April 18, 2001

TuxBox: Rising from Indrema's ashes

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -

Indrema has thrown in the towel on its Linux-based gaming console project, but a group of Indrema veterans is starting where the company left off, except with more of a community than a corporate focus.

Late last week, a handful of developers who were interested in creating games for Indrema launched the TuxBox project, and the volunteer TuxBox crew pledges to do what Indrema failed to do -- bring a Linux gaming/multipurpose console to market.

The TuxBox team believes they can have a console ready to sell, with several game titles available, by this fall, even though they haven't been able to salvage any code from Indrema. That goal could sound unrealistic, or even cocky, but the project's founders are approaching the task with a matter-of-fact determination and a passion for creating a better gaming console.

"We will learn from [Indrema's] mistakes," says Travis Riley, one of the founders of the TuxBox project. "There were a lot of people disappointed about the outcome of Indrema.
We should help them continue their developing and continue their personal dream."

Riley and Sean Isley, another TuxBox founder, say their project has several advantages over the failed Indrema effort. Both developers say Indrema didn't communicate well with its volunteers, but Riley and Isley pledge to provide daily updates to TuxBox project members. The project also has regular IRC channel [irc.openprojects.net #tuxboxproject] where developers discuss their issues.

"We are letting the open-source community take more of a role in this project," says Riley, a high school student from New Prague, Minn. "Indrema basically kept to themselves and didn't inform their community too much on what was going on; we plan to update our community daily."

"We won't hide anything," Isley adds, referring in part to Indrema's financial difficulties. "We have no reason to."

Everyone on the same page

The community of TuxBox developers, which now numbers around 10, can feel like TuxBox is their project, not a company's, Riley says. "[We're] giving people the ability to make it *their* console, that they helped make. We figure if the Linux community stayed strong and grew to what it is today, we can do that with this project."

The team does seem to be on the same page. Riley and Isley, a developer for Default Games, finish each other's thoughts during an interview on IRC. The TuxBox team met in the Indrema chat room, and the small group is hoping to attract more developers after the project is further along, although the project is already generating interest from former Indrema followers.

"We want to allow people to develop for a video game system that may not have enough money to develop for another big name system," Riley says. "Our development kit will be free and allow anyone to develop for us."

Freeware games included

The plan is to have 20 to 30 games, a combination of freeware and commercial titles, ready for the TuxBox when it's available to buy, and the TuxBox team hopes to offer at least one commercial game with the console. Games being developed for Indrema should have little difficulty transferring to the TuxBox, Isley and Riley say.

Riley says having a good number of freeware games is a major advantage TuxBox will have over its big competitors such as Playstation, and another is the attraction of being able to create your own games. He sees developing a freeware game for TuxBox as good resume fodder for those who want to work in the industry; developers will pay just a small certification fee as insurance that the games work properly with TuxBox.

"No system out there currently, or coming out, will suit my needs for what I want in a console: freeware games; a free community; develop and distribute your own games for free," Riley says.

Like Indrema's console, the plan for the TuxBox console will function as a DVD, CD and MP3 player, and will have email capabilities. The console's OS, based on the Linux 2.4 kernel, also will be upgradeable as new versions of Linux come out. "With the ability for third-party developers and the addition of USB ports, this box *could* be anything," Riley adds. "Someone could make a word processor for it and hook up a printer."

What's next?

The first step for the project is to finish a console prototype, Isley says, and the team expects that can be finished within a couple of months. With volunteers developing and researching the box, the cost for a prototype should be in the $350 range, and the TuxBox team members are putting their own money into it.

The TuxBox team has a big dream for their console, but they are confident they can first attract hard-core gamers, and eventually compete with the big boys for commercial games and buyers. They say their project has already caught up to Indrema's and, when asked to explain why TuxBox will succeed, Isley simply says, "Its community." The TuxBox crew has already begun pulling all-night coding sessions to meet their deadlines.

Where do they expect TuxBox will be in a couple of years?

Riley: "In a year or two, we would like to see it connected to people's TVs all over this country."

Isley: "I would like to see it in the living rooms of many people playing a game like Tux Racer."

Riley adds: "With continuous development."

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