Building a Retro Linux Gaming PC – Part 26: Coming to you live

Return to Part 1: Dumpster Diving

Continued from Part 25: Quantum Axcess

I’ve referred a number of times now to some of my experiences with Knoppix, which prompted me to see if I could still find the original CD-R I was using at the time. It turns out that it was Knoppix 3.4 released in May 2004 that obsessed me as a child, and gave me some of my earliest steps into a larger world. Not only that, but the CD-R it was burned on is still readable even after all these years. Considering the volatility of such media, this surprised me.

Named after its creator Klaus Knopper from Germany, Knoppix is ​​a derivative of Debian that pioneered the modern Linux live media experience at the turn of the millennium. While the honor of being the first Linux live CD goes to Yggdrasil almost a full decade earlier, it was Knoppix that really showed how powerful and efficient Linux from a CD could be to the masses. In fact, anything that Knoppix manages can best be described as a minor miracle.

When using the system memory using a RAM drive, the fact that Knoppix doesn’t even budge on my paltry 512MB of RAM is impressive enough. In addition to this feat, most of my hardware was detected and configured without the need for any questions from me. The only exception to this was the DRI module for my Rage 128 Pro graphics card which didn’t load by default, but this was easily fixed by passing the “knoppix xmodule=r128” boot option during boot.

Lack of disk space forced me to be selective when installing Red Hat Linux 7.3 on my hard drive, meaning I stuck only to the default Gnome 1.4 desktop environment and the applications therein. As such, getting reacquainted with KDE 3 turned out to be a treat. Included here are versions of KAtomic, KAsteroids, KBattleship, KBounce, KMahjong, KReversiand KSokoban. It’s also the fun, if sometimes irrelevant Potato man software toy.

Alongside the bundled KDE games there were some familiar faces. Included on the CD was Penguin’s ace card game suite which was also featured in 100 Great Linux Gamesand I was finally able to play and win the final 1.0.0 version of the Frozen bubble who refused to build for me on Red Hat Linux. Level 70 proved its mettle once again, although I took longer to tackle the final level of the game this time. Maybe level 70 should be moved to be the penultimate level instead.

Another favorite included in Knoppix 3.4 is iMazea client/server pseudo-3D deathmatch game inspired by MIDI Labyrinth for Atari ST. Alongside multiplayer, iMaze even sports support for computerized robots called ninjas through the use of a dedicated application, which continues to show that even smiley faces can be terrifying. There’s just something uncanny about their saccharine faces stalking the primitive landscape on one level, even as they cling to the edges.

Other games collected on the disc include GNU Chess, gTans, Netris, XBattle, XBoard, XBoing II, XGalaga, XKoulesand XStax. Also present is Falcon’s Eye, which runs about as well as I remember it doing. In a similar boat is Chromium BSU which produced a black screen on launch. Obviously, some games are better suited to running off a live CD than others. Riddle meanwhile gave me I/0 errors, but maybe that’s just the CD-R showing its age in the end.

After getting 3D acceleration working, I decided to do my usual OpenGL test by loading Quake III Arena from the hard drive, which launched without complaint. However, I encountered the same graphical errors with shadows and marks on walls that I had experienced with Red Hat Linux 9, undoubtedly demonstrating that it was a regression introduced in the upstream driver. Beyond this Quake III Arena ran beautifully from Knoppix.

This qualified success made me wonder if I could finally play the ultimate 2005 release of Cube, which actually also started just fine. No graphical glitches were evident, although performance did seem to suffer compared to before Cube release I had played. Whether this was due to the increased graphical demands of the latest version of the game, or just the fact that I was running it from a live environment, I’m not sure.

While my main interest in playing with Knoppix was nostalgia, having a later Linux distribution on hand with support for applications on the other side of the glibc 2.3 boundary can be useful. This is far from the only compatibility issue that has frustrated my attempts to get certain games to work in the past, but after dismissing the possibility of getting one of them to work, I suddenly had a major breakthrough.

Continued in Part 27: Lost Souls

Return to Part 1: Dumpster Diving

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