Continued from Part 8: Shovelware with a Penguin
After the demise of Loki Software, one of their former employees found himself forced to work behind a cash register for a living. Desperate to get back to porting games, he found the email address of an artist working for the Croatian developer Croteam, creators of the game Serious Sam. Croteam agreed to let him attempt to create a port of the game to Linux, the first of many games to come to the platform thanks to the work of Ryan “icculus” Gordon.
The port of Serious Sam though would in the end never leave the beta stage. Croteam later released the source code to the game in 2016, with Ryan himself returning to craft his own source port, but his original effort languished for years with a number of unfortunate bugs. One of these left the game unbeatable as it prevented the player from inflicting any damage to the final boss. Unbeatable that is with the standard version of the game.
Our friends at Global Star Software released Serious Sam: Limited Edition in 2002, a bizarre budget retail variant of Serious Sam: The First Encounter that only features seven out of the fifteen levels. It also happens to be the only version of the game that I possess on CD-ROM. I initially dismissed the idea of playing Serious Sam as I thought it would be too much for the hardware, but the jewel case insists that the Rage 128 Pro is compatible.
Serious Sam is indeed playable, although it does seem to be held back by my Pentium III 500 Katmai, as changing the graphical settings alone does not have any great impact on performance. To its credit, the Serious Engine scales well on weaker hardware, remaining fluid even as the frame rate sometimes slowed to a bullet time like crawl. The one exception to this is with reflective surfaces, which on Linux stalled the game completely as long as they were in view.
Installation was also far from simple. Ryan released a number of time limited installers you have to use in sequence to get the game to work, starting with beta1a and finishing with beta3. I also had to override the libvorbis.so and libvorbisfile.so libraries in the Bin directory with those from my system in order to have the game launch with working sound and music. From there I increased the audio frequency to 44 kHz and turned off “Detail textures” in the game options.
Beyond that the port works outside of the occasional minor graphical glitch, softlock, or segmentation fault, made all the more forgivable by the fact that the Windows version at one point forced me to power cycle the computer. Linux also holds an advantage by not requiring the CD-ROM to be inserted into the drive in order to play, something demanded even when you select the full installation option on Windows.
Serious Sam: Limited Edition ends upon completing the Dunes level right as you are entering Memphis, kicking you to the High Score table on Windows but just looping the Dunes level again when using the Linux binaries. An interesting cleave point regardless, as it is about there that Serious Sam starts to lose my interest. I really do appreciate the game’s Ancient Egyptian atmosphere, as well as the creative monster designs and world building provided by NETRISCA.
Before long though Serious Sam becomes flanderized. By at least the Oasis level the gunplay narrows to the “horde” shooter formula of holding down the fire button while circle strafing and backstepping, all while opposing a ludicrous amount of enemies, usually in locked arenas or featureless open spaces. With Serious Sam I can accept that not liking that paradigm is missing the point of the game, but it is a far cry from the classic shooters that it claims to imitate.
In fairness Serious Sam: The Second Encounter does alleviate this somewhat by adding more variety and a number quality of life improvements, even if it does double down on the absurdity. It also had a Linux beta crafted by Ryan but the same bugs that leave the first game unbeatable leave the second close to unplayable. At least the source port does now resolve both these issues assuming that you can get it to build.
Going back a step to Global Star Software's 100 Great Linux Games compilation, one of the titles included there dredged up fond memories of a game I spent way too much time with back when I was way too young to have been playing it. It is one of the earliest games made for Linux, with it being the same age that I am, and while the game itself may be wicked, it still deserves a chance to be welcomed back into the fold.
Carrying on in Part 10: For I Have Sinned