I’ve been playing quite a lot of games lately.

First, and repeatedly, is David Shute’s Small Worlds, his entry into the Jayisgames Casual Gameplay Design Competition 6 (found via MeFi, like most good things). Pixelly graphics, moody music, and a simple, pure gameplay mechanic closely following the ‘Exploration’ theme of the competition. It’s short but sweet, and maybe not infinitely so, but certainly replayable. There are very few games I have completed several times just because I wanted to.

The music is credited to Kevin MacLeod, who has an extremely interesting site at Incompetech.com. Incompetech hosts the Royalty Free Music Library, a large library of Creative Commons licensed royalty free music composed by MacLeod and arranged by genre and mood, intended for use in games and film. But it also hosts a large collection of free online graph paper and other speciality papers including blank sheet music, hexagonal graph paper, storyboard blanks for film and the like, downloadable as PDF in a wide range of user-defined and tweakable formats. Possibly not as comprehensive on the sheet music front as Blanksheetmusic.net is, but certainly worth knowing about.

Not everyone on MeFi liked Small Worlds, and one poster pointed out that in their opinion it wasn’t a patch on Cave Story, which I’d never heard of. Cave Story is another independent pixellated graphics 2d platformer but is huge where Small Worlds is tiny, and took Japanese coder / designer Pixel over five years to complete. The sites just linked to is are a fan site and Wikipedia entry - how many independent games are so good they have those - and versions of the game are available for all major platforms.

So I downloaded the Linux version - excited enough to play it that I forgave the download for being binary not source - and bam. It attempted to go fullscreen, failed, then hung X so badly I had to ssh in from next door to kill it. Bummer. Really wanted to play that.

The problem looked like it was the config file, which - as one of the two text documents included with the download explains - is in a weird binary format and can only be edited on Linux using the original Windows config editor through Wine. My system is old and slow and I don’t bother with Wine. I was stuck. It was late. I was tired. I really didn’t want to sit and write a native Linux config file editor for the thing. Excuses excuses. Meanwhile the Linux port has been out for two years or so, so why has no-one else written a native Linux config file editor?

While trawling Linux gamer forums trying to find a fix for this I got sidetracked and rediscovered David Olofson’s excellent Kobo Deluxe, which I last played about five years ago on a previous incarnation of my attempts to run a home Linux system and then lost during one of many botched upgrades. Not everyone likes games that involve flying 2d spaceships around shooting things - it’s a close relative of the ‘bullet hell’ genre - but sometimes there is nothing else I want to do in the world. There’s something oddly calming about flying around shooting abstract alien shapes, something oddly meditative.

All at once. I remembered the existence of hex editors, programs to edit binary files directly. Turn the byte at offset 108 from 0 to 1 (run in a window, not fullscreen), the byte at offset 112 from 1 to 0 (I have no gamepad) and try Cave Story again.

Runs like a dream. Quite literally. A great great game.