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How to install Neverwinter Nights on Linux

Not now, Neverwinter needs me

(LinuxWorld) — As soon as I saw the news that BioWare released a beta of a Linux client for its popular and successful Neverwinter Nights title, I downloaded the beta (registration required) and went shopping for the prerequisite retail Windows version of the game. Before I proceed, let me offer this brief warning: Neverwinter Nights is the mother of all timesinks. Do not follow my path unless you have nothing important you want to get done for the next week or so.

I tried to install the beta the same afternoon I got home from Wal-Mart with my retail version of Neverwinter Nights (NWN). That's when I ran into a snag. According to the BioWare Web site, I needed more than just a retail copy of the game. I needed an installed Windows version of the game. That put a crimp in my plan, because I don't have any Windows machines on which to install it.

I tried unsuccessfully to run the installation from the CD using WINE, but I didn't get far. There may be tweaks that can be made to WINE to allow it to run, but before I got that far I got a tip pointing me in a new direction. Someone on the #openknights channel on irc.freenode.net told me that an installer for Linux, written by someone named "ravage," could be found on the Icculus.org site. (Editor's note: See the Resources section for the author's tutorial on getting started with IRC.) Icculus.org seems to be at the center of a lot of gaming activity in Linux these days. In addition to the installer, Icculus hosts an excellent NWN FAQ. NWN is far from the only major game Icculus supports.

Why BioWare can't provide an installer is evidently something they choose not to discuss beyond a vague mention of legal restrictions. The word on the street — unconfirmed by any primary party — is that the license between InstallShield and BioWare prevents BioWare from providing another installation tool. That may or may not be the case, but I note that InstallShield offers a multiplatform version of its installer and that it runs on Linux. Perhaps that is what BioWare will use when it offers the retail version of the game for Linux.

How to install Neverwinter Nights

A word of caution before using ravage's NWN game installer: read the notes he or she provides. I spent an extra hour on the installation because I didn't. I could tell that I didn't have enough space in my home directory to install the game, thanks to the installer showing space required and space available. Instead, I picked another spot with more than enough space. However, I failed to make certain I had enough space in my /tmp directory. The installer needs 1 gigabyte of space in /tmp, just for workspace. It's up to you to make sure it's available. If you don't, you might end up like I did: spending a lot of time trying to figure out why you segfault at startup.

I can't blame ravage's installer, either. It told me about not having enough space during the installation, but I ignored it as being a beta bug and not a serious problem — after all, a gigabyte in /tmp for installation? Consequently, I didn't pay much enough attention to what it was telling me. When I got it enough space to run, all error messages I had previously ignored in earlier installation attempts went away.

Ravage's Neverwinter Nights installer
Editor's note: The above image is reduced in size to allow it to display on this page. Click on this image to see the original.

My rodent refused to behave, and the cursor shook and stuttered across the screen in a manner that made the game nearly unplayable. The wonderful FAQ on NWN for Linux offered a tip for curing a jumpy mouse: export SDL_MOUSE_RELATIVE=0. That didn't work for me. Instead, I had to go into my XF86Config file and change my default depth from 16 to 24. I believe I found that tip on the BioWare site. Once I did that, mouse movement was very smooth.

I made one final tweak that you might find interesting — or maybe not, if you are a hard-core gamester. The beta default is full-screen mode. I wanted a window. Serious players like to shut down X completely, then run xinit and start the game. That way, no cycles are wasted on other GUI apps. This technique seems to speed up the number of frames per second, while windowing the game slows it down, at least at higher resolutions. I saw between 24 and 31 fps running NWN from xinit at 800 x 600 resolution. In a window under Red Hat 8.0's Bluetooth GNOME with a resolution of 1024 x 768, the fps ranged from 14 and 20, which I found a little slow. Staying with the window but running at 800 by 600, the fps was steady at 24, which is fast enough for me to play a game of this type.

If you want to play in a window, edit nwn.ini and set FullScreen=0, then add a new line for AllowWindowedMode=1. Why it takes both, I don't know. But it does. The nwn.ini file is also where you can adjust the resolution by changing the Height and Width values.

Why the hoops?

While chatting about the installer situation on IRC, some wondered if the unofficial installer might somehow violate the DMCA because it "circumvents" the installer on the retail CD. On its Web site, BioWare says legal barriers prevent it from providing a Linux installer at present. This explains the need to copy files from an existing Windows installation or use the unofficial installer. BioWare has also said that the situation will be resolved when Linux port of NWN goes into production.

I asked icculus (Ryan Gordon, the man who ported UT 2003 to Linux) if he were concerned about DMCA issues involving the installer for NWN or any of the other major game installers available on his Web site.

Gordon said, "I have to admit, I'm fairly ignorant as to the specifics of the DMCA, but I can't imagine any of the original developers/publishers would care, even if these installers were violations. I mean, they DID make Linux versions of the games or release source code. Why would they object to people using them?" I asked "ravage" the same question, but never received a reply.

Neverwinter Nights
Editor's note: The above image is reduced in size to allow it to display on this page. Click on this image to see the original.

BioWare didn't seem concerned about the unofficial installer for the beta either. Derek French, Live Team Producer at Bioware, asked in return to my query, "If you are referring to the Beta, then no. We specifically didn't focus our efforts on an installer for the Beta, as we knew the situation would only be a temporary one. We needed to focus our efforts on the Beta Client itself. For the final release of the NWN, we will be providing an installation mechanism." French also said that there were only a couple of remaining issues with the beta, and when they were resolved it would be pronounced "gold."

The gold version will be downloadable and require that you purchase a retail version of the game, just as is the case with the beta. One difference will be that the files needed from the retail version will be available for download so users will have the choice of downloading them or copying them from a Windows installation.

Although NWN is is BioWare's first offering for Linux, it may not be their last. "Linux fans have proven to be very enthusiastic," French said. "I will say that the Linux folks, despite being somewhat in the minority, have certainly made their voice heard here at BioWare."

In spite of whatever concerns some might have, it was also pointed out to me on the #openknights channel at irc.freenode.net that the gaming situation for Linux was continuing to improve. Loki may have disappeared, but Linux game-players are getting two of last year's big hit games — UT 2003 and NWN — before they are available for the Macintosh. The number of gaming-related channels on the server bears out that blossoming popularity. In addition to #loki, which has remained a popular haunt in spite of Loki's demise, and #openknights, which I discovered while researching NWN, there are #icculus.org, #lgp, (Linux Game Publishing) and #gametome.

I could tell you more of what I've heard, but right now I have to go. I am on a secret mission for Lady Aribeth. I need to find and recover the Waterdhavian creatures, so that they can be used to create a cure for the Wailing Death. In short, Neverwinter needs me.

Ed. Note: This story was updated on April 2, 2003 with an expanded quote from Derek French, Live Team Producer at Bioware.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

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