I’ve been interested in art since I can remember, the marriage of computers and art has always fascinated me. I would spend math classes (sorry Mr. D) fiddling around with my calculator, drawing pixel art and saving them in the storage on my calculator. I would hack up BASIC programs or marvel at ASM based games and sub-shells. Later these activities moved over to computers, websites, software, the internet and open-source video games, such as Nexuiz or Xonotic. My brain has always enjoyed trying to pull the worlds of art and science together but it wasn’t always viewing the two alike.
Originally my feelings about art were 2 dimensional, as I’d expect many to view it. It’s easy for art to be a fleeting glimpse. You see the final product, the lines of the creation process are blurred, the definitions of “source” gets lost.
When I first started contributing 2d art to Nexuiz, I was submitting PSD files. I didn’t realize at the time but I was deterring other artists who were without Photoshop the ability to properly edit the file because of some advanced settings in the file that could not be read by open-source software. This hindered others who were trying to expand on my work or create derivative works.
Now that isn’t a completely fair comparison because source is still being provided, only limited to a number of people. However, the reason I bring it up is because it was the beginning of a turning point for me. As I delved more into Linux and the world of Free Open-Source Software (FOSS), I was realizing how important source is to a community. How source code teaches, how knowledge of techniques are passed on. My involvement with Nexuiz and other (at the time) open-source projects, are what kept this message strong in the back of my head.
On Art in Video Games
Source of some art is almost impossible. A hand draw sketch for example, in the digital world however, things are different and art source becomes a very powerful teaching tool. Often, for the creation of maps for these games is not the most straight forward process. The mapping software and map entities require some critical thinking. The most common way to learn to add a feature to your map if you don’t know how, is to identify a map with the feature you’d like to implement, open its .map source file and study how it was done.
The reason this all came up for me today was because of a popular open-source ioquake-based game called Warsow. The code is licensed under GPL and the art has a proprietary, closed-source license. As a core member of the Xonotic team, we faced the decision of how to license Xonotic when we forked from Nexuiz. This decision was not as easy as you’d think because of ‘techniical’ license issues. The code must be GPL because of its lineage, GPL is not so keen on art. Creative Commons is an art license, not so keen on code. They seem like they’d be a good merger but from what I understood they could cause issues for distribution. We’d have to distribute the code and art as separate packages. In the end we licensed everything under GPL to make things easier for ourselves.
I thought Warsow was facing the same problem and today they had a developer Q & A, I decided to ask about this, pardon my bias phrasing.
[-z-] asked: do you think distributing warsow as one package is legal under the licensing terms?
crizis answers: Yes, it is. Even Richard Stallman himself blessed way of having open engine and restricted artwork. All code in Warsow is open source, artwork is not.
I found this interesting and with some conversation with with fellow Xonoticans, I came to learn how Richard Stallman, the founder of free software, feels about art in FOSS and I couldn’t disagree more. How is requiring the source for compiled programs any different than requiring the source for art?
Expanding On My Feelings
In my opinion, non-free art in free software is not in good spirit, it does not help others learn and it can hurt the growth of the game. The distinction between art and code gets further blurred when you see how interactive the artwork is.
I can argue that maps are code. They are a meta file, you can open them up in your text editor and edit them, they are filled with coordinates of brushes and entities, that hold keys with settings for the objects references to textures and can even contain some mild programming. Shader files are used to enhance textures and brushes. It’s not conventional programming, it’s closer to “virtual circuitry” as MrBougo called it.
This information is lost if source is not provided. Mappers have two choices on how to de-construct such features. Reverse engineer or decompile the map. The former likely being a waste of someone’s time and the later being an example of two wrongs not making it right.
I do not mean this as an attack on Warsow, it was only what re-lit my interest in the topic and the views I found by RMS were shocking. I think this should be a topic for discussion because in my eyes, art should fall under a similar license as code in FOSS, especially in software such as a video game where media is more advanced and interactive.