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5 years ago Valve released Proton forever changing Linux gaming

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Has it really been that long? Apparently so. Valve originally announced their rebranding of Steam Play with Proton back on August 21st, 2018. Seems like a good time for a quick reflection being halfway to a decade old now.

The problem: before, during and just after the original Steam Machine push developers just weren't porting many games to Linux, and on the whole really when you look back Linux gaming was in a period of mostly stagnation. Nothing much was happening. A lot of the early porting work that came along was slowly dying off since the Steam Machines didn't provide the boost Valve and Linux gamers were hoping for. 

Originally, “Steam Play” simply meant you could buy a game on Steam and get access to all versions of it. So if you purchased a game on Windows, you could play it on Linux if it had a Native Linux version (same again for macOS). Clearly though, that wasn't enough for what Valve had planned. So if Valve wanted to make Linux a better platform for people to actually use it, they needed something more.

Popular games needed to be able to run on Linux if more people were to use it, because what good is a platform for gaming if tons of the most played games weren’t compatible? As Valve saw with the Steam Machines (not the only reason of course) it doesn’t end well.

I remember being sat in my office at the time, going over my TODO list of various articles and games to cover, planning the week ahead. Ready to then probably go to bed and then BAM — out of nowhere this announcement comes along from Valve that basically said “you're going to be hella busy, better get a lot of coffee”. Valve had partnered up with CodeWeavers and Proton was the answer. 

Proton being the name Valve gave to their fork of Wine with a bunch of added extras, and it has changed Linux gaming forever. Steam Play is more than just Proton though, be sure to read my full Steam Play Proton guide. Side-note: John Carmack (id Software / Oculus VR / Keen Technologies) even thought Wine was the solution back in 2013.

Of course Proton wouldn't have been possible without all the many years of work that went into the Wine project in the first place, and everyone who contributed to Wine should be applauded for their effort. Valve has funded a lot of extra work though to get things like DXVK and VKD3D-Proton for the translation from Direct3D to Vulkan into a state where performance can be really great! Valve also funds work on Linux graphics drivers, Linux kernel work and the list goes on.

Just how much has Proton changed things though? Well, we certainly wouldn't have the Steam Deck if it wasn't for Proton. There's no way Valve would have released their handheld without as many games as possible, clearly learning their lesson on the failure of the Steam Machines. But as we all know, the Steam Machines burned so Proton and the Steam Deck could rise from the ashes.

Proton just makes a lot of sense. It didn't take long for Valve to expand Proton to go initially from a few select Valve-approved titles, to being able to run anything we choose to try with it. From there, Linux gaming just seemingly exploded. And then eventually we saw why Valve made Proton with the Steam Deck announcement coming less than three years later in July 2021.

When you look at the crowd-sourced reports on ProtonDB over 11,000 titles are reported to work by multiple people. It's a small fraction of Steam's overall game count but ProtonDB relies on people actually going and writing a report.

Valve's own Deck Verified rating system just for the Steam Deck hit plenty of milestones since the Steam Deck's release too, now having over 10,000 titles rated to be Playable or Verified. Although both ProtonDB and Deck Verified include a mixture of Native Linux releases and Windows games run with Proton. The point is - being on Linux now for a gamer means quite often a huge amount of your games do actually "just work". It's almost magical.

The real number of games playable on Linux will never be truly known though, because on Steam there's many tens of thousands of games and a lot of them will likely "just work" with Proton if they don’t have a Native Linux build available…and many more are releasing every week. This is a truly incredible place to be in. When you think about Linux and Steam Deck together having just less than a 2% user share on Steam overall — these are some insane numbers for game compatibility for a niche platform.

Thanks to Proton, I've been able to discover a ton of new favourite games, some I would never have played before. Games like Deep Rock Galactic, God of War, Death Stranding, Baldur’s Gate 3, Brotato, Beat Saber and so on. You get the idea, there’s a truly ridiculous selection of games available and at times it’s a little paralysing scrolling through my Steam Library deciding what to play — a delightfully annoying problem to have huh?

Pictured - Baldur's Gate 3, shot taken on Kubuntu

Gamers using Linux (be it desktop or Steam Deck) in 2023 are now in a place where they can get excited alongside friends who use Windows or traditional consoles, because they know there's a good probable chance at release that whatever new exciting game coming out will work without much trouble.

Proton is far from perfect though and it does mean in a few ways that Valve, CodeWeavers and everyone else working on it are playing catch-up with Microsoft on compatibility and whatever changes Microsoft suddenly decides to announce that affects gaming. That, and how many different ways game developers can abuse various APIs to do things in weird ways. Valve and co are a dedicated bunch though, constantly fixing up issues from AAA games like ELDEN RING where Valve quickly worked to implement optimizations, same again for problems with Dead Space to the likes of PooShooter: Toilet Invaders (what a fun highlight that was eh?). There's also the constant third-party launcher breakage, that Valve are also fixing up each time it happens.

Valve produce updates to Proton constantly to improve compatibility, with over 300 revisions to the main changelog (although some a minor text corrections) it's clear to see how much work goes into it. With various new main versions of Proton through 4, 5, 6, 7 now onto 8 and multiple updates to Proton Experimental almost every month.

So here's to Proton, the magnificent tech that allows playing all kinds of games across Linux systems from desktop to Steam Deck and wherever else you decide to stick Linux. Nice one Valve. Cheers.

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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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. Find me on Mastodon.
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56 comments
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pleasereadthemanual Aug 22, 2023
Quoting: Pengling
Quoting: pleasereadthemanualAdobe Suite in Wine would be nice...
I know some folks who are waiting for the Affinity suite to work nicely under Wine, too, so that they can drop MacOS in favour of Linux. Hopefully one day!
Well, on the subject of Affinity Suite, progress is actually pretty good:
I use Affinity sometimes but unfortunately can't replace the Adobe suite fully with it. I also need to use Descript sometimes...

From my understanding, Adobe Suite was previously supported in Wine—Google even paid for a GSoC to maintain that support many years ago. The DRM is the biggest reason it doesn't work anymore. I have a feeling that if they could get the DRM working, CodeWeavers would find it worthwhile to get Adobe Suite working in CrossOver.
WMan22 Aug 22, 2023
I just want them to ensure SteamVR is as good as it is on windows. Last I used it, it was still lacking core functionality like motion smoothing, SteamVR Home SDK, and camera passthrough, At least on Nvidia cards. Here's hoping deckard is really gonna release and fix up some of this stuff.


Last edited by WMan22 on 22 August 2023 at 1:35 am UTC
Grogan Aug 22, 2023
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I scoffed at first, I wasn't really impressed by Wine. A lot of screwing around for something that wasn't worth it, in the past.

I had a few games in Steam for Linux, but I still booted to Windows for the majority of my gaming.

But, I decided to switch to the Beta client so I could try Proton, and the first game I tried was Wolfenstein 2 The New Colossus, seeing as it was a Vulkan game and would just need the windows execution environment translated. That worked as well as it did in Windows.

So I started looking at the proton compatibility lists and started trying some other games. I got quite a few working, but sadly there were some that just wouldn't work. Pretty much all of them do now.

To my knowledge, the only game I have that can't be made to work are the "Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena" games, even though TAGES has been stripped out (this is a GoG version that I rebought years later). It just won't run. I tried it again a few months ago and still had no luck. I miss those games, I'd like to see it again. But that's just one game out of everything I'd even think of wanting to play, that doesn't work.

I'm in agreement that it was DXVK that made Wine viable (vkd3d-proton didn't exist yet) for performance, the Vulkan back end was far superior.
Lib-Inst Aug 22, 2023
That is cool and all but I vastly prefer Native games.
TheRiddick Aug 22, 2023
Now if we could tuck away support 10-bit (30bit) colour support, HDR, AutoHDR and extended multimonitor and VRR type support then I think linux would be in the magic zone.

Atm those things are very roughly supported, basically non properly working support.
elmapul Aug 22, 2023
Quoting: pleasereadthemanualThis all happened before I started using Linux in 2020. I spent a lot of time last month reading all about Wine, DXVK, VKD3D, WineD3D, Wine-Mono, Media Foundation, and plenty of other stuff, and it's truly insane how much work has gone into these Windows compatibility layers.

The interesting part is that not all of it is part of the Wine project. DXVK is its own thing (some Wine developers were actually on bad terms with the DXVK developer at some point and don't like how it re-invents a bunch of stuff already in Wine). FAudio is a completely separate project again, which replaced the XAudio implementation in 2017 that nobody was a big fan of and improved audio API compatibility considerably.

And on that note, while I appreciate Valve's work on Proton and the Wine ecosystem, I know the work they're funding isn't going to help me out with the games I most play—visual novels. Most Japanese language visual novels aren't published on Steam, so Valve doesn't have a reason to care about them. Japanese publishers like DMM, DLsite, and Digiket are responsible for publishing the vast majority of digital visual novels. And they're almost always encumbered by DRM. DRM that is so particular to these publishers that Valve has no reason to fund work to make it compatible.

But that's not the only issue—we've also got codec patents to think about. Valve can't do much about this even if they wanted to, because the laws prevent them from writing software which can include decoders for particular audio and video codecs. So, to get around this, Valve is re-encoding the encumbered audio and video for games into free formats which they can legally decode and storing them on their servers. Obviously, this only works for Steam games...not visual novels.

We're at a point where Wine is so compatible with games that the blockers are gigantic walls like software patents and anti-cheat. For Anti-Cheat, all Valve can do is write their own, bundle it with the native Linux version of the Steam client, and hope developers will use it. Well, they already tried that, and it's not really working. Now, it's in the hands of Anti-Cheat vendors and developers to support Wine.

And I suppose the software patents issue could be solved if Valve just sold every game in the world.

So, it's good. I just buy visual novels without DRM (which usually means physical) and Wine usually works great, assuming I pair it with Gamescope. Gamescope is another project that Valve, Joshua Aston, and Sourcehut worked on to solve windowing issues, and it works pretty damn well.

And uh, sorry if you've heard it all from me before.
i found some visual novels that were renpy projects and you could run by just opening it as an renpy project then executing then, not sure about all the rest.
can you be more specific? maybe we can work on it togheter to figure out more work arrounds to play those games
udekmp69 Aug 22, 2023
Proton, and the components it is made up of like WINE and DXVK, was a game changer for me to decide to daily drive desktop Linux.
pleasereadthemanual Aug 22, 2023
Quoting: elmapuli found some visual novels that were renpy projects and you could run by just opening it as an renpy project then executing then, not sure about all the rest.
can you be more specific? maybe we can work on it togheter to figure out more work arrounds to play those games
Ren'Py officially supports Linux so visual novels developed with that engine work fine natively, and a lot of western visual novel developers use Ren'Py. However, a lot of Japanese visual novels don't use Ren'Py—certainly not many of the visual novels released before, say, 2010.

English localizers generally do engine hacking to clean things up as part of bringing Japanese visual novels to English-speaking audiences, and as a result, most English localizations tend to work well in Wine—sometimes, like in the case of Higurashi, the game even gets a native Linux binary that wasn't present in the original Japanese release. They are also almost never encumbered by DRM, which boosts compatibility. Johren games are an exception to this, and I would be very surprised if their DRM'd games work in Wine.

I'm talking about the original Japanese visual novels released in Japanese. And again, most of those games work in Wine, albeit fullscreen is usually broken, and sometimes there are codec issues with cutscenes/opening movies, but I consider that fine because I can actually play them.

The issue is that most Japanese language visual novels are encumbered by the Soft Denchi DRM, which does not work in Wine. Here's a report from fallenguru on WineHQ about Soft Denchi: https://forum.winehq.org/viewtopic.php?t=33825

Through some of my own investigation, I discovered this error seems to be related to some ActiveX functionality Wine is missing, but I couldn't tell you any more than that.

To avoid this, I generally purchase visual novels physically, as they are usually not encumbered by DRM, which means an extra $50-$100 per purchase because most digital versions are broken in Wine due to Soft Denchi.

Alright, if you want more detail, you can have a look at the DRM section on the comfysnug wiki: https://wiki.comfysnug.space/doku.php?id=visualnovel:problems#drm_and_region_restrictions

And I already started a workshopping thread on VNDB for getting a DRM field so we can more easily identify which VNs have DRM. You can contribute there if you want: https://vndb.org/t20399


Last edited by pleasereadthemanual on 22 August 2023 at 4:25 am UTC
Pengling Aug 22, 2023
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Quoting: Arehandoro5 years already? We gamed so much with Proton that it feels the time just flew by xD
Ain't that the truth!

Quoting: Liam DaweThis is why I say that Valve and Proton are what forever changed Linux gaming.
I think that people also forget that past knowledge is being put to use with that, too. When Microsoft started pushing games on Windows 95, "Doom95" was a big factor in making the OS be seen as viable for gaming - Gabe Newell led the team for that port, and it appears that data from that time could have influenced the later creation of Steam. From this old article;

QuoteBut what was so shocking to me was that Windows was the second highest usage application in the U.S. The number one application was Doom, a shareware program that hadn’t been created by any of the powerhouse software companies. It was a 12-person company in the suburbs of Texas that didn’t even distribute through retail, it distributed through bulletin boards and other pre-Internet mechanisms. To me, that was a lightning bolt. Microsoft was hiring 500-people sales teams and this entire company was 12 people, yet it had created the most widely distributed software in the world. There was a sea change coming.

He wasn't wrong!

Quoting: Liam DaweDon’t even get me started on the people trying to claim things were good pre-Steam 🤣
The best pre-Steam thing that I can point to was the massive progress made on emulation, driven by stuff like the GP2X (an obscure Linux-based Korean handheld with awful controls because the company didn't know the gaming space very well) and similar machines, which ultimately came into its own later when those same emulators got ported to the Raspberry Pi and making emulation-boxes became a hugely popular first project.

Prior to that, people would insist that you needed to install Windows XP for a good emulation experience, whereas today Linux is considered the go-to by just about everybody. But emulation is understandably niche, so it was never going to drive Linux gaming adoption alone.

Quoting: sonic2kkI think this is a much overlooked aspect of Proton, as I'm sure I'm not the only person who bought an order of magnitude more games on Steam thanks to Proton.
Oh yes, absolutely this. I've also stepped out of my comfort-zone and tried a lot of new things as a result, too - often with nudges from very cheap mystery-bundles from Fanatical, since my Steam account's only a couple of years old and it's been a great way to catch up on a lot of stuff for not much outlay.
elmapul Aug 22, 2023
Quoting: Pengling
Quoting: Arehandoro5 years already? We gamed so much with Proton that it feels the time just flew by xD
Ain't that the truth!

Quoting: Liam DaweThis is why I say that Valve and Proton are what forever changed Linux gaming.
I think that people also forget that past knowledge is being put to use with that, too. When Microsoft started pushing games on Windows 95, "Doom95" was a big factor in making the OS be seen as viable for gaming - Gabe Newell led the team for that port, and it appears that data from that time could have influenced the later creation of Steam. From this old article;

QuoteBut what was so shocking to me was that Windows was the second highest usage application in the U.S. The number one application was Doom, a shareware program that hadn’t been created by any of the powerhouse software companies. It was a 12-person company in the suburbs of Texas that didn’t even distribute through retail, it distributed through bulletin boards and other pre-Internet mechanisms. To me, that was a lightning bolt. Microsoft was hiring 500-people sales teams and this entire company was 12 people, yet it had created the most widely distributed software in the world. There was a sea change coming.

He wasn't wrong!

Quoting: Liam DaweDon’t even get me started on the people trying to claim things were good pre-Steam 🤣
The best pre-Steam thing that I can point to was the massive progress made on emulation, driven by stuff like the GP2X (an obscure Linux-based Korean handheld with awful controls because the company didn't know the gaming space very well) and similar machines, which ultimately came into its own later when those same emulators got ported to the Raspberry Pi and making emulation-boxes became a hugely popular first project.

Prior to that, people would insist that you needed to install Windows XP for a good emulation experience, whereas today Linux is considered the go-to by just about everybody. But emulation is understandably niche, so it was never going to drive Linux gaming adoption alone.

Quoting: sonic2kkI think this is a much overlooked aspect of Proton, as I'm sure I'm not the only person who bought an order of magnitude more games on Steam thanks to Proton.
Oh yes, absolutely this. I've also stepped out of my comfort-zone and tried a lot of new things as a result, too - often with nudges from very cheap mystery-bundles from Fanatical, since my Steam account's only a couple of years old and it's been a great way to catch up on a lot of stuff for not much outlay.

doom was so popular in the past, that there have been an time where more people had doom on their pcs than msdos (or windows?)
as for linux being as good for emulation as windows, we arent there yet.
comix zone dont work in any emulatores from retroarch, you have to either use some windows exclusive emulator on wine (i forgot the name) or purchase the steam version , but you need an good video card to playing that.
and the best emulator for n64 is project64, but its windows only, it might work on wine but come on, its runing an emulator on top of an translation layer, the margin for bugs double.
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