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Freeciv founded 20 years ago today (freeciv.org)
222 points by roschdal on Nov 14, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments



> The irony of it all is that last year when i had a couple of computer science applying for a job, they told me that they had assignments of doing bits and parts of a civilization clone at the university as part of the studies, so i guess that the university got smarter in the meantime.

Yes, indeed. The Software Architecture course at Aarhus University (which is where the FreeCiv founders are from) now contains the HotCiv project: "This project develops a framework for defining strategy games similar to the classic computer game, Civilization." The lecturer, Henrik Bærbak, wrote a textbook for the course: http://www.baerbak.com/description.html


FWIW I remember the book to be not very good.


Hi everyone! Just a note that you can play Freeciv today at https://play.freeciv.org - source code here: https://github.com/freeciv/freeciv-web

We're always looking for more good developers!


I'm curious what are people working on in a 20 year old project? I only know young efforts like these. They mostly focus on getting anything close to the featureset of the original game. But I figure after 20 years that's not a problem with freeciv anymore, right?


We have recently spent a significant amount of effort on making Freeciv playable in a browser. Porting the game to new platforms is a continous development effort. Freeciv-web is now playable in any HTML5 browser, but there are still many things to improve in the game.


And if you're on a computer you can't install to or prefer to keep it on an external or cloud drive, you can grab the portable package, too: http://portableapps.com/apps/games/freeciv_portable


Or, apt-get install freeciv .

Just enjoyably spent an hour remembering exactly how quickly an hour goes when playing freeciv.


Dear God, I've been playing this for that long? Its just as bad as nethack. Okay, almost as bad as nethack. Goddamnit nethack, go away, I have work to do.


How can you say that during the yearly /dev/null tournament? :-)


I played Freeciv quite a bit, I guess it was at least a decade ago. There were usually online games running. There was a player ranking system and you could even review previous games. It's a vicious game though, the best players were fast and aggressive. In recent years, whenever I looked at it, there's nobody online.


News like this brings to mind a guys age...


Thank God, in all that time, they've never been tempted to apply any graphic design talent to the project. The 'Win 95 Look' never goes out of style!


I'm sure they are not opposed to contributions by artists. Maybe that's an area you want to help them with, seeing you are an expert in these manners.

(Remember: freeciv is a community effort. Complaining is always much easier than helping to make it better)


This is a huge issue in open source game projects. It's very difficult to find talented artists who are willing to put in their time.

To some extent the same issue bugs open source art tools (like Gimp, etc), what those projects would need is some professional artists using them, at least every now and then. If professional programmers had a similar attitude to open source programming tools, our industry would look very different than it does today (remember buying a compiler, on floppy disks, in a shrink wrapped box?).

I wonder what personality trait in us programmers makes us willing to work without compensation on our free time and why it doesn't seem to be present in artists, user interface designers and others whose contributions would be valued by the community :)


I think main problem isn't really lack of artists around, but lack of management. Many programmers start contribute to open source projects because it's easy to start and it's also relatively easy to accept contributions for project leaders.

Basically if you're programmer you can find some some project on github, check that some feature missing or bug exist and just by reading code implement or fix it. If you just stick to the project coding guidelines most of the time you'll get code review, advices, requests and then contribution going to be accepted. Easy.

In same time when you're UI designer it's not easy. UI designer would have to prove that his version of UI is better and why. As there is no one managing project and take decisions it's can be tough to argue with programmers.

And for artist there is usually no one to talk with at all. What worse due to lack of management most of open source games don't even have some list of assets they need, not even talking about art style guidelines.

So problem isn't the fact that artists don't want to contribute, but that there is no one to accept these contributions. Just as everyone they don't like idea of working for rubbish bin.

PS: Project where art contributions handled properly is 0 A.D. So open source game with quality art and style is doable, but require some management effort.


>Basically if you're programmer you can find some some project on github, check that some feature missing or bug exist and just by reading code implement or fix it. If you just stick to the project coding guidelines most of the time you'll get code review, advices, requests and then contribution going to be accepted. Easy.

Eh, when we're talking about new features or major architectural changes rather than bugfixes, there's often quite a fight to get your code up-streamed when your changes are significant; it goes from "style" arguments all the way up to "your feature is a bad one"

this is probably similar to what would happen with art. If you wanted to draw a slightly better ironclad, it'd probably be pretty easy to get it accepted. If you want to change the look and feel of the whole goddamn thing, good luck with that; release your own tile set.


You don't start participation in project from major architectural changes. It's always take time to learn code base and find out about design advantages/flaws/etc.

Problem with art is that unlike with bugs nobody even know what needed and what isn't. As result there is really low guarantee that art you can make actually going to be used.


my argument is that art isn't fundamentally different from code in this respect.

If you have a very small patch that obviously fixes something broken and doesn't change much else, you are gonna have an easy time, be that change art or code. And as you said, either way, that's how you should probably start. Little things.

Either way, if you want to make major changes, be those changes in art or code, you are going to meet resistance, especially if you don't already have social capital built up in the project by making lots of smaller changes.

Getting your changes upstream in a open-source project is a fundamentally social process. If you show up with a bunch of patches and then leave, well, a lot of your work is probably not going to get used. Hell, even if you do everything right, a lot of your work isn't going to get used. That's just how things work.


I agree with you that art isn't that different than code in community game development. My point is that in case of art most open source project don't even try to actually accept and review contributions at all.

Still I can't agree that upstreaming of code is anything like hard in case of most open source games. There is only few projects that feature complete and have plenty of programmers. Of course such projects usually have higher requirements to contributors, but most of projects are newbie-friendly as they always happy to see more developers.


I have to agree that management is difficult. It's a challenging task to coordinate the work of individual contributors who aren't paid or committed to schedules, etc.

But all this is saying is that there are very few individuals who are willing to work on managing open source projects. Or at least they don't get in contact with the projects they could help with.

Open source projects need more contributors than just programmers, but how to achieve that is a hard question. Programmers don't make good artists, UI designers or managers, but finding individuals who would like to contribute is an issue.


Finding artists is much easier for open source games that based off known titles because there is people who like original game or already participate modding community. Many open source games even started this way (like The Dark Mod).

Personally I'm participate development of VCMI (FOSS engine for Heroes of Might & Magic 3) and there is plenty of artists that contributed to modding community in past and totally okay with contributing their work under CC licenses. Sure that for more popular titles it's may be even easier.

But I agree it's really tricky to find contributors who going to work on brand new game or professional software like GIMP.


Maybe everyone would benefit from a centralized solution where open-source projects submit requests for designing something and designers can have a go at it. This way designers will be able to quickly browse and find the projects most appealing to them / suited to their skills, are able to build a portfolio, and will be able to avoid awkward conversations with uninterested developers. I guess having created parts of a real game or program is worth more than the thousandth redesign of a popular web page, and it actually benefits someone.


The Community video game "Hawkthorne" (inpired by a mockup on the TV show) managed dozens of artist contributors very effectively.


> artists, user interface designers and others whose contributions would be valued by the community :)

Have you seen any discussions around things like: new Firefox UI, concepts for new LibreOffice UI, new versions of Gnome and KDE? Many communities certainly aren't very good at letting designers feel valued. Graphics is a perfect bike-shedding issue: everyone can have an opinion, can point to X examples that are "better" and many projects have difficulties to deal with that.

Graphics also profits very much from a consistent style, which a) requires someone to create such a style, b) for contributors to adhere to it. This makes small-scale contributions harder and less interesting, so it is harder for new designers to get started. Which again makes it harder to find people willing to do most of the work (which would lead to more consistent styles).

Most projects have coding leads that police code contributions in style. For graphics, you'd need a graphics lead that can have a similar role for design and is backed enough that they can ignore some criticism. Which leads back to the issue of getting people started and into such a trusted position. It requires trust by the designer that their invested time will be worth it, and trust by the project that handing a lot of control to the designer will have a good result and that they'll stay on board.

It seems to me that as a code contributor it is easier to "rise through the ranks" from small commits (and potentially staying there without issues). Splitting graphics work in small but interesting chunks seems way harder.

One game where it seems to have worked reasonably well is the transportation simulation Simutrans. There is a multitude of tilesets, but some of them work really well, despite being made by multiple people. Most of them are whimsical pixel-art style, which probably makes it easier to mix and match styles.

(Sorry if this comment is a bit all-over-the-place, but as I was writing new angles appeared)


With programming, generally fixes, or even say major features can be done in isolation. Programming is not, in the small, a hard or subjective task. Once the initial decisions have been carved into stone, it's relatively easy to take contributions from a wide variety of contributors.

With design, it's subjective (this is key), and benefits from a comprehensive approach by a dictator. Many small contributions from a large number of contributors is not a good thing (generally). It turns into design by committee; which in general, just generates shit. Part of this is because you can't design isolated parts, you need an overall working view and inderstanding of the entire functioning system at all times.

You can get around this with extremely strict style rules, which would allow the same type of contributor patterns as the coding side of things. But that's very rare to find, for one because it's extremely difficult to create those rules in the first place.


I think it's part the fact that art is very susceptible to bike shedding and part "starving artist"; drawing concepts for a game is something I'm sure they could do for fun in their off time, but actually making graphics for a game is most definitely a Job in the biblical sense.


Old Freeciv unit graphic developer speaking up here...The current Freeciv graphics you see in-game set is called "Amplio". It has been tweaked throughout the years (10?) but still based mostly on the original Amplio set.

Creating a decent looking tileset (GPL licence)from scratch (no Civ2/official scenario units or derivatives allowed) isn't easy. Luckily I knew some scenario makers & graphic designers from the Civ2 scenario community and received their permission to use some of their work in Freeciv. They made some amazing stuff* in their days and a selection of their work is included in the Amplio set.

There a few units in there by me as well. If you look closely you'll even find a small easter egg.

*For those who still have a copy of Civ2/ToT lying around and have some time to burn. Check out Captain Nemo's "Red Front" scenario. It's a full blown civ2 re-enactment of operation Barbarossa from start to finish with changing rulesets & tiles (summer and winter conditions). Too bad that Freeciv didn't really have any proper scenario tools. "Red Front" would have been a perfect showcase.


Issue is two fold.

1) The devs don't play nice with designers, so... why would the designer want to contribute?

2) There is no product manager there to drive features, or make the devs play nice with the designers, or push deadlines... and if there were the devs would probably bail.

So... yeah. This is why open source projects tend to suck... you don't have product managers or designers. Just devs to who do a half-ass job of PM and UX. Anyone can say all they want about management and schedules and planning... at the end of the day job security for managers is ensured due to the fact that devs, when left alone, produce inferior quality software.


> I wonder what personality trait in us programmers makes us willing to work without compensation on our free time and why it doesn't seem to be present in artists

I don't think it is much more prevalent in programmers than artists. (That's why I also think that the 'show me your GH profile'-style recruitment is shortsighted; most of the best coders I've ever met (who I consider geniuses, really) had no OSS contributions at all, they just make boatloads of money at bigcos (Google, MS, fintech)).


Open source allows developers to receive recognition by peers. That isn't the same for artistic talent.


Is there anything resembling "opensource" for any other area apart from programming?

I am not aware of any other trades / industries where people work on things to give away for free in their own time (and even be expected to do so in order to get a job)


Certainly (though I'm not sure about the 'getting a job' part): Breeding of open-pollinated plants, mostly vegetables. Not as well known as OSS, but much the same ethos. I've had people ship seed across the world to provide germplasm breeding stock and done likewise myself, completely without any expectation of payment or even reciprocation.


I've seen lots of free photos and icon sets released. And typefaces. Often this is a good strategy to build a portfolio and get attention. It's certainly not done to the same extent as in the programming world.


Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap are two fairly significant ones.

(I suppose more for the first part of what you are asking and not so much for the second part, but then there are several companies paying people to make edits to OSM)


"give away" "get a job"

You do not understand why Open Source exists, how it works, or why people contribute to it.

Any "community" based activity such as neighborhood watch, habitat for humanity, barn raising.


No idea about other industries, but in game development artist expected have have relatively huge online portfolio in order to get a job. Of course most of that portfolio wouldn't be made of well-paid (if at all) works.

Of course it's not the same thing as releasing your work under permissive license, but most of content on sites like DeviantArt artists wasn't paid for.


I believe is just a question of mentality. Programers, being traditionally more closely related with the new technologies and the internet, soon saw open source projects as a way to improve their skills and promote themselves at the same time.

Artists, lagging behind in new technologies, still didn't embrace these projects as means to self promotion. But I believe this will greatly improve with time.


> Artists, lagging behind in new technologies, still didn't embrace these projects as means to self promotion.

No, they don't. Look at the various art communities (DeviantART, Tumblr, etc.). Much like open source, there's a vast amount of art being put out there for free for the sheer fun of it as well as for self-promotion.

I think the issue with open source games is simply social and cultural: there wasn't an effort to involve artists from the beginning, and so they didn't get involved.


This is the classic response to criticism of open source projects. It tends to drive away people who otherwise might have been convinced to help.

Unfortunately, while the comment above was rather acerbic and in poor taste, the idea that you should keep your comments to yourself unless you can directly help the situation is not in itself helpful.

For instance, I can point out that you might have a scary looking mole on your neck, and should probably go see a dermatologist, without actually being a dermatologist.


Saying a UI is difficult to use, doesn't adhere to convention, &c, even saying it may not look sexy/ggod/æsthetic for a reason is one thing. Chiding the author for a "Win95" look is just childish.


Those are vintage screenshots.

It appears to look like this nowadays: https://play.freeciv.org/webclient/?action=new


Hey, that was kinda evil. I expected screenshots, instead I was thrown into a live game and ended up spending quite a lot more time than intended. ;P


I just lost half an hour there... and probably some more time in the future !

Th web based game works great (and IMO the graphics are certainly polished to at least civ3 standards).


Welp, they sure optimized the ad loading code. I got to see nice animated ads while staring at a Loading spinner for the app.


Still has a very vintage vibe to it; I'm not sure how favourably it compares with Civ II (1996)...

Some people appreciate retro looks, but everything from the sprite resolution to the colour palette feels like a nineties aesthetic.


Thanks, the Amplio used the original Civ2 sprite resolution and colour palette as a starting point. It seems to have hold up well.

There's also some layout logic at work. If you look at the way the units are aligned in the tileset you may notice that defensive units point right and offensive units point left.


Yeah, I paid money for Civ 5 and I'm happy to have done so, just because it looks so gorgeous. Maybe I'm just superficial.


Nothing is shown there. I assume it needs javascript. Why would I need javascript to a page with image links?


You need JS to play the game in your browser. https://xkcd.com/1367/


They created and worked for free on an open source project, and while graphics and UI are probably not their field of expertise anyone with talent in those and interested to help has always been able to.

As far as I know, you have never been tempted to do anything to help them on that front either. But if that bothers you so much, feel free to ask for a refund !


I played the hell out of freeciv between 2003 and 2005 and even at the time there were different tilesets or skins to choose from.




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