Proton has done far more for Linux gaming than any porting company out there, by bringing about 6000 games to us in less than 2 years. There’s about 100 games every month that get a Platinum rating according to ProtonDB. (because of the recent changes on ProtonDB rating, this is now more accurate than it was before). Proton has become better over time: the percentage of games getting a Platinum rating is steadily increasing over time as well – it used to be about 40% of all unique games reported, and now we are closer to 50%. This is cumulative, so the range will vary month by month but the trend is very clear. Proton is one of the biggest contributions to desktop Linux in at least the past ten years. Thanks to Proton, I now play all my games on Linux, and could finally just remove Windows from my desktop altogether. All I do when I want to buy a game that doesn’t support Linux natively is check ProtonDB, and if the rating is platinum (works out of the box) or gold (might need to run a command, move a file around, or select a specific Proton version in Steam), I just buy it without further issues. If it’s rated silver, I’ll take a more detailed look and weigh the work vs. the benefit. It’s been amazing, and I pretty much forget which games in my Steam library use Proton, and which don’t. It’s so seamless and effortless that I don’t have to know – from big, triple-A titles, all the way down to small indie games.
If an application from a Chinese company installed a kernel driver onto your system with complete access to your computer, but they pinky-promised not to abuse this access and power, would you install the application? Well, if you’re interested in Riot Games’ new hit game Valorant, that’s exactly the question you’re going to have to answer. Riot Games, the company behind one of the most popular games in the world, League of Legends, recently starting publicly beta testing their new game, Valorant. Two months ago, the company penned a rather condescending blog post detailing their future anti-cheat technology, which would include a Windows kernel driver (running in ring 0, in x86 parlance). Valorant is their first game using this kernel driver, and as it turns out, this kernel driver starts at boot, and due to its very nature has full system access, even when you’re not running Valorant. According to Riot Games, we just have to trust them on their blue eyes that their kernel driver is fully secure and won’t be exploited by malicious third parties, and that the company won’t use it to spy on people or otherwise violate their privacy. Riot states on Reddit that “multiple external security research teams” have reviewed the driver, but as far as I can tell, these reviews have not been published for public vetting. What we’re dealing with here is a rootkit, a method more and more anti-cheat systems are employing in the fight against cheating. The argument is that game developers need full, complete, and total access to your system in order to prevent you from cheating, and a kernel driver is how they do it. There’s a long history of these sorts of things going horribly, horribly wrong. We all still remember the Sony rootkit debacle, where Sony CDs installed rootkits on users’ computers that ended up being exploited left, right, and centre by malicious parties. In 2016, Capcom installed a similar rootkit meant for anti-cheat with Street Fight V, which was an absolute security train wreck. And closer to home for Riot, the game client for their very own League of Legends installed crypto miners on users’ computers in the Philippines. Despite the inherent dangers in installing closed-source security-by-obscurity rootkits, Riot is dead-set on continuing to use them, and it’s only a matter of time before their rootkit will be forced upon League of Legends players as well – which in my case means I won’t be able to play League of Legends anymore even if I wanted their rootkit on my computer, since I play on Linux through Wine/Lutris, which doesn’t support kernel drivers at all. Players of Riot’s games will have to ask themselves if they trust Riot to install a rootkit with complete and full access to their system – browsing history, chat logs, email, everything. You have to trust Riot when they say the rootkit is “secure” and won’t be exploited by malicious third parties, and that the company itself won’t use it to invade your privacy. Interesting sidenote: Riot Games is owned by the Chinese company Tencent, the company behind WeChat. Tencent is, for all intents and purposes, an arm of the Chinese government, so not only do you have to trust Riot Games, you also have to trust their owner, Tencent, as well as who Tencent literally answers to – the Chinese government. I’m not going to tell anyone what they should or should not do with their computers, and if you trust Riot, Tencent, and the Chinese government enough to let them install a rootkit on your computer, then that’s your right to do so. However, I do feel users need to be at least aware of the choice they’re making.
One of my goals with GBE+ is to program an emulator that is as complete as I can possibly make it. That means emulating devices like the GB Printer. To tell the truth, I had my eye on GB Printer support for some time, but only recently have I done enough work on the DMG/GBC core to make that possible. A long time ago, I tried getting the GB Printer to work in VBA-M (1.8.0) but the Linux version didn’t seem to do anything. That is to say, VBA-M did emulate the printer as if it were connected, but it didn’t save the image anywhere I could find. The Windows version worked flawlessly and showed me the final print as I expected. Maybe that was just user-error on my part, but it inspired me to one day make an emulator that would properly emulate the GB Printer on Linux, my OS of choice. Digressing, let’s take a look at what the GB Printer is doing and how it interacts with a Game Boy system. The Game Boy Camera and Game Boy Printer were these almost mythical items I’d talk about with my friends and my brothers, and the idea of taking photos with a Game Boy was so wild and out there it sparked our imaginations. To this day, I’ve never seen or used one in real life, and that bums me out.
As the lead coder of bsnes, I’ve been attempting to perfect Super Nintendo emulation for the past 15 years. We are now at a point where that goal is in sight, but there we face one last challenge: accurate cycle timing of the SNES video processors. Getting that final bit of emulation accuracy will require a community effort that I hope some of you can help with. But first, let me recap how far we’ve come. The bsnes saga is a fascinating story of how an obsession for perfection can lead to something beautiful – not just the emulator itself, but also the various technical details and stories written about it. I doubt most people really needs the insane emulation accuracy bsnes strives for, but in the future, when original, first party SNES consoles have all died out or get incredibly rare, the accuracy of bsnes will be a godsend.
Sony has broken its silence. PlayStation 5 specifications are now out in the open with system architect Mark Cerny delivering a deep dive presentation into the nature of the new hardware and the ways in which we should expect a true generational leap over PlayStation 4. Digital Foundry had the chance to watch the lecture a couple of days ahead of time and had the opportunity to talk to Cerny in more depth afterwards about the nature of the custom PlayStation hardware and the philosophy behind its design. And just as with the Xbox Series X, specifications are meaningless without the games to back them up.
Microsoft is revealing the full specs for its Xbox Series X console today, and it includes support for removable storage and much faster load times for games. The software giant will be using a custom AMD Zen 2 CPU with eight cores clocked at 3.8GHz each, a custom AMD RDNA 2 GPU with 12 teraflops and 52 compute units clocked at 1.825GHz each. This is all based on a 7nm process and includes 16GB of GDDR6 RAM with a 1TB custom NVME SSD storage drive. Microsoft is using two mainboards on this Xbox Series X compact design, and the entire unit is cooled through air being pulled in from the bottom and pushed out at the top via a 130mm fan. That’s some serious firepower, but the Xbox One series didn’t lack power either, yet lost the market share battle to the PS4 without putting up much of a fight. Firepower means nothing without the games to back it up, and that’s where the Xbox One simply failed to deliver. Show us the games, because without those, all this hardware is useless. That being said, I’ve always had a soft sport for chimney-like computer designs since the PowerMac G4 Cube, and this fits right in there. Perhaps not the most practical design, but it sure does stand out.
We already covered earlier articles in this series, but I want to highlight this one too, because it covers one of the most unique consoles ever developed – the Atari Jaguar. The designers of the Jaguar departed from the traditional architecture where one CPU drives fixed-pipeline audio and graphics chips as we saw earlier in the series with the SNES and Genesis. If we find a Motorola 68000 like in the Atari, Amiga, and Genesis (albeit running at 13.295 Mhz) and a sprites engine (called Object), there is also two 32-bit RISC processors running at 26.59 MHz called TOM and JERRY. The Jaguar is wild.
Hot off the presses is our latest stable, version 1.5.0, marking the second stable release since the last progress report. In this past year, support has been added for multiple new platforms to make the emulator accessible, performance has dramatically increased, new features such as save states and cheat support have landed to make emulating more fun, and numerous accuracy improvements were made to continue polishing the overall emulation experience. I love these detailed overviews of changes in emulators. Dolphin started the trend, I think, and now this team is picking it up.
One of the great game industry battles of the turn of century was the standoff between Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament. With both multiplayer focused first person shooters released just weeks apart from one another, that the two games would wind up going head to head was inevitable. If pressed I am always going to have to say I favour the former, but the remarkable thing for us Linux users is that, for a time, both games lived harmoniously under the same publisher. While Quake III Arena was granted its place in eternity when its source code was released in 2005, community support for Unreal Tournament was able to breathe some new life into the game, even with the limitations of the closed binary. Even a strong community can’t fix such problems.
Last week in Las Vegas while at CES, I spoke with Kan Liu, Director of Product Management for Google’s Chrome OS. In a wide-ranging discussion about the Chrome platform and ecosystem, Liu dropped something of a bombshell on me: the Chrome team is working—very possibly in cooperation with Valve—to bring Steam to Chromebooks. The next question, of course, is just what sorts of games would even be worth playing on a Chromebook when run directly on local hardware. Currently, most Chromebooks have extremely limited 3D acceleration performance, with only the most recent devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook possessing vaguely passable GPUs. Liu said we could expect that to change: more powerful Chromebooks, especially AMD Chromebooks, are coming. Liu would not explicitly confirm that any of these models would contain discrete Radeon graphics, but told us to stay tuned. This makes a lot of sense. Sure, you won’t be running the latest and greatest AAA titles on Chromebooks any time soon, but Steam has a massive library of less intensive games and older titles that would run just fine on any mid-range Chromebook. On top of that, this would open Chromebooks up to Steam’s streaming feature.
Another choice would be Eric Chahi’s 1991 critically acclaimed” title “Another World”, better known in North America as “Out Of This World” which also happens to be ubiquitous. I would argue it is in fact more interesting to study than DOOM because of its polygon based graphics which are suitable to wild optimizations. In some cases, clever tricks allowed Another World to run on hardware built up to five years prior to the game release. This series is a journey through the video-games hardware of the early 90s. From the Amiga 500, Atari ST, IBM PC, Super Nintendo, up to the Sega Genesis. For each machine, I attempted to discover how Another World was implemented. I found an environment made rich by its diversity where the now ubiquitous CPU/GPU did not exist yet. In the process, I discovered the untold stories of seemingly impossible problems heroically solved by lone programmers. In the best case I was able to get in touch with the original developer. In the worse cases, I found myself staring at disassembly. It was a fun trip. Here are my notes. The first article in this series deals with Another World in genera, while two follow-ups dive deep into the Amiga version and the Atari ST version. Another article about the DOS version will be published over the weekend.
While more and more games support Linux natively, there’s a huge swath of games that now run on Linux thanks to Valve’s Proton, Wine, DXVK, and communities like Lutris that make installing Windows games on Linux a breeze. In fact, I’ve been playing League of Legends on Linux this way for months now. Still, there’s always this nagging feeling that Riot, League of Legends’ developer, might one day mess up its anticheat system and ban those of us playing League on Linux. I’ve read on the League of Linux subreddit that apparently, there’s people inside Riot using Linux and that they try to make sure this won’t happen, but that’s far from a guarantee. Turns out I’m right to be on my toes, since Electronic Arts seems to have issued a blanket ban on people playing Battlefield V on Linux using DXVK. Users are reporting that Battlefield V’s anticheat software reports they’ve been banned, and after contacting EA, they received the following message: Hello, Thank you for contacting us regarding the action that was taken on your account. The action pertains to the following violation: Promote, encourage or take part in any activity involving hacking, cracking, phishing, taking advantage of exploits or cheats and/or distribution of counterfeit software and/or virtual currency/items After thoroughly investigating your account and concern, we found that your account was actioned correctly and will not remove this sanction from your account. Thank you,EA Terms of Service This just goes to show that while gaming on Linux has become something I barely even think about – I stick to buying Linux-only games on Steam, and haven’t had any envy for a long time now – there’s real dangers associated with doing so.
Dozens of PlayStation 3s sit in a refrigerated shipping container on the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s campus, sucking up energy and investigating astrophysics. It’s a popular stop for tours trying to sell the school to prospective first-year students and their parents, and it’s one of the few living legacies of a weird science chapter in PlayStation’s history. Those squat boxes, hulking on entertainment systems or dust-covered in the back of a closet, were once coveted by researchers who used the consoles to build supercomputers. With the racks of machines, the scientists were suddenly capable of contemplating the physics of black holes, processing drone footage, or winning cryptography contests. It only lasted a few years before tech moved on, becoming smaller and more efficient. But for that short moment, some of the most powerful computers in the world could be hacked together with code, wire, and gaming consoles. The PlayStation 3 and its Linux compatibility were going to change everything. Back in those days, it was pretty much guaranteed that on every thread about some small, alternative operating system, someone would demand PS3 support, since the PS3 was going to be the saviour of every small operating system project. Good memories.
Ng Wai “Blitzchung” Chung is a professional Hearthstone player who supported the protests happening in Hong Kong against China during a post-win interview for the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament on Sunday. Hearthstone publisher Blizzard Entertainment responded with a harsh punishment, banning Blitzchung from the digital card game’s esports for a year and taking his prize money from Grandmasters. Blizzard also says it will no longer work with the two casters who covered the event, who literally ducked behind their desk when Blitzchung voiced his support for Honk Kong’s protest. Usually, players are banned from Blizzard esports for cheating. But Blitzchung did not cheat. Blizzard is partially owned by the Chinese company Tencent, and the Chinese market is hugely important for the game maker – as such, it does not want to offend the Chinese government. Like the NBA, yet another American enterprise subjected to Chinese censorship.
Taneli Armanto doesn’t like to tell people he changed the world. In fact, unless you’re a family friend, I’d bet you haven’t heard of the guy. He never usually mentions his greatest achievement, but of course his kids will take any opportunity to brag about it. After all, their dad created Snake. I played so much Snake during high school.
Kyle Orland at Ars: When it comes to emulator design, there’s something to be said for trying to capture the workings of the original system as accurately as possible, warts and all. But there’s also something to the idea that emulators can improve on the original hardware, smoothing problems like frame rate slowdown that plagued the underpowered processors of the day. That brings us to the latest update for storied, accuracy-obsessed SNES emulator bsnes, which adds the ability to overclock the virtual SNES processor. While bsnes is far from the first SNES emulator to allow for simulated overclocking, it does seem to be the first that does so “without any framerate or pitch distortion, and without harming compatibility in 99% of games,” as bsnes programmer byuu puts it.
Spitfire on the Channel F is like the plane mode in Atari’s Combat, except with the option to play it alone against the machine. Also, I found an easter egg in it, which might (might) be the world’s first easter egg in a videogame (maybe idk). That’s one hard to find easter egg.
The vertical scrolling effect in the original “The Legend of Zelda” relies on manipulating the NES graphics hardware in a manner likely that was unintended by its designers. Writing to a particular PPU register while a frame is being drawn can result in graphical artefacts. The Legend of Zelda intentionally causes an artefact which manifests itself as partial vertical scrolling. This post gives some background on NES graphics hardware, and explains how the partial vertical scrolling trick works. Game developers on these older, constrained systems had to resort to some very clever thinking to work around said constraints.
Cities: Skylines is a city simulation game that is complex enough to build universal logic gates in it. Using universal logic gates it is possible to construct any circuit including Turing complete machines. So, just like in Minecraft one can build a computer inside Cities: Skylines. However, it would be very complicated to build a fully fledged computer using these gates, so I will demonstrate a 4-bit adder instead. Everything is done in the vanilla version of the game, no mods or add-ons are required. I’ve played a lot of Cities: Skylines, but I never thought something like this would be possible.
Eve Online is unique among spacefaring games — not just for its complexity, but for its structure. The galaxy of New Eden is composed of nearly 8,000 star systems, each one placed into the virtual firmament by the hand of its creators at CCP Games. Some are easy to find, while others are hidden. Few players have actually visited all of New Eden’s known star systems. Fewer still have visited the thousands more that are hidden from view. But only one has visited all of them without losing a single starship. The journey took 10 long years. That’s quite an amazing achievement, especially considering Eve Online is incredibly boring.