Opinion: Regarding the Linux Gaming

Linux gaming. Let’s face it – it’s terrible. Tux Racer? Please. Quake III, okay, I’ll give you that. NeverWinter Nights? If you can get it to work. WINE? If you have enough hair left to pull out, WINE is a good choice.WINE is a good idea but really a bridge technology, and many a techie will point out that what Linux REALLY needs is native gaming, and WINE will allow many developers to be lazy (read: Maxis/EAGames). Portable code that uses open standards (OpenGL) is nice, but OpenGL lags pretty significantly behind DirectX, so I have a hard time blaming developers there. It’s not an excuse, however.

The team over at Icculus.org have done a fine job porting games, and Ryan C. Gordon (aka Icculus) has even written an article about making your code portable, which includes “black box” modules (abstractions) so it does not matter if you have DirectX or OpenGL: either would work. Ryan worked at the now defunct Loki Games and did some stuff with a bunch of Linux games. Check out his site. Developers: wake up.

Linux gaming sites abound, such as linuX Gamers.net, Linux Games, and TuxGames, but don’t really offer anything substantial, just some howtos on getting your drivers installed and getting WINE to work. Wrong answer. Yes, I *WILL* pay for games on Linux, so long as they are games I want to play. Sorry, but Frozen Bubble and Tux Racer will never see my crisp greens.

I hate to say it [don flame-retardant suit] but Linux gaming sucks. My modern, fast system at home is running Windows XP, people, and gaming is the reason. Okay, it’s a glorified X-Box, but who cares – games install and they work. I can play some popular FPS games in Linux (Quake III, UT, America’s Army) but where are the other games? Battlefield series? Call of Duty? Warcraft III? Far Cry? SimCity 4?

I did manage to get FlightGear working – once, about a year ago – and that was great. But that’s just it – it works every time on XP but I struggle to get it to work consistently on Linux. TORCS gave me similar problems in Linux. Both games are great, by the way, if you have the time to tinker enough to get them to work.

Let me cut you off at the pass: I know someone, somewhere has gotten the games I’ve listed to work. That’s just my point – just saying “I got it to work” or even letting that thought through your mind means Linux has issues. I should just be able to download, install, and play! For example, I found an 1100 word document describing how to get SimCity 4 working in Linux (with WINE). In Windows, I inserted the CD. Big difference. I can do it in Linux, but I’m just tired of the hassle.

More to the point, I found a list of games and applications that shares similar frustrations with Linux + WINE + games. Most either will not install or install and then won’t work. If they do work, then they require all sorts of hacking. Yes, I’m a hacker and I love to do it, just not all the time for every game I install. When I want to hack, I hack; when I want to play a game, I want to play a game.

Some people would have you believe that you SHOULD go right out and purchase an X-Box or Nintendo for your gaming needs, arguing that they do a better job than a PC. Uh huh. I can still get mileage out of my 8 year old PC but my Nintento 64’s lifespan was much shorter (let’s face it – it’s pretty much dead). I disagree with this assertion, but that’s an article for a different day.

To be fair, network gaming has improved on consoles. Honestly, though, my performance PC has one raison de vive – gaming. Take that away and Linux will always be second-seat in my house, and for many of the avid gamers that really drive a lot of the PC market.

Don’t even get me started on graphics cards in Linux. Nvidia has done some excellent installer work but I’ve still had some nagging problems, and no, the forums couldn’t help me. ATi, which is my current fave, has been woefully behind the ball with Linux. Intel onboard graphics – don’t cringe, they are #1 in market share – frequently have problems, just won’t work, or don’t stay up to date (Xorg comes to mind).

Is your PC best not used for gaming? Am I wrong to want to play native games and forget about WINE? Am I wrong to keep XP around as a crutch? Where do I go from here? Do I stay with a Linux system for everything sans gaming and an XP system for gaming? Do I ditch one or the other? Does the Linux community wake up to their hardcore users (I’d be very willing to venture a guess that most Linux geeks are also gamers, but not vice versa)? Perhaps I’ll revisit this in a year.

About the author
Steve Husted is a long-time computer geek, currently doing anything but the technical support he was hired to do in Sacramento, CA. He tries to sneak in some Slack time between work, a bachelor’s degree, and family.

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