A recent report on how Valve are making Steam for Linux has only served to back up something I've been thinking about for a while: that games running properly on Linux is something that's going to happen much sooner than we think, and that something is happening within the development world that we're not privy to that's pointing to Linux as a suitable operating system platform for games.
“TINman”, a regular user of Do Gaming, commented at my “Steam for Linux” article where I reported on what Valve are saying in this respect, by saying this:
“Linux will never be popular with games. Not until someone with a lot of money and time to burn invests in designing a new OpenGL or DX alternative. If you only play source games and think Linux is cool then go for it though.”
He's mostly right. But I think there's more going on underground. I was struck by recent rumours posted on the Internet that the new Playstation, codenamed Orbis, will apparently run OpenGL “natively”. Bear with me as I unpack this to prove my point.
OpenGL is a cross-platform API that allows for the creation of 3D and 2D graphics. Microsoft's own graphical API, DirectX, is more well known – especially since it has really produced amazing results in recent years. But DirectX is used by Windows and, of course, Xbox 360 (that's why it's called the “X” box) while OpenGL was emulated on the PS3 using Sony's own LibGCM API.
Now Sony is rumoured to be moving away from it's own proprietary Cell technology, which powers the PS3, and moving towards AMD technology. While the processing power of Sony's technology has been extraordinary and certainly better than the Xbox 360 (so they say), the reality is that this has presented a number of coding challenges for developers. This is usually why exclusively-PS3 titles tend to run better rather than titles that are ported across consoles and PC.
Concept of the PlayStation Orbis
The move to AMD would obviously mean that porting code across all three platforms – Windows PC, Orbis and Xbox 360 (or the Xbox Durango, the rumoured new Xbox console) – will be a lot easier. It seems Sony themselves are wanting to support more open development standards. Having OpenGL run natively on the new PlayStation is probably easier for Sony's engineers and it will make coding a heck of a lot easier for game developers too.
Interestingly, OpenGL running on Linux is suprisingly very good, especially with Ubuntu, given that project's drive to make a free operating system that anyone can use. In fact, the application Wine basically allows gamers to play Windows games on Linux by “converting” the DirectX protocols to OpenGL. It's buggy and so forth – some games work beautifully, others have issues (usually newer games) – but the point is clear: Linux works very well with OpenGL. It's the standard Linux developers work with.
So here comes the clincher: if Sony are now going to support OpenGL natively on the new PlayStation, making it easier on developers, then porting that code into Linux shouldn't be such a major problem for developers to do. In fact, maybe that's exactly why Valve are talking about Source games on Linux, because a port both ways might prove to be surprisingly easy.
And that's why gaming properly on Linux may be a closer reality than we think.
Crysis 3 is set to make good use of Microsoft's DirectX11
If this is true what we would have is an interesting scenario where Windows and Xbox 360 support DirectX, while PS3 and Linux support OpenGL. And think about this: there's only one hardware platform that can run both DirectX and OpenGL, and that is the PC. Valve's playground.
Which is exactly why I think Gabe Newell has made recent comments about Linux and there have been all these hints at Valve developing hardware. These Orbis rumours, if true, will put Valve in an incredibly strong position.
Personally, I find this all very exciting. Gaming properly on Linux has been a dream for me and, if it becomes a reality, it will open up so much more support for Linux. If that happens the technology world as we know it will experience a major shift, and a good one at that, in my opinion.
About Ryan Peter
Ryan Peter has been an avid gamer for over 25 years, seeing the industry evolve from King's Quest to what it is today. He is the editor of Do Gaming and a ghostwriter of fantasy and sci-fi. His fantasy book When Twins War is available at Amazon.com, in the iBookstore for the iPad or at Smashwords.com.