written by Fyren
For the past week I have used a Linux operating system on my gaming PC exclusively. It has been an experience and one that I would like to share for any of my fellow PC gamers out there that may be wanting to shake things up a bit. Windows has long had a stranglehold on PC gaming, but it seems that grip is loosening ever so slightly with each passing day.
Now, I did not go into this switch blind and with no clue as to what I was doing. I have used Linux a few times in the past, though never for very long because I kept arriving at the same problem. I’m a gamer. I want to play games. Most games don’t support Linux. If you roll the clock back about 12 years or so, there were next to no games available on a Linux OS. For me, and for most of you reading this, that is the end of the line. The big deal breaker. Today though the story is a little different. So, I hooked a brand new 2TB HDD into my rig and installed the most popular version of Linux out there, Ubuntu.
The first big difference that I had quite forgotten about, is that in a Linux environment you are going to use the terminal quite a bit. In Windows we call this the command prompt though it is essentially the same thing. The Linux terminal however is a great deal more powerful than its Windows counterpart. With the help of a few YouTube tutorials and several Google searches I was typing away in the terminal using it to install all sorts of drivers and packages that I was going to need. There are a lot of things I find cool about using Linux, the first of which is software repositories. These are defined by Wikipedia as “a storage location from which software packages may be retrieved and installed on a computer”. Through the terminal you can add a repository to your system and with very simple commands you can install and update anything from that repository. For example, Nvidia has a repository of drivers for their graphics cards. Once added, I can just use the command to update and I immediately get the latest version for my card. No need to fuss with anything else. It is a very clean and pleasant experience once you get comfortable with using some of the basic terminal commands.
I was pleased to find that much of the software I use on a daily basis was already available in native Linux versions. Steam, Discord, Audacity, Open Broadcasting Software and Vivaldi (my web browser of choice) are all available and work right away exactly as expected with one exception. YouTube videos did not play straight away in Vivaldi, thought they did work just fine in Firefox. Looking up help online revealed that installing a few extra dependencies allowed both Flash and HTML5 video to work flawlessly. Windows users may be familiar with dependencies, though most programs designed to work on Windows come packaged with their dependencies. These are things like DirectX, .NET Framework, and Java. Many Linux applications require that you install their dependencies separately. While this might be a slight annoyance, it is done this way in the name of security to prevent a single executable from installing whatever it likes all over your system.
Once I got everything else working it was time to start gaming. Using Steam’s beta client gets Linux users access to the Proton project. Proton is a compatibility layer that runs in between the OS and the game to allow Windows games to run on systems that aren’t running Windows. It does this by using a heavily modified and streamlined version of WINE, which emulates certain parts of the Windows OS to trick a program into thinking it is running on Windows. This is different from running a virtual machine and actually emulating a Windows system. The exact specifics of what goes on under the hood of Proton is far beyond my comprehension but I can report on how well it works. My first test was with Deep Rock Galactic, the space dwarf mining and bug exterminating simulator. With no tweaks and running through Proton, the game runs flawlessly. I couldn’t even tell the difference. I was incredibly pleased and spent the next few hours showing a few new players their way around the intricate caves of Hoxxes.
Next up, Overwatch. This one was much trickier and I’m still not entirely pleased with the result, even though it is playable. Since Overwatch is not a Steam game I cannot run it using Proton, which is a damn shame. Instead, there is another project that is similar to Proton but with a focus on non-Steam games called Lutris. Lutris is an open-source game launcher, installer and compatibility layer all in one package. The community surrounding the project is fantastic as they contribute to helping the installer figure out the right tweaks to get each game to run. This is necessary because Windows applications and games in particular vary wildly in their construction, installation and execution. So, installing Overwatch through the Lutris client brought me to the Battle.Net app that is very familiar by now. Clicking PLAY however resulted in a crashed application. So, I spent the next hour or so tweaking some settings in Lutris, disabling some features and enabling others. Eventually I got it running and was treated to the opening cinematic for the first time in years. The performance left much to be desired though. Whereas on Windows my machine is capable of running the game on highest settings in excess of 100 FPS, running the game on Linux on all low settings I average around 30 FPS. Here is the weird part, when I first boot up the game for the day my first few matches are plagued with constant frame drops and hiccups. However, as I continue to play the frame rate gets more and more stable the longer I play. I am unsure as to why this happens and I continue the troubleshooting process. After this, I installed Heroes of The Storm and my experience using Lutris to play it is very similar to that of Overwatch. It runs and it is playable but it isn’t perfect. I can live with that.
What adventures await down the road?