August 16, 2005

Tux found alive and well in Planet Penguin Racer

Author: Paul Virijevich

What happened to Tux? Soon after Sunspirestudios took Tux Racer commercial in 2001, our beloved open source Tux seemed to vanish from the program. Did he lose control and fly off a cliff? Was he a victim of a kidnaping plot from Redmond? No matter -- thanks to the PlanetPenguin Racer (PPRacer) project, Tux is back with a vengeance, in a significant upgrade over what the open source Tux Racer offers.

Tux Racer is a 3D racing game with a simple objective: Race a penguin through obstacle-laden courses as fast as you can while eating as many herring as possible. Development on the open source version stopped after the game went commercial, but things did not go much better for the commercial version -- it died a quick death. However, its open source heritage allows anyone to pick up where the original developers left off, and that's what PPRacer does.

PPRacer is available in both source and binary packages for Linux and Windows. The graphics are driven by either OpenGL or Mesa. PPRacer features:

  • Five cup (or competition) modes and a practice mode
  • 22 courses to race through
  • Adjustable weather conditions in practice mode
  • Advanced graphics
  • Keyboard and joystick controls
  • Game menus and options in nine languages

In cup mode you compete against the clock and Tux's appetite -- you have to gobble up a certain number of herring to advance to the next level. Before entering a cup, it is wise to practice, because you only get four lives before having to start over. Practice mode allows you to try out all the courses in the game without the clock breathing down your neck. You can choose whatever weather conditions you want.

The improvements over the last open source release of Tux Racer are impressive. PPRacer has four more cup modes and nine more courses than its predecessor. My favorite new courses are "I've got a Woody," where trees line the path at every turn, and "Mt. Satan," which I like mainly because of the name. New experimental full-scene antialiasing support under OpenGL helps to smooth out jagged edges in the game.

If after 22 courses you find yourself itching for more, you can visit the developers' CVS repository, where you'll find nine additional courses, some themes to change the look of courses, and some nice desktop icons. If that's still not enough, anyone familiar with the GIMP can create new courses.p>

Where does PPRacer go from here? Reading the posts of project founder Volker Stroebel on PPRacer's forums gives us some clues. The biggest planned improvement is new modes of play. By far the most-sought after feature is multi-player mode. The current code does not support multi-player games and will require a massive rewrite, but that's on the to-do list for future versions -- in fact, the work has already begun. An add-on package with additional maps and themes is also on the horizon.

The next time I need to demonstrate there is more to Linux than the command line, Tux and PPRacer will be on my side. May he continue to fill his belly with herring and provide us all with a little stress relief.

Paul Virijevich is working to eliminate the "Linux consultants cost more" TCO myth. He recently started a consultancy, providing cost-effective open source solutions to small businesses.


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