Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I really, really tried to review Boson. I spent an entire day with it. Not playing it, mind you. I tried doing that, but couldn't figure it out. I spent an entire day alternating between playing it for a while and getting frustrated and annoyed, and looking for instructions on the internet.

Gaming in Linux had always tended to be a painful process; the only surefire way to make something work was to download it, extract, find a guide written by someone using the exact same distro as yourself, modify the code according to their instructions, and compile it. Ubuntu and other distros that offer the same sorts of package-managemnt promise to change all that. However, it ain't there yet.

Boson introduced a new level of frustration: I couldn't get the documentation to compile. No, I'm not kidding, and no, I'm not being metaphorical. The documentation needs to be compiled. But let me start from the beginning...

Upon opening the game, everything seemed to be going fine. It started, at least. I loaded a campaign - the first mission in the default campaign; if you want to play a campaign, you just play a number of missions in a row - and there my troubles began. Sometimes, clicking on a unit does nothing. Sometimes clicking on a unit selects the unit. I have no idea what causes it to be ineffectual, but it also affect dragging to select multiple units. Sometimes it just doesn't do anything.

None of the buttons are labeled, none of them have those handy little pop-up descriptions if you mouse-over them and - as installed in Ubuntu by the package manager - nowhere is there any documentation. That I could find. It may be there, but it's buried as hell, and not findable via searching.

Anyways, you can imagine my distress. I was finding it very difficult to play the game, since I couldn't do anything consistently or intentionally. I believe I eventually figured out which of the little icons meant 'move' and which meant 'attack', but with only four choices, that wasn't as challenging as it might have been. Cut to the 'HQ' building. As is typical in RTS games of this type, your headquarters allows you build and place other types of buildings. Alright.

Only the types of buildings it can produce are not labeled, and there is - as I mentioned - no manual, so the only way to determine what each building is is to build it. There are at least a dozen possible buildings, so this was time-consuming. I gave it up when, upon building a barracks, I couldn't figure out how to use the barracks to create troops. Fine, maybe it does something else, but it didn't seem to do anything, and I sure as hell wasn't going to keep building buildings that have no effable purpose.

So that was the frustration that made me determined to find some sort of documentation, no matter how obtuse or inadequate, that would let me get a handle on what exactly the game was doing. I had already checked the usual suspects - my hard drive, the website, the SourceForge page for the game - to no avail. Okay, then. I re-examined the website, and noted that the link which was called 'FAQ' and was dead (the only link on the page that was dead, and the only link to a different server) actually had 'handbook' in the directory tree it linked to.

This led me to believe that an instruction-book of sorts did actually exist, somewhere. Searches for 'Boson handbook' via Google got me nada, however. The closest I came were old forum postings complaining that an earlier link to the handbook had gone dead. Obviously, the internet was not going to help; there hadn't been any news updates since '06, so the developers had probably just not noticed that their handbook was no longer being hosted.

I did a more exhaustive search of my hard drive, now that I knew I was looking for a 'handbook' but still came up with nothing. So I downloaded the game's data files (you know, that had already been installed by Ubuntu, and that I shouldn't need?). The file containing the binaries was useless, but the actual game-data file contained a directory called 'Docs' - EUREKA!

So I extracted it, and navigated there, only to find that it contained a bunch of .wml files which didn't actually help me. The 'README' informed me that it utilized .wml files, and linked me to the website for the WML language or whatever (it's for dynamically creating HTML files, apparently). Opening up Synaptic, I searched for WML and found the software suite. After it installed, I was able to get the executable text-file 'make_html_files' to run. It ran.

Neat, there was an HTML file in the directory now. I opened it up... it was a manual!!!! I read through the introduction, so excited. I clicked on the first entry of the second section, entitled 'In the game' and... got a file-not found error. I tried running the script again. It actually mentioned each section of the handbook as it assembled it, but when it finished running, there were no HTML files; all it created was the initial one, and it was supposed to create one in each of the subdirectories. Possible more than one, but at least one, I'm sure.

So I gave up. When you can't even get the documentation to compile, you're just S.O.L. - someone else can review the game, if and when they fix the documentation. Or the game. As near as I can tell, the game is broken, but I can assert that the documentation is broken. It don't work. At least not on my machine. Best of luck to you - it looks like a Command n' Conquer clone, and the button that says 'full screen' doesn't actually make it full screen. That is all the reviewing I can give it.

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