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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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PJ 19 January 2019 at 10:34 pm UTC
Leopard
PJthis tests make me think that John Carmack might have been right after all ;) ...

No , just look at one message above.

When ports done right ; native is preffered.

sure, native is preferred - sadly it's rarely the case. Most of the times we get some sort of wrapper anyways which those performance results show clearly. When you can get a game running without hassle and with better performance under WINE / Proton why would you choose semi-native version that runs worse. So I see the point in what Carmack said.
But totally agree that true native versions are preferred. Also translation helpers like the one Feral uses is really appreciated - it has taken a while, but performance I see on their recent ports (through Vulkan) is good.
So all in all - when the performance is good and if I don't have to go through extra hoops I'm happy with both options.


Last edited by PJ at 19 January 2019 at 10:37 pm UTC
elmapul 19 January 2019 at 11:30 pm UTC
Comandante ÑoñardoI 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.

powerfull processor+powerfull gpu +powerfull motherboard to acomodate it.
i live in Brasil.
elmapul 19 January 2019 at 11:42 pm UTC
Purple Library Guyand all the open source stuff with critical mass is maintained and improved on an ongoing basis.

those are the exceptions.

quoting Linus torvalds
" The normal size for most open source projects is three people"

even projects like gimp have something like 2 or 3 mantainers, so i dont know what you mean by critical mass.

and speaking of gimp, if you think its properly support, it isnt, they ditched support for old script-fu scripts some time ago, back then i needed to make an edit in a bunch of images, i tried to make an script to select the first pixel of a bunch of images and set it as transparent color, and failed, the documentation of ho to make script-fu for it was out dated, was no long working even if you know english you have an bad time solving those issues, imagine people who arent native speakers...
Phlebiac 19 January 2019 at 11:59 pm UTC
MagicMythI can see Steam Proton soon being able to run a tone of older games easily that Windows 10 either requires a lot of hacks for or just can't be done. It will be a funny time when a large amount of one's Windows games collection only works on Linux as the years go by.

Back when Steam Play was still a rumor, I theorized that: 1) it was at least partially based on WINE (correct), and 2) it would be used not only on Linux, but also on macOS and Windows (for games that broke on newer Windows versions). It looks like the macOS support was there early on but got axed (due to Apple being so anti-gaming with their API support), and so far they haven't done it for Windows. But they could in the future?
Schattenspiegel 20 January 2019 at 6:56 am UTC
Has anyone tried TW:Attila? Would be nice to get cross OS multiplayer working if fps are decent.
anewson 20 January 2019 at 11:13 am UTC
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great work Liam, thanks for doing this.
beko 20 January 2019 at 5:11 pm UTC
YoRHa-2BLiterally me. That's why I mentioned it ;)
Cookies which way? ?
Purple Library Guy 20 January 2019 at 5:58 pm UTC
elmapul
Purple Library Guyand all the open source stuff with critical mass is maintained and improved on an ongoing basis.

those are the exceptions.

quoting Linus torvalds
" The normal size for most open source projects is three people"

even projects like gimp have something like 2 or 3 mantainers, so i dont know what you mean by critical mass.

and speaking of gimp, if you think its properly support, it isnt, they ditched support for old script-fu scripts some time ago, back then i needed to make an edit in a bunch of images, i tried to make an script to select the first pixel of a bunch of images and set it as transparent color, and failed, the documentation of ho to make script-fu for it was out dated, was no long working even if you know english you have an bad time solving those issues, imagine people who arent native speakers...
The Gimp thing is a separate issue--it has nothing to do with Linux, it's internal to the Gimp itself.

For the rest, all of that may be so . . . and yet for some reason or other, as I move to newer versions of a distro, I don't generally find that open source Linux software stops running; rather I find that the stuff gradually shifts its dependencies to newer versions of things. Which was my point, which you don't seem to have missed so much as sidestepped.
The point is that (closed, commercial) games don't really have ongoing development . . . I mean, nowadays they kind of do, for a while, some of them, but after a year or two from full release they're mostly basically done, you have this static thing which will stop working if the OS you're running it on changes. And on Windows most of the non-game software ecosystem is these little commercial applications which someone developed, sold, and moved on, even less likely to get ongoing development than games. So Windows has strong reasons to keep things pretty static--everything will break if they don't, except Office and whatever they're calling Internet Exploder these days.
Linux has less reason, because traditionally most of the stuff changed with the OS, so users really don't notice huge problems as changes are made. Oh, not zero problems, but it's more like aggravations here and there which are assumed to be temporary. Meanwhile there traditionally have been strong motivations to improve Linux, which can tend to lead to changes that break stuff.

Although despite all this talk starting from you saying "no one is held accountable to break compatibility on linux", to be fair I don't think much breakage comes from kernelspace.
jarhead_h 20 January 2019 at 9:48 pm UTC
mylka
jarhead_h
mylkathats an eye opener
i hope VULKAN will have its breakthrough with PS5

I don't see how Sony decides on anything else. They may stick with some flavor of BSD for the OS, but they are going to pick Vulkan. And that means that AAA ports to PC will be the Playstation versions. Eventually Microsoft will be the only company still producing PC games that are DirectX only, and several will drop it entirely because there is simply no need for it. Make one version for the Playstation and it ports considerably easier to everything except the Xbox.

and apple.
i dont think its up to sony, because they dont care if games come to pc, etc.
but developers would have switch, windows and android covered, so they have to demand vulkan on SP5

I'm sorry, I did not mean to suggest that Sony would be magnanimous in this regard, simply that Vulkan is the clear performance winner between it and OpenGL, which means AMD will push it and Sony will agree. And this gives AMD control over gaming. AMD is providing the hardware for all major consoles, and once the PS5 has Vulkan that makes Vulkan the dominant API for PC ports because it cuts out most of the work, even for Windows ports. Very soon the only DirectX games will all originate on the Xbox. Apple has decided on a proprietary API, so everybody point and laugh, now wave goodbye as their platform continues it's journey into complete irrelevance and eventual end because all of the professional content creation software that currently sells Macs is available on Windows, and now in addition to terrible physical engineering of their devices, they are going to cut the number of games their platform gets. Without Steve Jobs to hold their cult together, Apple cannot get away with this for much longer.

Linux is TRYING to be easy to port to. Our community is actively working(Valve playing a big part)to court big developers with foresight to see the future that we see where open standards are just what everybody uses, to include the hardware that the open source OS is running on(something like RISC-V). Right now the Windows crowd could not care any less about Vulkan performance. If the PS5 gets Vulkan, in five years it will the first thing they check.

Phlebiac
MagicMythI can see Steam Proton soon being able to run a tone of older games easily that Windows 10 either requires a lot of hacks for or just can't be done. It will be a funny time when a large amount of one's Windows games collection only works on Linux as the years go by.

Back when Steam Play was still a rumor, I theorized that: 1) it was at least partially based on WINE (correct), and 2) it would be used not only on Linux, but also on macOS and Windows (for games that broke on newer Windows versions). It looks like the macOS support was there early on but got axed (due to Apple being so anti-gaming with their API support), and so far they haven't done it for Windows. But they could in the future?

They obviously COULD, there is a WAY, but it's a question of WILL, and I don't think that the will is there. Apple is cutting it's own throat with METAL, really don't know who made that call but they need to be fired immediately because it dooms the platform long term. But I think that the people that want to play the older games are the people that are also most likely to leave Windows behind.


Last edited by jarhead_h at 20 January 2019 at 9:56 pm UTC
mylka 21 January 2019 at 12:20 am UTC
jarhead_h
mylka
jarhead_h
mylkathats an eye opener
i hope VULKAN will have its breakthrough with PS5

I don't see how Sony decides on anything else. They may stick with some flavor of BSD for the OS, but they are going to pick Vulkan. And that means that AAA ports to PC will be the Playstation versions. Eventually Microsoft will be the only company still producing PC games that are DirectX only, and several will drop it entirely because there is simply no need for it. Make one version for the Playstation and it ports considerably easier to everything except the Xbox.

and apple.
i dont think its up to sony, because they dont care if games come to pc, etc.
but developers would have switch, windows and android covered, so they have to demand vulkan on SP5

I'm sorry, I did not mean to suggest that Sony would be magnanimous in this regard, simply that Vulkan is the clear performance winner between it and OpenGL, which means AMD will push it and Sony will agree. .

thats what i think and its logical, but big companies sometimes make weird decisions. maybe sony changes some things in vulkan and make it closed source, like apple did with BSD/macos

i am not to enthusiastic until we know it for sure
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