0 A.D., the open-source RTS game that could radically alter the gaming scene on Ubuntu when it's completed, recently reached another milestone with its third pre-alpha release.  Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it's playable yet in any meaningful sense. But it has come a long way since we last checked in with the project in March 2010, so here are some updates.

When we spoke last spring with project leader Erik Johannson, 0 A.D. was in a period of transition.  Its developers were testing new strategies for attracting programming help and other assistance for the project, which has been active since 2001 and had been in a bit of a stall.

Fast-forward to the present and several things have changed.  For starters, anyone is now able to contribute code without requiring pre-approval, which should speed up development.  In addition, the developers have begun releasing periodic snapshots of their code so that users can test the game without having to use subversion.

While there are not yet any official, up-to-date binaries available for Linux (binaries are available for Windows, and older third-party packages exist for some Linux distributions, including Ubuntu), the build instructions for Linux have also been cleaned up, making it easier to build the game without being a Linux expert.

Pre-Alpha 3 Release

Since I hadn't tested 0 A.D. in a while, I downloaded the pre-alpha 3 snapshot of the game, which was released on July 11.  In contrast to my earlier experiences trying to build the application, compiling was very straight-forward and uneventful.  In addition, judging by the compiler output, the code has been cleaned up a lot in recent months; I saw many fewer warnings dumped to the terminal while the binaries were building.

Running the game was also pleasantly uneventful: it started without a problem, and I was able to launch a single-player game with a variety of different maps to choose from.

Here's a look at the main screen and the new-game menu.  Much of the game interface was recently redesigned, and the improvements are clear.

0 A.D. main screen

0 A.D. new game

To my surprise, I was even able to play the game at acceptable speed once I disabled shadows.  Previously, it had never come close to working on my Intel 945G graphics card, but it was actually quite speedy and I was able to put my little Romans happily to work (so far, all of the civilian workers appear to be female, which seems just a little politically incorrect, but I presume this will sorted out with time).

0 A.D. working

I could even attack the computer player.  The AI has apparently yet to be implemented, however, because the computer didn't fight back, or do anything at all actually:

Attacking the computer

Another notable change evident in this pre-alpha release is support for multiplayer games, a major step forward.  I don't have any friends as cool as me to test this feature with, but the developers report having launched an international match with no problems.  Who needs AI when you have the Internet?

All in all, the game is shaping up impressively.  The art is great, the gameplay looks promising and the commitment to historical accuracy is always a big plus from my perspective.  I'm very excited to continue following development and looking forward to the first fully playable release.