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linux gaming and steamos2015-07-19
Back in October 2013 I was very surprised to hear Valve were going to release a Linux based gaming OS. In July 2015 I'm going to be very surprised to see it succeed. I have been getting my hands dirty with Linux clients for a couple of years and more recently with SteamOS itself. Here is the timeline of distros and games I have tried along the way and how they ran.
linux mint and ftl
I started small and ran the indie game FTL (Faster Than Light). It is a great wee strategy game and ran perfectly under Mint 16 using the proprietary NVidia drivers on my 470. According to my Steam history I only played 3 hours of the game, but they were a bug free 3 hours and for Linux gaming thats a good knock.
linux mint and metro last light
Metro Last Light was the first AAA game released under Linux and I shelled out my $50 eager to show support for the developer. I played this on the same Linux install that had been fine for FTL but unfortunately I didn't get much joy with Metro.
- The first issue I ran into was patchy sound. At times the audio carried a lot of static and made listening to the speech very difficult. Sometimes a restart would correct this and sometimes not. I was prepared to accept this for the greater Linux good so I persevered and got through a few hours in this fashion.
- Then the real show stopper started hitting between 4 and 6 hours playtime. The game would just crash, often after only a couple of minutes. At times the crashes would be so severe that the whole system would freeze and a hard reset would be needed. I was enjoying the story up until this point but that basically killed it for me. It became unplayable.
ubuntu linux and wasteland 2
Around this time Steam OS was only just becoming available to the public so I decided to run on Valve's anointed Desktop distro which was/is Ubuntu. I was running the 64bit edition and straight away I was surprised to run into 32bit dependency issues with the official Steam deb package. Being a long time Linux user I'm used to these itching power in your undies type scenarios so after some forum trawling I eventually got it sorted.
To celebrate I of course purchased another Linux title. This time the Kickstarter funded Wasteland 2 which is a really solid, old school isometric, turn based strategy game. It ran well on my NVidia 470 and I had no further sound issues. This could have been a successful distro/steam pairing had I not been generously gifted a new Nvidia 970 for my birthday. Unfortunately as soon as this was installed it was too bleeding edge for Linux and I was bound back to Windows until the drivers caught up.
steamos and wasteland 2
After a few months happily gaming on Windows, Valve announced that The Witcher 3 was definitely coming to SteamOS. They even had a SteamOS sale to celebrate. Being the sucker that I am, out came the credit card and the preorder was made. This time round I left my Linux development distro installed and replaced Windows with SteamOS. To be fair things were actually pretty good. I played 20 hours of Wasteland 2 on this setup without issue. Some quick points:
- SteamOS picked up all my hardware and installed the proprietary drivers straight off the bat. This was great news for my 970 card.
- The Steam big picture mode looked really good, especially the fonts. I think it was probably the best I've seen fonts render on Linux.
- The updates were very frequent and would often require a reboot but this was fine given I was running beta software.
- SteamOS would not support either of my keyboard or USB headset volume controls. You had to use a slider in the UI via a mouse. I was kind of surprised by this, and when I looked up the github tickets Valve had stated they wouldn't be supported as the target platform was the TV, and TV users would use a remote to change the volume. That stance seemed odd to me as nearly every distro has supported these audio controls for years.
- I think Valve's decision to create a dedicated Linux gaming distro was the right move. There are enough differences between distros to make supporting them all a nightmare. I also quite like booting into an OS just for gaming. It means I'm not going to get distracted by Skype messages or emails.
steamos and what was meant to be the witcher 3
Right so now it is time for a whinge. At the time I prepurchased The Witcher 3 I assumed it was to be released in line with the other platforms. I didn't see any small print indicating otherwise.
The 19 May release date rolled around and unfortunately I was in Australia for work. Because I couldn't install the game instead I did things like read the reviews and, bam, a perfect 10 from Gamespot. Great, next I thought I'd look for some blog posts describing the Open GL versus the Direct X performance. The Google results were strangely quiet. In fact there was no mention of SteamOS at all. The penny didn't drop at this stage, I was a bit under the pump at work and thought I'd sort it out when I returned to NZ. That Saturday morning after my return flight I booted up SteamOS and went to the Witcher 3 library item to kick off the download and.... boooo the title wasn't available for my platform.
The Witcher 3 is arguably the biggest PC title in a couple of years and I thought Valve had done a great job by securing a port for their platform. However release dates matter. Who is really going to bother to wait 6 months to play this? I'm a bit of a Linux fanboy and I know I didn't.
so back to windows...
Instead of installing the Witcher 3 on Linux the time was spent getting Windows 8 installed so I could actually play the game. I'm still playing it now. A few hours a week and it's mint. I'll be sitting on Windows for a while to see how things pan out once the official SteamOS release is done. On gut feeling I'd give it a 30% chance of success at the moment. What is available now is quite slick but the AAA titles aren't present or they are delayed. Another big issue is Oculus, they're only supporting Windows out of the box and most PC gamers are going to be all over VR.