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Game porter Ethan Lee gives his thoughts on Valve's Steam Play and Proton

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For today's article I spoke to Ethan Lee, developer of FNA and who has ported something around 40+ titles to Linux. He also recently helped get Dust: An Elysian Tail ported to the Nintendo Switch and so he certainly knows his stuff.

As a reminder, you can see my initial thoughts about it all here. I did speak to game porters Feral Interactive in that article, although they only gave one line about plans not changing (which is good to know). Aspyr Media didn’t give a public comment for it and Virtual Programming still aren’t replying to our emails.

If you missed it, you can also see our interview with the creator of DXVK, one of the projects that makes up Steam Play. Again, this article was supposed to be part of a larger one, but given Ethan Lee's thoughts here (and all the work he's done for Linux gaming) I felt it deserved an article by itself.

I was going to ask Ethan Lee a bunch of questions, but honestly I think what he had to say right away was more than interesting enough, have a read:

EL: “Proton started making improvements to FAudio before it was publicly available, so in effect Proton has been making contributions to FNA for months now. A lot of Andrew Eikum's accuracy fixes helped while I was working on Dust Switch, and since Proton's release a lot more people are paying attention to FNA in general. FNA has largely been ignored until now, where people suddenly realized what I'd been up to for half a decade thanks to a Windows compat layer. Whether or not it affects future games I dunno, but it sure is helping with the current ones.

The last 6 or so years of my career have been on FNA and a lot of that was motivated by getting the back catalog fixed. XnaToFna was one example of myself and Maik Macho bringing it over to Linux by force. It's taken a lot of me intervening in how the XNA catalog has decided to willingly kill itself, and more and more I'm finding I have to do it by force because people just don't care about their own work anymore and won't do an FNA version, no matter how cheap it is to do and no matter how important it is for long-term preservation. A lot of recent news has big publishers and developers in the spotlight over this problem, but I can confirm that indies are really shitty about it too.

Proton is a lot like XnaToFna in my eyes, though with aging AAA games there's at least the reason that even old AAA games are extremely complex programs that few even remember how to work with. Compared to working with the XNA scene lately, Proton looks a lot less depressing. Valve doesn't like to intervene in their own ecosystem, but Proton is the ultimate intervention and I really like it a lot. I've spent a sizable portion of my career getting laughed at by developers when I tell them to take their back catalog seriously, and even customers look at me funny when they see that my AAA contract wishlist is a bunch of old-but-feasible-to-port games. Think of it as the PC version of console vendors' outright refusal to keep their catalog preserved and having to depend on a bunch of ROM archivists and emulator devs to do it for them.

It also comes at a really good time for me because FNA (as of 18.10) is at the point where I think I've essentially solved the XNA problem as best as anyone can do, to the point where all I have left is console/mobile versions and I haven't enjoyed doing that at all so far (other than minor ego boosts when you see your name in a Nintendo trailer, and that's not a healthy motivator). Since FAudio is looking to be a part of all this anyhow, and with all the problems they seem to be having with C# stuff as well, I would really like to spend the time that used to be on FNA and maybe try to work as an official Proton developer, if somebody lets me do that. I would still work on FNA games and do Linux games as usual, but you'd be surprised how much of my time over the years was just working on FNA by itself. Proton seems like it would be a good next step to get me back on Linux games 100%, back into my hacking/modding roots, and maybe have some fun in my life again.

Well, fun in my work life at least. Playing through old Windows games on my Bill's Hat machine with the missus after abandoning them alongside Windows 8+ years ago has been pretty fun.”

 

It’s very interesting to hear that Ethan Lee is looking into Proton work, hopefully he can jump in at the deep end with Valve like the creator of DXVK has. He certainly has the credentials needed for such a task.

This is something I honestly didn't even think about enough, how other people involved in the Linux gaming scene can get involved in it directly to improve it further. It all depends how deep Valve wants to dig into their pockets to push it forwards. We know that more cooks doesn't always result in a better meal, but a few more developers working on specific parts of Proton could really push it further.

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28 comments
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DrMcCoy 12 September 2018 at 11:31 am UTC
QuoteI've spent a sizable portion of my career getting laughed at by developers when I tell them to take their back catalog seriously, and even customers look at me funny when they see that my AAA contract wishlist is a bunch of old-but-feasible-to-port games

I can really relate to that. I get the same looks when I talk to people about my work for ScummVM, and more recently, xoreos.

Yes, I care about the weird adventure games of an obscure French studio, thank you very much. I care about the that overlooked horror game with art by HR Giger. I care about d20 RPG games. And I wonder why so few do. They're part of our history, our culture, and it would be a shame if they were forgotten.
damarrin 12 September 2018 at 11:33 am UTC
Well, GOG built their entire business around those games, so it's kind of silly to pretend they don't exist. Nostalgia is a very powerful thing.
Feist 12 September 2018 at 12:02 pm UTC
QuoteIt’s very interesting to hear that Ethan Lee is looking into Proton work, hopefully he can jump in at the deep end with Valve like the creator of DXVK has. He certainly has the credentials needed for such a task.

That would be super! The XNA-based old school rpg "Under Rail", is still a no go with Proton, so an infusion of XNAtoFNA might be just what the doctor ordered.
drmoth 12 September 2018 at 12:09 pm UTC
I've always seen FNA as something of an oddity (hey, I also thought Wine was a total oddity years ago...like a little cute dog that keeps nipping at your heels), probably because I never understood XNA or how widely spread it was. XNA just seemed like another awful Microsoft SDK, but apparently lots of people used it.

What's really piqued my interest though is how Ethan Lee is developing FAudio, which looks to become the defacto audio api under Wine (not sure if that's the besty description for it but you get the gist). If I understand correctly, FAudio is going to singehandedly fix all the shitty, broken audio in Wine .NET games, and make a whole lot more games work properly out of the box (Skyrim anyone?)...and maybe even more...like offer multi-channel surround for game that don't have it (wildly speculating here), because it will be fully open source and lots of eyes will be on it. So many Wine games have crackling or missing audio, and this is going to fix it.

We live in exciting times. Thanks Flibitijibibo! I really hope you do join the Valve/Codeweavers effort in a paid way.


Last edited by drmoth at 12 September 2018 at 12:10 pm UTC
poke86 12 September 2018 at 12:10 pm UTC
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Quotemy AAA contract wishlist

Does anyone know what's on there? Just so we know what we're missing...
Code Artisan 12 September 2018 at 12:45 pm UTC
poke86
Quotemy AAA contract wishlist

Does anyone know what's on there? Just so we know what we're missing...

interview from 2012 https://cheesetalks.net/flibitijibibo2.php

QuoteIf you could have the opportunity to port any title or titles, what would they be?

Oh man, I've got a whole list just off the top of my head:

  • Airmech
  • Beat Hazard
  • BioShock
  • Brainpipe
  • Critical Mass
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • Jedi Outcast
  • P.B. Winterbottom
  • Puzzle Dimension
  • RAGE
  • Rayman Origins
  • RUSH
  • SBCG4AP
  • Sonic CD (the new version that was released for PC, recently)
  • Sonic Adventure 1/2 (the remakes they've got for the PC, 2 is supposed to be out soon)
  • Sonic Generations
  • Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
  • Torchlight 2

And probably a whole lot more. I would say "every Retro Studios game ever" (and I actually did help out a bit with the Metroid Online Halo CE mod once or twice), but I tend to block the idea of Nintendo adopting a PC platform... I've often suggested that they do this and just make the peripherals PC devices, but that's in a bizarro-land where things I think should happen actually happen.
Cheeseness 12 September 2018 at 1:39 pm UTC
Code Artisan
poke86
Quotemy AAA contract wishlist

Does anyone know what's on there? Just so we know what we're missing...

interview from 2012 https://cheesetalks.net/flibitijibibo2.php
I forgot about that question! At least we have Jedi Outcast now via a source port
Nanobang 12 September 2018 at 1:52 pm UTC
Another well written little peek behind the Linux community curtains. I love articles like this. Great job señor. Dawe.
Anuapalabdhi 12 September 2018 at 2:03 pm UTC
This passion, this passion is so infectious. Thanks for bringing this interview to us Liam, and thanks to Ethan Lee for continuing to do such a marvelous job with the old backlog games. Hope you get to work on Proton, because I think in the future, we might be looking at Proton as one of the truly momentous occasions in Linux Gaming History. Regardless of people's views on native vs port, I personally believe that Proton has the potential to bring linux gaming to the masses and where the masses go, the money follows, and right behind them will be the scenthounds aka "AAA" Developers. Whether that would be a good thing or bad, let none deny the change its importance and may the linux gaming juggernaut continue gaining steam as it pushes onward. /rambling
Swiftpaw 12 September 2018 at 2:38 pm UTC
I hope Ethan Lee gets the attention of developers who have been missing on our platform and can help them with their missing last few steps of offering official Linux support by play testing and bug fixing any issues for a Wine/Proton-wrap of their games. That'd be fantastic and perhaps all they need is someone to show them the way into Linux support land, even though some of these missing devs are huge and should not be scared about it in the first place.

Elder Scrolls VI official Linux support, in part brought to you by Ethan Lee.
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