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Feature: Finding Success Through Open Source Game Development

In a new Gamasutra feature, contributor Michael Thomsen looks at the sometimes surprising direction game development can take once its opened up to a group of excite
In a new Gamasutra feature, contributor Michael Thomsen looks at the sometimes surprising direction game development can take once its opened up to a group of excited enthusiasts and modders. Thomsen goes all the way back to the early '90s, looking at the surprisingly robust development of open-source, top-down action game Crossfire, with volunteer modders taking the simple title in many unique directions over the last two decades. "There are really only so many spells, weapons, and types of armor, and at some point it becomes redundant," Crossfire release coordinator Mark Wedel said. "But within the content -- which is maps, quests, sounds, images -- that is basically unlimited. I think the world itself could keep getting expanded forever and if done right, it would not seem repetitive." Fan programmers have also unlocked the potential in Cyan Worlds' aborted Myst Online: Uru Live, which was released as an open source title in 2010 after being shut down a year after it's 2007 commercial release. That open release didn't come without some legal wrangling, however. "It took many discussion to make sure that we were protecting all the different interests, and yet giving enough freedom to the fans to innovate," Cyan World chief technical officer Mark DeForest said. "Once the license was determined it set the tone and things just started falling into place." Sometimes, an open source engine can lead to the continued development of much more than just a single game, as proved by the Spring Real Time Strategy engine. Originally intended to just power an open port of Total Annihilation, the engine has now been used for a variety of player-created RTS titles. Being open source means that engine can include a lot of features that wouldn't be financially viable for a commercial release, according to developers. "For example, we've added very sophisticated and powerful ways of controlling units for players, multi-language capable APIs, several different lobby servers and lobby clients, and lots of skirmish AIs written in different languages," engine developer Robin Vobruba said. "A lot of this work has been done as part of university projects and theses." The full feature looks into even more successful examples of open-source game development, and discusses some tools that can help smooth the development process across multiple contributors.

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