We do often include affiliate links to earn us some pennies. See more here.

Building a Retro Linux Gaming Computer - Part 18: Run Away and Join the Circus

By - | Views: 27,697

Return to Part 1: Dumpster Diving

Continued from Part 17: The Llama Master

In writing this series I have spent a great deal of time searching eBay for older Linux games to cover, and one night I came across a curious sight. Although being sold for Windows, I found a listing for a physical copy of the free game Circus Linux! as published by Alten8. At first I figured it would just be another keep case in my collection with "Linux" on the cover, but upon inspecting the contents of the disc, it soon became apparent just how cheap this retail release was.

All that Alten8 seems to have done was package the source directory with a Windows binary already built, with the install instructions urging you to "copy and paste the folder CIRCUS from the CD" and then click on the circuslinux.exe file. With the source code included I decided it would be trivial to also build the game for Linux, and in fact the included INSTALL.txt file even tells you how to compile and install the game on Linux with GNU Automake.

You do need the relevant SDL development libraries as packaged by your distribution, and unfortunately Alten8 stripped away some of the game's documentation files, meaning that the build will fail at first. To get around this I just used the "touch AUTHORS.txt COPYING.txt CHANGES.txt README-SDL.txt" command to create blank placeholders, but you really are just better off grabbing the source code yourself online apart from the novelty.

Circus Linux! itself is a remake of the older Circus Atari, which was itself a home console version of the even older Circus arcade cabinet by Taito. Circus was a block breaker game inspired by Breakout, with the main change being that the game is now simulating a teeterboard act, with the blocks becoming balloons and your paddle a seesaw. This does have a marked difference on the gameplay, as you need to ensure your clown lands on the correct end of the teeterboard.

Circus Linux! goes all in on the theme in a way that the original Atari version never could, sporting bright colourful animated graphics and fun upbeat music and sound effects, showing off the power of the then still fresh Simple DirectMedia Layer. One aggravation is that the mouse can leave the window when not playing full screen, but the game does at least support a number of screen modes, including a lower graphics setting for less powerful computers.


Needless to say even on full the game did not cause my Pentium III 500 Mhz to break a sweat, but I appreciate the option. Beyond this the game features a number of gameplay modifiers: "Barriers" which can block your shots, "Bouncy Balloons" that can cause the clown to careen back down on contact, and "Clear All" that demands every balloon be popped on a stage before proceeding to the next screen.

Like most arcade games Circus Linux! is a test of both your dexterity and endurance, challenging you to hold on to your lives for as long as possible while racking up the highest possible score. The game also has support for local hot seat multiplayer, either in a cooperative mode where you both get the chance to help one another pop balloons, or an adversarial mode where you compete to earn the highest possible score. 

Perhaps more compelling than Circus Linux! on its own is the legacy of its creator Bill Kendrick and his development house New Breed Software, a prolific figure in the free and open source gaming scene. He is most famous for starting work on the platformer SuperTux and crafting the drawing program Tux Paint, helping to popularize Tux as a gaming icon with others in the Tux4Kids initiative, all alongside the work of people like Steve Baker and Ingo Ruhnke.

Bill Kendrick has also created a number of other arcade conversions, edutainment, and experimental software toys which he ports to the widest possible range of platforms, all of which can still be found on the New Breed Software website. Five of them, X-Bomber, Mad Bomber, 3D Pong, ICBM3D, and Gem Drop X, were included on 100 Great Linux Games. He even made a chat bot called Virtual Kendrick, inspired by a comment that he should port himself to the Zaurus handheld.

I have avoided it long enough, but I am feeling the itch to play a first person shooter again. As has already been made clear Linux has never had a shortage of them, but some are a lot harder to find today than others. The next game I am to cover is one of the rarest of them all, due to its limited physical distribution, and an attachment to a Belgian company now more known for maintaining an operating system than porting games.

Carrying on in Part 19: SiNsational 

Return to Part 1: Dumpster Diving

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
About the author -
author picture
Hamish Paul Wilson is a free software developer, game critic, amateur writer, cattle rancher, shepherd, and beekeeper living in rural Alberta, Canada. He is an advocate of both DRM free native Linux gaming and the free software movement alongside his other causes, and further information can be found at his icculus.org homepage where he lists everything he is currently involved in: http://icculus.org/~hamish
See more from me
The comments on this article are closed.
Page: 1/2»
  Go to:

Hamish Sep 12, 2022
The Circus Linux! website can be found here:

A Linux Journal article that covers Circus Linux! by Marcel Gagné can be read here:

And Bill Kendrick's personal webpage can be found here:

Last edited by Hamish on 3 March 2023 at 3:48 am UTC
Pengling Sep 12, 2022
View PC info
  • Supporter
Well well, X-Bomber looks right up my alley. Thanks for that!

Anyway, another great installment as always! Was it commonplace for budget CD-ROM releases like this to have a Windows binary and then also include the source-code because they're obliged to and for the sake of everyone else? I've actually never seen that before.
Hamish Sep 12, 2022
Quoting: PenglingWas it commonplace for budget CD-ROM releases like this to have a Windows binary and then also include the source-code because they're obliged to and for the sake of everyone else? I've actually never seen that before.
I really do think it is just a function of how cheap this retail release was, with it only being a happy accident that it made it more GNU GPL compliant. That said, the back of the keep case says "Any unauthorized copying, editing ... of this PC CDROM, or any part thereof, is strictly prohibited" which does not exactly seem right now does it?

Quoting: LightkeyDon't remember why but I somehow got two different copies of that anime shooter. One in cardboard box and one in DVD case, so they had at least two print runs.
It is not actually the Anime inspired one I am covering, it is the one that inspired an Anime.

I am of course very jealous of you having two copies of it.
Grogan Sep 13, 2022
View PC info
  • Supporter Plus
I still have old SDL 1.2 libraries (pry them from my stiff, dead fingers) but I don't have .mod file support. I guess that I need to recompile SDL_mixer with libmikmod, which I've never needed for anything before. (This isn't a distro on this box, it's all stuff maintained by hand)

I got the game to compile with a few Makefile edits though. Some -I and -L to find my X11 (I don't keep it in /usr) and also a blank macro definition. Either define the variable TARGET_DEF or remove -D$(TARGET_DEF) from the command line (They are using CFLAGS for that). It shouldn't be too hard to build on any system new or old.

It should run when I fix up my SDL_mixer :-)

P.S. Yep, cool. Amusing little game, my sis will love this.

Last edited by Grogan on 13 September 2022 at 12:50 am UTC
fabertawe Sep 13, 2022
Excellent series of both entertaining and educational articles! I came to Linux late (2006 - I was using RISCOS for years), so I find this stuff very interesting, thanks.
MiZoG Sep 13, 2022
QuoteExcellent series

Yeah, indeed. Hamish=Must-read.
Hamish Sep 13, 2022
Cheers everyone for the kind words.
furaxhornyx Sep 14, 2022
View PC info
  • Supporter Plus
I remember that game being a mini-game in Billy 2 on Amstrad CPC
Expalphalog Sep 15, 2022
I stripped my grandfather's old Dell and turned it into a gaming computer for my daughter when she was 4. It had Circus Linux, Super Tux, and a bunch of old point n' clicks like the Pajama Sams and Putt Putts. She never really got into it.
Hamish Feb 18, 2023
Quoting: PenglingWell well, X-Bomber looks right up my alley. Thanks for that!
Just stumbled across another game going by the name XBomber but was also ported to SDL:

Just to keep things nice and confusing.
While you're here, please consider supporting GamingOnLinux on:

Reward Tiers: Patreon. Plain Donations: PayPal.

This ensures all of our main content remains totally free for everyone! Patreon supporters can also remove all adverts and sponsors! Supporting us helps bring good, fresh content. Without your continued support, we simply could not continue!

You can find even more ways to support us on this dedicated page any time. If you already are, thank you!
The comments on this article are closed.