A brief history of commercial gaming on Linux (and how it's all about to change) | Opensource.com

A brief history of commercial gaming on Linux (and how it's all about to change)

Posted 13 May 2010 by 

Travis Kepley (Red Hat)
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I'm excited. I mean really excited. Excited to the point that I can hardly think. I'm talking six-year-old trying to go to sleep on Christmas Eve excited. But before I get to why, let's take a trip back to 1999.

It was in 1999 that Loki Software released their first port of a major commercial game (Civilization: Call to Power) to Linux. Shortly thereafter, Loki published another 18 ports of blockbuster titles. For a brief moment, one of the last major hurdles for Linux (and, subsequently, other free operating systems) had been solved--Gaming. Then, in 2001, Loki filed for bankruptcy and promptly closed its doors--(need something here about shutting the doors on gaming)--
This proved to be enough fodder for Microsoft to use in order to really push DirectX, and particularly Direct3D, over the edge as the defacto API for which all games going forth would be based on.  Thus securing a decade long lock on computer gaming. I mean, after all, who would want to invest time and money into porting games over to a platform that ultimately failed to prove viable. After all, when you have 5-star, blockbuster developers (think Bungie, iD, Sid Meier and Epic) behind a platform and you can't find a viable business model, its incredibly hard not to say that platform just isn't ready. <---weird
There were blips across the radar. To much fanfare in the community, iD Software (literal pioneers in the freeware industry) released Linux ports of Doom 3 and Quake 4 in the mid-2000s. Titles such as Unreal Tournament 2004, still had their Linux ports (some done by former Loki programmers such as Icculus). But those became fewer and farther between. Epic Games released Unreal Tournament 3 in 2007 with the promise that, eventually, a Linux installer would be released. It's now mid-2010 and the installer has yet to surface.
Earlier this year, Sony even removed the ability to install alternative operating systems on the Playstation 3--much to the chagrin of free software fans the world over.
All the while, there have been plenty of good fully open source titles released to the community. Yet attempting to convince a die-hard World of Warcraft (WoW) junkie to switch to open source and begin using free online RPGs is going to be tough. Even if you can convince him to try Wine and run WoW in Linux, they will likely be turned off by the instabilities and performance drops experienced with this solution.
So with all this doom and gloom that I am writing about, why am I so excited? Over the past two weeks, I have read the following headlines in articles: 
1) Android is now the number two smartphone OS in the US (http://androidandme.com/2010/05/news/android-passes-iphone-sales-in-u-s-...). The mobile gaming market is booming (http://www.mobile-ent.biz/news/36781/Smartphone-games-booming-in-US). Considering that RIM's Blackberry OS (number one smartphone OS) is designed around business, and is quickly losing steam to Android, well, you can connect the dots.
2) Steam, the popular online game delivery service, is definitely coming to Linux. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/7715209/Steam-for-Mac-goes-l...) It could be here by the end of the summer. And what good is a game delivery service that can't deliver games to the platform it supports? (Hint--it's not good at all) So this essentially states that, much like yesterday's announcement of the Source engine (Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2) making its way to OSX, Linux should receive the same love.
Now I realize there are some problems with these headlines. While the foundation is open source, the games running on Android are generally not open. The same goes for Steam and most of the games Steam delivers. Which brings be to the third, and probably most incredible headline to me:
3) The Humble Indie Bundle hit (THIB) the 1m USD mark (as of 5/11, $1,205,772). (http://www.wolfire.com/humble) For those who are unaware of this little project, several indie game developers decided to bundle their games together with no Digital Rights Management with a 'pay what you want' model. Essentially it is a merit driven payment system that actually trusted the users. Included in this pack of games were the highly acclaimed Penumbra and World of Goo titles (which, if you recall, had a very successful Linux release). Here's where the article gets good...drumroll please... Because of the overwhelming support of this project, four games from THIB are being open sourced. In fact, at time of writing, Lugaru is now open (http://blog.wolfire.com/2010/05/Lugaru-goes-open-source). Moreover, Icculus is behind the code for this branch.
I started getting into open source in the Fall of 2001, installing my first Linux Distribution my first semester of college. This is literally months after Loki Software shut their doors. I have spent a decade pining for better support for the operating system I love, and the movement behind this operating system. We're about to tackle one of the last barriers in truly making Linux, and subsequently other free operating systems, a real option in everyone's homes for everything they do on their personal computer. We cannot let the same thing that happened in 2001 happen in 2010. Support these companies, donate cash or code or simply promote. They are taking a risk here, and are attempting to put to rest the last vestiges of FUD from the closed source camps. Let's show them that there is a Linux base that is begging for triple-A titles. We no longer want to dual-boot, we no longer want to emulate. We want the real deal. This is why I have trouble sleeping, we're on the verge of something big here--much bigger than just the gaming industry. 

It was in that year that Loki Software released their first port of a major commercial game (Civilization: Call to Power) to Linux. Shortly thereafter, Loki published another 18 ports of blockbuster titles for Linux. For a brief moment, one of the last major hurdles for real Linux adoption had been solved--gaming. Then, in 2001, Loki Software filed for bankruptcy and promptly closed its doors.

This proved to be enough fodder for Microsoft to use in order to really push DirectX, and particularly their flagship Direct3D, over the edge as the de facto API for which almost all games going forth would be based on. In doing this, Microsoft was able to secure a decade-long lock on computer gaming. I mean, after all, who would want to invest time and money into porting games over to a platform that ultimately failed to prove viable? It's pretty easy to state that when you cannot make a successful model with Bungie, iD, Sid Meier, and Epic backing you, then likely the platform you are supporting just isn't ready for gaming. This is largely where Linux stood in 2001.

Yet to much fanfare, iD Software (literal pioneers in the freeware industry) released Linux ports of Doom 3 and Quake 4 in the mid-2000s. Many titles, such as Unreal Tournament 2004, still had their Linux ports. Some of the ports were even done by former Loki programmers such as Icculus. But those became fewer and farther between. They were simply tiny blips on the commercial gaming timeline. Linux users had even begun to grow used to false hope. For example, Epic Games released Unreal Tournament 3 in 2007 with the promise that, eventually, a Linux installer would be released. It's now mid-2010 and the installer has yet to surface. Earlier this year, Sony even removed the ability to install alternative operating systems on the Playstation 3--much to the chagrin of free software fans the world over. Things simply were not looking good for gaming in Linux, let alone other free operating systems.

All the while, there have been plenty of good, fully open source titles released to the community. Yet attempting to convince a die-hard World of Warcraft junkie to switch to open source and begin using free online RPGs is going to be tough. Even if you can convince him to try Wine and run World of Warcraft in Linux, they will likely be turned off by the instabilities and performance drops experienced with this solution.

So with all this doom and gloom that I am writing about, why am I so excited? Over the past three days, I have read the following headlines online:

Number 1: Android is now the number two smartphone OS in the US. Unless you've been under a rock, you've probably read that the mobile gaming market is booming. Don't forget that RIM's Blackberry OS (the current number one smartphone OS) is designed around business and that it is quickly losing steam to Android. And if you consider that Android is a Linux distribution, well, you can connect the dots.

Number 2: Steam, the popular online game delivery service, is definitely coming to Linux. It could even be here by the end of August. And what good is a game delivery service that can't deliver games to the platform it supports? (Hint--it sucks) So this essentially states that much like the recent announcement of the Source engine (Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2) making its way to OSX via their shiny new OSX Steam client, Linux should receive the same love.

Now I realize there are some problems with these headlines. While the foundation is open source, the games running on Android are generally not open. The same goes for Steam and most of the games Steam delivers. Which brings me to the third and most incredible headline:

Number 3: The Humble Indie Bundle (THIB) hit the one-million USD mark (as of 5/11, $1,205,772). For those who are unaware of this little project, several indie game developers decided to package their games together with no digital rights management (DRM) and a pay-what-you-want business model. In other words, they implemented a merit-driven payment system that actually trusted the users (read: owners) of the games. Included in this pack are the highly acclaimed Penumbra and World of Goo titles (which, if you recall, had a very successful Linux release). To further emphasize how amazing this 1.2 million dollar mark is, the sale only lasted one week. Because this bundle is designed for Windows, OSX and Linux, Linux users were a part of this audience.

But what exactly does this have to do with open source as the games themselves are still closed? *Drumroll please* Because of the overwhelming support of this project, four games from THIB are being open sourced. In fact one of the games from THIB, Lugaru, is now open source. (Interestingly enough, Icculus is behind the released code base)

I started getting into open source in the Fall of 2001, installing my first Linux distribution my first semester of college. This is literally months after Loki Software shut their doors. I have spent a decade pining for better support for the operating system I love and the movement behind this operating system. Can you tell why I'm excited?

We're about to tackle one of the last barriers in truly making Linux, and subsequently other free operating systems, a real option in everyone's homes for everything they do on their personal computer. We cannot let the same thing that happened in 2001 happen in 2010. Support these companies however you can. Donate cash, or code, or simply promote their wares. The commercial games industry is one of the largest industries in the history of the world. These developers are taking a risk by attempting to put to rest the last vestiges of FUD from the closed source camps. Let's show them that there is a Linux base that is begging for triple-A titles. We no longer want to dual-boot to Windows, and we no longer want to emulate. We want the real deal--native support for Linux in commercial games. This is why I have trouble sleeping. We're on the verge of something big here--even bigger than the industries involved--and you have a chance to make yourself heard. Don't let this chance fade.

I know these are far from the only headlines out there dealing with open operating systems and commercial gaming. If you're aware of similar projects, leave a message! We'd love to hear from you.

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14 Comments

Yannick

Hi Travis,
Seems like I have finally found someone as excited as I am about gaming under Linux.
Great article! A lot of recent information I didn't know about. Going to try Lugaru (which you misspelled, btw). Lugaru is pronounced the same way as "Loup Garou" in French, which means werewolf.

Keep that kind of posts coming and passing them on opensource.com's twitter.

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tkepley
Open Minded

Makes sense. I played a demo of the game a while back, and I loved the idea of a rabbit that killed things. With his paws. And swords. Awesome.

But yeah, I did misspell that--fixing it now. Thanks for the catch there and the nice comment!

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JPL

1) I'm interested in Android and very pleased that it exists as an alternative to AAPL's store, but I'm not sure much of the success it enjoys will translate to success for Linux. It uses a fairly different software stack and dev environment, so it's non-trivial to port a successful game from Android to Linux or any other OS for that matter. It's marketed to consumers in such a way that they have no idea it's Linux under the hood (indeed, why should they care?), so it's market share without mind share.

2) Though it's clearly in the works, Valve hasn't confirmed Steam for Linux yet - Phoronix saw the article you linked and jumped the gun. "All but certainly coming" would be more accurate language.

3) To your later call, "Let's show them that there is a Linux base that is begging for triple-A titles.", the whole point of the Humble Indie Bundle is that the games aren't triple-A - they're wonderful, idiosyncratic niche games from small or individual creators. The outreach should be twofold, to big studios like Valve and also to indies. You need both to have a vibrant scene - "legitimacy" and visibility from the majors, true innovation and personality from the indies.

Which brings me to my main point - as PC gaming starts to take interest in Linux again, the community needs to do everything in its power to make the OS attractive to developers. Standards implementations need to be consistent, APIs need to be solid, IDEs and debuggers need to be competitive with those of win/mac, preferably even art tools need to be competitive (GIMP and Blender make steady but very slow progress).

My day job is making AAA console action games, and I've seen firsthand how much MSFT and Sony invest in thinking strategically about their platforms and working to make to make them as easy as possible to develop for. Linux needs to think and invest comparably, but often I get the impression there is very little will to within the community. This post and its comments by indie developer Jon Blow show that when people try to do real game development on Linux they run into shortcomings, and sometimes the answer the community gives back is a pigheaded "you're doing it wrong". Attitude is the first and most important thing here, and it's the easiest to change.

In addition to pro level tools, we also need a world class entry level platform like MSFT's XNA that allows newbies to easily learn the ropes and experienced devs to get stuff done very quickly. There are some good starts with things like PyGame, but again this is one case where using the proprietary leader as a yardstick of progress will help.

Linux has a theoretical agility advantage here. XNA was MSFT trying its hardest to make a good game dev kit, and while it does many things very well it's still a pain to distribute your games using it, because it requires a certain version of the .NET framework and some other headaches - their game department's good work was undermined by the giant company's platform strategy! Linux has a real chance to outflank the competition here, but we have to want it.

I really really want there to come a day when a kid in high school who wants to learn game design or programming can download 100% free (in both senses) tools, make games with none of the strings attached you get with XNA or iphone, and find a supportive community of like-minded artists. This is actually a relatively simple challenge compared to some that open source has already overcome - remember when IE had >95% market share?

So you're right, the future is bright - but only if we work hard and stick to the vision.

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John Morris

> It uses a fairly different software stack and dev environment,
> so it's non-trivial to port a successful game from Android to
> Linux or any other OS for that matter.

While all of that is true, you forget one detail. It isn't all that hard to get an Android app running on a generic Linux configuration. As soon as there is demand distros will ship that capability 'out of the box.' So the only remaining obstacle is Android apps are written with assumptions about screen size and touch vs mouse that can be a problem. But if those are the only obstacles standing between a developer and a 'port' to a new platform that might raise some revenue I doubt it will pose anything like the effort of porting from DirectX.

Now factor in that cheap tablets and netbooks are already starting to appear at trade shows running Android and it means the profit motivated developer is going to be writing his apps to cope with at least the displays on a 10" netbook and the possibility of a pointer instead of a touchscreen. For the WIN!

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Unidentified

Commercial MMORPG Ryzom is open source now. Media assets are here.

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DSmith

Ah yes I can relate to your excitement. I remember my excitement in 2001 after 7 years of longing for games on Linux since games are the only reason I have a Windows machine. Well 9 years later and still playing games in Windows. I can't wait to see what Steam will put up for Linux but I wont be getting rid of Win 7 or getting too excited until I can download a game.

Just another beaten down Linux guy.

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Unidentified

Open source gaming will never fly. No one is going to invest the $$$ to make a real game that they cannot sell, nor for an OS that no one makes money on either....No profit = no games. What we really need is someone to build an OS and development kit that is cheap but well built(not like MS which is poorly built and waaay overpriced.) Make a solid OS with a strong game development kit to go with it for a fraction of the big guys and you'll have a multibillion dollar sales boom. $50 OS that works. $250 dev kit that can make high end games, and a gaming price cap of $60 THAT would be something to get excited about. Anything else is just an unrealistic utopian dream.

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Unidentified

first off open source gaming is doing very well thank you and the point your missing (you really should find out about what you post on) is that games (and software as a whole) released for linux does not have to be free. There is a whole host of software you have to pay for available natively for linux. And a few really good games. Linux would make a much better gaming platform then almost any other operating system due to the fact that you could install a lean distro and window manager and get way more out of your hardware then windows ever will. Personally i see gaming once the linux market opens up and gamers see what they can do in linux being primarily on something like slackware with fluxbox all packaged in a gaming package you just load your games on and btw for all the people who talk about their being too many distros urban terror is launched from any distro from a single file theres only two file options to launch the client 64 bit or 32 so apparently the distro is not that important. Also the newest video cards are now being supported in linux and ati and nvidia seem to be battling it out over the linux market. As well there are no development packages for linux because none are needed all the software is available free and easy to install.

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Unidentified

Sorry to burst your bubble, but "open source" means openly available without paying for it. Not sure where you grew up, but where I'm from no one gives everything for nothing. Until there's a marketable-and by marketable I mean people will actually pay to own it-OS with games worth paying for, the Linux gaming community will be fanboys and techno savy people with extreme patience for figuring out why when you push this button it does the opposite of what you want-due to little or no standardized libraries. Until we all stop trying to give everything away, or vice versa charge up the wazoo, nothing's going to change and we'll ALWAYS be limited to the imagination of executives at Sony, Microsoft and the other major gaming system manufacturers. I stand by what I said. $50 OS that actually works, $250 dev-kit, and a $60 game title restriction. That's the only way games will get better, more abundant, and readily available to the common shmoe with small paycheck.

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Unidentified

You see the problem is you are totally ignorant on the subject your talking about. (1) Open source does not mean free, see this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-source_software
(2) just because the operating system is open source does not mean that the software created for that operating system is free, while there is a lot of free "open source" software there is a lot of software that you have to pay for (Ubuntu software center has some you have to pay for)
(3) There are tons and tons of programs, editors and packages you can use to create programs for Linux all available free and get this you can use this free program to write software then compile it and sell it for 100% profit.
(4) when you compile a program in Linux it uses the x11 window system which is standard to all Linux distro's that use a window manager so it will work on any distro.
(5) as i have stated before executable files have been created for Linux that work on any distro which is the equivalent to a windows .exe file
(6) Linux being free is what makes it so popular for developers as most software is written in Linux then compiled in windows, mac, or Linux.
(7) you use Linux everyday due to the fact that almost 90% of the servers you connect to on the internet are linux based.
(8) I am not a fanboy I think people should use the operating system that suits them best and I have suggested people stick with windows i have suggested some to use a mac and others to use Linux.
(7) My computer is running ubuntu 10.10 and it does exactly what i expect it to do cause i use a program that came with it to customize it to what i want. Windows 7 however did not and there was nothing i could do to change that.
btw mac is based on bsd and so can be considered a proprietary Linux distribution but that is a discussion for another day.
So as a closing thought next time you use a site such as Google think of Linux.

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ANabeel

Very nice article I had similar excitement but since I am playing WoW on an ATI display, I have to stick to the usual, of course you know what I mean.

One other issue that I faced is error recovery after a power outage on a fake raid 0 array. :)

I have to echo DSmith, another beaten down Linux guy.

Thanks

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Unidentified

yes unfortunately ati's drivers suck but they are getting better, especially in linux. I know someone with an ati card who is linux exclusive and its working rather well for them. I believe tho the difference is ati is going with entirely open source ( probably since that way eventually it will require very little expense on their part for drivers for their hardware eventually) while nvidia has decided on using both. I personally like the choice and love nvidia's control panel but cudos to ati for supporting open source.

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glenn
Community Member

Sounds really exciting to me although I never tried any of these games so far. Some new competition on the market will only bring good things. I am worried about one thing though and you didn't mention anything about it here, do these games came fully packed with security features too? There are all on a new platform, I doubt many people will know how to handle a virus removal under these circumstances. Where can we find out more about that?

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Unidentified

Just to answer your question best i can. As i understand it in order for a virus to affect the main part of the operating system in any way you would have to install it as root which is why it is so hard to create a virus for Linux. In order for you to get a virus on Linux you would have to Install the virus your self and give your administrative password and if it tried to hang your computer it would only succeed in hanging that one program. Cool huh?

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Travis Kepley is a Senior Instructor at Red Hat where he helps employees, partners and customers understand how Open Source Software can create a better IT and business infrastructure. Travis started at Red Hat in January of 2008 as a Technical Support Engineer before becoming a Solutions Architect prior to moving to his current role. Travis graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and now lives in Raleigh with his wife and dog. When not extolling the virtues of open

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