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Review: Tux Racer

LinuxWorld
Tux Racer for Linux  

(IDG) -- I've given up a lot of my time to games such as Tony Hawk's Pro Skateboarding and Coolboarders on the Playstation. Flinging a character around at ridiculous speeds and performing death-defying tricks is something I seek out in a game. So it is no surprise that I found the high-speed snow sliding of Tux Racer a welcome change of pace from the strategy titles that seem to just pile up on my Linux box.

Tux Racer is a simulation in which you play the ice wizard, Tux himself. It is your job to steer him down the courses as fast as you can, avoiding trees and obstacles in your race against the clock. Excellent visuals and a fun, fast-paced snow theme make an entertaining combination.

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Tux Racer sports a simple menu and a comforting preview of each level. There are nine premade levels in the latest release. Levels include trees, exposed mountain rocks, and ice slicks, all of which affect how fast Tux can speed down the hill. There are also nighttime tracks with thick fog that make play significantly harder.

Tux Racer has three different camera viewpoints that you can use to navigate Tux on the courses. There are two outside views that place you behind Tux and one penguin's-eye mode, where you see what he sees. I was looking forward to seeing Tux's belly and feet from this camera angle, but was sadly disappointed.

As Tux glides down the slopes at high speed, the aim of each level at the current stage of development is to get to the bottom as fast as you can. A timer at the bottom left corner lets you know how long that takes.

Tux Racer is not just about racing against the clock, however. There are jumps and banked corners, and you'll have to do a little bit of thinking to overcome obstacles on some levels. The third track, which appears to be just an extra long slippery dip, involves timing a jump over a row of trees. If you miss the jump, you'll have to start the level again.

Advanced configuration of game settings is as yet unsupported. You can, however, fine-tune settings such as the game resolution, course detail, and even how Tux slides (by default he slides on his belly, but you can also make him go down on his back). You can alter key configuration by editing the .tuxracer settings file in your user /home directory, which houses a number of options.

Graphics

By far the most winning point about Tux Racer is its level of detail. I spotted the game several months ago and what really stood out was its excellent graphics. The beautifully carved slopes, fog, lighting and shadow effects, and a surprising exhibition of OpenGL eye candy, all lend Tux Racer a look worthy of any commercial release.

All the levels are detailed 3D tracks with ice, snow, and rock surfaces. Tux is a fully articulated 3D model with wiggling feet and arms. Even his head moves when you take on a turn.

Creating tracks

One of the most fun things out about Tux Racer is making your own tracks. It's easy. The tracks consist of a layered image (which you can make with the GIMP) and a configuration file that holds data such as track sizes and textures. I have written instructions here to help you create your own tracks. If you follow the rules, you can whip up a high-speed slide in around five minutes.

The first thing to do is to download the GIMP plug-ins. They are available from the Tux Racer homepage (see Resources for a link) and will create a level template for you. With the plug-ins installed, start the GIMP and click on Script-Fu, Tuxracer, New Level.

There are three layers that are used for elevation, terrain, and trees. The rules for each of those individual layers are as follows:

Elevation is measured by colors. White is high, and black is low.

You can choose from three terrain types. White is snow, 50 percent gray is rock, and black is ice. Those surfaces affect his traction and how he slides.

Trees are colored dots on a black background. Black pixels simply mean no tree, while any other color is a tree. One pixel is one tree on the map.

Editing the elevation, terrain, and tree layers will require you to flick among them individually. To change from one to another, right click on the image and select Layers, Layers & Channels. That will provide a pop-up you can use to look at the layers and make changes where needed. The name of each layer also appears on the pop-up.

Once each layer is complete, you will have to save them as separate files. Right click on the level while viewing the layer and save it as SGI with the file extension .rgb. If you were saving your elevation layer, for example, it would be elev.rgb. The other two layers are saved as trees.rgb and terrain.rgb.

After the image editing, you will need to provide a configuration file for your track. The first track that comes with Tux Racer, /usr/local/share/tuxracer/courses/1/ contains a configuration file with comments, course.tcl, which I simply copied for use with my track. There are many options, so I recommend that you open course.tcl with a text editor to see how to make your own changes.

The final step is to insert your course into the game. The Tux Racer menu only allows nine tracks (one through nine in the selection), so you'll need to remove, backup, or overwrite an existing track. After logging in as root, I moved the premade first course to my home directory and uploaded my track like so:

mv /usr/local/share/tuxracer/courses/1 /home/leea/1 mv /home/leea/my_level /usr/local/share/tuxracer/courses/1

Then load up Tux Racer and the first track displayed will be your own. See Resources for a simple example track that I made.

Planned additions

Tux Racer is bare bones in terms of gameplay, as it is at a very early development stage. Plans for additions in future releases include tracks that are divided into groups in a MarioKart-style race structure. You'll need a certain number of points to complete each course, and you will have limited lives and health in any given race. That feature also reminds me of Tony Hawk's Pro Skateboarding and Coolboarders, in which you must meet level objectives before going on to the next course.

Tux will also gain the ability to do tricks, like almost every recent console snowboarding and skateboarding game. New models, music, sound, and joystick support are also among the developers' future goals. You can view some of those changes online (see Resources for a link).

Installation

Tux Racer comes in a number of formats from the homepage. If your distribution supports it, you can download the RPMs. Also available are the Source RPMs (SRPM) and the source code.

Source code installation of Tux Racer is pretty standard. There are two files that you need, the binary source and the data files. See Resources for a link to the latest releases of those files.

The data files contain all the tracks, among other things. There is no real trick to installing the datafiles -- simply uncompress and move them to /usr/local/share/tuxracer. If you are installing on a clean Red Hat box, you might need to make the /share directory in /usr/local.

With your 3D hardware and software configured and the data files in place, all you need to do after uncompressing is to install the binaries. To configure and install, log in as root, and then ./configure && make && make install.

That procedure will install the Tux Racer binary to /usr/local/bin/. You can run it by typing /usr/local/bin/tuxracer.

Voodoo owners will have to set MESA_GLX_FX to full screen. I have made a simple batch file which will do that for you and start Tux Racer in it's default path. See Resources for a link to download the batch file.

Requirements

'll need dedicated 3D hardware. I recommend a Voodoo Chipset.

I tested Tux Racer on a Matrox Millennium G200 with the Utah-GLX drivers and could not seem to get it running in 3D hardware mode. The README mentions that cards without direct rendering support such as TNT, TNT2 and GeForce can be extremely slow at that point of development. Software rendering is also out of the question; I experienced frame rates of between two and four fps on a Pentium II 333.

I have tested Tux Racer on the 2.2.x and 2.0.x series kernels without any faults. You'll need Mesa 3.0 or 3.1 as well as version 3.7 of the GLUT library (see Resources for links to those libraries). TCL 8.0 or greater is the final software requirement, which Red Hat 6.1 has out of the box.

There is as yet no sound in Tux Racer, so there is no need for a sound card. However, with sound support coming, it would be desirable in later releases.

The verdict

Tux Racer is fun. I enjoy playing this game immensely, and the ease with which you can create new levels has given it an even longer life. The game looks great, and even though it is short on gameplay, it is most definitely worth a look just to see Tux in action. It is a title to watch for as development continues.




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