May 12, 2008

Nexuiz shoots to the top of gaming list

Author: Joe Barr

After I reviewed Alien Arena last year, some readers criticized my choice of that first-person shooter (FPS) as the best free software game I had played. Several suggested Nexuiz would have been a better choice. At the time, I had not played it. Now that I have tried Nexuiz 2.4, it has become my favorite free software FPS.

Nexuiz runs on an improved Quake engine called DarkPlaces. The engine has been undergoing on-and-off development by Lord Havoc, the game's creator, for several years. On icculus.org, Lord Havoc says he developed a custom OpenGL-only engine for DarkPlaces, and other modifications that "support Windows WGL and Linux GLX and have greatly improved graphics and image quality."

Downloading and installing the game

I grabbed the latest version of Nexuiz from the Nexuiz project page. It's licensed under the GNU GPL -- version 2.0 or later, your choice -- with versions available for the Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms. The tarball includes binary versions for each platform as well as the source code. Linux executables are available for both 686 and 64-bit architectures. Each has two client and two server versions: one set is built using the Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL) graphics library and the other using GLX. I played both the SDL and the GLX 686 versions on Ubuntu 7.10 and couldn't tell the difference between them.

However, I found a noticeable difference playing Nexuiz on low-end vs. high-end machines. I played first on my desktop box, with an older AMD Athlon CPU, 1GB of memory, and an Nvidia GeForce 5200 video card. The game seemed a bit sluggish, so I tried it on my Acer dual-core Athlon with 2GB of memory and integrated GeForce 6100 chip set and video. I never played the game on the desktop box again.

Til death do us part

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Nexuiz is all about deathmatch game play. Deathmatch is the default game mode in single-player play, but you can play other game modes online, or you can create your own single-player game and specify another mode of play, such as Team Death Match, Capture the Flag, Domination, or Rune. The gamemodes.txt file in the Nexuiz/Docs directory provides more details on the various modes.

Nexuiz provides an wide selection of weaponry to help accomplish your goal of killing as many opponents as you can, as quickly and as often as possible. Choose among Laser, Shotgun, Machine Gun, Grenades, Electro, Crylink, NexGun, Hagar, and Rockets. No matter which you use, it's like No Country for Old Men on steroids.

Welcome to Tweaksville

Version 2.4 has a completely redesigned UI. It's gorgeous. Click on one of the three panes -- Singleplayer, Settings, or Multiplayer -- and the UI zooms in on it so that you can select, tweak, and fine-tune your Nexuiz environment however you like.

Click on Settings in the opening window, and you're face to face with a scrollable UI where you can set the input options for keyboard and rodent game control. Don't like the default options? You can make custom bindings here as well.

The stylized menu bar at the top of the window offers you further options for Video, Effects, and Miscellaneous. Video options include all the usual setups: screen resolution, color depth, full screen or windowed, color settings, and so on. A long sleek bar labeled "Apply Immediately" runs along the bottom of the window. If you click it, it does what it says.

The Effects window provides another fistful of choices, including macro-level quality selection. Pick Low, Medium, Normal, High, Ultra, or Ultimate quality, and all the individual choices are made for you. Or you can pick and choose the individual components -- texture quality, particle quality, anisotropy, and more -- and set them directly. An option to display the frames per second lives here, too.

Miscellaneous options include settings for demo recordings and speedometer display/metrics. You can adjust the volume for the music, game, and ambient audio tracks, and you can make other tweaks as well.

Multiplayer mode

Besides these three main areas, more settings are available. For instance, when you select Multiplayer from the opening screen for the first time, you enter the Player Setup window. Here you can set your player name, choose from about 20 skins (both male and female models), adjust your field of view and zoom factor/speed, and modify the default network settings.

In addition to Player Setup, you can select Servers or Create from the Multiplayer menu bar. Select Servers to see what games are available on the Internet. By default, the Servers UI lists the servers it finds in order of ping response times, with the fastest being first in the list. Each entry shows the server name, map being played, and players allowed and playing. You can change the sort order by clicking on the column title: Host Name, Map, or Players. Reverse the current sort order by clicking on the column title a second time. To join, click first on the server you desire, then on the Join bar. Any maps you need to join the game in play will be downloaded prior to your actually joining the game.

If you're familiar with Quake-style first-person shooters, you can probably just jump right into a game. If you're like me -- an occasional player -- or a complete newbie to the genre, you'll do well to do a little reading first. Nexuiz has lots of good information available in the form of FAQs, documentation, wiki, and forums. The #Nexuiz IRC channel on irc.quake.net is friendly and helpful.

After you've got the settings for audio, video, and control functions to your liking, spend time playing in single-player mode prior to trying an online game against others. Single-player offers 21 different levels of play, but you have to earn your way from level to level by winning each one as you go -- unless you "hack" the game by entering g_campaign_index 20 at the console, that is. Then you can start off with all the single-player levels available to play.

Conclusion

Nexuiz is now my favorite free software game, at least in the realm of first-person shooters. Credit the eye candy or perhaps the speed of play -- or both. The Nexuiz 2.4 UI is fast, easy to use, and attractive, and it doesn't get in the way of the fragging.

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