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10 Great Open Source Titles for Game Design Education

If there’s one thing that open source has taught us, it’s that innovation in game design is best achieved through free collaboration. It has also proven – time and time again – that one of the best methods of learning game design is by getting your hands dirty and playing with the code underlying a good game.image00

When it comes to game design education, learning by doing is a far better way of advancing your knowledge than by studying it in a classroom (although some institutions like the NYFA successfully combine the two approaches.) But before you get started, you need to find yourself some source material…

The following is a selection of great games to get you started, all of which being open source. We’ve tried to keep the list as varied as possible (in terms of genre and era) since you’ll never learn everything from just one game, but even if you don’t use them for educational purposes, they’re all superb games simply from a player’s perspective.

Links to download pages are provided (click the game title), but note that while we’re 99% certain they’re safe, we cannot be held responsible for content found on third party sites. Just a formality, you understand.

Lastly, all games offered on a GPL license, so knock yourself out!

VDrift (2011)

Using the Vamos physics engine, VDrift is a very slick drift-style racing game with a hell of a lot of content. The graphics are a little… well, rough around the edges, but it drives like a dream. Works on all major operating systems, including FreeBSD.

Pingus (1998)

Lemmings was one of the earliest games to feature Angry Birds-syndrome – that is, the insatiable urge to just have one more go.


Pingus was perhaps even better, given that it preserved the right level of frustration in the challenge but with way nicer graphics (and a less irritating soundtrack). If you’re new to game design, it’s a great title to start tinkering around with.

Secret Maryo Chronicles (2003)

While we’re on the subject of platformers, it’d be remiss of us not to tip a nod to Secret Maryo Chronicles. Just one letter shy of a lawsuit, it’s a title which probably needs no introduction and does what it says on the tin – like Pingus, it’s also a great starting point for beginners looking to get into OpenGL coding.

FlightGear (1997)

There have been many attempts at creating a realistic flight experience over the years. The majority have been awful, but FlightGear has stood the test of time and while a few have since surpassed it, none have yet managed to achieve the level of support and such a vibrant dev community as FlightGear has.

PlaneShift (2000)

Although the name suggests otherwise, this one has nothing to do with flight sims. Rather, it’s a 3D online MMORMP… and yes, they did exist way back in the pre-WoW days!


Despite showing its years, PlaneShift is still a hugely playable game and development interest has never waned. Dive straight on into the community if you’re at all interested in RPG design, since the community behind PlaneShift are exceptionally friendly and welcoming.

Advance Strategic Command (1999)

ASC is an open source clone you might recognize from the work which inspired it, namely the brilliant Battle Isle series. In fact, it’s arguably better than the original since many of the AI flaws and graphical bugs have since been ironed out.

OpenRelativity 2013

Looking for something beyond open source game clones? Try bending the real-world laws of physics.

The guys at MIT released a bizarre conceptual game last year called ‘A Slower Speed of Light’. There wasn’t much to it – the player collected orbs on a flat 3D plane, reducing the theoretical limit to C. It’s when the speed of light reduces to human walking speed that things get really bizarre.


The toolkit behind it – OpenRelativity – has now been released. Just don’t ask us how on earth to use it.

Adventure (1976)

Presented here more as an item of cultural interest rather than something you should rush out and play.

That said, it’s one of the most memorable text-based adventures ever created and going back to the very roots of game design never hurts. Officially named Colossal Cave Adventure, it’ll always be a part of gaming lore no matter how outdated it looks.

While the original Command & Conquer is now freeware, it’s not yet open source. OpenRA, however, is… and it’s a pretty faithful recreation of the original.

Minetest (2010)

Given that Minecraft has captured the imagination of millions of gamers (both old-timers and new), it’s only fitting to close off on an infinite block world game.


There are probably quite a few open source Minecraft clones out there, but at the time of writing, this is the one to check out if you’re keen to peek behind the curtain of endless cube sandboxes. It was also the first on the scene following Minecraft’s success, so has had plenty of time to mature.

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