Unvanquished and Free
Unvanquished is a real-time strategy game putting two species in competition for their survival. Does this remind you Tremulous? You’re right, Unvanquished is not only taking care of its gameplay, Unvanquished is now fully free and open source again! It’s time to celebrate!
After a few years of recontacting the authors of 3D models, textures and sound effects, motivating newcomers to contribute, here is a summary of what made Unvanquished a free game (the engine, the game code, the graphics, the music…) with the help of all these artists.
Unvanquished was born from the ashes of Tremulous, a very popular and free open source real-time first-person strategy game that was initially released in the year 2006. While porting the game to a better engine and taking care of the then small but dedicated player community, a huge effort was done to also upgrade the artistic assets, taking advantage of the new engine… or inspiring improvements to the engine itself.
While the licenses chosen for non-essential assets like community ones may not matter that much (and anyway, people can do what they want to), it was clear the game itself must be free and open. Special guidelines were written for that purpose.
While development lived on forums and instant chat, after dozens and dozens of alpha releases piled on top of each other we had to clean up the mess and organize things a bit. At some point it became necessary for development to continue.
Then, when we had a clear view of what we had, it was easier to track down licenses and sources. I took on this matter personally.
I quickly noticed that some assets lacked an explicit license statement, or had statements which were problematic. That was the start of a three-year effort, a true quest for the holy Grail of gaming: getting Unvanquished free and open source again!
So let’s announce it with hymns, dances, parades and fireworks: Unvanquished returned home! Unvanquished is fully open source again, from engine to game code, from models to textures!
Why it is important for Unvanquished to be a free open source game?
First, Tremulous was free and open source.
In fact Tremulous got a lot of popularity from this fact; at that time, people saw in Tremulous the proof that free and open source gaming is possible, and that such games can be really enjoyable to play! It would be a shame to not honor Tremulous by being likewise free and open source. Unvanquished exists thanks to Tremulous, and thanks to Tremulous being free and open source!
Our own passion for Tremulous, then for Unvanquished, is deeply tied to its being free and open source. That passion would not have existed otherwise.
Second, we need to reach free and open source gamers. At the time Tremulous surfaced, it gained popularity from the fact it ran well on Linux. People today may have not known that era, but there was a time where games on Linux were rare; even more rare were polished and good and enjoyable games… That time is now gone, to the pleasure of gamers: there are now thousands of games running flawlessly on Linux! Yet, few of them are completely free and open source. While the competition in the Linux game market is now fierce, it was harming Unvanquished to lose by mistake the small but devoted free open source player base. We got delisted from some websites and, to be honest, we even did not try to list Unvanquished on some places where we knew full openness would be required. This affected exposure.
Third, there are now really impressive proprietary multiplatform game engines available for free, or at least gratis until one makes a lot of money with it, which is not going to happen on our side since Unvanquished is free. While some gratis games would use a closed source engine with millions of dollars invested on it and then not be open-source themselves because of that, we would still use our free and open source engine but still be a gratis but closed source game as a whole because of our assets. At this point staying in the middle was foolishness. Either we sell our soul and get what shines, or we keep our hands clean and can face ourselves in the mirror, but it would be silly to damn ourselves and miss the taste of forbidden fruit at the same time…
And well, maybe Linux gaming is now a mainstream thing, but open source gaming still has a long road to success in front of it. And Unvanquished just achieved one of those successes.
About artistic data in particular, a page in our wiki summarizes the various licenses used: mainly versions of the Creative Commons Attribution – Sharie Alike (CC By-SA), sometimes more permissive licenses. As for the code, it’s essentially the GPL for the code inherited from id Software and XreaL and the BSD license for the newly written code.
Competing in the gaming market is tough for an independent game
To compete in the gaming market is tough for an independent game, but Unvanquished has some good cards in hand, so to speak.
Unvanquished is really enjoyable to play! Unvanquished is multiplayer-first and will hook you for hours of gaming! With your community in mind, Unvanquished allows you to host your own server without any way for us to disable it. Unvanquished allows you to record your games and to replay them, as a true heir of the demo era.
Unvanquished, thanks to the Dæmon engine, is multiplatform, running equally well on Linux, macOS and Windows while allowing modders to compile their game code once for all platforms.
Unvanquished runs well on a large variety of hardware from the past two decades (we may talk more about that soon).
While some authoring tools may still be a bit rough, there is a completely free ecosystem around Unvanquished and other friendly open source games to create levels, models, textures, sound effects, and to get them properly distributed with efficient formats.
Besides allowing many realtime lights with its tiled renderer, the engine now supports modern materials like physically based shading (PBS/PBR) and relief mapping (more on that soon).
And now Unvanquished has something more, something we are very proud of:
Unvanquished is a free open source game.
Three years of a long road, the true strength of patience
When I started the legal audit of our files after so many years of development, it quickly became clear that the situation was not as good as I wanted, to say the least. Doing that legal audit was the first task I wanted to do for Unvanquished when I became a project head, and, well, it was a long-running task!
First, I discovered we had some files contributed by artists that lacked explicit statements about the license. Whether they forgot to send those, or we forgot to ask them, the result was sadly the same: we had files without a license.
Some contributors were still active; it was easy to reach them and they all gladly gave a free license.
But some were long-past contributors that had then followed other paths to work on other projects. I went in search of them.
I was really impressed to discover how impressive were the jobs they got after contributing to Unvanquished, many of them for prominent actors of the game industry. While we were talking about their past contributions for Unvanquished, I’ve learnt they are now working for big names like Ubisoft, Creative Assembly, NetherRealm and others…
Every person I reached was very kind and gladly gave us the license we needed. If you like stories with a happy ending, you may read my previous blog post named “Story of a tree”, there are many details on that long, patient, committed effort with really unexpected twists…
But for some assets, it was a bit more… complicated. The worst cases came from assets with conflicting license statements from people now unreachable.
For example, we had three musical themes to welcome the player on the first screen. One track was shipped with a file stating it was distributed under a CC By SA 3.0 license for exclusive use on Unvanquished… But the CC By SA licence (Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike) and exclusivity are not compatible. So, sadly and unexpectedly, because of that exclusivity we had for its usage, we had to remove it… Fortunately it was a background track that was only used on the title screen. We still have two of those from other composers, and even without any of them, the gameplay would not have been affected. So we just removed it for now, and we hope to reach the composer one day…
The hardest situation was the one that was just solved. One of our best friends Chris, a very prolific and talented contributor, made awesome models for Unvanquished but mysteriously disappeared in 2017. This was really unexpected and the timing couldn’t have been worse: I had contacted all our contributors at that point, and he was the next on my list. He was among the ones who were still there after all… When I was readying myself to take care of his work, I discovered he disappeared just two weeks before… And to this day, three complete years (and more) have passed!
The problem we faced with those contributions is that our beloved friend Chris always talked about how free and open source his Unvanquished contributions were. When he showcased his work to the face of the world, he was always making the open-sourceness of his work a really important thing, he was very proud of it, and he talked like if that open-sourceness was an important selling point of his work (even if Unvanquished is fully free on both term, gratis and open, you’ll get what I mean). But when we looked at the license files distributed with his artistic contributions, we discovered they were stating a Creative Common license with a non-commercial clause that is widely recognized as non-open source.
To be clear, since Unvanquished is meant to be gratis, this never prevented us to distribute the game and this would have never prevented us to do so in the future, but this was making Unvanquished considered closed source.
The real problem lies in the fact that there is a consensus on certain clauses that allow a given work to be considered free, or on clauses that, on the contrary, prevent it from being so. One of the conditions that is widely recognized and can be taken for granted is “freedom for all uses” , so restricting commercial uses conflicts with this freedom. Some notorious organizations such as the Free Software Foundation or the Open Source Initiative make it clear that this clause is not compatible with the principle of freedom and openness. Maintaining this clause therefore closed the door to some recognition.
This was a really big issue for the Unvanquished project because those assets were not replaceable—they were already the replacements. Also, they were so good that we could not really imagine being able to replace them before at least a decade or two. And we loved them so much—we would not do it, and it would be so unfair to Chris… and any way we wouldn’t have the means to do it. This isn’t something we may even consider.
It was even more sad considering we still haven’t released the awesome laser gun he modeled and textured…
And on September 7, 2020, Chris was back and posted a message in the forum, telling us he reads our blog posts, the ones I wrote, and gave permission to relicense all his work he contributed to Unvanquished under a free open source license. He said:
I wanted to know how things progressed and read the news and will relicense my models, textures and sounds to CC-BY-SA 4.0 this includes the following:
– Unvanquished Turret
– Unvanquished Grenade
– Unvanquished Reactor
– Unvanquished Rocket
– Unvanquished Rocketpod
– Unvanquished Medistat
– Unvanquished Lasgun
– Unvanquished Repeater
Please update my license text files accordingly.
I hope this will help you guys in your effort to gain more players.
This is now done, see this commit and this one. Note: the repeater model is now used for the drill, and the lasgun is not yet mainlined, but the license is already changed accordingly in its feature branch.
So, really, please give warm thanks to Chris and be full of gratitude for not only his awesome work, but also for his delicate attention, his commitment, and his ongoing loyalty for so many years! We knew we would count on you Chris, and you did not disappoint us. We are very pleased to be gratified for your presence and your so awesome and beautiful work!
Unvanquished is the first fully open source and complete game running on Dæmon engine
That’s another huge milestone we must highlight: Unvanquished is the first fully open source and complete game running on the Dæmon engine.
The Dæmon engine is a free and open source game engine tailored for fast-paced games, moddability and extensibility.
The Dæmon game engine gets its lineage from renowned Id Software work and, besides technical enhancements, we focus on collaboration among projects to get rid of the “let’s fork and produce yet another already-dead project” mindset.
If you’re a game developer, the Dæmon engine project welcomes you: we would be very happy to review and merge the features you want to implement, in a way enabling you to use upstream code and get for yourself what we do for ourselves as well! You won’t be alone and we are stronger together as a community!
So, there are already some projects working with the Dæmon engine:
Our very good friends from the Xonotic project have an experimental port of their game on the Dæmon engine (and they improved Dæmon a lot for that purpose), but at this point it is more a proof of concept to run a minimalistic Q1VM on it. While Xonotic is itself a fully and completely free open source game, this port on Dæmon is currently at an early state and all you can do is walk around some maps. So, not yet a complete and playable open source game on Dæmon. One day, maybe? We hope for sure!
The UnrealArena project is currently on a proof of concept state too… they even don’t have yet models… But the concept looks promising and, yet again, that collaboration made Dæmon and its ecosystem better.
The Smokin’Guns game has some plan to port on the engine. But at this point, what materialized was some fixes in the engine to better support their assets and not really more yet.
So, Unvanquished is the first project running on the Dæmon engine to reach both completeness and open-sourceness!
This is a huge milestone for the Dæmon engine!
Parpax map is now free as well
The Parpax map was the last map using a non-commercial clause. Fortunately, its author was easy to reach: Viech is one of the three heads of the project!
Two years ago Viech said to me:
how are things? has chris turned in with a new license?
if you can reach him, tell him I’ll do it if he does
It looks like the blog posts I wrote reached Chris’ heart, so, Viech being a man of his word, the Parpax license was turned into a CC By SA 4.0 as well, see the commit.
What’s left on asset replacement
We still want to replace the sound effects inherited from Tremulous.
Tremulous has been considered free and open source for almost fifteen years already, so using those assets may not give us any trouble on that side. That said, those assets are hard to trace, so we prefer to replace them.
In any case, until they are replaced, those sound effects can’t make Unvanquished less open source than Tremulous.
If you read this and are a sound effect designer and want to put your name on our hall of fame, you’re welcome!
Unvanquished 0.52 is almost there
While we were planning for a release in May, we missed that date, and it would have been a bad time to release when so many people were away from keyboard enjoying holidays after such a lockdown. We used that extra time to polish the game more, for your own pleasure.
Unvanquished is now completely free and open source, and our next release is now right around the corner. Spread the word!
There is so much to say about the incoming release that we will write multiple blog posts leading up to the release to detail the awesome goodness we poured into it. This news is the first, but there is more to come; we are all impatient to share much goodness with you, so stay tuned!
Note: if you discover the Unvanquished game by reading this blog post, welcome! Our previous 0.51.1 release is a bit old but still rocking and can be downloaded there. We encourage you to join servers with the “backport” word in their names to get an experience free of some bugs we discovered in the meantime. Also, if you need help with the game, please get in touch through our chat services or our forum.