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December 9th, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Linux Gaming

Just in time for the holiday season comes some exciting gaming news. There’s good news, not-so-good news,and bad news this week.

The Good News: The wildly popular game Rocket League is expected to be playable on GNU/Linux soon. Rocket League is a multiplayer physics based Soccer game played with fast booster, rigged vehicles in place of athletes, and is the sequel to Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars! Since its release last year for Playstation 4 and Windows, Rocket League has gathered a huge following, which has only increased the demand for a Linux version.

Anticipation has only been building since the SteamOS icon appeared briefly a few weeks ago on the Rocket League store, though to the disappointment of Steam users everywhere it isn’t ready for installation. The news was officially announced in August via Twitter that the game would soon makes its way to SteamOS/Mac after celebrating a million sales on Steam, and last week the news was broken by Steam forum moderator Volodesi that the game should be available before the end of the year. There’s no solid release date yet — the year’s end date isn’t official — but it sounds as if the release is in its final stages.

Rockleague game logoPsyonix, Rocket Leagues developers, recently stated on Reddit that the game should be out soon, but they’re only working with “[a]bout 8-12 [developers] depending on the time frame” for the Linux versions. There’s no news yet, nor any notable speculation, as to whether the Linux port will have cross-platform play like its PS4 and PC versions, so players will have to wait until the release or contact via the Steam Community page.

More Good News: For players more interested in emulation rather than ports, WINE has made available release candidate 3 of WINE 1.8. WINE is under a code freeze so they can concentrate on bug fixes before the official release of 1.8. Bugs fixed include a number of game startup errors and crashes in games such as Warhammer 40K, Age of Empires II, Skyrim and more. A list of changes, source code and binary packages for various distributions (when made available) can be found on WINE’s RC3 webpage. The official ready-for-prime-time version of WINE 1.8 will be released “when it’s ready.”

Not-so-Good News: Some presentation slides regarding the proprietary AMD Radeon Crimson Edition video driver were leaked on Videocardz.com and detailed big gains for Windows and Linux games, boasting 112% to 155% performance increase compared to current Linux drivers. Bioshock Infinite, Total War, Portal 2, and Dota 2 were among the titles listed to be expecting these performance enhancements.

However, word around the web is that the the driver isn’t always delivering as promised. But while the reviews haven’t been overwhelmingly positive, there are a few positives to be found in the mix. In it’s favor, the new driver runs well on Linux 4x kernels, and there were some improvements to performance on a few mainstream games as well as older titles on the Windows version. Unfortunately, benchmarks by Phoronix indicate that performance is largely unchanged — or if there were significant changes, they were decreases.

In addition, there is no new UI for the Linux version and support for pre-GCN (AMD graphics cards before 2011) has been dropped for both Linux and Windows. It’s not the end of the world, but there is still room for improvement.

Bad news: Finally, Garry Newman, creator of Garry’s Mod and Rust, has stated he’s leaning towards not supporting Linux in the future. Newman has been critical of Linux on Twitter saying, “Linux is a second class citizen, we don’t run it internally because only 17 people use it.” While he and his company, Facepunch Studios, still port their works to Linux, the ports have been filled with issues. When users took to Reddit’s Linux Gaming subreddit to discuss the problems with Rust on Linux, Newman had this to say: “Something to keep in mind regarding Linux support. We don’t make the engine, Unity do. So there’s only so much we can do. Any problems that come up we try to fix. The only times problems aren’t fixed is if fixing something for Linux would break something on Windows…

“The hard truth is, from our point of view, that Linux isn’t financially worth us developing for. We develop for Linux because it’s the right thing to do. That said, we’re obviously doing a shitty job supporting Linux though, so it seems like we’d be better off not supporting it at all than supporting it half assed. This is something we have to consider when deciding whether to release games for Linux in the future. At the moment I’m leaning towards not releasing Linux versions of our future games.”

The users in the comments took the news well, saying that if Newman didn’t intend to work hard on Linux it would only reflect poorly on Linux gaming, so it would be irresponsible for him to keep trying. Many users discussed not supporting Newman if he continues to give such little thought to Linux support.

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Hunter Banks

Hunter Banks has been a part of the Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) Family for the past 13 years. When not writing about open source gaming, he's working on creating his own games. Follow him on Twitter @SilvrChariot

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