Thursday, 25 March 2010

Linux & Gaming, does one need the other?

The recent episode of Shot of Jaq: Getting in the game has got me thinking about a subject that I have a lot of interest in: gaming.

I am not an avid hardcore gamer who will spend 6 hours playing with his mates online. However I do spend probably more than the average computer user hitting a joypad or trying out new games. I enjoy a variety of games from racing, sports and sandbox style games such as GTA4 and the Saints Row series.

When I moved to using a Linux OS back in 2008 the first thing I did was to go down to the local computer shop and enquire about the availablity of commercial games for the Linux system. However I was disapointed that whilst the shopkeeper knew that these did exist, after a month of trying to find a dealer he admitted that he had to give up. I had an idea that the list would not be extensive, but I thought there would be a handful available from his list of game sellers.

Whilst I don’t think games are necessary for Linux I certainly think that they would help promote the growth of the Linux as a primary OS on many desktop PCs, especially those homes with older children.

I have installed Linux on a few friends machines and usually within a few weeks, they are pleased with the system, but they want a version of windoze installed as their kids want to play the new games. I think that if we are able to get the ‘big title’ games onto the system and start introducing people to Linux from an early age then the future market would increase rapidly.
We cannot say that there is no market in the games industry, billions is generated every year, if we can get people to stop sending that money to ms via 360 and windoze game sales and start putting money into the companies that support Linux then this is even better for the potential growth of the Linux community.

Linux is no longer only a purist OS; a novice can install one of several distros and get the internet, write a letter, listen to music and burn a CD with no need to even touch the terminal. For your purist programmer then Linux is the perfect choice. However we need to focus on the middle ground. Not the minimalist who only wants to browse and write letters, but also those who are keen users of the computer, but do not want to programme.

Yes there are some games out there, but most of the games offered by LGP(Linux Game Publishing) are ports of older windoze games. Runesoft have a few, but again these are hardly chart busting titles. We need a company to take a chance and prove that the Linux market is worth investing in.

Most Linux users have a console, so that shows that we will pay for entertainment, if this money were to be diverted to Linux supporting companies then surely this is better for us in the long run.

I feel that Loki games were just too ahead of their time. They printed too many copies of games for a market that was not quite ready yet. It is a shame that we only seem to be getting smaller independant companies porting games to our open OS. These are good, some are great, but will not convert the hardcore gamers away from the ms operating systems.
Do I think games are vital for Linux’s survival: No. For Linux’s growth as a mainstream desktop OS: yes

Monday, 8 March 2010

GP2X Wiz- The ultimate in mobile entertainment

The GP2X Wiz, just a toy for those now getting on trying frantically to hold onto their youth, an expensive toy or a useful gadget.

Well I know for a fact that the wife will simply say an expensive toy, but when you take a look beyond what is being advertised as a gaming console you will find a very versatile and small machine.

OK so let's get it's main selling point out of the way: retro gaming. The Wiz is designed to run emulators of whichever console you wish, there are literally thousands of these so whether you wish to play your favourite games from the Arcade, NES, SNES, Megadrive (Gensis in US), Master system, Amiga, Spectrum, C64, Atari 2600, Neo Geo, GAmeboy, Atari Lynx, this list could go on and on, there is something here for any gamer. There are also a few games designed for the Wiz but as most users are wanting to play their downloaded games then what makes anybody think that they will actually want to purchase more when there are millions available for free on the web.

I sampled a few of these emulators very briefly, they are available from around the web. But I tested MAME4ALL and pocketSNES in depth. Both of which played the games very well, MAME was absolutely fantastic, with almost no loss of quality compared to my desktop PC. PocketSNES is still in it's early stages, the initial one I downloaded played platform games well, but racing and sports were very jerky and resulted in bad screen flicker. However another version has been released with PocketSNES and PocketSNESfast, this really is a major improvement on it's predecessor. The web is full of roms so any games you want are only a search engine away.

This actually causes a slight legal issue with the Wiz: roms are not always legal as many are still subject to copyright laws.

Well this machine is a winner with the gaming side, but what about anything else. The Wiz runs a variety of media; sound, video, flash, pictures and ebooks.

The Wiz plays both ogg and mp3 files with the onboard sound player; the quality is quite good, it is clear as long as you are in front of the Wiz thanks to two front speakers but it also comes with a connection to plug in either headphones or speakers, whichever you choose.

On the video front avi files run well, I have not gotten any other types working, but I have not tried this extensively. The quality of the video playback is good, not fantastic, for those of us who regularly watch shows on the ipod the quality is not as good. The one advantage over the ipod is the timing; my ipod regularly has audio and video out of sync but this has not been a factor with the Wiz. Another advantage of supporting avi files is that it is the most common type of video file in my collection, no more converting files and wasting computer time making the video files MP4 with a specific size; a real time saver.

The pictures are as you expect, good quality, but I don't use this feature much as I tend to view pictures through an entirely larger output. I have read a few ebooks on the Wiz, the default setting is a black background with white text. This can be off-putting for a lot of new users but it worth keeping; by the time you read a lot of pages it is a much easier on your eyes than the traditional black and white due to the Wiz's bright screen.

Being a user from a Linux background I have no desire to test the flash player, flash is a real pain in the neck to configure on most Linux systems so I try and avoid it wherever possible. Other useful features include a calander, calculator and a planner.

The onboard storage is tiny, you really do need an SD card from the start. You have the option of moving the data onto the card directly or with it remaining in the Wiz via the USB connection. I do highly recommend the direct method as using the Wiz's lead really does slow down the transfer. On the rather annoying side the Wiz does not come with a charger. The USB lead charges when it is connected to a PC, but this is not so handy for a holiday. I purchased a USB-Plug charger for a couple of quid and this has worked without any issues.

Overall if you only use the Wiz as a gaming tool, then you are wasting a brilliant machine. The whole point of this is that it is a complete entertainment unit. Ideal for holidays and journeys. The cost may seem a bit steep at first (£130) but the only additional costs thereafter are SD cards and electricity to charge it. When compared to the price of a DS + games, ebook reader and an Ipod then you are making a huge saving.