Developers can take the engine and use it as they please, without having to pay the creators any money for the licence. This has helped the Spring engine build up a roster of games that will please even the most seasoned RTS fan.
There are also a selection of commercial projects, but it’s the free ones I’ll be focusing on in this article.
Licensed under the GNU GPL, the engine is free to download, use and adapt upon. The development team comprises of community members who have surpassed the project’s initial aims of bringing Total Annihilation into 3D, with support for all the mods and third-party extras the original could handle.
Spring is a desirable platform for developers as it has evolved to support some fairly advanced features and is limited solely by the hardware you have available. Within one arena there is support for up to 30,000 units with 250 players taking part with deformable maps, realistic weapon trajectories and varied units, economy and maps.
In order to play games that make use of the Spring RTS engine, you’ll need a minimum of: 1GHz single core CPU, 512MB of RAM and a graphics card with 64MB of VRAM. The minimum install is 200MB, and this depends on what else you’re after (be it extra maps, units or add-ons).
If you really want to get the most out of the engine then these requirements shoot up to a 2GHz processor, 1GB or more RAM and a 256MB GeForce 6600 or better. Your install directory can also reach several gigabytes if you’re determined to try the lot, so make sure you’ve got space.
For Windows the install process is fairly straightforward. You simply need to download the Spring installer executable, run it and you’ll be able to choose from a selection of games to install as optional components during the install procedure.
You are also able to download maps and mods from a link within the Spring client. This community-made video explains the ins and outs of getting to grips with the Windows setup procedure and the client in general:
For Linux users there is a setup guide to follow, and if you’re using Ubuntu or a package that uses Synaptic then you only need to punch a couple of lines into the console before you’ll be playing.
Note: Linux users will need to add the Spring repository and install (or update) from there to use the latest versions.
Ubuntu users can open Terminal and use:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:spring/ppa sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get upgrade
Some games have their own individual installers, but for most you’ll simply need to place the main game files in your Spring “mods” folder and maps into the “maps” folder.
Whilst many of the games are focused on pure multiplayer mayhem, some have single player campaigns and full support for bots so you can play on your own if you feel like it.
Here’s a selection of four of my favourite Spring derivatives. Some of these are stable and popular titles whereas others show promise and demonstrate what the Spring engine is really capable of. You can download more at SpringFiles, or check out the official Spring games page.
Currently the most popular game utilising the Spring strategy game engine, Balance Annihilation provides players with a very in-depth, tactical and competitive online battlefield. The game is home to many refugees from the original Total Annihilation and new players are encouraged to read this guide before jumping in.
Regarded as a mature and well-developed game, updates now only include minor tweaks as opposed to big upgrades. Tactical options open to each player invariably shape the way each game is played out, with strategies focusing on map control, air superiority and aggression amongst others.
Still under development, the only World War II themed Spring game to date has a keen following thanks to the aspirations of the development team. Eventually the team would like to create four playable sides (Britain, the US, Germany and the USSR) with historically accurate units and attributes.
At present you can play with German and British troops, which is good enough for a very tactical game of toy soldiers. Like many of the other Spring games, 1944 strives for realism so you might benefit from reading the documentation first.
Once known as Complete Annihilation, Zero-K is another dynamic and action packed RTS that promises to provide hassle-free tactical gameplay. Perhaps the most impressive aspect are the hundreds of available units that shape your tactical choices, and the game’s eventual outcome.
Whilst continuing to be a very in-depth game, aspects are simplified like the streamlined economy which requires careful monitoring of resources but little in the way of micromanagement. Zero-K makes for a very balanced and approachable game in an often over-complicated genre. As always, if it’s your first game you’ll probably benefit from.
Completely free and unofficial, this non-Lucas Arts RTS is set in the politically unstable post-Return of the Jedi universe and should keep even the most dedicated Star Wars fans happy.
With more than a hundred units available for either the Rebel Alliance or Galactic Empire, this free community-driven project attempts to provide more units than any game released under the Star Wars guise yet.
Currently in beta, this one’s worth keeping an eye on if you’re a strategy-obsessed fan of the Force.
Whilst many of the games on the Spring strategy game engine are still in need of time, developers and refinement – some are ready for you to play right now. If you are an avid RTS fan, longing for a decent multiplayer effort to latch onto then there’s bound to be something using this engine that ticks the box. Hopefully the Mac version will be stable enough for a proper release soon.
Do RTS games do it for you? Have you got any favourite Spring based games and maps? Let us know in the comments.