Open Source Game Consoles

by Bill Kendrick (bill at

This is a copy of Bill Kendrick's article about Indrema.

Where Do I Begin?

I became acquainted with the Indrema project last November, around the
time they were opening their developer's network.  To my friends, I describe
it simply as: "just like an X-Box, but it runs Linux."  Of course, almost
all of my friends are like me, and use Linux on a regular basis.  At the
least, most people I know are fairly familiar with what Linux is, so they
have a pretty good idea as to what my inadequate definition actually implies.

However, my short description doesn't do the Indrema justice.  It's much
more than what the X-Box is.  A more precise description would include
"plus a DVD player, a digital TV recorder, an MP3 player, and a web browser."
Even still, that only scratches the surface of what the Indrema is all about!

Founded in early 2000 by CEO John Gildred, the Indrema company has been
developing an inexpensive gaming and entertainment system based on a
combination of the Open Source "Linux" operating system ("it's not just
for servers any more!") and the standard "x86"-CPU architecture that most
desktop PCs use.

$300 Supercomputer, Anyone?

The first system scheduled to come out of Indrema's doors is dubbed the
"L600."  Originally, it was going to use a 600MHz processor, but that's
been boosted to 750MHz.  (AMD brand, by the way.)  It will also boast
64MB of DDRAM, a 10GB hard disk, a 100Mbps Ethernet port, and six USB
ports: four on the front for game controllers, and two on the back for
add-on peripherals (like a 56.6Kbps modem).

The L600 will ship with a single game controller, similar in form-factor
to the PlayStation's "Dual-Shock."  A wireless keyboard/mouse combo. and
an Infrared remote control will be sold separately.  You'll also be
able to connect a regular USB keyboard, and mouse or track-ball.

The most innovative part of the Indrema's hardware is its GPU "Slide Bay."
The L600 will be sold with the recently released nVidia GeForce 3 graphics
processor, but down the road you'll be able to yank it out and replace it
with whatever's the latest and greatest.  This is a first (and hopefully
not last) in game console history.

Sports Cars Aren't For City Driving

Most of the powerful hardware under the Indrema's hood is for gaming,
of course.  State of the art 3D graphics chip, 3D surround sound,
high resolution HDTV and S-Video output... it's all there.

It's also easy to develop for.  Graphics can be programmed using the
defacto standard in 3D rendering, OpenGL.  Sound can be done using a new
open standard for 3D sound, OpenAL.

What games will ship when the Indrema comes out?  Currently, Indrema
isn't naming names, but they say there will be about 30 available.

Some titles that have been mentioned, but not necessarily confirmed,
include Quake III, Unreal Tournament, Soul Ride (a snowboarding game),
Tux Racer (an excellent non-commercial racing game), Nanosaur, and
Shogo: Mobile Armor Division.


Another industry first that the Indrema offers is the chance for hobbiest
game designers to create and distribute their works for the console.
Practically anyone who can program will be able to develop and release
games for the Indrema.

To those who remember the PlayStation "Yarooze," please understand that
independently developed and freely released games on the Indrema can
be played with any Indrema, not just a special "hobby kit" system.

Of course, since the Indrema is a consumer device, certain technical
standards must be met to ensure that the quality and reliability of the
system is maintained.  Indrema is requiring that games be ceritified to
be playable on the console.  A small service fee of about $50 is all
it costs to get your game (and your name) online and available to
countless end users.

Developing for the Indrema is inexpensive, too.  The "IESDK"
(Indrema Entertainment System Development Kit), which contains the
Linux operating system and all of the other programming APIs (OpenGL,
OpenAL, etc.) used on the Indrema, is already freely available in its
beta form.

Indrema will also be releasing a "developer's edition" of the console,
but unlike other system's developer kits, which cost tens of thousands
of dollars, it will only cost about $600.

All this means the Indrema will have a wide and diverse
collection of games -- and 20 years after commercial developers stop
supporting the system, development can still go on!

Diving Into Development

Indrema teamed up with Collab.Net to create two websites for developers.
The Indrema Developer's Network (IDN) contains mailing lists and
other community resources, and provides technical information about the
Indrema and the IESDK.

GameXchange is a collaborative development environment.  You create a
project, decide whether its development will be public (say, for an
independent game) or private (for commercial titles), and use the tools
on the site to manage the project.  You can track bugs, handle mailing
lists, publish announcements, accept and manage code submissions, and
much more.  You don't NEED to use GameXchange to begin writing games
for the Indrema, but probably everything you'd need is there.

The Real Internet

Aside from playing game discs, the Indrema can also, not surprisingly, play
DVD movies and music CDs.  Connect the Indrema to the Internet via its
built-in Ethernet port or an external 56.6Kbps modem, and you'll be able
to do much more.

A few years back, Netscape released the source code to the next-generation
web browser they were building and dubbed it "Mozilla."  Since then,
the components of that project that do the actual rendering and display of
web pages, called "Gecko," has become the basis of countless web browser
projects, including Indrema's built-in web browser.

The e-mail client that's built into the Indrema is POP-based - that is,
it acts like most other e-mail clients that people run on computers
(e.g., Eudora, Netscape Communicator, Internet Explorer, Outlook).  When you
use your Indrema to check your e-mail, you're checking YOUR e-mail...
you're not given some new "Indrema-only" account to keep track of.
This doesn't sound to important, but when you're already paying an ISP
for Internet access and an e-mail account, it's nice to be able
to USE it, rather than pay for some additional, and more limited,

Content With Digital Content

The L600 will have built-in MP3 playing software.  The details on how
it will work hasn't been announced yet, but I'm guessing there'll be
pay-per-download content available, and you can probably grab MP3s off
of the web and your PC and play them in your living room.

To me, the killer app. of the Indrema is its Personal TV features.
Like TiVo and RePlay, you'll be able to digitally record television shows
and play them back at your leisure.  ("Indrema, please record all
episodes of The Simpsons for me.  Thanks!")  Sports fans will appreciate
the instant replay and slow-motion features.  Unexpected guests drop in
while you're watching your favorite reality show?  Just hit "Pause" and
you won't miss who got booted off the island.  Suddenly live TV is as
versatile as a video tape.

But Wait, There's More!

Although nothing has been solidly planned yet, the possibilities of
the Indrema running non-game software, like word processors, has
been brought up by the development community.  Indrema's response to
the idea: "port it, and we'll certify it."  Since it has USB ports,
devices like printers could be connected, thus turning the Indrema into
a very inexpensive entry-level PC.

Of Razors and Blades

Console sales isn't where the money is made; royalties from third party
game sales is.  Companies like Nintendo and Sony practice this business
model, and that's what Indrema is planning to do.  The old analogy is
"give away the razors and make money off the blades."  Indrema, like the
current kings of the gaming market, will be selling the hardware at a loss.
That's great for the consumers, because it means $600 to $1000 hardware
can be had for $200 or $300.

Where It's At

Unfortunately, as I write this article, Indrema's future is unknown.
The recession that hit so many tech. companies couldn't have hit Indrema
at a worse time: when they were just starting the race.  By the end of April
it will be clear whether Indrema's in the game, or in the dust.

If Indrema does get a foothold, it's not exactly a big secret that they
have some massive competition.  Microsoft will be releasing the X-Box
(it's kind of like an Indrema, but it runs Windows), and Nintendo has
begun work on its "GameCube."

However, history has shown that in the game industry, market leaders
don't maintain their leadership for more than about a generation.
(Atari beget Nintendo. Nintendo beget Sega. Sega beget Sony.)

Sega recently decided to stop making hardware.  Microsoft's chance to
remain a single company is in question.  PlayStation 2's have until
very recently been practically impossible to purchase, and because of that
demand is now quite low.  Indrema might just be able to squeeze its way
between the wreckage.  On the other hand, it might get clobbered along with
the rest.

Silver Lining

If Indrema doesn't make it, that doesn't mean that the idea of game
consoles based on Open Source software and standard hardware won't rise
again.  We're already starting to see Linux-based PDAs cropping up, and
even though they can't record TV for you (yet), they prove that embeded
Linux is here to stay.


  Indrema consumer site

  Indrema Developers Network




Bill Kendrick is a professional web developer and hobbiest game programmer.
He runs "Indrema Informer" ( )
and recently volunteered to manage the official Indrema FAQ documents.

Bill has been programming since he was 7, and currently focuses on
multi-platform games which he develops under Linux and releases as
Open Source ( ).
His growing collection of gaming equipment includes two Atari 8-bit
computers, two Atari 2600s, two Atari Lynx handhelds, two Atari Jaguar
game consoles, a Nintendo, a Super Nintendo, an original PlayStation,
a Palm III PDA, three desktop Linux boxes and a Linux-based PDA.

Bill has been using various forms of Unix since 1994, and is a co-founder,
and currently the president of, the Linux Users' Group of Davis
( ).

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Dernière mise à jour : Août 2004