create a new hardware platform for its games.

Working with Linux/Unix company Caldera, Incredible Technologies plans to release its new Arcade/Coin-op machines this fall. The specialized Linux machines are being created using Caldera's eDesktop 3.1 with KDE 2.1, says Chuck Zenkus, a game designer and project manager at Incredible. Caldera's Professional Services team has helped Incredible work through hardware issues, such as getting xWindows and KDE to run with the company's new Intel i815 chipset.

Previously, the company designed its own processor, video, audio, and operating system, developing on Microsoft products, Zenkus says. "We have a need to cut our time to market," he says. "We need to have an operating system that is not going to cost us an arm and a leg, and one that is going to be stable to run 24/7 365 days a year. This is
why we choose to use Linux."

David Taylor, vice president of Professional Services for Caldera, says in addition to the the low cost and stability of Linux, its ability to be customized and its small footprint on a variety of devices convinced Incredible to make the switch. "Microsoft operating systems aren't terribly well known for their lack of appetite for hardware," Taylor says. "And Linux is open. Someone like Incredible is quite frustrated that Microsoft wouldn't let them in the door to customize it in any way."

Taylor predicts growth in Linux use in gaming, especially crossing over from coin-operating markets to home entertainment consoles. "That's the potential here, as you see Linux permeating into these parallel industries, but there could be some crossover as well. There are others secretly evaluating this stuff, and I think there's a start of a trend here."

Incredible is moving all its development from a Windows platform to Linux, Zenkus adds, and the company has been happy with the transition after going through a Linux learning curve.

"I've never seen people come together before, like the people involved in Linux," he says. "From kernel updates daily (www.kernel.org), to the desktop environment KDE, to a FREE!! development IDE like kDevelop (www.kdevelop.org), not to mention all the other great FREE programs written to make life easier. Why would I want to go back to
Blue Screens of DEATH?"

In slightly different twist on Linux gaming, video gambling device maker Shuffle Master is also using Linux, in this case Red Hat, to be part of its Shuffle Master Operating System for video slots, video poker, and other games. The company is now testing the Linux system.

Last month, Wells Fargo's Van Kasper gave Shuffle Master's stock a "buy" rating, in part because the company's Linux-based game platform, "which is intended to standardize the operating software functionality of slot games, could contribute to future growth," according to a press release.

Fred Lychock, director of product development for slot products at Shuffle Master, says the company plans to market its video gaming machines to other gaming software companies. The company itself is licensed to provide games in 130 jurisdictions.

Linux provides Shuffle Master a secure, configurable platform, Lychock says.


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