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Rich Geldreich On The State Of Linux Gaming, And It's Not Good

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Former Valve engineer Rich Geldreich has written up a blog post about the state of Linux Gaming. It's an interesting read that's for sure.

When talking about recent bigger game ports:
QuoteSadly, it's pretty clear that if you run these games on Linux your experience isn't going to be as good, and you'll be getting less "gaming value" vs. Windows. We're not talking about a bunch of little indy titles, these are big releases: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Borderlands 2, Tropico 5, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Sid Meier's Civilization V. My take is the devs doing these ports just aren't doing their best to optimize these releases for Linux and/or OpenGL.

Emphasis mine, and I don't agree with him on this. Obviously neither he, nor I have any proof either way that they are/aren't doing their best to optimise, but Aspyr & Feral making a living out of porting games to OpenGL, so why wouldn't they be trying to fix performance issues?

The performance has some way to go sure, but is that really the fault of Aspyr & Feral, or do the drivers still have ways to go to improve their performance? Who knows, I sure don't it goes way over my head at that point.

He does however note how hard it is to get performance on Linux equal to Windows:
QuoteI know it's possible for Linux ports to equal or outperform their Windows counterparts, but it's hard. At Valve we had all the driver devs at our beck and call and it was still very difficult to get the Source engine's perf. and stability to where it needed to be relative to Windows. (And this was with a ~8 year old engine - it must be even harder with more modern engines.) These devs are probably glad to just release anything at all given how alien it can be for Windows/Xbox devs to develop, debug, and ship stuff under Linux+OpenGL.

At least he is pointing out that fact that it's not easy to get decent OpenGL performance to match games on Windows, so he's not completely blasting Feral and Aspyr.

I agree with what he's saying about the Intel drivers 100%:
QuoteThe entire Intel driver situation remains in a ridiculous state. I know Intel means well and all but really, they can do better. (Are they afraid of pissing off MS? Or is this just big corp dysfunctionalism?) Valve is still paying LunarG to find and fix silly perf bugs in Intel's slow open source driver. Surely this can't be a sustainable way of developing a working driver?

No, it's not. Intel ideally needs to be doing this sort of work themselves to find bottlenecks and fix general performance issues in their own Linux drivers. I see this as a stopgap measure while Linux still isn't a focus for many people, and Intel included. This again goes into our marketshare issues, if we had a higher share then Intel would probably be doing it themselves.

His last point is a screen-shot of a slashdot comment where someone is basically saying that SteamOS is done, and that we will never get our hands on the Steam Controller. Their reasoning is that Microsoft snapped and allowed Alienware to create a Windows machine that boots to a Steam UI, and not Windows directly.

I agree that was a bit of a shocker, and I thought it wouldn't do SteamOS any good, but I think SteamOS hasn't even had a chance to have a go at it yet. SteamOS was delayed because Valve decided to revamp the controller again to get it right, so I think we should wait for it to be out before signalling its death.

Read his full blog post here.

What are your thoughts on it? Rich is good at stirring up the hornet's nest that's for sure, but just because he is a former Valve engineer doesn't mean he's going to be right on everything. Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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mirv 10 November 2014 at 10:31 am UTC
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While I don't agree with everything from the blog post, there are some valid points. It's not that OpenGL is slower, or that drivers are slower, it's that people (developers, porters, etc) need a bit more education in using OpenGL, and doing things the (modern) "OpenGL way".

As for porting companies - there's always time pressure, and they probably have some in-house codebase that they don't like to change (time, money, the whole "if it's not broken, don't fix it" thing). Moving to >= GL4.x (see AZDO) would likely require a fair bit of reworking, which they won't be willing to do, and so we're stuck with sub-optimal performance.
omer666 10 November 2014 at 10:31 am UTC
If you're saying Feral is not good just because of the 64bit-only binaries for Xcom, that's ridiculous.
drmoth 10 November 2014 at 10:51 am UTC
Arrgh, not Rich again....I find myself compelled once again to wade in and debunk his tabloid journalism. The problem with that guy is that he is dangerously well informed enough (not to mention an ex- Valve employee) to persuade people to think that what he's saying is gospel, when in fact it's just pure speculation and very biased at that. Read the comments from Mattias Goldberg at the end of the article, that's where you're more likely to find the voice of reason.

Point #1: native ports are always going to be fast.
Mattias touches nicely upon this - planning for the software architecture you're targeting has a huge performance impact. Porting that same architecture to another SDK or platform is an act of shoehorning, forcing a problem into an existing solution, irrespective of whether that's the best solution for the task at hand. Not only does Linux suffer less performance than Windows for these games, but so does OSX, precisely because the original games were written for DirectX. The real test will be when truly cross-platform engines such as Unreal Engine 4 fail to perform under Linux (and no, Unity is not particularly high performing for any platform).

The telling response from Rich to this is:
"I wonder how many devs will spend the time (like yourself) to properly create an AZDO backend for what will probably be a single digit percentage of the marketplace?"
THIS is the core of the problem. Windows fan boys totally incredulous as to why anyone would want to leave the MS ecosystem. To his credit, Rich alludes to why we need to leave Microsoft behind and create a new gaming platform: "But no, the Microsoft Experience is inviolate, the holiest of holies, eternally immutable. No matter how much hatred it gets, it Must. Not. Be. Changed ."

Alienware's "Steam Box": Bouahahahahahahahahahahahahah!
Rich's comment: "When no-one was looking, Steam took Microsoft and snapped it like a twig." Duh, this happened a LONG time ago. The Alienware box is useless, it's just a quick money grab. It has a totally uncertain future, uncertain updates, is a closed system used by only a single hardware partner. Compared this to a slow burning increasingly well engineered OS by the company that owns the digital distribution platform. As has been said elsewhere, Valve's delay (Valve time anyone?) in releasing the Steam Box hurt Alienware's plans, so they fought back and released their own skin. Good for them, it was the right strategic thing to do.


Point #2:
X11/DRM: Mattias again touches on the real problem - the X11 Windowing system and DRM stack. I currently suffer horrible VSync issues on my GTX660, and I'm pretty sure it's X11 and Compiz that are to blame. Bring on Wayland and Mir and the new buttery smoothness.

Point #3:
Intel's Open Source driver.
Intel's driver is amazing, it has progressed in leaps and bounds. However the team working on it is indeed smaller than the Windows driver team, and yeah, Intel is married to Microsoft at the moment, as they should be as Windows has the largest PC market share. Which is why Valve has to hire 3rd party companies to fix driver bugs. All this means is that the current computing culture and status quo is Microsoft and Windows focussed. Is this news? Of course not, it's been like that for ages, which is why SteamOS is so exciting, because it could break that hegemony and usher in a brand new culture. So yeah, I might be currently losing some 2-10 fps by not using the Windows Intel driver, but I get an amazing out of the box experience with no extra driver installs, no annoying pop-ups and ugly Intel GUIs. Just wait till the Linux Intel driver is faster...because this WILL happen (it's already happening in the OpenGL space, just read Phoronix for more details)

So yeah, in retrospect Rich Geldreich must have had a BIG fall out at Valve...he's certainly still harbouring some grudges. Either that, or he's decided to change career and become a tech shock-jock....I'm sure there's money to be made there, maybe some ugly PR company will hire him.

That's not to say that SteamOS won't fail, but you can be sure that Valve will give it a seriously red hot go, or come out of this experience looking pretty stupid, which they obviously are not.
Cyba.Cowboy 10 November 2014 at 11:23 am UTC
Meh.

I don't care anymore, our entire household now runs Ubuntu in a single-boot scenario (I just changed the last of the computers - mine - to a single-boot setup this past weekend)(we previously dual-booted everything)...

Going forwards, it's Linux-based operating systems and only Linux-based operating systems - no Tux, no bux.

It's as simple as that - if a developer can't be bothered to release their games for Linux-based operating systems, they'll get nothing from this household... Every dollar counts at the end of the day and in our household, we're all gamers with our own respective Steam accounts.
wolfyrion 10 November 2014 at 11:25 am UTC
well dont forget that he is a former employee,a former employee is someone who worked for a company in the past but no longer does ...Rich Geldreich has left Valve.

Geldreich was involved with Valve's OpenGL and Linux efforts and has spoken at Steam Dev Days, GDC, SIGGRAPH, and other conferences along with contributed to some open-source projects.

As a foot note to his latest blog post, Rich Geldreich says he is no longer working at Valve nor is he contributing anymore to the Valve VOGL OpenGL debugger targeting game developers. He didn't shed anymore light on his departure and offhand I am not aware of what company (if any) he's ended up at for now. So I am thinking that his holding something up against Valve.

I think he left from Valve around May so I dont know how much Valve has improved the VOGL OpenGL Debugger.

SteamOS isnt done at all it just started...
Styromaniac 10 November 2014 at 11:32 am UTC
I think as long as we do our part to keep it profitable, the SteamOS initiative will remain alive up through a final release of OpenGL Next. I'm not holding my breath for Mantle, but I'm not skeptical of it arriving to Linux either. Until Mantle is adopted by Intel and Nvidia, it's all on the OpenGL Working Group to make a ripe fruit of SteamOS.
Cyba.Cowboy 10 November 2014 at 11:44 am UTC
StyromaniacNext. I'm not holding my breath for Mantle, but I'm not skeptical of it arriving to Linux either.

Mantle?
Cyba.Cowboy 10 November 2014 at 11:47 am UTC
CybaCowboy
StyromaniacNext. I'm not holding my breath for Mantle, but I'm not skeptical of it arriving to Linux either.
Mantle?

Never mind.
Styromaniac 10 November 2014 at 11:54 am UTC
Isn't Nvidia the exception to this entire topic? All I've ever seen is benchmarks showing Nvidia's closed driver is on par with Windows for the same games. Maybe it doesn't help that Michael Larabel won't forego a fully scientific set of benchmarks to include all the games which we actually play. Michael Larabel refuses to benchmark like he's a Mythbusters employee.

More benchmarks of Linux games we actually play using Nvidia GPUs would certainly breathe fresh air into this conversation.

Just to make everyone aware, all I own is an HD5870. My position is based on firsthand experience, scientific evidence concerning Phoronix and anecdotal evidence provided by other Linux gamers.
mirv 10 November 2014 at 12:02 pm UTC
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StyromaniacIsn't Nvidia the exception to this entire topic? All I've ever seen is benchmarks showing Nvidia's closed driver is on par with Windows for the same games. Maybe it doesn't help that Michael Larabel won't forego a fully scientific set of benchmarks to include all the games which we actually play. Michael Larabel refuses to benchmark like he's a Mythbusters employee.

More benchmarks of Linux games we actually play using Nvidia GPUs would certainly breathe fresh air into this conversation.

Just to make everyone aware, all I own is an HD5870. My position is based on firsthand experience, scientific evidence concerning Phoronix and anecdotal evidence provided by other Linux gamers.

Both nVidia and AMD share most of their OpenGL stacks across their supported platforms, so you should see comparable OpenGL performance between Windows and GNU/Linux when using their blobs.
Of course, there are other things to take into account (e.g I've had vsync problems sometimes - it being forced on even when the game settings should have it disabled, then there's threading differences, and so on) and so the results won't be exactly the same, but should at least be comparable.
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