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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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96 comments
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Quoting: Lofty
Quoting: dubigrasuwe have a saying: befriend the devil until you cross the bridge.

we also have a saying: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
I've always hated that particular saying. Cuz, you know, it isn't. Sure, you can cherry pick cases where good intentions lead to bad outcomes. But come on, what's it supposed to mean? Does it mean you should have BAD intentions so you go to Heaven? What?
There's plenty of intentions out there that aren't good, and they are what cause most of the problems.
jens 21 Jul
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This blog post appeared on the GoL discord server:
https://mdiluz.micro.blog/2021/07/19/native-linux-ports.html
It's an interesting read and adds another perspective to that discussion.


Last edited by jens on 21 July 2021 at 9:24 pm UTC
Quoting: jensThis blog post appeared on the GoL discord server:
https://mdiluz.micro.blog/2021/07/19/native-linux-ports.html
It's an interesting read and adds another perspective to that discussion.
It is an interesting read. On one hand, it's pretty explicitly saying that Proton or something like it (with the needed ingredients of Vulkan and stuff like DXVK) is the solution.
On the other, it strikes me as implicitly (although the poster himself maybe has a blind spot for that because his background is very specifically in porting existing games) supporting the point made often but in this thread mainly by CatKiller, that it's best to develop cross-platform from the start rather than developing with an orientation to one platform and then having to make tons of changes to port to another.
1xok 21 Jul
Sad to here this from Ethan. This is called precarious employment. These contracts are favourable for Valve. It's a hire and fire philosophy. Even without having to fire anyone. I don't think it's okay.

Everyone needs a certain amount of planning security. You have to be able to look around for something new without worrying. I also don't know if Linux is really so far that you should let all the know-how go. How many people are there who know so much about Ethan's field? Sound problems are the nastiest in gaming. Something the brain can't block out. Makes a game basically unplayable.
F.Ultra 21 Jul
Quoting: Purple Library GuyIt strikes me that Lee's reaction is kind of forgetting that all the existing Linux desktops, that up to now have been the only reason for releasing native Linux games, will still be there after the Steam Deck releases. Even if people targeting the Steam Deck ignore native releases, that doesn't actually shrink the incentive to release native. So I think he might be overreacting.

Well it's not easy to see all that you have spent thousands of hours building up come crumbling down, and having once been in the same situation I fully understand Ethan:s feelings here. I do hope that he realised soon however that he is one hell of a developer and that there are millions of other things than conversions that can use a man of his talents, then at some point in time conversions will be back again and he can return to what he loves to do.
After musing a bit longer, I think Ethan Lee has a point, but it's a limited one. That is, I think he may be right that it's going to be hard to get work porting games to Linux, which is hard on him and I'm sorry for it, and yet I think going forward a successful Steam Deck will still lead to more native Linux games.
Let me lay out a couple of distinctions. So, up to now, most games have run on Proton as it were by co-incidence. The makers of those games have no interest in Linux, may have barely heard of Linux, and the fact that the games run is all down to the hard work and talents of the Wine and Proton and DXVK developers. There seem to be a few exceptions to this, we've lately seen game developers say things about trying to ensure their game runs well on Proton, but it seems fairly rare. So, we have a big population of games and developers that don't give a hoot about Linux, and many of the games run on Proton despite this.

So then there are the somewhat smaller group of developers who do care about Linux somewhat. What impact has Proton had, up to now, on that smaller group? Well, it doesn't seem to have really stopped people from developing games in cross-platform ways that include Linux, as far as I can tell. There's still a strong stream of new games supporting Linux from the beginning. Maybe it's tailed off a bit since the heady days when people thought the Steam Machines might be a thing, but that's been a long gradual thing and I haven't noticed it getting worse since Proton. One might have expected that to happen, but I don't think it did.

But it does seem like the existence of Proton has already reduced the viability of the porting business as such; note the way Feral has basically moved on from doing that and nobody has really replaced them. Why spend all that money and effort porting an existing game when it probably works fine on Proton already, or can be made to do so pretty easily?

If the Steam Deck succeeds, it seems like it will greatly increase the number of developers giving Linux a thought at all. Steam's increased emphasis on Proton, both in terms of telling developers about it and improving the technology itself, does make it even less likely that developers thinking about Linux will bother porting existing games. And even though there will be a lot more of them, Ethan Lee might be quite right that the chance they'll bother doing a port will drop so low that there will still be a lot fewer ports happening. Anyone who just started thinking about Linux because of the Steam Deck will, when looking at their back catalogue, surely conclude that as long as the games run on Proton that should be fine--any improvement wouldn't be worth the cost and effort of making a port. Ryan Gordon may indeed be disappointed if he tries to persuade more people to port their existing games.

But new games, and the decision to target Linux or not from the beginning, is a different question. Going forward, there will be two factors--on one hand, Linux has far more visibility and users than before; on the other, that target can at least somewhat be satisfied by paying attention to having it work in Proton. Which factor will dominate? Based on what we've seen to date, with that side being less impacted by Proton, I think it's likely the first factor will dominate and overall, while some developers may not build for Linux because Proton is good enough, the gain from it being a bigger platform will be greater.

So if I had to make a guess I'd expect, if the Steam Deck is a big success, in the end we'll see fewer ports but more games built Linux native from the start. Which suggests that Mr. Lee and Mr. Gordon's best bet might be to shift to consulting on how to properly do cross-platform Linux friendly development on new games, rather than porting old ones. Although I'd certainly be happy enough to see Valve hire Ethan Lee, as he suggests, to work on infrastructure.


Last edited by Purple Library Guy on 21 July 2021 at 10:44 pm UTC
Lofty 21 Jul
Quoting: Purple Library Guy
Quoting: Lofty
Quoting: dubigrasuwe have a saying: befriend the devil until you cross the bridge.

we also have a saying: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I've always hated that particular saying. Cuz, you know, it isn't. Sure, you can cherry pick cases where good intentions lead to bad outcomes.. But come on, what's it supposed to mean?

Cherry pick or not it still works in it's intended usage in the moment. It is supposed to mean that an unintended consequence creating a perceived negative outcome is as a result of good will to adapt or improve something, but it actually makes the end result worse. Quite obviously, this does not apply to everything, but it doesn't need to as you wouldn't be using that phrase if you didn't think a worse outcome had happened.. of course that is all perception, a perceived truth.

QuoteDoes it mean you should have BAD intentions so you go to Heaven? What?

il quote the wiki on this: "Hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works"
given it's biblical context, im guessing the answer to your question is no. It's just a proverb.


actually the wikipedia article on this is fairly self explanatory:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_road_to_hell_is_paved_with_good_intentions
(there is an example in there also)

again the wiki:
Quotewriting about altruism, suggests that good intentions are often not what they seem and that mankind normally acts from less worthy, selfish motives—"If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, it is partly because that is the road they generally start out on."

Which is another perspective. I hadn't applied this to Linux gaming using proton/wine, initially at least. But then again perhaps valves good intentions had a predefined path to begin with(they are a corporation after all). Perhaps a perceived good intention by the community was merely an illusion to draw you into a kind of vendor lock in on an open platform.. but that's too cynical i guess.

Back on topic,
i have had access to so many more titles because of proton and they worked better than native in many instances. Given valve have tried the push for native already and it largely didn't work this is the only option left on the table. But to assume altruism from valves part would be naive, they knew their path alright.


(other thoughts, Steam is not the only way to game on Linux. Perhaps one day we might see some sort of opensource gaming store that is fully independent of anything we have now but the question is would you actually want to play any of those titles?)


Last edited by Lofty on 21 July 2021 at 10:47 pm UTC
Quoting: Lofty
Quoting: Purple Library Guy
Quoting: Lofty
Quoting: dubigrasuwe have a saying: befriend the devil until you cross the bridge.

we also have a saying: the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

I've always hated that particular saying. Cuz, you know, it isn't. Sure, you can cherry pick cases where good intentions lead to bad outcomes.. But come on, what's it supposed to mean?

Cherry pick or not it still works in it's intended usage in the moment. It is supposed to mean that an unintended consequence creating a perceived negative outcome is as a result of good will to adapt or improve something, but it actually makes the end result worse. Quite obviously, this does not apply to everything, but it doesn't need to as you wouldn't be using that phrase if you didn't think a worse outcome had happened.. of course that is all perception, a perceived truth.

QuoteDoes it mean you should have BAD intentions so you go to Heaven? What?

il quote the wiki on this: "Hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works"
given it's biblical context, im guessing the answer to your question is no. It's just a proverb.


actually the wikipedia article on this is fairly self explanatory:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_road_to_hell_is_paved_with_good_intentions
(there is an example in there also)

again the wiki:
Quotewriting about altruism, suggests that good intentions are often not what they seem and that mankind normally acts from less worthy, selfish motives—"If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, it is partly because that is the road they generally start out on."

Which is another perspective. I hadn't applied this to Linux gaming using proton/wine, initially at least. But then again perhaps valves good intentions had a predefined path to begin with(they are a corporation after all). Perhaps a perceived good intention by the community was merely an illusion to draw you into a kind of vendor lock in on an open platform.. but that's too cynical i guess.

Back on topic,
i have had access to so many more titles because of proton and they worked better than native in many instances. Given valve have tried the push for native already and it largely didn't work this is the only option left on the table. But to assume altruism from valves part would be naive, they knew their path alright.


(other thoughts, Steam is not the only way to game on Linux. Perhaps one day we might see some sort of opensource gaming store that is fully independent of anything we have now but the question is would you actually want to play any of those titles?)
I'll be frank: I think modern invocation of that saying stems largely from fuzzy thinking (which is also generally the condition under which good intentions lead to bad outcomes, and it would be a lot more relevant to say so than to blame the good intentions themselves).
But I think the original saying comes from,yes, an older Christian context and basically means that what seems like reasonable ethics may contradict what the priests tell you the will of God says--and under those circumstances, you best be listening to the priests. Or else. Going around listening to your good intentions instead of authority is the way to heresy, so cool it with the thinking for yourself.
So in both modern and earlier contexts, I'm not a big fan.


Last edited by Purple Library Guy on 21 July 2021 at 11:02 pm UTC
mirv 21 Jul
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Quoting: Lofty(other thoughts, Steam is not the only way to game on Linux. Perhaps one day we might see some sort of opensource gaming store that is fully independent of anything we have now but the question is would you actually want to play any of those titles?)

I think it's generally called a package manager.

If you mean a store that provides an open source client, itch.io does that. The games themselves aren't typically open source of course.
Lofty 21 Jul
Quoting: Purple Library GuyI'll be frank: I think modern invocation of that saying stems largely from fuzzy thinking (which is also generally the condition under which good intentions lead to bad outcomes, and it would be a lot more relevant to say so than to blame the good intentions themselves).

That sounds like a weird form of relativism, i think you may be over complicating the intention. Id be more than happy to talk about this in the PM's if you want but i don't wish to jam this thread up with that discussion at this point.

QuoteBut I think the original saying comes from an older Christian context and basically means that what seems like reasonable ethics may contradict what the priests tell you the will of God says--and under those circumstances, you best be listening to the priests. Or else.

Again, if your inclined i can discuss this in PM's, im not sure gamingonlinux is a suitable place for religious opinions.
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