Linux Gaming – Are we there yet?
For a long time, I’ve wanted to use Linux. The problem is that if I use Linux, I can’t play most games. But recently, Linux gaming has received attention from game developers and the media. More and more people see Linux as a serious alternative to Windows, but is it time for you to switch? Keep reading to find out.
//Why you should care about Linux
Linux is a free operating system. There are lots of different ‘versions’ of Linux, and these are called distributions. Each distribution has its own functions and appearance. Some of the most popular distributions are Ubuntu, Mint, and Fedora.
So why should you care about Linux? Well, for starters, it’s free. You’ve probably not noticed the cost of Windows before because it’s normally bundled in with your PC. But when you buy a Windows PC, you are paying for that operating system in the total purchase cost.
Another reason to use Linux is that it gives developers complete freedom; something which you might not see in future versions of Windows. Many developers have voiced their dissatisfaction with Windows 8, and are now looking to develop more games for Linux. More games means more gamers. More gamers means more games, and, well, you see where this is going. Many people stick with Windows because it is the operating system for which developers make games. But that could change.
//Having your cake and eating it
If you want to try Linux, but you’re not ready to lose Windows completely, then you have a couple of options. Firstly, it’s now possible – and easy – to install Linux on a CD or USB stick and run it from there. Simply boot directly from your storage media, and you’ll be able to try out Linux as if it were installed. It’ll be slow, but you’ll have a chance to get a feel for it.
The second option, if you want to keep Windows, is to install Linux using a dual boot method. With dual booting you have more than one operating system on a single computer. You choose between operating systems when you start up your PC. This is the option that I chose, you get full speed performance and more storage space for games.
Installing Linux is easy; you download an installation disc, put it on some kind of storage media and tell your PC to boot from that storage media. You then go through the installation steps, which are similar to installing a game. This is an oversimplification; if you want more information, check out this guide.
There are lots of distributions to choose from, and which one you go for will come down to personal preference. Most gamers will want to go for the Ubuntu distribution; it’s a popular version of Linux, and it’s the distribution for which Valve are developing Steam.
Ubuntu is good at picking up peripherals automatically. Headsets and gamepads often work without any manual installations. I had to download a small program to get my 360 controller to work, but it was a simple process.
You may find that you have more problems with Linux than Windows – but with Linux you’re free to tinker behind the scenes to fix those problems. The community for every distribution of Linux is strong, but with Ubuntu the large volume of users mean that it’s easy to get support, normally far easier than with Windows.
//What games to play
So you’ve installed Linux. You’ve messed around with the menus and figured out the Unity interface. What next? Well, your options for gaming on Linux are huge, and they’re growing all the time. You can put Linux games into three groups:
1. Native games
Linux has always had games of its own. Many developers have created games specifically for the system, or ported Windows games across.
There are a range of games which work in Linux, and many of them are fun and well polished. The Humble Indie Bundle has brought many top tier indie games to Linux. Minecraft is another hugely popular game which is not limited to Windows.
2. Steam games
Steam is designed to work best in Ubuntu, but can work with other distributions. Currently the selection of Steam games which work on Linux is limited.
The majority of the Steam games which work on Linux are indie titles. This isn’t a terrible thing, but it does limit your choices. Valve are porting some of their most popular games to the platform. You can already play Counter Strike Source and Team Fortress 2, and there are plans to bring more big games to Linux.
3. WINE games
WINE allows you to run Windows games – and other programs – from Linux. It’s been around for over 15 years and is now fairly easy to use. There’s a great deal of support; so when you get error messages, you’ll be able to find out what to do with them.
//Why you shouldn’t switch to Linux – yet
I’ve loved running Ubuntu – and I’ll keep it as a dual boot on my PC. But I won’t abandon Windows completely. Some games required a lot of system tweaking before they would work, and that isn’t something I’d like to do on a regular basis.
The main issue is graphics drivers, which are not nearly as complete and easy to use as their Windows counterparts. In trying to get Counter Strike Source to work, I tried a variety of graphics driver setups, but none worked. One completely ruined my Ubuntu boot, and I had to reinstall the entire operating system.
There are people with a lot more technical knowledge than me, and Linux is great for them. But for an average PC user, Linux is not at the point where everything works without hassle.If developers continue to work on the system, Linux could be very usable in the near future. When this happens, I’ll be happy to say goodbye to Windows. Until then, Microsoft still has a place on my hard drive.