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Going where no Steam Play has gone before with Elite Dangerous

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What’s the one game keeping you a dual booter? Maybe it’s PUBG, or Rainbow Six: Siege? Maybe it used to be Overwatch? For me, that game was Elite Dangerous, and one year on from Proton’s release, I have a story to tell.

There’s a certain “je ne sais quoi” about Elite Dangerous that I’ve never been able to put my finger on. It’s a game set in a scientifically modelled, full-scale replica of the whole Milky Way galaxy, and as with that setting, the game is truly vast, remarkably cold, and frequently incomprehensible. Yet, when playing Elite, I get the same feeling as when looking up at the stars on a dark and moonless night — my hungry soul is fed. Or it could just be space madness. Regardless, it’s a feeling that I like to dip into every once in a while, immerse myself in, and try not to drown.

Back in February of 2018 I signed up for Distant Worlds 2, an expedition to cross the whole of our galaxy and meet up with thousands of others on the other side, at a star system known colloquially as Beagle Point. The system is named as a memorial to the late dog of the first commander to reach it, but is also a location that holds a special place in many other Elite Dangerous players hearts, partially because it’s very much no mean feat to reach it, but also because in one direction it offers a jaw dropping view of our galaxy, and in the other, the sheer black and empty abyss of what lies beyond. In a game so frequently set to a backdrop similar to a mottled night sky, those views, and the immense pilgrimage taken to get there, act as an unparalleled reminder of the scale of the universe and our place in it. It’s the kind of experience that stands proud as the best of what video-games have to offer. I’d never been out that far before, and it would take months to get there, but I just couldn’t pass up that kind of opportunity.

There was one problem though. Elite Dangerous doesn’t have a Linux version, and still had significant issues with Wine. I’ve never been a “No Tux No Bux” kind of person, so I’d been playing the game on Xbox One first, and then on my Windows install, but this was slowly becoming the last game I needed that partition for. Even as a “dirty dual booter” I cringed at the thought of effectively changing my daily driver for a few months, but the expedition was also setting off in 2019, so I’d have to keep my gaming Windows setup alive and well at the very least for another year and a half. I wasn’t too happy with that prospect, but it was the hand I had chosen to reluctantly deal myself.

In summer, while preparing my ship for the trials ahead, Proton was launched and a ray of hope was lit. By winter, Elite was playable, but with lingering issues, and it still required a custom build with various patches and hacks. In testing, it still crashed or disconnected frequently for me, and had painful performance dips when on planets. It wasn’t enough, and I accepted my fate.

On January 13th we set off. I flew on Windows. The game servers crashed from the sheer thousands of spaceships all hyperspace jumping synchronously into the black. At least those crashed servers were probably on Linux.


I arrived at Beagle Point late after almost 5 months out there, on the 8th of May, and it was everything I’d hoped — a humbling journey and a pensive rest at the edge of our galaxy. I met with some folks on the surface of a world as far from home as we could imagine, and recounted tales of near deaths, earth-like worlds and black hole sunsets. Meanwhile, on the way, something amazing happened. Those custom patches had made their way into mainline Proton, DXVK had improved, and suddenly, with one small tweak (installing dotnet40, needed for the launcher), I could fly my ship on Linux.

Not only that, but the issues I’d always had with the drivers for my HOTAS, a Saitek x52 Pro, were all gone, including installers that aren’t even fully compatible with Windows 10, default clutch modes that just don’t go away, and weird bugs picking up some buttons as a 2nd mouse. On Linux, a perfectly usable driver for the joystick and throttle is right there in the kernel! The game fully picked up my Ultra-Wide monitor, when on Windows the OS would fight and move my other windows around failing to compensate. “ED Market Connector”, an external app I use for journey tracking, trade data sharing, and more, has a fully working Linux version. Lastly, and this blows my mind, it all works in VR — Sheer magic.

I made my way back to Sol on Linux, faster this time, enjoying every minute of an experience I’d wanted for years. I docked my limping but mostly intact Beluga cruise liner at a starport in the tiny human occupied bubble of space two months later on the 29th of July. I felt like I’d achieved something, and most importantly I’d been able to finally do it on home turf. I set off on Windows, but I came back changed, and these days, my Windows install is kept around almost entirely for work.

I wouldn’t claim that it’s a game for everyone, but there are a huge number of us who enjoy it’s take on the space genre. The fantastic blend of difficulty, control, subtlety, agency, scale, individuality and community all make Elite Dangerous a powerful experience. Those factors all make Linux great too, it’s impossible not to see the clear parallels. They’re both difficult at first, but a joy once you get going, full of wonderful nerds with their own stories and reasons to be, sharing their customisations, doing the hard stuff for its own sake, and creating something much greater than the sum of its parts. A year after Proton released, it’s a match made in the stars.

If you do see me out there in the black, don’t be afraid to say hi and share your stories too. Maybe we can start a squadron of penguin commanders.

You can pick up Elite Dangerous on Steam.

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I’m a programmer and avid gamer. I currently develop and game on Pop_OS, plus run Mint, Fedora and Raspbian at home. I work at Unity as a Linux specialist in the Sustained Engineering team, while also contracting for Valve. Formerly developer and Linux Group Lead at Feral. Any opinions and thoughts I write are mine personally and do not represent those of my employers.
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StraToN 20 August 2019 at 1:03 pm UTC
I set ED up on my laptop yesterday evening. Installed the game, ran it once using Proton 4.11 (expected crash), then removed mono and installed dotnet472 using winetricks remove_mono winxp dotnet472 win10 dxvk
Ran the game again.


Perfect on High settings on my mid-range laptop (Intel i5, GTX1050). That's amazing.

Last edited by StraToN on 20 August 2019 at 1:04 pm UTC
1xok 20 August 2019 at 2:36 pm UTC
It works for me, too. It has recognisable edge flickering. With my GTX 970 I have to reduce the graphics settings a bit. But never mind. It's absolutely playable. With a few adjustments I use this setup for the Steam Controller:

I played Elite for the first time in the 80s. Back then on the C64. It was my absolute favorite game. An incredible job that Braben and Bell had done. Elite: Dangerous captures the spirit of the original Elite perfectly. I am very grateful for that. But even more grateful for Proton and Valves efforts around Linux.

At the moment I'm a little sick, but I will soon turn to ED again. Maybe we will meet sometime? I'm CMDR 1xok.

Last edited by 1xok on 20 August 2019 at 2:40 pm UTC
TheRiddick 20 August 2019 at 2:51 pm UTC
I'll be waiting for valve to release a wireless headset with similar or better features then index. There are other companies trying but never quite ticking all the boxes, see what 2020 brings.

Last edited by TheRiddick on 20 August 2019 at 2:52 pm UTC
Marc Di Luzio 20 August 2019 at 2:54 pm UTC
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Thanks folks, really appreciate the positive feedback!

I'm CMDR Mork Dallolio in-game, if anyone wants to add me.

CMDR_Kiel42 20 August 2019 at 3:20 pm UTC
I started running ED on Linux just at the start of DW2. I hope you're running EDMC with it as well! See you in the black CMDR o7
slaapliedje 20 August 2019 at 3:26 pm UTC
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I just need it to work flawlessly in VR! It gets the 'reprojection' stuff all over the place. With it and No Man's Sky, I probably wouldn't need to boot into Windows anymore. No Man's Sky works perfectly on the pancake display, but in VR it never starts.
Kimyrielle 20 August 2019 at 4:05 pm UTC
Nice article! I bought that game when it launched, but never really played it much. Maybe it's time to dust whatever rust-bucket of a ship I had in ED and take her on a ride!
slaapliedje 20 August 2019 at 4:35 pm UTC
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KimyrielleNice article! I bought that game when it launched, but never really played it much. Maybe it's time to dust whatever rust-bucket of a ship I had in ED and take her on a ride!
It is fun, but I try to make sure I have a few hours to play it, though it's better than No Man's Sky where you can only save with certain things. Elite you just log out.

But man, in VR it is the ultimate escape from reality. Get a nice X52 pro (make sure it's either one of the Logitech ones, or one of the Saitek ones, and not the madcatz one). Excellent game.

Also No Man's Sky is crap for controlling the space ship in VR (I have the Index, and it's just not the same as using the x52 Pro).
Dunc 20 August 2019 at 4:58 pm UTC
1xokI played Elite for the first time in the 80s. Back then on the C64. It was my absolute favorite game. An incredible job that Braben and Bell had done. Elite: Dangerous captures the spirit of the original Elite perfectly. I am very grateful for that. But even more grateful for Proton and Valves efforts around Linux.
Yep. I played the Spectrum version first (I still have my original boxed copy, and remember buying it as if it was last week), but I played it on a friend's C64 a lot too. And on the school BBCs when the teachers weren't looking. The Commodore's framerate wasn't as good (then again, these things are relative ), but I did always envy the Dodec stations. I think it was the first version to have them. And Trumbles, but I wasn't so bothered about missing out on those. ;)

I said before that I think Dangerous spoils the spirit of Elite by being always-online, since part of the genius of the original (and Frontier) was that you had a whole galaxy on one disk (or tape), but that's a minor niggle. It really is the Elite we all imagined in our heads back in the '80s. I still maintain that the original is the Best Game Ever Made. Open-world, open-ended 3D space combat and trading back in 1984 on an 8-bit machine with 32K of RAM? There's no contest.

[Edit: Oh, and I'm CMDR Gripebucket. I have no idea where that came from; it seemed funny at the time. I don't play Open very often, though.]

Last edited by Dunc on 20 August 2019 at 8:20 pm UTC
Zelox 20 August 2019 at 6:00 pm UTC
This post made me wanna try and install elite again. I used to dual boot to be able to play, but sence no man sky used to work great under wine I ended up playing that instead.

Last edited by Zelox on 20 August 2019 at 6:00 pm UTC
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