Good games for Linux: part 1 – RTS

It’s a commonly held belief that there are no games available for Linux. After all, go to any game store and I guarantee you’ll find only one or two with an Apple on the box, let alone a Penguin. To most commercial developers “cross-platform” means Xbox360, PS3 and Windows, so Linux games are unheard of, right?

All this is true: Linux games are unheard of.

But that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

As it happens there are a good number of truly Cross-Platform games out there, you just need to know where to look. Yes, that’s right: you’ll have to actually look for them, not because they aren’t good enough games to get press, but because they have no marketing budget: the games featured on sites like “Gamespot” and “IGN” are generally those who can pay for the privilege, not those who necessarily deserve it.

Below is a list of what I, personally, consider to be the best free games for Linux at the time of writing. I’m limiting myself to free games because I really want to talk about the home-grown. Most of these will work on Windows and Mac too, and since they’re free you can also go and check them out immediately. This is not to say that commercial developers avoid these platforms though: for example, ID software is very good about porting their games, and the current Humble Indie Bundle features five six independent games that will run on Windows, Linux and Mac (the deal has been extended till tomorrow to celebrate the games releasing their source-code).

Anyway, let’s get cracking – good games for Linux, coming right up! The list is far too long to cover in any depth in one post, so I’m going to go through this genre by genre, starting with my favourite…

Real-time Strategy (RTS)

Globulation 2

I wanted to start with “Globulation 2″ because it’s a game so obscure that even Linux gaming sites rarely feature it, despite it being, well, a really good game. This RTS was made in reaction to games like Starcraft, where memorising build-orders and clicking really quickly are more important than actual strategic thinking:

In other words, Globulation 2 hates micro-management, replacing it with AI and a very intuitive control interface, and in so doing frees the player to think about how they’ll overcome their opponent. Another feature I really like is the way the maps wrap around, meaning that nobody can hide in the corners.

Spring Engine

“Spring”, as the title suggests, isn’t a game so much as an engine. Originally built as a way of playing “Total Annihilation” in full 3D, it has evolved over the years into an Open-source “Supreme Commander” clone, and framework for all kinds of different games/mods (they’re never quite sure what to call themselves). Most of these are TA-based, as it is assumed that the game is abandon-ware, and so using the resources is kosher – in theory.

There are some exceptions though, and these are, in my book, a lot more fun to play than the rule: this community has existed for a very long time, and the TA-based mods feature hundreds of units, making them very tricky to get the hang of. My personal favourites would be the computer-themed spam-fest “Kernel Panic”, the futuristic cyber-daemon-themed “The Cursed” and the epic-scale Company-Of-Heroes-like “Spring 1942″.

“Supreme Commander 2″ has gone the way of “Command and Conquer”: dumbed down for consoles with experience bars and achievements, so Chris Taylor’s plans to put the “strategy” back into “real-time strategy” seem to have been abandoned. This makes Spring the last bastion of the “old-school”, TA-style RTS. I heartily recommend it!


“Glest” is a fantasy Warcaft-like that really deserves mention because of its professional quality, despite the fact that it is, well, a bit of a click-fest (or maybe I just suck). Either way the game is really very good-looking, with two distinct sides, interesting and well-animated units and challenging AI:

I’d also mention “0 AD”, but then that’s not out yet so doesn’t count. Anyway, those few should keep you going for the time being. Till next time at any rate…