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Heart of the Machine from Arcen Games dropping Native Linux for Proton

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Arcen Games developers of AI War, The Last Federation, Bionic Dues have said they're no longer doing Native Linux support for their upcoming game Heart of the Machine and will instead rely on Proton.

What is the game? "Heart of the Machine is a near-future sci-fi colony city-builder in reverse — you are the first sentient Machine Intelligence in an established world rather than starting from nothing. No one knows you exist (yet), and this allows you to operate from the shadows by manipulating the human population for whatever purposes your programming has in mind. The twist is that whether humans live or die does not determine your victory."

This comes from a Steam announcement posted on August 11th, where they mentioned they plan to get it Steam Deck Verified as they're routinely testing it and Chris from Arcen Games spends "about 99% of my own gaming on that platform these days. It's a priority for me".

So why are they dropping Native Linux and going with the Proton compatibility layer? They said they found it performs better with Proton, looks better, has better frame timings and so Valve "strongly suggested we ditch the native version in that case". Going into more detail on the problems with their Native Linux build in Unity:

  • Performance was 10% worse, and frametimings were less even, but it was certainly playable. This was just how Unity 3D works in Vulkan on Linux, so there was no way to solve it.
  • Certain parts of this game have geometry that is close together, and on Linux these would flicker. This is because Unity 3D does not support a reversed z-buffer on OpenGL or Vulkan (or DirectX9). This problem is not present in DirectX11+, or Metal. And it’s not present when Proton or WINE convert DX11 commands to Vulkan.

Other than that, everything was the same on Linux as it is on Windows or OSX. We’ve had a native Linux build of this game for its entire life up until recently, just as all of Arcen’s titles have had a native Linux build for the last decade.

So this all feels very strange. But Unity 3D’s support for Linux, and in particular their implementation of Vulkan, is notably inferior to what is going on with their support for DirectX11 and Proton/WINE’s ability to bridge across.

They believe it's the best way right now for their games, because "If someone has an incompatibility, we can't change the engine" and that "Valve has been more on top of things than Unity".

It's due for release this year and you can follow it on Steam.

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Klaas Aug 14, 2023
QuoteThis is because Unity 3D does not support a reversed z-buffer on OpenGL or Vulkan (or DirectX9).
That explains a lot. But why!?
rustybroomhandle Aug 14, 2023
Yeaaaah, Unity. My company has been working on their game and while I have been testing it for them on Steam Deck due to me being the only person who has one, I have been reluctant to try talking them into doing a native Linux build because I know how it will perform.
pleasereadthemanual Aug 14, 2023
More from the developer:

QuoteWell, I mean, that’s kind of how I feel, is that it’s not a good look.

Ultimately it comes down to who supports that platform better: unity or Valve? The answer is hands down Valve.

If that were to change, it’s not a big deal to add native linux support back. This is the first game I’ve done in the last decade without said support, and it feels odd.

But I also recognize that for every game I’ve released with a native linux build, if you switch to using proton instead, you get a better experience. In general with almost all games that are Deck compatible, the proton version runs better.

It’s a truly odd timeline in some respects, but on the other hand if Linux was ever going to go truly mainstream, it was going to have to do so with compatibility at a very low level. I’m more amazed that it has turned out to be possible and so performant across the board.
Ultimately, the takeaway is that there's nothing wrong with Vulkan. It's just that DXVK does a better job of writing Vulkan calls than commercial game engines like Unity.
Linux_Rocks Aug 14, 2023
RenardDesMers Aug 14, 2023
The whole thing is pretty sad honestly.
It reminds me the whole "proton is bad for linux gaming" argument.
As proton gets better and better, we see more and more games dropping their linux build in favor of a proton-compatible windows build (either silently not supporting it well or explicitly like here).
All of this happens while linux share is growing.
It would be fine if it didn't make us very dependent on Valve's strategy to support proton.
usrtrv Aug 14, 2023
I actually don't mind since Unity3D Linux support is so lacking. But I'm not a fan of my rapidly shrinking store front since I have Linux as my only platform of choice to support wishlist stats.

Valve really needs to overhaul the platform preference system. Maybe optionally show Steamdeck verified games as well as native games.

Last edited by usrtrv on 14 August 2023 at 3:52 pm UTC
Philadelphus Aug 14, 2023
Seems like an interesting game, and it remains on my wishlist. I can appreciate that the issue is out of the developer's hand (barring switching to a different engine, which wouldn't be feasible at this stage).
vox Aug 14, 2023
Very sad to hear it!

Arcen Games are very dedicated to their craft. I played AI War 2, had much fun and bought it twice in the end with all of the DLC just to support such an amazing company. They have a very active community on Discord, their patchnotes are verbose, top-notch and patches are plenty. They are very serious about linux. I remember when they wrote a multiplayer component to AI War 2 they spent some time to tackle the issue of crossplatform play - they added multiple frameworks so no one will feel excluded (in the age of aggressive cost-and-feature-cutting). Yes, they are not alone and there are some games that do that, but I feel that it should be pointed out and cheered.
And just look at this page (or any other on their website) isn't it great? I have never seen anything like that level of deep-dive overview, ever.

I hope they will not get any flak for this decision and I wish them the best
Purple Library Guy Aug 15, 2023
Well, this news makes me all the more pleased that Godot keeps making strides. Maybe it'll eat Unity's lunch.
DMJC Aug 15, 2023
Linux native gaming is basically dead. Even the big boys like ID software don't bother supporting it anymore. Emulation seems to be the developer's choice. Most of the native games are community ports of sourcecode releases or fan remakes of older
popular AAA games.
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