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Linux Gaming in 2016, an end of year review

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Note: This is an overview, and I will be linking to previous articles for reference. So much has happened in 2016 that I’ve probably not even covered half of it. There's too much to cover in one single place it's insane.

The Vulkan graphics API
Probably one of the most important bits of news for us this year, was that the Vulkan API was finished up and released. Not long after we had driver releases with Vulkan enabled for people to play with. We also had The Talos Principle and Dota 2 release their Vulkan-enabled builds quite quickly too, which was really nice to see.

The Talos Principle was especially fun to see with the Vulkan API, as it gives much better performance for me and most others when using it. Dota 2 is a bit of a mixed bag, but Valve themselves said it is not a good test case for Vulkan.

The Unity engine will have support for Vulkan starting with Unity 5.6. Which means it’s possible we may see more and more games using Vulkan, since Unity is a very popular choice for indie developers. Unity already have unstable builds available that can use Vulkan, so hopefully it will be a nicely polished release.

Dolphin, the GameCube and Wii emulator also now has a Vulkan renderer. They claim OpenGL is still the most accurate, but this may give a little more performance.

Vulkan is what will hopefully push Linux gaming towards a more level playing field, after so many complaints about OpenGL performance for plenty of reasons from various people. 2017 is the year we will start to see more Vulkan games arrive on Linux.

Mesa
Mesa has come along something amazing this year, with it now supporting OpenGL 4.5. Not only that, but AMD now have the “radv” open source Vulkan driver and intel have their ANV Vulkan driver too. Mesa development has come on so fast it’s insane, I’m constantly surprised at just how quickly it has progressed this year.

They still have some ways to go before actually hitting 100% of course, with extensions not tied to any particular OpenGL release still to be implemented. Older generations of GPUs from all vendors still need some love too. You can see the status of Mesa and OpenGL on the MesaMatrix website.

The Mesa developers continued push for improved performance is commendable too, I’ve seen plenty of extremely happy people seeing games go from unplayable to stable framerates on Mesa in a matter of a few months.

Games
We’ve had a number of letdowns this year, with The Witcher 3 having no sign of coming. I doubt that we will ever find out what happened there. Batman: Arkham Knight for Linux was cancelled, Homefront: The Revolution still hasn’t arrived, but it’s still planned for Linux. We have a wall of silence on Street Fighter V and the list of disappointments continues for a while. I won’t dwell on that too much, but it’s worth noting for clarity that things don’t always work out.

I am still hoping that Aspyr Media manage to get Civilization VI on Linux, hopefully they had enough treats sent to them from Linux gamers now!

Looking back on game ports that did actually arrive, let’s start with the obvious choice here with Feral Interactive. While we know they put out quite a number of ports, it wasn’t really clear to me just how much until looking this up.

Feral released Medieval II: Total War Collection, XCOM 2, Tomb Raider, F1 2015, Life is Strange (all episodes), Dawn of War II, Chaos Rising, Retribution, Mad Max, Deus Ex Mankind Divided and finally Total War: WARHAMMER.

I didn’t realize how reliant Linux gaming seems to have become on Feral Interactive at the higher end. That’s without getting into all their previous ports, this is just for this year—craziness. I do have to say though, for all their effort, it’s not a good thing for us to be so reliant on one company for the majority of major ports like this. I hope to see more step up next year!

We’ve had a vast amount of other fantastic games too. For the strategy/4x fans we had Stellaris and Master of Orion both arrive with day-1 Linux support.

Tyranny was also released with Day-1 Linux support, and is easily my favourite RPG to be released on Linux recently.

The very promising open source RTS 0 A.D. managed to push out two pretty beefy alpha builds this year, with the next already under way. I am seriously looking forward to this game being in a stable state as it’s probably one of the most promising open source games around.

OpenMW, the open source engine for playing Morrowind natively on Linux also managed a healthy two big releases this year. The game is now apparently fully playable, which is an awesome milestone for the project. It’s looking like they will release another build before the year is up too.

CorsixTH, the open source engine for Theme Hospital also managed a huge new build, which has a map editor and support for user-built campaigns.

Rocket League actually managed to make an appearance, and now I’m so addicted I can’t help myself but click that play button. I now have over 46 hours in it! I also managed to interview TTimo who worked on porting it to Linux.

We had a renewed commitment to the Virtual Programming port of Arma 3, which is great news for FPS fans. Hopefully one day the gap between the Windows and Linux updates will shorten.

Virtual Programming also gave us Overlord and Overlord: Raising Hell this year, which many people have been happy about.

Those are just the tip of the iceberg this year for Linux gaming, there’s been hundreds of others of course. With us now being at nearly 3,000 games on Steam.

We had a silly amount of games released this for Linux year! We had well over 1,000 games released for Linux this year. There may be a lot of shovelware, but there’s still a lot of great games that have been released for us too.

Virtual Reality
Valve even gave us some scraps for Virtual Reality too. After their silence on it for too long, they did a demo at Steam Dev Days where the HTC Vive was shown off on Kubuntu.

There hasn’t really been anything on it since, so hopefully in early 2017 we will hear more about it. I’m still not sold on VR myself, and I’m tempted to hold-out for wireless headsets and prices to come down as they are wildly expensive right now. I am keen to try it out though, as I am hoping it’s as good as people keep saying.

Steam and its many issues
One thing I hope to see in 2017 is Valve do some more work to improve the Steam store specifically for Linux/SteamOS. The amount of times I’ve purchased a game and gone to download it, only to have it download nothing I’ve lost count of.

I recently had this issue with ‘Motorsport Manager’ back in November. The game released with a SteamOS icon, yet the developers didn’t even plan to do the Linux version until later. I contacted Valve, who did remove the SteamOS icon, but this shouldn’t happen. The developers did weeks later put the Linux version up.

Valve need to do something about this, as it’s not a rarity. Valve need some form of automated checks to ensure there is Linux content available before allowing a SteamOS icon, something just needs to be done.

GOL itself
The way I cover games here on GOL has changed dramatically too. Originally, I would try to announce as many new games as possible. This simply isn’t feasible any more due to how many games get released on Linux. I also have to spend time weeding out the junk, as there’s more junk that comes with getting an increased amount of games.

I often have an inbox full of developers asking me to look at their games, users asking me to speak to a developer, users asking for help and so on. While I’m here though, just to mention it’s not a good idea to email us for personal support, please use the Forum (the amount of personal support requests has been increasing). That goes for using article submissions for support requests too, please use the forum and don’t submit a support request as an article!

Our traffic has been steadily increasing over time. In October we hit over 200K unique hits for the first time ever. We have been going up and up since then, our traffic doesn’t stop increasing! This is a very healthy sign not only for us, but for Linux gaming. This actually helps me to remain focused, to know that an increasing amount of people come here for their daily dose of Linux gaming news. It looks like we may hit another high this month for unique traffic too, so that's pretty damn awesome.

The future
The future is brighter than ever for Linux gaming. 2017 is set to be a truly crazy year for us!

In 2017 I hope to see more companies come along to port games, and hopefully (even better) to see more original developers port their own games over. Having more game developers with Linux experience is a must for us to keep moving forward.

The list of games to come for Linux in 2017 doesn’t seem to be slowing down either. Mark my words, it’s going to be another truly massive year for us. Even if it does somehow slow down, we have so many games already filling up our library we don’t really need to worry much about finding something to play.

Thanks
I want to extend a personal thanks to every visitor, contributor, Patreon supporter and so on.

Thank you to every developer who has helped bring a game to Linux, you’re doing amazing work. Please keep at it and gives us more!

A final thank you to three other Linux sites doing wonderful stuff that I sometimes read to pass the time: OMGUbuntu, Ludic Linux and Boiling Steam.

You’re all amazing! We may not always get along, but it’s fantastic to be part of this.

Here’s to another exciting year! Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
Tags: Editorial
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I am the owner of GamingOnLinux. After discovering Linux back in the days of Mandrake in 2003, I constantly came back to check on the progress of Linux until Ubuntu appeared on the scene and it helped me to really love it. You can reach me easily by emailing GamingOnLinux directly.
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Marc Di Luzio 12 Dec, 2016
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It's been a pretty rad year! here's to 2017 :)
MaCroX95 12 Dec, 2016
Quoting: Purple Library Guy
Quoting: MaCroX95
Quoting: Purple Library Guy
Quoting: MaCroX95We have also seen a lot of cool electron-based apps
Aren't all apps electron-based? Unless you're rocking a Babbage engine . . . I don't think that's what's normally meant by Steam powered though.

Not really, Viber for example is QT based... electron is quite new framework that uses HTML5, CSS and javascript to produce desktop apps... It's not as resource efficient as others but it is very easy for developers to produce high-quality cross-platform desktop apps or software.

I fear you missed my jest. If it doesn't come to you, check the spoiler.
Spoiler, click me
You see, the word "electron" may refer to some platform, but it is also (particularly when not capitalized) the name for the elementary particles which are responsible for electricity, upon which all digital computing is based. Except for the abovementioned Babbage engines. Which, had they been built, would probably have been powered by steam (the not-capitalized kind).

Ah sure that I know what an electron is :D I was so into a specific conversation that didn't think that broad :D but anyways thanks for enlightening me with the spoiler :P
gurv 12 Dec, 2016
Yeah 2016 was awesome for Linux gaming :)
For me it's the year when Linux got enough good games that I won't ever need Windows ever again.

I don't have real disappointments, instead I'm worried about these two topics :
- Vulkan looks to have lost the battle vs DX12 already.
Just look at AAA games releases : every single one is getting a DX12 patch, none is getting a Vulkan one.
Well except for DOOM but DOOM is OpenGL so that doesn't really count.
I think we're witnessing the whole DirectX lock-in all over again. But this time it might very well be the shader language that stops developers from migrating to Vulkan (plus Microsoft offering "incentives" to go DX12)

- Linux and Mac are drifting more and more away from each other so the "resistance" to Windows gets more fragmented and harder to support for the like of Feral, Aspyr, Codeweavers etc.
Some examples :
* Mac is stuck to OpenGL 4.1 and will never get Vulkan
* Mac will probably never get good 64 bits Wine
* New Mac hardware seems to be less and less suitable for high end gaming

That said 2017 still looks very good (for example with Unity adopting Vulkan) and I'm pretty sure we will not run out of games to play for a long time! :D
silmeth 12 Dec, 2016
Quoting: gurvI think we're witnessing the whole DirectX lock-in all over again. But this time it might very well be the shader language that stops developers from migrating to Vulkan (plus Microsoft offering "incentives" to go DX12)

Well, Vulkan uses intermediate language (pretty low-level assemblery, but still platform-agnostic, one) for shaders, SPIR-V, so its adoption depends on compilers from higher-level ones, like GLSL and HLSL. Vulkan came out with a glslang compiler doing the GLSL → SPIR-V compilation and it is getting HLSL support right now, so let’s hope it won’t be an issue anymore.

On the other hand, glslang does not do optimizations, so developers have to do things like loop unrolling by hand in generated SPIR-V or search for third party optimizers (which take SPIR-V representation and output optimized GLSL, so one needs to write HLSL, compile to SPIR-V, optimize to get GLSL, compile again to SPIR-V (and after that perhaps run official SPIR-V optimizer from Khronos which does just very basic optimizations at the moment). And that is pretty cumbersome, so probably not too encouraging for the switch to Vulkan.

But let’s hope it is going to change for the better in 2017, as all those tools are open-source, SPIR-V and Vulkan are pretty good technologies, and they slowly gain popularity every day. Also remember: Vulkan is the future for Android, and huge amount of gamedev is done on Android. ;-)


Last edited by silmeth on 12 December 2016 at 9:23 pm UTC
wojtek88 12 Dec, 2016
For me it was a year that I realized that we can only count on Feral ports, Paradox games and indie developers in general. Sad, but that's true. VP didn't focus on Linux this year and Aspyr has abandoned us completely.
PublicNuisance 12 Dec, 2016
I'm very happy with the progress made this year but I just hope it continues to get better. I really hope GPU drivers get better as my main hope. Overall any progress is good though.
[Linux] tayshady 13 Dec, 2016
We missed things like Project CARS, Evolved, Darksiders 1 and 2 and many more big hits as well. :(

Although you did fail to mention games like Saint's Row 2 and Darkest Dungeon came out this year for us.

Overall something interesting will have to happen for Linux to pick up again but honestly anything is possible in the world of technology. To me personally it's only a matter of time before Linux picks up for gaming, we had a good start with SteamOS and whenever Half Life 3 happens to come out it'll be the start of a whole new wave of big AAAs again for us and reinvigorated effort.

I know Linux will be there for the long haul whenever Blizzard decides to release Hearthstone (and Overwatch) for Linux as those are the two most popular PC games right now by a long shot outside of DOTA 2 (which we already have) and LoL (dying game IMO).
Shmerl 13 Dec, 2016
QuoteLooking back on game ports that did actually arrive...
You didn't mention The Dwarves. It's easily my favorite game of 2016. Though I didn't play Tyranny yet, since I'm waiting for some major game breaking bugs to be fixed there first. But since it most likely won't happen in 2016, it won't get the title for me ;)

The biggest letdown was Witcher 3. CDPR basically silently walked away from all their promises and plans. I don't expect much from them now in regards to Cyberpunk 2077. They are drifting towards legacy publishers' mentality view on Linux gaming.


Last edited by Shmerl on 13 December 2016 at 1:44 am UTC
Kuduzkehpan 13 Dec, 2016
thx liam for your greate work.
Mike 13 Dec, 2016
This year has been the year I discovered Gaming On Linux! This is the kind of website and community I have been looking for ever since I completely got rid of Windows in 2013. Thank you for your work on keeping us updated without having to visit a thousand different websites!

Now to the gaming side: 2016 has been an amazing year for Linux, but it was not perfect. We still got a fair amount of canceled games, not-so-optimized ports, SteamOS has gone silent and without Feral Interactive we would have had nearly no AAA this year. I personally don't mind a monopoly, but it is never a good thing anyway. I feel like Aspyr Media abandoned us, but it looks like they did not do a lot of MacOS ports either.

Still, Linux gained more exposition and traction on the gaming industry: Vulkan works (not yet at 100% of its capacities), every major game engines support our platform, VR is coming, drivers are nearly on pair with Windows... This paves the way for future games.

2017 will be a very interesting year.
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