Recently, my wife and I purchased Left 4 Dead on the Steam platform. We both have been playing the single player campaign on our own (we only purchased one copy), and have found it very enjoyable. While my wife doesn’t have a problem with running Windows, I have moral and technical objections to keeping the platform around, if only for gaming.
My Personal Story
In the past, I’ve discussed my flip–flopping when it comes to using Linux or Windows as the primary platform for my main computer. I feel like I can get so much more done when using Linux, it’s fast, stable, pretty and has everything I need. Everything, that is, except for the AAA game titles that I love and have loved in the past.
When Half-Life 2 was first released, I was working at a company that strictly ran Windows on the computers I used on a daily basis. Getting a Steam account (and eventually two, so that my wife and I could play HL2:DM online together) was a no-brainer, even in those early days of the platform. Life was great, Windows at home, Windows at work, both playing the Valve games that I loved.
But then, as I became more and more disgusted with the way Windows worked as a whole, I dual-booted my main home machine and installed Fedora Core 2. Wow, what a change! Finally, I was able to work freely without having to worry about system crashes, blue screens, and the overall stagnation of the tools available for the platform. Updates weekly for each and every one of the software packages I used regularly meant a lot for someone who had been stuck in Windows land for the past 9 years.
The laptop that I had at the time was a very decent machine, and although it played HL2 fairly well, it wasn’t cutting it as a gaming machine after only a few months from the purchase date. It became apparent that I would be playing HL2 while I was at a desk, and I was free to do with the laptop what I pleased. Having worked mostly with server Linux (Gentoo) before, I compiled a Gentoo install, and got things going. Gentoo on a 3.06GHz P4 and 2GB RAM using the XFCE window manager was a dream.
I attempted to keep a dual-boot system after the Gentoo install, but as most Linux users would know, installing Windows after Linux can be a big PITA. After getting things running again and reconfiguring GRUB, I was in business. One of the biggest things about switching from Linux to Windows when wanting to play a game was the amount of time and effort it took to restart Linux, load up Windows, and get to the point where I could then open Steam and get things running efficiently.
I did what any self-respecting Linux geek who has an addiction to FPS games would do, and searched for an alternative to using Windows for the purpose of playing games in Linux. At the time (this was 2005), WINE was not a very polished program, and there were quite a few issues with getting Steam games up and running. I even went as far as purchasing a license for Cedega, a commercial WINE-based application. While I could technically play HL2 under Cedega, it was not pretty.
I became increasingly frustrated with the level of compatibility in the new games that were coming out on Steam, and so slipped back into using Windows full time in order to easily be able to play these games without having to take myself out of the context of work and take the time to switch platforms for a 5 minute frag session.
Recently, I’ve been using Ubuntu as a full-time platform, which is a much easier distro to use than Gentoo. When I watched the trailers for Left 4 Dead, I knew I had to own it, play it, and subsequently crap my pants from the awesomeness of this AAA title.
So, I buckled down and installed Windows as a dual-boot (two hard drives in the main system, simplifying things). I had already spun my own Windows install using nLite, so doing all of the usual rituals related to a fresh install of Windows were expedited and I was up and running in no time. After ensuring that everything was working well, and that I could preload Left 4 Dead, I restarted to go back into Ubuntu, and found that I was unable to, due to the MBR being overwritten by Windows during the installation. After struggling with this for a while, switching the hard drive order in the BIOS, and finally deciding to use the built in BIOS boot drive selector instead of the Windows boot loader or GRUB, was able to get things working again.
The amount of work that it takes to change from one platform to the other (while it’s only a few clicks, it still takes time to shut down Ubuntu and boot up Windows) becomes a major hurdle when I just want to play through one level of L4D. If only I could have my Steam games in Linux.
Current State of Things
While WINE has progressed steadily over the last three years, and each of the games that I tend to enjoy playing are rated highly in the AppDB, it still is no replacement for actually running the games native in Windows.
This is a sad thing. There are many commercial and open source games out there that run in Linux, and are well worth the time of the average gamer. Some companies seem to get it:
- Hothead – Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness
- Splash Damage – Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
- Splash Damage – Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
- Loki Software – Civilization: Call to Power
There are certainly many other commercial game developers out there producing quality games for Linux as a platform. On top of all of the commercial developments, we also have many, many open source and freeware games being developed for the platform. You can find an extensive list over at Live.Linux-Gamers.net.
The Future of Valve Games on Linux?
While a lot of people in the Linux community are prepared to rag on Valve for not releasing their games on Linux, recent breaking news has given us the impression that Valve is beginning to accept that there is a market in Linux games. After all, Valve, this is “2000-freaking-8“.
Valve recently posted a job opportunity for someone who would “Port Windows-based games to the Linux platform.” Whether this means that the community is excited over a job that is simply porting the dedicated servers from Windows to Linux remains to be seen, but the prospect looks good that this could be a good bit more.
Also, with the release of Left 4 Dead in recent weeks, it was discovered that there were core Linux libraries hidden away in the code for the game. This is wonderful, if not shocking, news that could mean that the cries of Valve’s fanbase have been heard.
On Valve’s own Developer Community Wiki, there is an article describing how to get Steam running on a Linux platform, though it uses WINE and similar non-emulation software packages. While this doesn’t necessarily say that Valve is in any way committed to porting their platform over to Linux, it does show that there is sufficient interest to put the information out there and make it easier for those of us who would like to run Steam on Linux.
I’m not sure whether or not Valve will ever release a Steam platform native to Linux, but I don’t see it as an impossibility at this point. I would like to issue a small ultimatum for Valve to get things started in the right direction for releasing Steam, and at least their own Source Engine products under Linux by the beginning of 2010. If you are as passionate about this topic, blog, tweet, digg, or just get your thoughts out there so that Valve knows there is a market for this!