My vote for the three best totally free, mutli-OS computer games

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Summary: I pick three games that I consider the best for-free games: Anchorhead, Nethack, and the Battle for Wesnoth. All are free. All are mutli-OS. All are complete, well rounded games.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

(19:37:38 CDT)

My vote for the three best totally free, mutli-OS computer games

I like free. Sure, we all like free, but I especially like free when it is really free. Honest to goodness, cross your heart, and hope to die free. When it comes to games, you have three or four different levels of free. The most common one, Shareware, you have likely seen ad nauseum. You download a game and then you play it and it cuts off, or shuts down, or whatever. It begs you for a few dollars to upgrade to full. Shareware is different from "demos" only in the degree to which Shareware is more annoying. Most have that "Free as in Beer"1 quality, in that you get them free as long as you agree to look at, and occasionally click on, tons of advertisements and put up with page loads and what have you. There are Free as in Stolen, games, and their more pleasant cousin the Free as in Abandonware games. Abandonware is a tricky concept, and I would wager money than in the legal sense of the term, it is a false one. Let's say you make a game. Then, technology gets up and runs off and the game sits around for years because who wants to play some 1995 RPG? Eventually, someone, namely a person who wants to play the game and not pay for it, slaps the term "Abandonware" to it and then declares it is up for free to grab and distribute. My own Ghostlight was considered Abandonware by one guy who decided he had the right to edit it and quasi-claim it, but, funnily enough, he disappeared and his edits became pointless Abandonware themselves. Insomuch as an RPG of that sort can even be Abandonware.

This brings us to the rules of this post: no Abandonware, no legal gray-areas, no shareware, no adverts disguised as Neope...I mean, a game. They must be designed and maintained (at least potentially maintained, so one of them is not really being maintained but is already complete) and distributed willingly by the original creator or at least someone acting upon his or her behalf. I will add two other rules. First, they must be complete games. No in-developments or fill-in-your-own content style games. Sure, the first one is not a complete game in that it needs an interpreter, but that's a compiling quibble. Second, they should be multi-platform. There are literally dozens and dozens of free games for Linux, free-as-in-free, that would fit all the rules above. Maybe they are not robust. Maybe htey have flaws, but they are free and they are complete. However, I want games I can tell my mostly-not-Linux readers about, and delight them as well. All three have RPG style elements, namely that things can level up or change based on storyline, though some more than others, and all three tend to be branier, thoughtful games. By tends, I mean if you do not think it through, you will not complete them. All three have some quite hard parts, and will likely require replay. All three are replayable, and considerably so, at least or more so than your average commercial release.

Before I get on to the games themselves, I want ot point out that I did not include MUDs in the running, or any similar thing. This is not because MUDs are not worthwhile games. In fact, I have spent a lot of fun hours on ZombieMUD, whiling away the hours. No, I simply wanted to pick games that could be enjoyed on the lonesome primarily. There a number of aspects of online game play, even when it is fair and balanced and works, that prevent it from being fully enjoyable all the time.

Doug's choice for the best totally free, multi-OS games are...

#1 - Ancorhead (link to Wiki entry for Anchorhead (Video Game)): An interactive fiction title often pulled out and showed off whenever anyone doubts the state of the current IF field. The game that made me get into IF in general, as opposed to this or that game here or there. It is set in the eponymous town, an algamation of various Lovecraftian locales (a bit of Dunwich, a flavor of Arkham, a whole lot of Innsmouth), and involves a married woman wandering around the town trying to figure out what exactly is going on. Many of its storyline elements are lifted directly from Lovecraftian stories, or are at least modifications of ready pastiches of Lovecraftian stories, but what derivative aspect the game might have does not slow it down as being one of the best pieces of fandom in any medium. It has clever puzzles, a compelling story, and several generally scary moments. The town is not all that big, not really, but you do actually feel it in most places, and there are plenty of little touches to discover. Since it is an interactive fiction title, it does inherent the pluses and minuses of the medium in general, but overcomes many of the annoying aspects. There are only a few places where the clues could be better, or the hints stronger, and a few red-herrings of sorts. There is a remake in the works, but it might be some time down the road. You can download the .z8 file here, though you must have an interpreter to play. Depending on what system you use, up to and including hand-held devices and even the Nintendo DS, there are interpreters for you that require little to mild computer skills to get up and running. Here is a list of Frotz downloads. Frotz is the one I like, and it is everywhere.

#2 - The Battle for Wesnoth (Wiki on BfW): This is the most graphically friendly of all the games on the list, but it still puts solid gameplay over graphical pretties. BfW is a turn-based strategy game designed in the open source community and ported to many OSes (though I do not think the list is all-inclusive yet). There are a number of campaigns, units, and maps to fight on with even the basic download; and once you get the game install there is a "get add-on" option that allows you to download more maps, missions, and so forth. The basic gameplay is you start out with a commander, and a number (usually from 1-3) of "key troops". All of which can move right away. Then, you summon other troops to fight (either you recruit newbies, or recall veterans, both of which requires both a gold cost and an upkeep cost, resources for which are provided by villages). This can slow down the first few turns of any map, but once turn three or four gets underway, things start getting kind of massive and hectic. It might be best to think of this game in terms of a "board-game style" strategy: there are some simple rules that have lots of applications and some weird elaborations, though not all of them make total sense (for instance, ranged units must still be adjacent to the unit they are attacking, but they are not attacked bac unless their target also has ranged attacks). From music (the soundtrack is awesome) to artwork to campaign balance, this is an extremely well done game and I recommend it to all fans of turn based strategy, not merely those looking for free games. As a note, the AI is very strong in this game. If you put it on challenging, you are going to feel it. You have to balance troop sacrifice to goal completion. You can download the game for many OSes right from the official site, as well as look through some more support materials and extra materials.

#3 - Nethack (the Wikipedia entry for Nethack): There are few out there who would be interested in this list and would not know what Nethack is, but I will briefly sum it up. You make a character from lots of choices, and then you do a Rogue/Hack style dungeon where you go through deeper and harder levels until you complete the dungeon, using items and experience picked up on the way. The first level or two is easy, but in order to beat the game requires a lot better strategy and skill than you would believe (I have never beaten it, though I usually just go down to about the fourth level and fight monsters until dead, for some reason). One of the main reasons it is so difficulty is because characters permadie. You can level up for hours but one slip of the poison tongue and you get to start back over. The base game itself is notoriously low-graphic (it uses ASCII) though there are front-ends of sorts that add some graphical flavor to the game. Because of this low-graphical quality, you can play it just about anywhere. I imagine machines that felt old in the 90s could play it without even breathing hard. Have a go at it at least once, every gamer needs to be able to say they did. You can visit the official site for downloads and so forth.

Any other suggestions for completely free, completely polishes, completely fun games out there?

1: There are many variations of the "Free-as-in-X" formula, and many personal meanings for each and every one, but my take on the two primarily involved in this case are "Free-as-in-Air", meaning that it is free with no strings attached outside of a possible "Do not alter, do not share" style clause. "Free-as-in-Beer" which can be said to be "Scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" (in other words, and some do not know this, if someone buys you a beer then you buy him a beer, back, at some point in time, always). Two others I use are "Free-as-in-Batteries" meaning things that are promoted as free, but ride of the back of some other purchase (like games you can play "for free" as long as you pay the subscription cost) and "Free-as-in-Isn't", for all those things that swear up and down they are free, but only for a short time or require elaborate repayment.

Si Vales, Valeo


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