According to project developer Aviv Sharon, the alpha version of the game differs from earlier snapshots, like those we've covered in the past, in that the most recent release is generally feature-complete and "consists of everything you'd need for a playable game: Maps, units and all the actions they need to know how to do from movement to attacks, resources and ways to gather them, constructing and destroying buildings, etc."
Here's a look at the current state of the game, courtesy of the developers:
Of course, being "playable" doesn't imply that the game is close to being totally complete. Although it is now possible to play a full game against human players, victory conditions have yet to be implemented, meaning there's currently no official way to win. In addition, although units are now smart enough to auto-attack enemies, AI for computer opponents is still in development.
Launchpad PPAWhile the feature-complete status of the game marks a major milestone for the nine-year-old project, perhaps even more significant, at least for Ubuntu users, is the release of an official PPA on Launchpad hosting installation packages.
Previously, the only way to install the game was to compile from source or use sorely outdated packages from third-party sites. Now, however, installation on Ubuntu is as simple as three commands (or their equivalent using the GUI):
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:wfg/0ad
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install 0ad
Distribution-specific instructions are also available for other versions of Linux, and a Windows installer can be downloaded from the project website.
Making the game easy to install should do a great deal to make it more popular within the Linux community, even in its current unfinished state. Compiling from source is not for the faint-of-heart, but with a PPA available, 0 A.D. will be much more accessible to people who aren't hardcore geeks and/or don't have a couple hours to spend building the binaries.
Future PlansWhen can we expect a totally complete game? Sharon says 2011 or 2012, but cautions, "No promises here....If things remain at this pace or faster, I think that is realistic, but we do not want to overpromise."
For the time being, developers remain focused on implementing victory conditions and the computer AI. On the latter front in particular, the project is looking for assistance, and Sharon points out that the game presents fertile ground for programmers--including students and academics--interested in AI development and research or in experimenting with new AI techniques. If you fit that profile, you're encouraged to become a contributor.
Why It MattersWhether you're a programmer or gamer--of even if you don't play games at all--0 A.D. represents something vitally important for the Ubuntu and Linux communities.
In many senses, gaming represents the final frontier for desktop Linux: Free software has proven itself competitive in all other major computing niches, from office productivity to video editing, but the number of commercial-quality games available for Linux can be counted on one finger.
With its incredible art and intelligent gameplay, however, 0 A.D. stands poised to change all that, by demonstrating that an open-source project powered by volunteers can produce a modern, cross-platform game on par with the expensive Windows-only packages developed by commercial houses.