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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.

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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igimenez 21 Jul
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 21 Jul
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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...
mirv 21 Jul
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Quoting: Mohandevir
Quoting: mirvValve 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 chose 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.

Absolutely - the investments made to get where they (Valve) wanted to be are helpful overall anyway. And it's how I think companies should operate - contribute directly or financially to open source, to develop something useful for themselves.

Valve dominating so much is a combination of them making it easy to use their product (Steam), other companies not investing in the platform to be competitive for games distribution, and I daresay most users not caring about openness as much (that "sounds" negative I suppose, but I don't mean it that way - an observation only!).
Lachu 21 Jul
Quoting: mirvI 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?
denyasis 21 Jul
I'm coming to the conclusion that proton is inevitable.

"Write once, run everywhere"

Kinda goes straight into that philosophy and if I've heard of that mantra, I'm sure every developer trained has as well.

I wouldn't call devs lazy for using proton. Is it really that different from hitting "export" in unity in terms of results? Both fit that mantra don't they.

I can see the ideal here, write one game and know that a runtime/framework/interpretor/layer takes care of the nitty gritty so the game runs on everything. The OS doesn't matter.

I think I'd still prefer native. It seems more... Stable? But I wonder if that'll always be there case?
mirv 21 Jul
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Quoting: Lachu
Quoting: mirvI 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?

That's a really valid point. My own take on it is that I'd like to be as extreme as RMS, but in all practical scenarios it's not feasible from a cultural participation perspective (in this case, games). So I instead try for open source on the OS, open source to choose something to run; running a game is my choice, but what is needed to run the game should be open source.
CatKiller 21 Jul
Quoting: MohandevirThe 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?

I think we might see more things like Blender on Steam.
STiAT 21 Jul
I think this was inevitable, steam machines, link and controller made them learn a lot, and brought them to the investment onto d9vk, dxvk and wine/proton.

They did realize that they could not move a lot of developers to native ports because they did not reach a critical mass. They realized without the support they will not.

I think proton may be the only way because it's a compatibility layer they can support on their own.

While I could not care less if a game uses wine or not to run as long as it runs fine, I do personally not think that will be possible without a huge number of developers actually supporting proton/wine for the game developers. And just the caring about the bugs in proton costs money for a studio.

I do not see that, and while wine got a lot better in the years, there is so much which prevents a lot of games behaving properly.

Browser support, .NET support, sound, cutscenes, etc. are still lacking in areas, as is anti cheat, and while we heared about anti cheat, we didn't hear about any of the others.

A lot of games need Proton tweaks. Of course they could do that at valve, but that team would need to be huge, and often wold require a custom proton (and not just an own prefix) for a certain game to work around side effects which just do not occur in windows - since a best assumption how to handle certain things in linux compared to windows is just that, and there is a lot of that in wine. While 80 percent of the time accurate, it's not the other 20 percent.
ShabbyX 21 Jul
Valve actively asking devs not to port doesn't sound great, though chances are it's because native ports (sometimes done in a hurry) don't work as well as proton, so it makes sense to tell devs to use proton if they are otherwise going to do a terrible job at porting. Valve probably has data here we don't have, so don't be so quick to judge.

Regarding native ports in the future, I think it's pretty obvious. If you are a dev and your game has 20m users on Linux, you *will* spend resources on a native port, simply because the risk of proton breaking your game and you getting 20m angry users is too high. So if the game is successful (and so is deck), it (or the next game from the developer) will get a native port.
kuhpunkt 21 Jul
Quoting: STiATBrowser support, .NET support, sound, cutscenes, etc. are still lacking in areas, as is anti cheat, and while we heared about anti cheat, we didn't hear about any of the others.

They addressed it in one of their FAQs and said that devs should use Vulkan in general, avoid .NET stuff and Media Foundation.
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