Eli Tomlinson makes money off of the work of others. He packages up GPL-licensed Linux games, and sells them on his Web site for $19.95. But the free software wonks who made these games aren’t complaining. In fact, they’re cheering his efforts. That’s because he’s made them easier to play. Tomlinson’s contribution to the package makes GNU games more accessible to the end user. End user-focused Linux gaming, you ask? Where’s the money in that?
The money is in Gamix. Tomlinson, who by day is a Windows admin at a Pennsylvania bank, is the driving force behind the Gamix gaming console. Which isn’t really a console. It’s a specification for a console. “I laid out the specs at the beginning and I took them to ten or thirteen different game developers,” said Tomlinson of his progeny. “I got feedback from everybody. The very original specs I put down had ATI as the video card, which very quickly everyone convinced me was a bad idea.”
Essentially, Tomlinson sees all those 1.8 Ghz PCs out there on gamers’ desktops as untapped consoles. He makes dough by selling games that actually treat these machines like consoles: pop in the disc, start the computer, and the machine boots right into the menu screen for managing memory sticks (thumb drives); then it’s on to the game menu. No Windows. No typing. Nothing but game.
Tomlinson’s created a logo for Gamix and has chosen a light blue DVD box color as the standard for the platform. But while he’s seeing a few copies of his packaged Gamix games sell through each week on his Web site, he’s not yet ready to poke his way into stores. “I think before you can really approach retail, you have to achieve some level of consumer awareness,” said Tomlinson.
This all began when Tomlinson decided that PC gaming was too damn hard. His decision back in 2005 to create Gamix was a step into a new world for him. Tomlinson has no background in the games industry, beyond his own experiences playing Centipede and Need for Speed. But that didn’t stop him from laying out the initial specifications for what, at the time, was the world’s most powerful game console.
The final specs for Tomlinson’s console came out at 1.8 Ghz, 512 MBs of RAM, 128 MBs of video RAM, a DVD drive, and four USB ports. Sound like your gaming PC? That’s because it is. Tomlinson’s vision for an open console included an important software aspect, as well: bootable Linux.
His next step was to chat with the developers of some open source games. After discussing his platform with IGDA members, and some German Linux developers, Tomlinson found himself with a stack of potential games to publish. Each game was burned onto a disc along with a full Linux operating system and all the goodies needed to complete the game experience. Today, he sells these games on Gamix.org.
“For the typical person who wants to use something fun on their computer, it’s become more and more difficult to go to the store and find something that works. You go to Best Buy and they don’t have the computer games as they should,” said Tomlinson.
With Gamix games, there’s no DirectX to worry about, no GameSpy Arcade to install. Hell, there’s nothing to install at all. These games just play right off of the disc, similar to the way a Commodore 64 or Apple II game works. It’s simplicity that’s been missing from this side of the games world for a long time.
But even with Gamix’s simplicity, Tomlinson is a realist. He knows that his platform isn’t going to beat out the Wii nor the Xbox 360. He sees Gamix as a long term project, and one that will lure developers over time, thanks to its lack of restrictions and fees.
Game developers are completely happy with this arrangement, said Tomlinson. These games are free, anyway, so the fact that a broader audience is able to play them delights the game makers he’s talked with. For Tomlinson, it’s the manufacturers that can make or break the platform. Tomlinson hopes that PC makers will pay the him $1.00 per Gamix logo printed on the front of a shipped PC. He’s aiming to be one more of those ubiquitous little tags, like “Intel Inside” and “Powered by 3COM” that adhere to the shells of eMachines and the like. But as yet, no hardware makers are talking to him.
Open or closed, publishing games is still hard work. Tomlinson said that, while he sells a few games each week on his site, he’d love to sell more, if only he had the time. Working as a Windows systems administrator all day is certainly one reason he’s not able to devote his full attentions to Gamix. And it takes time to prepare new games for Gamix.
“I have a bunch of them lined up that I haven’t done yet, mainly because of time,” said Tomlinson. “There are four or five more I could do in a week. If I had a solid month to myself, I could have 40 titles done.” But what Tomlinson also admits is that because of Gamix’s open nature, anyone could build new games and sell them. And that’s the beauty of open standards.
Today, there are but seven Gamix games available at Gamix.org. They cost $19.99 a piece, but if you’ve got a Linux computer, these are all free to download and play, albeit from other sources. For the rest of you unwashed masses, here are some quick reviews of each Gamix game.
This space shooter is decidedly arcade-ish. Fly around in 3D space, and never hit the brake as you shoot your way through wave after wave of enemies. Fun graphics and simple gameplay make this a competent space game.
Kiki the Nano Bot
The titular nano bot is actually more of a rolling platform protagonist. Instead of jumping across open fields, like Mario, Kiki bounces around the inside of a cube, rolling up walls and attempting to find a way into the just-out-of-reach exit. A unique platformer, if not the most entertaining.
Slune is a racing, driving, delivering AIDS medicine to Africa game. As Tux, you’ll dodge obstacles and race against time to make your precious deliveries to those in need. While the game itself is simple and fun, the preachy free-software and patent abolishment agenda may put off those who don’t like politics in their games.