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Ryan Gordon and Ethan Lee on Proton and the Steam Deck

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For anyone who has been around Linux gaming for a while, the names Ryan "Icculus" Gordon and Ethan Lee will be well known as developers who port games to Linux and work on the tech behind tons of games.

Recently, our friends at Nuclear Monster spoke to both about Proton and the upcoming Steam Deck. Both giving a very different outlook on the future of Linux gaming, so it's interesting to see their perspectives on this considering how respected they both are for their work. For those who don't know Ryan Gordon maintains a lot of SDL, the MojoSetup installer (used by GOG), MojoShader, and ports to various platforms (not just Linux). Ethan Lee created FNA, the reimplementation of Microsoft's XNA, and Lee has probably ported more to Linux than anyone else (along with macOS too).

In the post with Ryan Gordon, it starts off with a little personal thought from the writer (who is sceptical of relying on Wine/Proton) but Gordon sees it differently. Gordon mentions it's no longer a case of talking about how many people directly use Linux of the desktop or how many install SteamOS but the focus will be on sales number for what's basically a type of games console. It is an interesting point, as eventually it could lead to millions of people with a Linux-powered handheld:

And maybe someday down the road, if this is wildly successful, we tell people that it’s a no-brainer to target 18 bazillion Linux users that aren’t Linux users so much as customers reliably running a Linux-based game console. The end result for you and me—clicking “install” in our desktop Steam client—is the same, even if it took millions of unaware and uninterested other people to get us there.

Ryan Gordon - Nuclear Monster Interview

The subject of porting to Linux did come up too. Since Valve have and continue to invest into Steam Play Proton, they're telling developers you don't need to port. Here's what Gordon had to say on that:

Even in the short term, one can always make the argument: okay, sure, your Windows game runs here, but you want more performance, more control, and no worries that Proton didn’t quite paper over some Windows thing weirdly? Then stop letting Valve treat your game like some RetroPie target and do a real Linux port. That choice is available to you now, almost six months before anyone will hold a Steam Deck.

Ryan Gordon - Nuclear Monster Interview

Gordon further mentions how we should hustle, not think of it as some kind of funeral for Linux gaming.

The complete opposite it true when Nuclear Monster spoke to Ethan Lee, who was far more negative about the whole situation. Lee sees Proton as an "essential preservation project" and did even contribute work to it when contracting for CodeWeavers. However, Lee seems to think that Proton and Valve's marketing with the Steam Deck will result in packing up shop and moving on from game porting:

I have my remaining contractual obligations, but short of a complete 180 from Valve that is very very loud I have to walk away and go do other things for a living. A course correction is unlikely, as they seem abnormally confident that developers will just magically come to me after the device’s inevitable success, which is basically asking me to just casually accept that I’m going to endure even bigger losses than I already have with an empty promise that my business will turn around based on a third party’s big risk that they think anyone can endure. It feels very like much I built my own casket having worked on Proton, and as they’re shoveling dirt onto me they’re going “don’t worry, you’ll be fine when someone else finds you!”

Ethan Lee - Nuclear Monster Interview

Sounds like Lee will also be moving away from FNA development too. Both interviews are worth a read.

What are your thoughts? You can see some of our early thoughts in a previous article.

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Eike Jul 21, 2021
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Quoting: skinnyrafSo it seems that this time Valve does not want this dependency. They control Proton, they work with Wine developers, so if something breaks, they can fix it themselves. Thus this time the message to developers is not to develop for Linux, but to ensure that their games use Proton-friendly technology (especially Vulkan) and Valve would take care of the rest.

Hm. Seen from developer's side, the opposite would be true: You control your port, but not what happens with Proton.
const Jul 21, 2021
It's not like there is some magical porting knowledge base valve could point a lazy developer to. They say games don't need to be ported, they don't say they shouldn't. But if a studio wants to create a native port, they should get past a marketing faq stating they don't need to, anyway. On the other hand, lazy devs would have found out about proton anyway and they need more reason then some marketing faq to do a native port.

In the end, it will all come down to dedication and demand. SteamDeck is a real platform with real limitations, so developers might very soon start making it a direct target to make their game appealing like they do on consoles. They won't do it until they checked their options and estimated demand, though.

Ethan Lee is a very special porter that can't be praised enough. I hope he'll find some projects to survive until hopefully demand will raise again. I can actually imagine him getting into consulting for a while, he could teach best practices to those who seriously want to get into native SteamDeck development.
Most bigger porting studios though used to use compatibility layers anyway, I really don't consider Aspyr a loss compared to what we gained with Proton. Feral pretty much gave up on Linux for ?years? now, there's hardly anyting to accelerate any more.

Last edited by const on 21 July 2021 at 1:04 pm UTC
Lachu Jul 21, 2021
That's very deep unknown.

In one hand Valve send money to game vendors for each sold copy. Not manner, if it is Windows version or Linux, company get paid the same amount of money. I do not known, why, in this case, companies should do Linux port. They will have Proton.

But in other end. If Linux customers will ask for Linux port, they will got it. Of course, in cases, when they will be much Linux users.

Most important thing is to made developing for Linux easier than Windows. Valve should take focus on Steam Runtime (there is many Steam Runtime, such like soldier). Case Linux is Open, creating tools for developers should been simpler. I am developer, but not professional. I use only IDE, compiler, valgrind, build tools, gdb and KVM with Qemu + Libvirt.
calvin Jul 21, 2021
I think this whole situation is getting some thoughts into gear about distributing for Linux in general, with the Proton saga as a part of it. In general, I think Valve has learned many lessons from Steam Machines in general.

Quoting: LachuMost important thing is to made developing for Linux easier than Windows. Valve should take focus on Steam Runtime (there is many Steam Runtime, such like soldier). Case Linux is Open, creating tools for developers should been simpler. I am developer, but not professional. I use only IDE, compiler, valgrind, build tools, gdb and KVM with Qemu + Libvirt.

I think this demonstrates a lot of ignorance of the Windows development environment. Speaking as someone who does POSIX-platform development professionally, the development experience on Windows is pretty nice (assuming you don't treat it like Linux). I'd much rather use Visual Studio than gdb. For gamedevs in particular, stuff like PIX was essential to debugging graphical programs. Of course, Valve realizes that tooling is essential - that's why they've invested in Renderdoc.
Mohandevir Jul 21, 2021
Quoting: MakiI'm not an Arch user myself, so I don't know how that stuff works. If you want to drop a new user onto any flavour of Linux, I tend to prefer Debian and its related family of distros such as Mint and *buntu since their binary setup with a .deb-based package manager makes it fairly consistent to help people across the distro family, even if *buntu makes it a bit weird with PPAs and whatnot.

Being a ChimeraOS user, I can tell you that it's Arch, but it's not Arch at the same time. The basic user that just want to pickup de Steam Deck and play Steam games will probably never have to meddle with the system so he/she won't even notice that it's Arch that runs. All updates will be pushed through tools like frzr that will send a complete and "Valve approved" image of the system partitions.

The only part where I'm curious to know how it will be done, it's on the "Steam Deck desktop" side and all that productivity stuff... Will Valve create a SteamOS app store that integrates Proton too? Looking forward to discover how it works. They must have tought about something for those that are not tech savy.

Last edited by Mohandevir on 21 July 2021 at 1:47 pm UTC
kuhpunkt Jul 21, 2021
I get that Ethan is frustrated, but that seems extreme. Of course he wants to keep porting, but at what cost? Without Proton there would hardly be any progress on the gaming front.
Mohandevir Jul 21, 2021
Quoting: GuestValve control the gaming, Valve control "Proton" (yes, it's open source, but Valve still realistically control how it's used), and Valve are essentially saying to make games for Windows.

Remember that Valve does not care for GNU/Linux. At all. It cares about not being under Microsoft's thumb, and GNU/Linux has been a means to that end. Can't even call it GNU/Linux soon, as Steam is proprietary and very locked down.

From a business and corporate perspective, Valve are doing their job well. I don't blame Valve for anything at all, just to be clear.

I don't see it good for GNU/Linux however. It's consolidating more gaming under the control of someone who is not the user. If a user doesn't mind that, well, fine. Their choice, nothing wrong with that. I'm personally not a fan of this direction, don't, haven't been for some time, don't view it as progress, and nothing wrong with that as my opinion either.

So why even write this? In the hope people think about what's happening with their gaming, with their systems, and ask themselves if they're truly ok with it (regardless of what the answer to that may be).

You got really valid points that crosses my mind from time to time, but objectively... Remove Steam from the equation and return to pre 2012 gaming... Is gaming on Linux a thing? We are kind of stuck, imo. I chose the "lesser evil" even if some "would rather not chose at all".

Edit: This said, you can still choose not to use any Valve solutions and just run every games through Lutris or Wine and still benefit from Valve's investments (Codweaver/Drivers).So it did much for GNU/Linux anyway.

Last edited by Mohandevir on 21 July 2021 at 7:11 pm UTC
igimenez Jul 21, 2021
i want to leave a recent experience that i have in my linux gaming experience. I start to play recently many multiplayer games with a friend of mine, he run windows, i run linux, all multiplayer's games on steam. Some of the games that we play where Borderlands 2 and Terraria. Both games have a linux port that work flawless, but i can´t play with him if we are in different platforms. In the case o Borderlands, because the linux and windows versions are not the same (linux is obviously an old version) and the case of terraria, the versions are the same, but if i want to host a game for multiplayer, he can´t connect to the game. In terraria i ultimately fix the problem running a terraria server in my pc, and both can connect to the server, he in windows, and i in linux. But in borderlands, i had to install the proton version (with work flawlesly).

So, this is a great problem. I can search and fix the problem, but a lot of people, if they can not play a multiplayer game with it's friends, will just blame linux.
I can understand Steam trying to make that all games in linux, can run easy and unattended with proton. This way, the less tech savvy user can use and buy all the games without doubts
slaapliedje Jul 21, 2021
My thoughts on Proton remain the same. It's a useful tool for those games that'll never get a port, are old enough the company doesn't care about it anymore (and hence aren't patching it) and that is about it. If a game is getting constant patches, it should be native. The developers should treat each platform equally (they usually don't with patches coming out months later, if ever, for the Linux release).

For the games that require third party stores... wonder how they'd work with a native version of their stores, would they integrate Proton into their stores so that older games that they won't patch will work, while newer games could be native? That'd be interesting to see. Either way, very interesting times ahead!

The biggest problem I see is all the 'well almost works flawlessly in Proton, but you have to add command parameters to get it to work' games. People just buying this to have a portable Call of Duty are going to be disappointed when they have to hack around with command parameters to get it to work... and then just try to figure out how to install Windows...
Lachu Jul 21, 2021
Quoting: GuestI don't see it good for GNU/Linux however. It's consolidating more gaming under the control of someone who is not the user.

But what else than Valve/Steam? Valve controlling large spectrum on gaming comercial-linux-market. I think open source are not so great than closed source/commercial. I do not tell open source software is bad. It is great. I use only open source software (excluding firmware, DRM for video watching, BIO, etc.), but no games. I am happy with that. If open source games give any alternative, I will use open source games.

I can paid for open source software. I was give donation to KDE team recently. Of course, I give a lot more for closed source software/games, but as regular user, I think open source software should give this benefit (cheaper), because it is a democracy/free market and in this case money are better used (I paid for what I want - for example - I do not like option A, I do not paid for it and it never will be added to some open source software, etc. ). Maybe that means, open source software developers get smaller amount of money, but I am not 100% sure. Firstly, there is no piracy and people will paid as much as they can. Secondly OS developers can collaborate with other projects and charity people (sorry, English is not my native) easier, so there is not the same cost of creating software.

In summarize, I can paid for Open Source software, but if Open Source games are worth it? Of course - freedom is very important and If we paid corporation, it will lobby to take of more of our laws, etc. But gaming is like watching movies - it is like communing with culture. If I do not commune with culture, I will be really freedom?
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