The Unknown Horizons strategy game

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Beyond the Horizon

Colonizing new territory, processing raw materials, and trading goods are ingredients for popular strategy games. This genre is served on Linux by the free Unknown Horizons project.

The principles behind the Unknown Horizons game [1] are reminiscent of Ubisoft's popular free "Anno" strategy game series [2], and that's no coincidence, because Unknown Horizons is a clone of this popular series. The Anno games have been extremely popular for many years, but because the manufacturer has studiously ignored Linux, a few fans summarily started work on a clone in 2005. Now, thanks to dedicated developers, it is growing into a worthy competitor.

Tales of Yore

In the first versions of the clone, called "OpenAnno," during the game the player viewed a landscape from above and at an angle, as in the original isometric representation. Just two years later, however, the project ground to a halt. Then, in the spring of 2007, new developers took over the helm and made some drastic decisions. They tried to develop a variant with 3D graphics, in addition to the 2D version, but the developers soon realized they had underestimated the amount of time and effort involved. To simplify development as far as possible, they ditched the existing code from the 2D version and moved to the Flexible Isometric Free Engine, or FIFE for short [3]. FIFE facilitates the process of programming games with isometric graphics. However, shortly after this decision, lack of time again brought the project to a standstill.

All Good Things …

Fortunately, not much time passed before a couple of new enthusiasts adopted the project, and they have managed to sustain development to the present day. The clone project is headed by two project managers with separate responsibilities and it has adopted English as its main language. What was originally a purely German-language project has gained supporters from all over the world. Previously, one non-German speaker from India had helped translate the documentation and discussions with the aid of Google Translate.

The year 2009 saw another major change: To avoid a potential legal dispute with the owners of the "Anno" brand name, the project was renamed "Unknown Horizons." The name change at the same time emphasized that the makers did not want to create just a clone but a separate strategy game in its own right [4].

Unknown Horizons has since become one of the most famous open source strategy games for Linux. The project even took part in the Google Summer of Code 2011 and 2012. During these competitions, students particularly improved the artificial intelligence of the computerized opponents. According to the project homepage, 50 volunteers currently work on Unknown Horizons – a remarkably high number for a game developed solely during the developers' free time.

Getting Started

The current version of Unknown Horizons is still a work in progress in the form of a playable alpha version, as is reflected in the rather odd version numbers comprising the year and a consecutive number. At the time of writing, the latest Unknown Horizons version was 2012.1, released in April 2012.

Some distributions already include the strategy game in their repositories, but often (as in Ubuntu), this is an outdated version. Fortunately, the developers offer prebuilt packages for the major distributions. To install Unknown Horizons with one of these packages, go to the Downloads section of the website, click on Tux, and follow the appropriate instructions for your distribution.

The first time you colonize an island, select Singleplayer in the main menu to open a new Captain's log. Then, make sure Scenario is selected at the top of the left page, select tutorial_en in the map section at the top of the right page, and then press Start game . After a few seconds, you will see a log book that gives you an introduction to the controls and the game sequence.

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