Killring Rick Dillon's Weblog

Linux Gamer Notebook: Setting Up My X51

2013: Not The Year of Linux on the Desktop

The Linux community has been claiming that next year will be the year of Linux on the desktop since the late 1990s, at least. For my part, I ditched Microsoft Windows completely back in 2002, after a five year switch period to get completely off of Windows that started way back in 1997. Two weeks ago, I was finally able to buy a gaming desktop that came preinstalled with Linux: the Alienware X51 that shipped with Ubuntu 12.04. Today, Valve Software announced they will be releasing their own distribution of Linux called SteamOS, and many gamers are wondering if Linux is really ready for gaming.

In truth, the year of Linux on the desktop may never arrive, but the year of Linux on the TV may already be here, considering SteamOS is targeted at 'big screen' gaming.

I don't have SteamOS yet, but before I get my hands on it and write up my experiences, I thought it might be worthwhile to share my experiences with the X51 running Ubuntu 12.04.

Overview

Bottom line up front: what works? All told, I'm thrilled with my success. Here's a list of games (mostly old, some new) that I have working on my X51. Some are listed twice because I got them working in multiple configurations.

  • Native Linux
    • FTL
    • Torchlight
    • Legend of Grimrock
    • Xonotic
    • OpenTTD
    • And Yet It Moves
    • Mark of the Ninja
    • 0 A.D.
    • Tales of Maj'Eyal
    • Bastion
    • The Battle for Wesnoth
    • Amnesia: The Dark Descent
    • Legend of Grimrock
    • Half-Life
    • Half-Life Blue Shift
    • Half-Life 2
    • Left 4 Dead 2
    • Bastion
  • Via Wine
    • Baldur's Gate I + II
    • Icewind Dale Complete
    • Painkiller Black
    • Serious Sam 1 & 2
    • Neverwinter Nights Diamond Edition
    • System Shock II
    • The Chroncicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
    • Hard Reset
    • Serious Sam 1 HD
    • Civilization IV (+ all expansions)
    • Torchlight
    • Torchlight II
    • Bioshock
    • The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list, but it is what I've put on my X51 in the last two weeks. There's a fair amount of stuff from the early-to-mid 2000's, and a few items from the past three years, including Grimrock, Hard Reset, and Torchlight 2, as well as all the indie stuff from the Humble Bundle that's recent.

Native Offerings

Now's a better time than ever for native gaming on Linux. Indie gaming has really taken off, and between the offerings on Kickstarter, via the Humble Indie Bundle, and via Steam on Linux, more games than ever are appearing on the platform. Lots of Kickstarter projects in particular, like Project Eternity and Shroud of the Avatar, are based on Unity, and will therefore Linux natively.

Now that Valve has announced their intent to bring much of the Steam catalog to SteamOS, which is a distribution of Linux, the picture is looking better by the day for Linux gamers running their games natively.

There are also a good number of truly excellent open-source games that are routinely overlooked in the mainstream gaming community. I highly recommend Xonotic, OpenTTD, The Battle for Wesnoth, and Tales of Maj'Eyal to gamers that haven't tried them.

Using Wine

In the meantime, though, there's Wine. I know, I know, Wine isn't that good, right? When I first picked up Wine back in the late 1990s, it just wasn't there in terms of running games. Some basic stuff ran, but it was a spotty affair.

Things have changed.

These days, Wine is doing incredible work for gaming on Linux. Steam and many of the games available on Steam run fabulously under Wine. I was surprised to find Serious Sam HD, Hard Reset, Bioshock, The Chronicles of Riddick, and Civilization IV all run almost out of the box on Ubuntu 12.04 with Wine 1.6.

But, as always, there are...

Caveats

Wine Is Necessary

We're still in a place where you really can't game credibly without Wine. And Wine, while excellent, is not a simple piece of software. Using Wine is tough if you haven't used Linux before. There's a fair amount of technique in getting drivers set up, adding PPAs for the latest Wine builds, managing Winetricks, and playing with .ini files to set screen resolutions and tweak settings.

Much of the complexity can be suppressed if you opt to use a commercial version of Wine (Crossover 12 at the time of writing) from Codeweavers, but not all.

Most Recent Games Generally Won't Work

Most of the blockbuster titles hitting the streets today just won't run under Linux, either natively or through Wine. Wine is usually a couple of years behind in being able to run games flawlessly, though if you want to take the time, you can often tweak it to run the latest titles. A great place to get started is to have a look at the AppDB over at WineHQ and see what's running and what's not, along with a fair amount of discussion.

If, like me, you're pretty content with games that are a few (or many!) years old, this isn't such a big deal. And, big titles are often picked within a couple years of release. For example Fallout 3, Guild Wars 2, and Call of Duty 4 grace the "Top 10 Silver" list on AppDB. None are blisteringly new, but if you can wait, it's not too bad.

There are, of course exceptions. Some games work great on release, though they usually come from indie studios. Two examples that come to mind at the moment are Shadowrun Returns and Torchlight II. The underlying tech in both games isn't new, so Wine handles it really well well.

Steam

Steam is turning into my best friend when in comes to Linux gaming. I run two clients, one native and one via Wine, and both have more than a dozen games in them. The number of games working on both sides is ever-increasing, and I've started documenting my adventures running games (with screenshots!) over at my Steam profile. Feel free to stop by and say hello!