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A mixed welcome for Unreal Tournament 2003 on Linux

Epic Games' latest release comes with an unheralded Linux version in the box

(LinuxWorld) — I have some good news and some not-so-good news. The good news came almost as an afterthought: Epic Games' brand new (September, 2002) release of Unreal Tournament 2003 included a Linux version in the box. According to a blurb I read online, the Linux version was completed too late in the game for it to be mentioned on the box.

I'm not talking about the demo of UT2003, by the way. I mean the real thing. That's amazing. A major new game from a major game maker available for Linux users on the same day it became available for Windows. Imagine that.

The rest of the news about the Linux port of UT 2003 is not so good. There are issues. And there remains in my mind a big question: why has the Linux release been slipstreamed into something of a stealth release? There is also one big issue that you need to be aware of before you rush out to buy the boxed version, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Mark Rein, the VP of Epic Games that has his name and e-mail address provided on the Web site as the contact person for information not included in its FAQ, ignored my request for a review copy of UT 2003. That was three weeks ago. More recently, Rein ignored my request for additional information about the who/why/how of the Linux port. That was earlier this week.

Does that behavior sound right to you? Is Epic Games so successful that they can simply ignore the Linux press and their Linux customers? Or is there something more sinister at play? Is this another example of Microsoft using its monopoly muscle to keep the news about the simultaneous Linux/Windows launch of UT 2003 quiet? Who knows? Nobody who is talking, that's for sure.

I can say this: As of Thursday, October 24th, the FAQ on the UT 2003 Web site (see Resources below for the URL) still lists only Windows ME, 98, 2000 and XP as platforms under system requirements. I can also tell you the game plays great on my Red Hat 8.0 desktop box.

Only compatible with Nvidia

Just in case you're getting ready to score a copy of UT 2003 for yourself, you need to know this before you go any further: As of today, you cannot play UT 2003 on your Linux machine unless you are using an Nvidia card with the Nvidia binary driver. Nothing else works for Linux. That's because only the Nvidia cards and driver provide the S3TC (Savage Texture Compression) support UT 2003 requires.

I had to get two copies of UT 2003 before I got it installed. The first one ($49.96 at Wal-Mart) would almost complete the install before running into a file it couldn't decompress. Three times I got about 40 minutes into the installation. Three times it barfed at the same spot. I returned that copy to Wal-Mart and exchanged it for another. The second copy was the charm, although there were still a couple of minor issues with the installation.

UT 2003 takes a lot of real estate on your hard drive — more than 3 gigabytes for the whole enchilada. It also takes a lot of time — more time than it takes to do the base installation of most Linux distributions. On my system it took the biggest part of an hour.

Installation trials and tricks

Now for the other "issues." Not only is UT 2003 for Linux something of a stealth release, it also requires some insider knowledge to install. There is a FAQ on the installation for Linux on the Icculus.org Web site. I recommend it highly if you run into additional problems.

One thing that might throw you off-stride is that the installation requires you to load all three CDs included in the boxed set. Some Linux desktop configurations won't allow you to eject and switch CDs in the drive after starting the install from the CD.

My Red Hat 8.0 desktop with medium security settings had no problems at all. I simply right-clicked the CD icon that appeared on my desktop after inserting the CD and selected "Eject." Your mileage may vary.

Another thing is that the installer whined incessantly about failing to mount a floppy. The whining stopped as soon as I fed a used floppy into the drive, though Baud only knows why it was wanted.

Another thing you have to know is that the install script lives on disc No. 3 of the three-CD set. Depending on where you want to install the game, you may need to execute linux_installer.sh as root. Both the client and the server are installed in case you want to run your own Unreal Tournament 2003 server.

You also need to know that the installation script is going to lie to you about which disc is needed when. Shortly after you start the installation script from disc 3, it will ask you to insert the "Play Disc." When it does, insert disc 1. There is no "Play Disc." When it asks you for "Disc 1" insert disc 2. And when it says it needs "Disc 2" insert disc 3. Unless you get a set of CDs with a media flaw (like I did on the first copy) that's all you need to do to install it. Count on the installation to take an hour and you won't be far off. Then you're ready to play.

Keeping it Unreal

The original Unreal Tournament was ported to Linux by Loki Games, which is now defunct. Loki's legacy lives on, however, as the GPL'd loki_update is included with UT 2003. According to the Linux Gamers FAQ (see Resources for the URL), Epic Games hired Daniel Vogel (once with Loki) to work with Ryan C. Gordon (Icculus of Icculus.org) on the UT 2003 for Linux. As best as I can piece it together, those are the main players in the port. That's unofficial, however, so don't shoot me if I'm crediting the wrong folk.

This is my first Unreal Tournament experience, so I don't know what is new to UT 2003 and what has always been there. You can play UT2003 in a local mode without network access. Or you can pick from five game types available over the Internet: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag, Double Domination, and Bombing Run.

In comparison to Quake III, I would give Quake the nod in explicit gore and UT 2003 the edge in the smoothness and polish. The 3D sensation and experience is the best I've ever seen. Both, of course, are first person shooters of the highest calibre. So far I haven't run into any annoying bugs like the incredible shrinking pool of servers I've seen in Quake 3, but I have had to scratch my head over why it forgets that I don't want fullscreen mode. The README instructs that I should note that preference in the ini file in my local directory. I've done that, but it still forgets.

Why is that important? Easy. When I run a windowed game of UT 2003, I can hit CTL-G and free the cursor to check e-mail or whatever. A second CTL-G returns the cursor to the exclusive control of the game. Note: this doesn't work when you have another app open who wants CTL-G for its own purposes. The GIMP being one example. In fullscreen mode there is no such escape. You are brutally held captive in a single-user universe.

The bottom line on UT 2003 for Linux is that it is a good game. The graphics are better than good; they are great. I'm glad to see it available for Linux, especially at the same time as the Windows version. But it could certainly be improved in terms of marketing, packaging and installation.

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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