“The following is a contributor post by the Optimistically Sentimental Alabaster Mage.”
About twelve years ago I made the decision that I was no longer going to use Microsoft Windows… I was working in the IT field doing computer repair work, network deployments for offices, and… well, really the majority of my job was pretty much just cleaning off malware and viruses from Windows desktops. While that did pay the bills, it was an incredibly monotonous and un-fulfilling job, one that I came to loathe with a passion.
Computers have been a huge aspect of my life, and I have always been interested in—and have tinkered around with—Linux. So, when I left the IT field, I also left Windows behind, at least in my own personal life, I still have to log into a Windows desktop at work now, but, ever since then—the day I decided to format my hard drive and never look back—I’ve run only Linux on my personal computers (laptops and desktops alike.) My laptop of choice is even a Google Chromebook, which is kind of cheating, but Chrome OS is built on a Gentoo Linux kernel, and I can easily run a multitude of Linux software on it.
The one major aspect, and the largest hurdle since fully converting, has always been gaming. There are definitely experiences that can only be had on Windows PCs that cannot be had anywhere else.
In the last twelve years, Linux has come a LONG way from being just a curiosity for server geeks and wannabe sys admins, to becoming a completely user-friendly operating system and full-on replacement for the other popular kids. Granted, “Linux” isn’t an operating system, it’s just the kernel, rather, the piece of software that handles the instruction sets that your computer hardware translates to do the jobs it is asked to do… The actual “operating system” is really a collection of programs that function harmoniously to provide the desktop experience that we’re all familiar with, and the type of point-and-click experience that was mainstreamed by Apple and Microsoft.
There are various different flavors and combinations of programs to provide different types of experiences as well; these are referred to as “distros,” or, distributions. For me, the preeminent multimedia and gaming distro has been Ubuntu, which is what I have primarily used off-and-on for the past five or six years now. It was the distro that Valve rated all of its Linux games for, and it’s the most efficient distro out-of-the-box, or, on a fresh install, to get you going and to replicate a Windows or MacOS-like experience.
Granted, I would argue that there are “better” distros out there. I’m a huge fan of Debian, and I was a big proponent of Slackware for many years, but those distros should only really be used once you’ve gotten your feet wet and have a bit of knowledge behind you… There’s also one of most hardcore distros available called Arch Linux, and it is very much a combination of the philosophies which birthed Slackware and Debian respectively, though, I’ve never been much of a fan of Arch myself, due in part to the heavy configuration that is needed to really tune your system. Though, if you really want to learn what makes a Linux system tick, and how all the different pieces of software interact, I would recommend Arch as a worth-while learning experience…
I personally left all that behind when I ditched Slackware, it became apparent that using fwcutter to slice the binary bits out of drivers compiled for Windows XP, and loading special kernel modules to get my Broadcom wireless adapter to work just wasn’t very fun. Ubuntu alleviates that headache, and it just works… a majority of the time (there’s always that caveat). Debian is also very similar, and Ubuntu is a fork of Debian (though it still maintains some binary compatibility), however Debian is definitely focused on a different type of universality, and also adheres to certain GNU and GPL standards that make running it on certain commercial hardware a bit of a pain. Building a PC with Debain in mind, however, will definitely net you a wonderful experience and a control over your system you never knew possible. You just have to keep in mind that you will need to consult the hardware guide as you’re buying parts to build said system.
ANYWAY, I digress. This is definitely still a post about gaming, and I intend to keep it that way. But, gaming on Linux is very much dependent on the type of distro that you decide best suits your needs, as well as the hardware that you’re installing it on. For the remainder of these diary entries I’m going to focus primarily on Ubuntu 16.04, which is the current version that I’m running, and Ubuntu 18.04, which is the version that I’ll be upgrading to this weekend.
Just a couple of days ago, Valve announced that it had shifted the focus of its “Steam Play” initiative. Originally, Steam Play was a way to ensure that customers—no matter what their operating system preference was; Windows, Mac, or Linux—would be able to enjoy the benefits of the games they had purchased through the Steam service. That is to say, if you had a Steam account and had purchased a game that was made for Windows, but now had a Mac or Linux version available, no matter which operating system you booted into, you could download said game for that operating system.
The advent of the Linux Steam Client is what got me seriously interested in PC gaming again. Prior to February of 2013 my PC gaming days had essentially ended with the original StarCraft, with minor forays into The Elders Scrolls III and IV. Steam Play meant that I could purchase whatever game I wished, and as long as the developer or publisher released a version for Linux, I would be able to download and play it—theoretically of course… PC gaming is definitely the most finicky choice for any gamer, but it does have its advantages.
My, how things have changed in the last five years.
I’ll admit, my PC is aging… badly. This is a picture of me with my current setup:
For context, my PC is about eight years old now. I have the following relevant components:
- AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition (over clocked up to 3.8ghz, stock it’s 3.2), and I use a Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo II cooler;
- 16GB of DDR 3, 1600mhz memory;
- Nvidia GTX-960 with 4GB of video memory; and
- I have about 4 TB of storage between my two internal drives, and my two external drives.
Trust me, June of two-thousand nineteen, I plan on giving myself a very good birthday. If nothing else, I’ll be upgrading the Mobo and CPU to something more respectable, something I can actually play Hitman and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided on (since those games are already in my Steam library). But, that’s neither here nor there, really, because both of those games are native to Linux.
It’s Day 2… Well, technically it’s like Day 4, but I didn’t bother to write any of this when I was messing around with Steam much before or after upgrading my OS to Ubuntu 18.04, so these are my impressions I have of minimal experience with the beta channel under 16.04. Though, I have since upgraded, and, honestly there isn’t much difference, at least not with the games that I’ve been testing. You can expect a similar experience if you’re familiar with running the games I’ll mention below in current versions of Wine and utilizing the various Winetricks available.
The majority of the Windows-only games that I own on Steam are the PSX-era Final Fantasy games and a few other obscure titles, such as Anachronox. Amazingly, The Last Remnant is a game that appears on Valve’s list of approved games for the new Steam Play feature… That’s a game that I bought on 360 and then picked up on a Steam sale because I figured it would run well under Wine (considering it’s built on the Unreal 3 engine). Turns out, as soon as you introduce Vulkan into the mix, things get really interesting and work surprisingly well.
In the coming days I’ll be dumping some serious time into Anachronox, Final Fantasy III, IV, VII, VIII, and IX, as well as The Last Remnant, and seriously considering purchasing Kingdoms of Amalur or Mass Effect again.
I’m curious to hear what all of you have to say in the comments section, and also to hear what you would like me to focus on. I’ll try to cover all the basics, but some of this stuff might escape me, since I’m already used to digging into Wine to get some of these titles to run as-is. The one take-away that I have so far is that the new Steam Play is significantly more streamlined and user friendly. Valve has really simplified the process running in the background so that all you have to do is click the “Install” button, and then “Play” to see what happens.
The Optimistically Sentimental Alabaster Mage is also known as Berkough, you can find his other musings about video games on the blog section of his user profile at SIFTD.net (http://siftd.net/#!/profile/berkough), or by following him on Twitter @berkough.
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