Building a Retro Linux Gaming Computer – Part 18: Run Away and Join the Circus – GamingOnLinux

Continued from Part 17: The Llama Master
In writing this series I have spent a great deal of time searching eBay for older Linux games to cover, and one night I came across a curious sight. Although being sold for Windows, I found a listing for a physical copy of the free game Circus Linux! as published by Alten8. At first I figured it would just be another keep case in my collection with “Linux” on the cover, but upon inspecting the contents of the disc, it soon became apparent just how cheap this retail release was.
All that Alten8 seems to have done was package the source directory with a Windows binary already built, with the install instructions urging you to “copy and paste the folder CIRCUS from the CD” and then click on the circuslinux.exe file. With the source code included I decided it would be trivial to also build the game for Linux, and in fact the included INSTALL.txt file even tells you how to compile and install the game on Linux with GNU Automake.
You do need the relevant SDL development libraries as packaged by your distribution, and unfortunately Alten8 did seem to strip away some of the game’s documentation files, meaning that the build will fail at first. To get around this I just used the “touch AUTHORS.txt COPYING.txt CHANGES.txt README-SDL.txt” command to create blank placeholders, but you really are just better off grabbing the source code yourself online apart from the novelty.
Circus Linux! itself is a remake of the older Circus Atari, which was itself a home console version of the even older Circus arcade cabinet by Taito. Circus was a block breaker game inspired by Breakout, with the main change being that the game is now simulating a teeterboard act, with the blocks becoming balloons and your paddle a seesaw. This does have a marked difference on the gameplay, as you need to ensure your clown lands on the correct end of the teeterboard.
Circus Linux! goes all in on the theme in a way that the original Atari version never could, sporting bright colourful animated graphics and fun upbeat music and sound effects, showing off the power of the then still fresh Simple DirectMedia Layer. One aggravation is that the mouse can leave the window when not playing full screen, but the game does at least support a number of screen modes, including a lower graphics setting for less powerful computers.
Needless to say even on full the game did not cause my Pentium III 500 Mhz to break a sweat, but I appreciate the option. Beyond this the game features a number of gameplay modifiers: “Barriers” which can block your shots, “Bouncy Balloons” that can cause the clown to careen back down on contact, and “Clear All” that demands every balloon be popped on a stage before proceeding to the next screen.
Like most arcade games Circus Linux! is a test of both your dexterity and endurance, challenging you to hold on to your lives for as long as possible while racking up the highest possible score. The game also has support for local hot seat multiplayer, either in a cooperative mode where you both get the chance to help one another pop balloons, or an adversarial mode where you compete to earn the highest possible score. 
Perhaps more compelling than Circus Linux! on its own is the legacy of its creator Bill Kendrick and his development house New Breed Software, a prolific figure in the free and open source gaming scene. He is most famous for starting work on the platformer SuperTux and crafting the drawing program Tux Paint, helping to popularize Tux as a gaming icon with others in the Tux4Kids initiative, all alongside the work of people like Steve Baker and Ingo Ruhnke.
Bill Kendrick has also created a number of other arcade conversions, edutainment, and experimental software toys which he ports to the widest possible range of platforms, all of which can still be found on the New Breed Software website. Five of them, X-Bomber, Mad Bomber, 3D Pong, ICBM3D, and Gem Drop X, were included on 100 Great Linux Games. He even made a chat bot called Virtual Kendrick, inspired by a comment that he should port himself to the Zaurus handheld.
I have avoided it long enough, but I am feeling the itch to play a first person shooter again. As has already been made clear Linux has never had a shortage of them, but some are a lot harder to find today than others. The next game I am to cover is one of the rarest of them all, due to its limited physical distribution, and an attachment to a Belgian company now more known for maintaining an operating system than porting games.
Carrying on in Part 19: Sinsational 
Return to Part 1: Dumpster Diving


Note that any programming tips and code writing requires some knowledge of computer programming. Please, be careful if you do not know what you are doing…

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