OpenRA stands for ‘Open Red Alert’. Its an open-source game engine recreation and enhanced remake of the bestselling real-time strategy game that was first released in 1996. It’s also very well executed revitalization of retro fun.

I grew up playing the original Red Alert. I remember standing at the counter of one of Cape Town’s burgeoning computer shops, trying to persuade my dad to ignore the 16+ age restriction. Thinking back to that time, perhaps he already suspected then that he would have more fun playing it than I did. I then spent long school holidays and misguided homework time staring at its exploding pixels.

OpenRA takes everything that was great about the original and improves upon it, without changing the classic formula: Build a base, harvest ore, train some soldiers, build some tanks – maybe even a fighter jet or a battleship if you’re feeling extravagant – and rain down sweet destruction on the enemy base (But do it quickly, before the other guy can make a smoldering crater out of you). Except this time, do so using every centimeter of your ginormous monitor and enjoy the charming animations of exploding vehicles and crashing aircraft that were missing from the original game.

It’s outstanding feature is it’s quick and easy online and network play (This wasn’t always the case – early builds of OpenRA lagged like the stupid kid, but those problems are long gone). The original Red Alert multiplayer was a schlep for the technically disinclined. Now anyone can make virtual war against their friends and family. Go on, download it. Works on Windows, Linux and Mac. And, It’s free! (As in both freedom and beer.)

It’s great father-son bonding too. Red Alert is the one computer game (other than SimCity) that my dad played more than me. Hence, we’re having a blast blasting each other back a dozen years. Who said nothing good ever happened in the 90’s? The best parts of it are being pulled out of retirement by dedicated members of the open source community. Thank you OpenRA Developers!