Free/Open Source Software and Computer Games – Guest lecture by Dan Leinir Turthra Jensen

Thanks to a pointer given by FSFE‘s UK representative, Sam Tuke, I had the opportunity of inviting a Danish game developer Dan Leinir Turthra Jensen (Leinir hereafter, as this is how he is more widely known in the free software world) to give a guest lecture to the CVG students on 29 November.

Leinir’s lecture was significant as (to my best knowledge) it was the first time that someone involved in free/open source software development, the subject I have been researching for more than a decade, was invited to talk about gaming and free/open source software at Salford Uni. Although I have covered free software / creative commons licensing and collaborative game development in a distributed environment in my lectures, nothing compares to the first-hand, real-life experience shared by someone who’s actually been involved in free/open source software and game development.

Leinir, a KDE contributor since 2002, is working for KO GmbH on Calligra at the moment. He holds a MSc degree in Game and Engine from Aalborg University in Denmark, specialised in Game AI (behaviour trees) programming.

In his lecture, he used Puzzletive, an online jigsaw puzzle game developed by a team of 15 at the Danish Institute for Digital Interactive Entertainment (DADIU) in 2009 within a month, to illustrate how to manage a game development process creatively but also methodically (brainstorming -> prototyping / protoducting -> sprinting -> polishing). To be able to develop a finished, shippable game within 30 days, the team used a modified SCRUM method (a typical SCRUM method was considered as too heavy in terms of time overhead, fo ra small team with limited time there was no time for a real heavy-weight SCRUM) to manage the process. Since time was tight and the team was small, everything prototyped would eventually become production – therefore everything created had to be carefully planned and had to be something that everyone could live with. So the prototyping was actually a protoducting task. The prototype was created during the 1st sprint, and at the 2nd sprint, the team defined all tasks, elements and started production. The entire last week (7 days) was dedicated to polishing (so basically 1/3 of the production time was spent on polishing). A demo video is available here.

Leinir emphasised on workflow assistance and version control. And in fact, these linked to a 2-year-old free software project Gluon, which he’s been involved in, whose ultimate aim is to provide a platform to streamline and transform game development processes by allowing game makers and players to share ideas, co-create / co-realise games, and distribute them across various platforms (and hopefully released under free/open source software licences or creative commons or equivalent licences). This platform, whose UI bears much resemblance to the proprietary game development tool Unity, is based on game sources from http://gameboom.net/, http://appdeveloper.intel.com/en-us/, and http://gluon.gamingfreedom.org/. Gluon was demonstrated at the Game Developers Conference Europe 2011 with Intel AppUp. The developers were planning to release Alpha Particle in December 2011 (basically now!).

Leinir and I thought it would be cool if my CVG students could do some alpha or beta testing of this Gluon platform, or even better, get involved in its development. Leinir also encouraged them to participate in the 2012 Global Game Jam or Dare to be Digital. I think it’s a brilliant idea. In fact, I think we (the university, or even the whole academia) should encourage students to take part in such events like the Global Game Jam or any other free/open source software projects (as seen in Google’s Summer of Code Program), as much as like we encourage live briefs and/or placements. These are great opportunities to learn to collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds in a dynamic, transient, creative environment. Students (future creative media workers) need to learn that they might not be working on the idea they found fun (as everyone has different ways of defining what’s “fun”), and they need to work together as a team to deliver (idea management, coordinated by the game director who usually has the final say).

There’s another good concept that Leinir delivered during his lecture: he said that programmers are just as much as an artist as the scripts / programs are “text-based art”, and writing codes is performing the art of game programming.

It has been a long time I tried to incorporate my interest in free/open source software with my teaching activities (I was told that Richard Shipman, Teaching Fellow at the Computer Science department of Aberystwyth University, has managed to do so). The highly commercial and competitive gaming/creative industry makes the entry of free/open source software difficult, but perhaps with perseverance and enough help, there will be more interest in free/open source gaming in academia.

Certainly I’ll be looking forward to welcoming Leinir back for another guest lecture, and perhaps also a live demo and hands-on workshop on Gluon, specifically designed for open collaboration on game development. But I also look forward to introducing more cool free/open source game projects to students. How say you – perhaps Crystal Space (a random suggestion from Google)?

When Leinir paid a visit to Manchester, he also gave an evening talk to the Manchester free software community. Here are some photos taken at his talk at MadLab.

ps. Glad to know that Leinir enjoyed his trip to Manchester – see Dent 1, Dent 2.

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