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Now that Steam has the ability officially to override a Linux game and run it through Steam Play instead, let's take a quick look at some differences in performance.

Before I begin, let's make something clear. I absolutely value the effort developers put into Linux games, I do think cross-platform development is incredibly important so we don't end up with more lock-in. However, let's be realistic for a moment. Technology moves on and it's not financially worth it to keep updating old games, they just don't sell as well as newer games (with exceptions of course). The intention with such comparisons is not to favour any developer or any method of gaming on Linux. It’s just to show what’s possible, what the differences are, what doesn’t work and so on. As the years go on, there will be more ways to run older games better and better, of that I've no doubt.

I'm not a zealot for any one particular method of gaming either and as a fan of all things gaming, software and technology, I thought it might be interesting and hopefully you do too. The tests were attempted on some games that have a Linux version, while also being games that are quite heavy on your system.

Note: All tests done at 1080p on Ubuntu 18.10, with the NVIDIA 415.25 driver and my 980ti with Proton 3.16-6.

First up, let's take a look at Tomb Raider (2013) which arrived on Linux back in 2016. Since Tomb Raider has a handy built-in benchmark tool, we will start off simply by showing the results:

Benchmarks also only tell one part of the story. In the case of Tomb Raider, through Steam Play it needed to run through entirely at least once or there was quite a lot of stuttering which wasn't the case in the Linux version. However, the Linux version has parts of the game where performance dives a lot and the Steam Play version is better there. To Feral Interactive's credit (who ported it to Linux), their later ports are miles ahead of this.

Sidenote: For the videos, the titles "Steam Play" and "Linux" show their corresponding videos to the side, in case that wasn't clear.

In the case of Cities: Skylines which released on Linux back in 2015 at the same time as the Windows version, testing out the "Benchmark" map from the Steam Workshop resulted in something I didn't expect. The performance was very close but the Linux version was noticeably smoother with a couple of extra FPS.

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Either way, a big city doesn't perform well no matter how you do it. I should note here too, that even though the Linux versions performs slightly better it does eat up quite a bit more RAM.

Next up, MXGP3 a rather new Linux port from November 2018. Given how it's quite new, I honestly would have thought it would do reasonably well. As noted in my previous article, the performance of the Linux version isn't very good and Steam Play blows it out of the water.

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Not a pretty picture, with the official Linux version struggling at times to even hit 30FPS it makes it difficult to control. It's also not a very good game but that's a different thing altogether…

Dying Light is up next, a personal favourite of mine. Also no benchmark mode I could find for the Linux version, so a comparison video keeping it as close as I could:

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As you can see, both versions work quite well. I've completed the game more than once and I was actually happy enough with the performance of the Linux version, it was good enough and playable. However, the Steam Play version with Vulkan is at times around double the performance of the Linux version which is quite striking.

Next up, I tried Total War: WARHAMMER II. A Linux port from Feral Interactive released only in November last year. This would have been quite an exciting comparison, since the Linux version uses Vulkan. First issue encountered when trying it in Steam Play, is that it gives you a completely blank white launcher, so you need to opt into their new launcher beta which does work in Steam Play.

So you hit play on the fancy new launcher, guess what happens next? You get a brief moment of life, a glorious flash of black…and then it just quits to the desktop. Happens across both Proton 3.7 and 3.16. So, Total War: WARHAMMER II in Steam Play is a dud whereas the actual Linux version does work rather nicely.

The curious one is Rise of the Tomb Raider, I've been told this should work in Steam Play to do a comparison. However, it faced the same issue for me as Total War: WARHAMMER II. A black screen for a moment and then it quits on me. I have sent a log to the creator of DXVK for that, maybe it will help somewhere. Again, the Linux version from Feral works nicely.

 

The testing in this article was going to be longer, I had some grand plans for doing a lot of comparisons. However, Steam Play is still in beta and it has an uphill battle ahead of it. Rise of the Tomb Raider, Total War: WARHAMMER II, Civilization VI, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and BioShock Infinite didn't work at all in Steam Play across both Proton 3.16 and 3.7 but the Linux versions do work. Sad about not being able to test more, but it's an example of how a supported release is the better option for certain games (especially multiplayer games like Darwin Project) and not the answer to everything as some claim. Great as an option but not quite ready for prime time overall, it will be fun to watch it evolve over this next year.

As I've said before though, with Steam Play it's not just a case of squeezing out extra performance. It's also a question of support and features of the Linux version (gamepad support, fullscreen issues, missing graphics options and so on). From a performance standpoint though, it shows clearly Linux can be a gaming platform that performs well.

The biggest question in my mind is: do you really get any true support with games you purchase to play in Steam Play? What exactly are you paying for? I don't really have an answer for that. For a purchased game, the developer (you would think) would be focused on it and fix issues as they come up. With Steam Play though, it covers such a massive list you could end up waiting a while for a fix (if it's possible at all). Thankfully, Valve has made a good step towards stopping Steam Play updates breaking games, since the latest Steam client beta no longer overrides the Proton version for a game in the whitelist.

I may do more tests in future, if readers want me to you will need to let me know what games you want to see tested (they have to have a benchmark mode in the Linux version). We still don't have a decent amount of Linux games that actually do have a benchmark mode, so it does make such a thing rather tricky to get a lot of value out of it and comparison videos eat a huge amount of time for even the most basic rough editing.

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113 comments
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mirv 19 January 2019 at 9:58 am UTC
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Beamboom
thykrIt baffles me that non-native is much faster than native.

I really hope someday some smart software engineers will be able to explain why it is that way.

It's because none of them are really native, they all (including Feral & Co) use wrapper libraries. So to call those releases "ports" are really quite misleading.

Well, most games probably have some kind of abstraction over the rendering API anyway. And most porting might use some library for the bulk of the work, but I think extra tweaks are made where necessary outside of that.
liamdawe 19 January 2019 at 11:40 am UTC
Beamboom
thykrIt baffles me that non-native is much faster than native.

I really hope someday some smart software engineers will be able to explain why it is that way.

It's because none of them are really native, they all (including Feral & Co) use wrapper libraries. So to call those releases "ports" are really quite misleading.
Feral said they actually rewrote the rendering system for Rise of the Tomb Raider...

If it's made to run on another platform, it's a port.
rkfg 19 January 2019 at 11:49 am UTC
So I did some minor editing to one of your videos, I guess it became a bit less confusing now?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haaCPz56rr0

EDIT: the alignment of "Steam Play/Linux" and the FPS counters is off and I'm too lazy to fix it, also the videos are slightly cropped (about 4 pixels) for sizes to match. And I added a low resolution background, couldn't find a high res picture, unfortunately. It's also possible to chromakey the FPS counters so only numbers are visible, I used that to make the background transparent but for whatever reason (probably a bug in KDEnlive) black chromakey also removes white labels. So I had to use "Color Selection" effect which removes only the selected color precisely.

Also, is it possible to embed a youtube video in a comment?


Last edited by rkfg at 19 January 2019 at 12:06 pm UTC
jens 19 January 2019 at 12:02 pm UTC
dvd
jensThat said, DXVK clearly wins when looking at availability. Whereas Feral port are usually several months later than the Windows release, Steam Play/DXVK works on day one (if it works). Would be cool if Feral could improve on this side and shorten the time between window and their release date. Dunno what is in their hands though.

How is DXVK and SteamPlay porting? Who would pay 60 to 100 euros for that? No one... If i wanted to play wine games i would stick by the appdb... You know what else works on day one (if it works at all)? Windows...

I'm not much interested in the technical implementation how a game works on Linux, for me it is important that it works. Of course I would prefer a Feral port from all games, they offer the best overall quality (performance, stability, support) on Linux gaming currently. I'm happily waiting for being able to buy Shadow of the Tomb Raider from their store. That said, I'm currently playing Dark Souls 3 using SteamPlay/DXVK and the experience is the same regarding performance and stability. Would I pay on day one for a Steam Play game? Sure, with the assumptions that it works and that there is no chance of a Linux version. I did so with Assetto Corsa Competizione (Early Access). I use Steam Play exclusively for these titles, so my purchase will appear as Linux purchase in the Valve statistics.

PS: Looking at the changelog from ACC 0.3.5 (current version is 0.5.2)you'll find this entry:
- Fixed possible server issue on linux emulators
(https://www.assettocorsa.net/competizione/assetto-corsa-competizione-hotfix-v-0-3-5-is-live-on-steam/)
I could have it completely wrong, but this could be a reference to Steam Play, which would be a pretty cool thing, thus Windows game developers having Steam Play in mind during development cycle. But as stated, this entry could mean something entirely different.


Last edited by jens at 19 January 2019 at 12:28 pm UTC
Brisse 19 January 2019 at 1:25 pm UTC
jens- Fixed possible server issue on linux emulators

99% certain they mean Steam Play. "Emulators" could just be a language barrier thing since the devs are Italian. There are lots of people outside of the GNU/Linux community who doesn't know what the Wine reverse acronym stands for.
YourPalMark 19 January 2019 at 1:56 pm UTC
Interesting stuff! I'm anxious to hear of others that have tried Ark: Survival Evolved. Running the Linux version I typically get 45+ fps with high settings, but to my surprise under Steam Play it creaks along at 12-17 fps. (and that's with the settings turned down to low)
Comandante Ñoñardo 19 January 2019 at 2:46 pm UTC
elmapuli'm really disapointed, i was saying "there is no reason to run those games on proton, they already run on wine"
well, looking at those numbers, looks like we were wasting more performance than i thought and its hard to support aspy/feral with ports like that.

even if i want, i cant afford to pay an hardware much better than the needed to play the games, using windows is just cheaper at that point, using it and donating the money i saved on hardware to some floss software seems to be an better contribution than be just an number...

I don't know where you live, but here in Argentina, a Windows licence costs about 200 U$D.... For that money you can buy a more powerful processor.
Comandante Ñoñardo 19 January 2019 at 2:52 pm UTC
liamdawe
Beamboom
thykrIt baffles me that non-native is much faster than native.

I really hope someday some smart software engineers will be able to explain why it is that way.

It's because none of them are really native, they all (including Feral & Co) use wrapper libraries. So to call those releases "ports" are really quite misleading.
Feral said they actually rewrote the rendering system for Rise of the Tomb Raider...

If it's made to run on another platform, it's a port.

If they can change things, I wonder why they didn't added linux exclusive features to the game, like press whatever button for 1st person view.
mirv 19 January 2019 at 3:51 pm UTC
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Comandante Ñoñardo
liamdawe
Beamboom
thykrIt baffles me that non-native is much faster than native.

I really hope someday some smart software engineers will be able to explain why it is that way.

It's because none of them are really native, they all (including Feral & Co) use wrapper libraries. So to call those releases "ports" are really quite misleading.
Feral said they actually rewrote the rendering system for Rise of the Tomb Raider...

If it's made to run on another platform, it's a port.

If they can change things, I wonder why they didn't added linux exclusive features to the game, like press whatever button for 1st person view.

Feral is a porting house, not a developer. And contracts might be rather specific - maybe they can port, publish, but not change how the game is played.
Also, hard enough to ensure existing features work without adding new ones.
Those are my guesses.
Narvarth 19 January 2019 at 8:02 pm UTC
KimyrielleThese tests show that SteamPlay is on par with native ports in performance even now, and it didn't even leave beta yet.

Actually,to be honest, these tests only show that Proton is on par with old or bad ports...
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