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A KDE developer has thoughts on changing how Linux games work

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I am all for increasing performance on Linux games, and KDE developer Martin Gräßlin does have some interesting thoughts, but I disagree with a lot of it.

QuoteSo what can we do? I thought about this and propose that we change gaming completely on Linux: remove the windowing system! Games should talk to kernel mode settings directly, games should interact with libinput directly. Let’s remove everything in between, we don’t need it, it only can worsen the gaming experience.


What he's saying sounds nice, and I'm sure he means well, but we are talking about Linux on the desktop here. Stuff like this may be good for SteamOS, but not desktop Linux.

He goes into more detail about it too and I won't quote all of it, but he summed up what would happen:
QuoteWhen a fullscreen game starts, it can create a “sub-session” on a new virtual terminal and become the logind- session controller for that session. This would allow the game to open the device files for rendering and for input just like a Wayland compositor does. Rendering could be done through EGL on top of DRM/GBM just like a Wayland compositor. The game would have full control over rendering, there is no desktop environment to slow it down any more. And it would have control over mode setting. Need a different resolution? No problem, just set it. On a desktop environment that’s always problematic (terrible on X11, better on Wayland). For games in windowed mode nothing should be changed, those should stay on the desktop environment.

Of course this would remove all interaction with the desktop environment. This is something which needs to be considered, like how to get Mumble to work in such a setup? Maybe the game could launch its own Wayland server?

That breaks Alt+Tab! Well not really. For one on X11 at least games often grab the keyboard, so Alt+Tab won’t work anyway. And of course one can still switch with ctrl+alt+f1 to the running session. Games should also have a common way to achieve this in my opinion.

In my library of 535 Linux supported games, maybe around five or so don't work with Alt+Tab, but all work if you bring up something like the Steam Overlay to make it work again. My point is that you can pry Alt+Tab away from my cold dead fingers, especially since I am on a single monitor again. I don't think having a bunch of extra sessions around will really help all that much, considering the real marginal performance changes you get from it (I've tried it before, it wasn't worth it).

You would lose mumble, teamspeak, game overlays, and possibly more with this approach for what? A marginal performance gain?

What if you are using more than one monitor? It makes it all a bit pointless then doesn't it? Since the desktop will still be running on that monitor. How will it interfere or work with that?

It currently works mostly fine in both Windows and Linux, and I think something like this would make it even harder for people to switch away from Windows.

Personally, I see far too many issues with taking the game right out of the desktop session. I would prefer it if people worked out a way to increase performance for fullscreen games that a ran in desktop mode, rather than trying to completely re-do how it works. I mean, the whole point of the games being ran from the desktop is to integrate it all together isn't it? It sounds like a step forwards, but two steps backwards to me.

I think we can all agree it's good that people are thinking about ways to improve Linux gaming though. Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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32 comments
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Hori 11 December 2015 at 11:06 am UTC
This will only add to the "Linux is so complicated" thing... and it will not only upset gamers but also developers... no need to over complicate things for a low performance gain, while also loosing a bunch of features... people want features! People want a nice UI, multitasking, multimonitor, etc, even if it takes some performance away. In a year or so the new hardware will be more than enough to cover for that performance gain, and more. We really should keep those nice features on Linux, and also develop more. That's what people need and want and they aren't wrong with that.
And now an interesting analogy... the german tanks in WW2 were impressive pieces of machinery, the peak of thchnology. The downside was that they were so complicated that almost noone knew how to fix them (or didn't have the -also complex- tools) when something eventually broke (not by design, but by fighting, ofc). They were just too complex.


Also, can't Valve just develop their own DE and make it very lightweight and make interaction between the game and the kernel as direct as possible (still via the DE, but with less bloat) ? Wouldn't that be a better solution? Because the only place where this makes at least some kind of sense is a TV box.
I know they have Big Picture but AFAIK it still runs on GNOME. And having their own DE has other benefits too, as they will have full control over it's development, and can make it as gaming-friendly as possible.


Last edited by Hori on 11 December 2015 at 11:14 am UTC
Guest 11 December 2015 at 11:09 am UTC
No thanks. Sounds like a very bad idea. I frequently alt-tab and shift between workspaces using ctrl+alt+arrow.

I do this to:

Change relative volumes on my music player vs game.
Change track or que a new playlist.
To browse the net ( GOL of course ) whilst I wait for a map/level to download or when im sat in a que for a round to end ( upto 5 - 10 mins sometimes if your playing a last man standing or last zombie to kill type scenario )
toggle steam downloads or check on that web browser download
To mute chromium audio which stops the volume on HTML MOTD ads ;)
Screenshots, sometimes I want to quick upload to my profile.
Change compositor values.

There are many more that other people probably need like webcam & VOIP stuff.. perhaps checking phone messages via KDE's very own andriod integration app ?!

Outside of that, running windowed mode is usually a great way to help Unity games run custom multimonitor resolutions on Linux where by we are not greatly supported.

Overall, SteamOS covers these bases if someone just wants a TV box. But lets just keep the desktop the desktop or we are going to have inevitable fragmentation when KDE devs go full Gnomenuts and force other devs into making a new fork of wayland/xwayland.

Besides .. valve are fully committed to the x system, so how would this work with those games without using a go between which effectively reduces performance.

Well .. its an idea all right


Last edited by on 11 December 2015 at 11:13 am UTC
AsavarTzeth 11 December 2015 at 11:14 am UTC
QuoteCompare to a true console like a PlayStation: while the game is running you can be sure it’s the exclusive user of the GPU.

QuoteWe want to have a PlayStation like setup: game everything, everyone else nothing.

Notice his choice of comparisons? His comparisons and theories, do indeed make a lot more sense when we're talking about Steam Machines. Not sure he is aware, but parts of his ideas are already implemented in SteamOS (separate tty/session).

If/when SteamOS finally implements Wayland/EGL you would effectively have something close to what he describes. So interesting talks, but he should work with Valve not KDE on these ideas.
mirv 11 December 2015 at 11:16 am UTC
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Having a session for the desktop (including everything you need to run through that) and a different one for a fullscreen (3d) application sounds like a good idea to me. There are a few gotchas of course - overlays, multi-monitor, etc, which would probably make it all just fall in a heap. Otherwise, I like some of the ideas.

Agreed that at least it's people talking and thinking of how to improve the current situation.
AsavarTzeth 11 December 2015 at 11:18 am UTC
HoriAlso, can't Valve just develop their own DE and make it very lightweight and make interaction between the game and the kernel as direct as possible (still via the DE, but with less bloat) ?
They already have their own custom compositor that is used on SteamOS.

HoriBecause the only place where this makes at least some kind of sense is a TV box. I know they have Big Picture but AFAIK it still runs on GNOME. And having their own DE has other benefits too, as they will have full control over it's development, and can make it as gaming-friendly as possible.
Incorrect. Gnome does not run by default and it is in its own tty (tty7) while SteamOS runs on a lightweight compositor in tty8.


Last edited by AsavarTzeth on 12 December 2015 at 1:44 pm UTC
Guest 11 December 2015 at 11:20 am UTC
AsavarTzethNot sure he is aware,

I think that’s the issue. Not insulting the guy on a personal level, but it does seem like a lot of devs have bottle vision when it comes to the big picture ( no pun ) they concentrate on one major aspect ( like wayland in this case ) and then start to forget about the thousands of other things that make up an individual desktop user experience.

Its just a bad idea imo, not in its distilled form but as a solution that fits the majority. everyone has them now and again.

If it gets fully implemented Il support whichever dev's or system that doesn’t use this unless it breaks zero things and doesn’t remove any functionality I have now. And for when I do want a console style PC gaming experience il just boot my steam machine.

Remember a lot of users moved from Windows to get away from the reduced desktop experience Microsoft delivered since windows 8. Being able to switch workspaces fast and without breakage is something windows users don’t have the luxury of and now were looking to remove that ?


Last edited by on 11 December 2015 at 11:25 am UTC
AsavarTzeth 11 December 2015 at 11:23 am UTC
mr-eggI think that’s the issue. Not insulting the guy but it does seem like a lot of devs have bottle vision when it comes to the big picture ( no pun ) they concentrate on one major aspect ( like wayland in this case ) and then start to forget about the thousands of other things that make up an individual desktop user experience.
My thoughts exactly mr-egg. Could not have said it better myself.
Keizgon 11 December 2015 at 11:35 am UTC
I'm not going to dismiss something I don't understand full scope of. I think it's good that at least people are talking about doing something against the grain. Else we'll just stagnate.

What's the worst that would happen? It gets forked? If it progresses into something useful, maybe even Valve will use it down the line.
aL 11 December 2015 at 11:37 am UTC
I tried for a while to have all my files without read permission for others, and have my user 1001 just for gaming on tty9.

Specially useful in a single monitor, less so with multiple monitors (I cant have different tty on different monitors and go back to merge them when im not playing that i know of )

Sadly, of all the virtues of pulseaudio, multi user is not one of them, and i ended up giving up...
hardpenguin 11 December 2015 at 11:39 am UTC
That would be a huge step backwards considered that SDL2 and Unity3d freed us from the no ALT+TAB misery of old fullscreen Linux games.
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