Late last year, I wrote about Steam and their future towards Linux-based games and related hardware. Valve being a large actor in the digital distribution market, we could expect some additional movement and support from third parties, yet the beginning of 2014 had been relatively quiet. Until now. Several announcements were made recently that show signs of accelerating support for Linux in the gaming world. Holy Molly!
The past few months have been relatively eventful for the Linux Gaming World. There’s been support announced on all sides of the industry. First, Steam has been providing more and more (indie) games for Linux users. Not all Steam games work on Linux, but it’s certainly increasing at a very decent pace, with about one game out of five making it to Linux. There has been decent additions to the list with the release of Octodad and Papers, Please very recently. That last game proved to be so popular that it was even featured on the BBC.
The good news is that it’s not just Steam anymore that’s going to support Linux. You can argue that they were already several other actors on the Linux Gaming market, such as Desura or The Humble Bundle, but let’s face it: Desura is virtually unknown to most people, and The Humble Bundle has been adopting a diversification strategy and not really focusing on bringing all their offers on Linux and MacOS anymore. However a new contender just came in the arena. GOG (aka Good Old Games), has just announced their intention to support Linux (at least Ubuntu and Mint) within this year, for some part of their catalog. GOG is a significant company in that space since they sell many older DOS and Windows Games that could easily run, out of the box, on a Linux environment (using DosBox), but that’s not all. More and more indie games and some AAA titles also make it to GOG. Last but not least, CD Projekt is behind GOG and they produce The Witcher RPG series on their own and sell it on GOG as well, DRM-free. And that’s where the second piece of good news come from. A recent look at Steamdb has shown that there is ongoing development for a Linux build of The Witcher 2, one of the best looking games from 2011, and one of the best RPGs to date. You can already download most of the game on Steam Linux (18 gigas of assets) while the binary is still missing to actually launch it. It should not take too long to see the full game appear there.
Cd Projekt themselves have also declared they may be interested to have The Witcher 3 launching on Linux and Steam Boxes as well, “if it makes sense commercially”. Maybe the port of The Witcher 2 is a way for them to better evaluate that market in the first place. Anyway, the Witcher 2 is just another AAA title to come to the Linux world, and they are sufficiently rare so far that it’s worth mentioning it. We’re still waiting to hear about Rome Total War 2 after it was announced late 2013. Another AAA game may soon hit Steam for Linux, since Valve has been active behind the scenes to port Portal 2 for Linux, and a beta is now available for those who purchased it on Steam previously for other platforms.
By the way, Valve has recently open-sourced on github one of their libraries, ToGL, to convert Direct3D code to OpenGL. It’s apparently what they used to create the port of DOTA2 on Linux. They clearly mention it’s not usable as it is for other games, but it could serve as a foundation to build up a more standard tool in the future.
So, some publishers and distributors are getting excited, but there’s been some news as well from the companies in charge of Middleware or game engines. CryteK has announced just a couple of weeks ago that they ported their CryEngine to Linux and they expect their future games to be ported on the platform. That’s the same engine used by Ryse on the XboxOne.
That would also open the door for Crysis 2 and Crysis 3 on Linux. At the recent GDC in San Francisco, Epic has announced that their new Unreal Engine 4 would feature Linux support in the future, on top of their new business model to make it more indie-friendly.
Unity3D is still behind: you can export binaries to Linux, but you still can’t run the editor client in a Linux environment natively. There was a petition on the Unity website late 2013 to request such a port, but so far Unity has not committed anything about bringing one. However I’d bet it is likely to change in the future. If the pace of Linux support continues to accelerate, there’s not reason for them to bypass that market.
But Linux is not just surfing on the wave of current generation engines, it’s not intending to miss any of the VR developments either. The GDC this year in San Francisco was all about the new VR solutions, and both the new DK2 model of the Occulus Rift and the Project Morpheus from Sony attracted the spotlights. Sony’s solution is likely to remain proprietary for the PS4 console, but Occulus Rift is definitely going to stay multiplatform. It already supports Linux via its SDK, and will be a strong companion to the planned Steam Boxes down the road.
As you can see, the recent news seem to indicate an increased industry interest for the Linux gaming platform, and while this does not directly relate to the Pandora or Pyra, it’s very likely that it will have some positive impact in one way or another. At this stage, nobody really cares if “2014 will be the year of the Linux Desktop” or not, it’s looking more and more like a viable alternative Gaming Platform and catching up fast to MacOS in terms of developer support, and that took just a little more than a year to get there.
I’ll be back on this topic later in the year to confirm the expected progress… Stay tuned.