Gaming on Linux: The State of Affairs

Gaming on Linux

How does the gaming hemisphere fare when it comes to the open source world? Read on to find out!

All of us have played games on the computer at some time or the other. In fact, estimates claim that the gaming industry sells games worth more than $25 billion per year! Obviously, gaming is a considerable segment of the technology market.

As users of Linux, most of us are generally left bereft when it comes to games — many major game-makers release games only for Windows platforms, and those who do consider Linux tend to keep their offerings closed-source or proprietary. However, in spite of such commercially viable (though non-FOSS friendly) policies of game manufacturers, Linux still has its own share of wonderful games, with the likes of Battle for Wesnoth topping the list.

Overview

To begin with, let us be honest. Linux in gaming is still in its infancy, and though the pace of new game development is commendable, the options that you have are just not at par with their proprietary counterparts. Again, this can be attributed to the fact that FOSS has a reputation (which is rather incorrect) among game makers for being commercially unviable, and thus, there are not many developers who create games for Linux.

Yet, in the past one year, there has been a change and game manufacturers are taking an interest in Linux too. This shift in thought is partly due to the fact that the ports of major Windows games to Linux have enjoyed tremendous success, and partly because video drivers for Linux are now more easily available.

Games are almost always classified on the basis of their genre, such as strategy, arcade, campaign, etc. However, tastes differ and while I prefer strategy games, you may not, and vice versa. Thus, in this article, let’s look at the FOSS gaming diaspora on the basis of development/deployment. Broadly speaking, the gaming options currently available for FOSS users can be clubbed into three sections.

Games developed natively for Linux

As with any other platform, gaming on Linux, too, thrives mainly on the basis of the games that are built to run natively on Linux. Such native games tend to be totally “free”, though a few of them may be ad-supported. We did a story about major Linux games in the December 2010 issue. However, times have changed since then, and there have been several new releases in the latter part of 2011. Some of the big names include:

  • Kelgar Alpha: A first-person RPG (role-playing game).
  • The Legend of Edgar: A 2D platform game.
  • Tome of Mephistopheles Alpha: Name sounds good, right? It is a dungeon-based FPS (first person shooter) RPG.
  • Skulltag: A massively multi-player online variant of Doom.
  • Oil Rush: This is a naval theme-based real-time strategy game. Apart from Linux, the game is available for Windows, Mac and PS3.

Some of the above titles are pretty interesting. However, the sad part here is that most game developers for Linux are not “innovating” — the RPGs on Linux seem to be clones of the well-known RPGs for Windows, and so on. Sure, such games are awesome to play, and very well maintained, but a tinge of innovation in terms of thinking will definitely be better than simply cloning the existing games in the same genre.

Games that can be run via compatibility layers

Arguably, the majority of gamers on Linux run games via compatibility layers (which means launching games that are not exactly built for Linux, using a compatibility application). The most well-known application for this is Wine.

Many games tend to run perfectly well under Wine, and the Wine creators themselves are well aware of the fact that the package is used by gamers. The list of games that run well on Wine is constantly updated on the website, with ratings from the community. This list is huge, but for the record, let me name a few:

Obviously, all these are big names. Quite frankly, if you intend to play games on Linux, you should install Wine.
All the above-mentioned games are clubbed under the Platinum list — that is, the games that install and run flawlessly under Wine. There are other lists too, each showing the level of performance of the given application, under Wine.

Interestingly, many proprietary firms have been porting their games to Linux, of late — a trend that has gained great momentum since the second half of 2011. As of now, Codeweavers has set up a separate section for porting its games to Linux and other UNIX platforms, namely, Crossover Games.

Others, such as PlayOnLinux and Steamgames on Linux, have come up simply due to the success of Wine. Steamgames, for instance, tests games specifically meant to run under Wine, not native Linux. PlayOnLinux is also based on Wine. It lets you install and run many Windows games and apps — all for free.

And lastly, as with any open source project, you can also contribute towards tweaking and optimising your favourite games’ performance under Wine or PlayOnLinux.

Games that can be played/streamed online

The Internet has been expanding at a great pace. With the advent of modern browsers, Internet gaming has also acquired a new shape and form, and is no longer restricted to mere Flash games. Until now, Internet gaming had been viewed as mere casual stuff, but of late, the trend is changing. Of course, the multi-player games are also played online, but the rise in popularity that we are talking about right now is that of browser-based gaming.

Have you heard of the service Onlive? If not, well, it lets you run games. Nothing new there, right? Actually, Onlive can let you run games on its own server, rather than on your computer. Imagine that you like a particular game, which is not yet supported on Linux. Simple! Head on to Onlive, and play your game using their servers. The audio/video and other data is streamed live to your browser! On the downside, this requires a wonderful Internet connection!

There isn’t any official client for Onlive on Linux devices, but you can attempt to run the non-Linux clients under Wine.

Final words

To begin with, native game developers for Linux are working at a great pace, and while there is still a lot to be done, we have seen a flood of amazing outputs in the past one year, and the second quarter of 2012 surely looks to be even more promising. Furthermore, Wine lets you run many non-Linux games with negligible tweaking, and is definitely a good option to consider. So, the bottom-line is that though we still lag behind the proprietary gaming world, our options are increasing fast. It will be safe to expect a flood of games as 2012 comes to a close.

References

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