Thursday, July 05, 2007

Gaming on Linux

Is Linux ready for us gamers?

To for ever clear up the issue of gaming on Linux and answer a few questions gamers might have on the ability of Linux as a gaming platform.

We quite frequently hear that people want to convert to Linux, but gaming is stopping them.
Now to be blunt, most developing houses do not even bother to support Linux and there are only a handful of them that bother to make their games available for Linux. The most noted of these games are the Quake and Unreal Tournament series of games which all work out of the box on Linux.
I have lanned a few times with my Linux UT2004 and there is absolutely nothing holding you back.

Sadly this is one of the exceptions and we really wished more devs would see Linux as an alternative platform with much more users than Apple Mac.

So if you are a hardcore competitive gamer then Linux is not for you, unless your game is available for Linux.

This brings us to the next question, what then is available on Linux?
Seeing there is so little commercial games (with out of the box support) available, what then will I be able to play?

Here there are two options, go for open source games, or go with an emulator like Wine/Cedega to get your favorite game working.

To quickly look at the latter, Wine is the open source emulator/wrapper that tries and help you running all sorts of Windows apps on Linux, while Cedega is more geared for the gaming market.
To use Cedega you will have to pay a fee (annual or monthly depending on your needs), but included in this fee is not only the app, but step by step instructions on getting your favorite game working, and if you struggle, the opportunity to have a very large community at your disposal to help you out.
The reason they charge is because they licensed some of the directX code with Windows and this is why they have much more success with games than Wine, so if you are serious about gaming then this is your choice. They have a HUGE list of supported commercial games.

Wine on the other hand is a hit-and-miss situation. There are a few popular games that work well under it, but they do not go out of their way to add more support for any specific game since Wine is intended for a far greater audience. You do get enough articles on the web on how to get your more favorite games running, but this is usually uncharted waters and if you fail, you are most of the times on your own.
The way about going to use Wine is to use the forum of the distro you chose. They will be the best equipped to help you and you will then KNOW if a game will be able to run in your distro or not.

The last alternative is to use open source games!
Now it is no secret that I am an advocate for open source, so I'll dwell a bit on this section since it is usually not a well covered topic in even the Linux community.

There is a plus and minus to the open source gaming industry, so lets get the negative out of the way and then concentrate on the positive.

Negative:
* Usually the GFX are not up to par
* Many stale projects (lack of funds, devs, interest, etc.)
* Usually not widely supported

The gfx side of things are usually the biggest hurdle any open source project needs to overcome. Good coders are not good artists and to get the right people involved in a project is the biggest challenge of the open source community. There are the exceptions like Americas Army, but even this game looks a bit pale compared to Doom3 and HL2.

Stale projects abound in the industry, a game is not as popular as one would have hoped, the dev lost interest, lack of money to support it and a million other factors can sink a well sailing ship. Go to http://happypenguin.org/ and see how many dead and stale projects there are. Now the whole philosophy behind open source is that anyone can then take over the project or incorporate a few stale ones into something glorious, but sadly that seldom happens.

Because a game does not enjoy a wide audience you get the above result and this is where we as Linux users must do our bid to keep the games we like alive. I have nothing against commercial games, I too have the entire UT series and a couple other titles, but it is essential that we realize that without our support (playing) the games there is no point in developing them. Tune into Linux gaming forums, listen to what seems to be exciting and up your alley and support that game. Register on the boards and make yourself count, this will not only encourage the devs but will help investors to sift the gems from the chaff.

Now the positive:
The positive is that there is literately millions of titles to choose from!
Besides the exciting wide choice it will almost always work on most platforms, Linux, Windows and Mac so you could always arrange it so that at the next lan after fragging each other with CS gets old, to install an open source title and let them all have a go at it!

As of late the open source community has had a boom in the gaming section with titles like Nexuiz, Sauerbraten/Cube2, the porting of popular commercial games (like Doom3) and the likes.

So, to wrap things up, is Linux ready for gaming?
Yes
Is it fit for MY gaming needs?
Well if you are only a recreational gamer, then yes.

Now in the next couple of weeks we will be looking at a few open source games and I'll then give you my humble opinion and a few games to go try out!

Until next time, happy gaming!

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