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[Photo of the Author]
by Harald Radke

About the author:

Harry studies computer science at the University of Technology in Aachen, Germany since 1994. He came to Linux in 1995. Since then he plays around with it, always surprised about what a great piece of software it is. He programs a little under X, likes graphics and of course playing games. Other hobbies are: playing board games, reading SciFi, playing guitar (bad!), cooking and practicing Ju-Jutsu.



Game Review - Penguin Command



Penguin Command is a small but quite addictive arcade game, based on the game Missile Command. Unlike its predecessor, Penguin Command comes with nice graphics and music. In this arcticle we will have a look at version 1.4.2 of Penguin Command.



The story of the game is quickly explained: You have to defend your cities against waves of incoming (nuclear) missiles. For this task you have three SAM sites, Surface to Air Missile, one to the left, one in the middle and one to the right of the screen. Six cities are located between the missile launchers. Each level of the game is represented by a wave of incoming missiles, coming from the top of the screen. Some of them are MIRVs (Multiple Independently targetable Reentry Vehicles), in other words, on their way down, they split and suddenly you have to shoot down two instead one target. So far so good, your first problem is that you fight missiles with missiles, that is, every time you fire it takes some time till your missile reaches its destination and detonates there. Thus, you have to calculate a little bit in order to hit a target. To make it a bit easier, your missiles burst into a fireball. So you don't have to hit an incoming missile directly to destroy it. If it flies into the explosion, it is destroyed and produces a fireball itself that might destroy another target in advance.

Besides incoming missiles there are other objects that threaten your cities: satellites moving from one side of the screen to the other, launching missiles. The height these objects fly in and their speed differ. Thus their missiles are quite dangerous. Finally some sort of bomb falls from the top of the screen, as deadly as the missiles. This bomb is bigger than a missiles and falls straight down. However this bomb has to be hit directly in oder to be destroyed, in contrast to the missiles or satellites. Near explosions just moves it a bit, but does not stop it on its way down. For every object shot down you get points, after two waves, the multiplier for those points is increased. Going from wave to wave the game becomes more difficult, incoming missiles are getting faster, more bombs and satellites appear. As you advance in the game, more and more missiles, objects and explosions populate the screen and let you start sweating. Soon you might lose the first cities. Every two waves you get one city back. If one of your launchers has been vaporized, it starts with less ammunition into the next wave. After every wave you get points for the property left (except for the launchers). Needless to say that the game is over as soon as all cities are smoking ruins.

[IMG: Main Menu]
Main Menu

Installation & Start

The game can be downloaded from the Penguin Command homepage. The source tarball is approx. 1.3 MB big. There is also a binary for Debian Linux, size also around 1.3 MB.

X window system
Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL) 1.1.5 or higher
SDL Mixer
The game was compiled and tested with SDL 1.1.7 and SDL Mixer 1.1.0.

Compiling is straight forward:

make install (as root)

After installation the game, data can be found under /usr/local/share/penguin-command but the target directory can be changed by passing the apropriate values to configure (do a ./configure --help for more information).
The game is started by entering penguin-command at the command line.

By default the game starts in fullscreen mode, if you want to play it in a window, pass -f to the command, to disable sound, use -s. The first thing you will see is the main menu. Here you can select the game mode, change settings or view credits and high scores. The game can be played with the mouse only or the mouse together with the keyboard. If you have a three button mouse (who doesn't ??) each button fires a different launcher. With mouse movements you can steer your missile towards the target. Pressing a mouse button starts a missile from the corresponding launcher and lets it explode as soon as it reaches the selected destination.

[IMG: some bad guys]
Some of the bad guys

Normal Game

In this mode the game starts quite easy, the number of incoming missiles and their speed is quite low at the beginning. You have time to get into the game and to try out how things work. After a wave is completed, you get extra points for every city that survived the attack and for every missile you have left. And this is in my opinion the biggest difference between normal and arcade mode: each missile launcher has a limited number of ammunition it can fire. As soon as all missiles have been launched during a wave, the launcher crew turns off the lights and watches how things evolve. If a turret has been hit during an attack, it starts with a smaller amount of missile into the next level.

Speed and number of objects increase steadily from wave to wave. Every two waves, you get back one destroyed city (if you lost any of them before). After the game is over you can enter your name and your score is listed in the hall of fame (if you have been good enough).


Arcade Game

This mode is for people who like action right from the beginning. More missiles come down during a wave, more satellites and bombs keep you busy. Unlike the normal mode you don't have a limited number of missiles, the launchers get new ammunition during a wave. The speed the repositries are refilled heavily depends on the number of cities that are still alive. The more cities you lose the longer it takes to get new ammunition. After a wave has been completed you get points for the cities remaining, but not for the remaining ammo (quite logical). Additionally you get back one of the destroyed cities. As in the normal game mode a destroyed turret starts with less ammo but is refilled at the same speed as the other launchers. Again after the game is over your scoring is added to the high score list, if you did well enough.

[IMG: death of a city]
Death of a city

Graphics, Music and Sound

Incoming missiles mark their way with simple green , yours with red lines. Movement of satellites, falling bombs and your launchers (when targeting by moving the mouse) are animated. If enemy missiles detonate or you shot down a satellite or bomb you get some audio feedback >> "BOOM" << (-:
All objects (except missiles) have a nice 3D look.

As I heard the music the first time it reminded me of the PC demos scene in my early PC days. Those days a lot of young hackers wrote so called demos, selfrunning programs with great graphics and sound effects, demonstrating the power of highly optimized code. I was fascinated to see what people could do with a simple VGA card, a slow CPU and an ordinary soundcard. Compared with these compact pieces of art, which often didn't simply present the result of algorithms but tried to create some kind of story, the commercial PC software did really poor. Anyways, those demos used so called mods for music. Instead of playing MIDI files (which often resulted in horrible beeping as most soundcards used poor synthesizers to emulate instruments), instrument samples were used and manipulated depending on the nodes to be played. As a result you got high quality music (at that time) with relativly small files. And right, taking a look at the data/music subdirectory of Penguin Command you will find *.s3m files next to the WAVs for sound effects. Well, the quality doesn't reach the quality of CDs or MP3s. However, I think it is more than sufficient for background music and the archive size is kept small.

BTW, the demo scene is still quite active these days...for those who are interested the music for Penguin Command was partly composed by Skaven from the Future Crew.

[IMG: Screenshot]


Penguin Command is not one of the big games, with hours of puzzling, thousands of different enemies and weapons, no quests and no white spots on maps to explore. However it is quite entertaining, it is the right thing for taking a break, if you spend the whole day outside or do too much sports (-:
And I have to admit that it can be quite addictive.
The gameplay is easy to learn and the game starts not too hard so you can get into the game and don't quit it frustrated right in the beginning. Graphics are pretty, some sound effects and nice music make playing the game fun. So, if you are tired of playing the 43rd tetris clone, want to have some non-bloody action and need a non-mental challenge, I think you should try out Penguin Command.




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