Gaming Freedom with Liberated Pixel Cup Contest


The Creative Commons, Free Software Foundation, and OpenGameArt have joined forces to organize a free culture licensed artwork and software game competition. Cash prizes will be awarded to individuals and teams in art and code contribution categories.

Liberated Pixel Cup is a two-part competition that will run in three phases.

“I approached John Sullivan of the Free Software Foundation and Bart Kelsey of OpenGameArt about it to see if they were interested, and both of them were,” says Creative Commons software engineer Christopher Allan Webber. He says several things inspired the project.

“If you currently try to start a free software game as a programmer, you usually have to start with some sort of content,” says Webber. “Currently you can go to someplace like and there’s a lot of content, but none of it really meshes together. The end result is you either use a hodgepodge of stuff that doesn’t match, or you use programmer art. I believe one of the goals of Liberated Pixel Cup is to save the world from the perils of programmer art.”

Webber also says to consider the artist’s standpoint. “It’s very hard to help artists work together on a common style. I think a lot of artists would like to do it; in general, people want to collaborate. I was very inspired by the Tango Project and their Tango style guide, which sets up a set of definitions for how to create icons that all mesh together. So we’ve worked with a couple of pixel artists whom we’ve commissioned to set down a base style of things. That’s almost set in place, but we need to extrapolate it into a concrete style guide. I think we mostly know what we want that to look like.”

The first phase of the competition, which organizers are calling “phase zero,” is a style guide project, similar to the Tango Icon Theme Guidelines. Competition organizers are commissioning art for the initial style guide.

The art on the contest blog shows a Victorian-style fantasy look that contest organizers think will fit well with a fantasy genre or steampunk game, for example.”

Webber explains the inspiration for the art was from early video games. “As for the inspiration of the style, we discussed pretty early on the intention to work in a kind of 16-bit era, top-down artwork style with the kind of ‘shape’ that existed in games like Zelda A Link to The Past, Harvest Moon, and many others from that era. There were a couple of logical reasons for this: for one thing, it’s an easy style to collaborate on, I think, one that both very advanced and medium-level artists can work in fairly well. I’ve seen some collaborations in other games with similar styles before.”

He also says that it’s a flexible style. “You can build RPGs in it, you can do action-adventure, you could do strategy games, you can do farming or life simulation games, and the list goes on. We’re hoping to see a wide variety of stuff come out of this.

“With that basis down – and a few terrible sketches from myself coming in – we’ve been working with a few pixel artists whom we’ve been commissioning to work on the base look and feel of things. Lanea Zimmerman (Sharm) has been putting down the base look of the ‘environment’ tiles, and Stephen Challener (Redshrike) has been constructing the base character designs. We’ve had some help from a few other artists, but I feel pretty confident to say that the majority of the look and feel has come from the dialogue we’ve had with those two artists. I feel that the base we’ll be starting with is of really high quality, but also accessible enough for other artists to work with.”

Competition Details

Next comes Phase One of the competition, which is where the actual contest part of the fun begins. Artists can contribute art that follows the newly created style guide and then upload it to, licensed under dual CC BY-SA 3.0 and GPLv3 licenses.

According to the rules, artists must enter the contest by May 31st, and the contest kicks off on June 1, 2012. Artists can enter as an individual or a team, and individual and team submissions will be judged separately. The competition ends on June 30, 2012, and then entries will be judged based on consistency with style, quality and skill, quantity (how much art is actually contained in the entry), how easy the format is to modify, and good ole objective criteria (how much the judge digs the art).

Phase Two, the Coding Phase, starts on July 1 and runs until July 31, 2012. Obviously the code needs to be free and open source, and it must be available under the GNU GPL 3.0. When judging the code, the judges will be looking for art that was provides for or entered into the contest, but additional art can also be included, as long as it is available under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 License and the GNU GPL 3.0. Games should also be easy to compile and run, and use the artwork creatively. And the judge better like playing your game if you want to be a winner.

“In some ways, this is an excuse to get the free software world and the free culture worlds to intersect – and to get the Free Software Foundation and Creative Commons to work together on a project, too,” Webber says, adding, “I think this is important for those communities because they have a shared history and ideals, but don’t always intersect. But games are an area that are inherently both culture and software. So there’s a lot of sub-issues there that I hope will be tackled when you get into that space. But mostly I hope it gives people a chance to see that they can do something for user freedom on both the culture and the software side, and work across what really shouldn’t be a divide at all.”

To help fund the competition, the organizers have set up a donation page on the Free Software Foundation website. Donations will be used to cover the commissioned art and for the cash awards.

“As for hope of outcomes of the project, I really hope three things,” Webber says. “That we get some really great artwork and games built with it, that people have a lot of fun with it, and that it also encourages a lot of people to get involved in free software and free culture who might not have otherwise.”