So, can you really game on linux? Well I am doing most of my gaming on linux nowadays. Of course, I’m not by any means, an avid PC gamer. In fact, I like fighting games the most, and most of them are not available on PC to begin with.
Gaming on linux has come a long way. Back in the days, the only things that are available to linux gamers are clones of famous tittles such as TuxCart and multitudes of Quake 3 Arena knockoffs. Today, gaming engine makers such as Crytek and Havok are adding support for linux on their products, and we have Steam on linux, with AAA titles are being released for linux on the same day, or immediately after it was available on Windows, like Borderlands The Pre Sequel and Civilization Beyond Earth. It’s not a lot, but hey it’s definitely better than 5-10 years a go 😀
In this post I’m going to explain a couple of pointers that might be useful if you want to get into gaming on your linux box.
1. Choose your rig!
With AAA (read: games with fancy graphics) titles coming to linux, you need to consider getting a beefier workstation or notebook. I used to go with ATI/AMD GPUs but now has since moved away to Nvidia due to better support on hybrid GPU setup that are available on newer notebooks. So if you’re gaming on notebook, Nvidia is currently a better choice, since with Bumblebee, you can game with accelerated GPU, and shutting it down when you’re not using it to conserve battery. My Y510p can get up to 5+ hours on the built in intel graphic chip. Also, keep your setup as simple as possible, and avoid exotic configs such as SLI and crossfire at any cost. I learned about it the hard way 😀
I am currently using Lenovo Ideapad Y510p. It has decent 1st gen Haswell i7 processor, a 2x GT750 SLI GPUs which is sadly unsupported on linux at the moment, but I think I will do fine with single GT750 for now.
You’ll need a decent internet connection, since most of “native” linux games are only available from online retailers such as Steam and GOG.
For Operating System, I think an LTS release of Ubuntu would serve you best, but if you know your way around linux, Arch and Fedora will do just fine. I’m currently using Ubuntu 14.04
You wouldn’t wanna be caught dead using a Dell plastic keyboard and mouse combo when gaming, would you? Gotta get those blinky fancy mouse if you want them to consider you seriously, right? Kidding 🙂 Peripherals are a bit limited in linux gaming scheme, since none of gaming peripheral makers has linux on their sight, so picking the right components is essential for your linux gaming endeavor to be enjoyable and cuss free. Not everything that you can pick off the shelf of a computer store will work on your rig.
Forget those Steelseries or Razer keyboards with gazillion macro keys, LCDs and whatnot, since none of those extra features are currently supported on linux. You should instead go with a simpler mechanical model with great built quality. Logitech, Steelseries, Razer and all the regular gaming stuff makers have a couple of models on their product lineup, such as the Razer Blackwidow . If you want to be considered an eliteand edgy, you should go with Filco, Das, or Ducky. I’m currently using a Corsair Vengeance K70 with Cherry MX Red switches. It’s a handsome looking kit, has superb build quality, and considered to be one of the best gaming keyboard currently available on the market. Overall, a great buy if you’re into spending your hard earned cash to buy blinky stuff. And as a bonus, keyboards with mechanical switches are great for typing, and I do type a lot. Some says that keyboards with blue switches provide the best experience for typing, but I’m happy with my red.
My choice for a tighter budget is the Microsoft Sidewinder X4. The macro won’t work, but everything else, including the cute little calculator shortcut works great.
I have a quite extensive collection of mice, from Apple Magic mouse, to Logitech Performance MX, to Microsoft Touch Mouse. Again, those Razer Mambas with calculator keys slapped on the side will not work properly on your Ubuntu box, so you might wanna pick models with less ambitious button-counts. Steelseries and Mionix made somewhat affordable lines of highly regarded simple gaming mice. Razer mice has built-in memory to store the config on the mouse itself, so you can set them up on Windows, and then bring them to your linux box. My to go mouse is a Logitech M950 Performance MX, which is actually not a gaming mouse. Wireless options are very limited, since most of them are ultra expensive mouse, adorned with dozens of (useless on linux) buttons, such as Logitech G700 and the aforementioned Mamba. I currently own Razer Ouroboros and a TT eSport Level 10 M Hybrid. One thing that i like about the Ouroboros is that it uses rechargeable NiMH AA battery, so once the capacity of the battery has degraded, you can replace it with a fresh one.
If you’re like me who enjoy a couple matches of Street Fighter every now and then, you gotta have a gamepad. or a better yet, an arcade stick! I might get one of those Mad Catz arcade stick in the future, when my wife’s not looking. One thing you should note is that most of newer PC gamepads are built to clone the Xbox360 controller which uses a protocol called Xinput, which may not work with older games that are designed to work with Microsoft’s previous standard, the DirectInput. Logitech F710 and his F-series brethens have a switch on the front the unit to shift between DirectInput and Xinput. Pretty nifty!
Does anyone buy soundcard anymore? Linux support most if not all of the onboard stuff, so we should be fine with anything that is available on your motherboard. Some of Creative Sound Blasters PCI cards are supported, I can’t really tell since my last experience with of them was the EMU10K2-based Audigy PCI card back on the early 2000s. Most gamers use headphones and argue that the onboard soundchips are a “bottleneck” to their gaming setup audio, so usually they add an external Digital to Analog Converters (or a DACs) which usually includes a headphone amp to their setup, since most of these exotic headphones requires a bit more power that what your typical onboard soundcard can produce. I do use an external soundcard, as a part of my surround setup. Surround is a kind of tricky stuff to do on linux. For example, Ubuntu supports surround output on my X-Fi 5.1 USB only through analog out, and not from the SPDIF digital out, which is why I got my Logitech Z506, which is a pure analog speakers set
Things get a bit complicated when you want to go wireless. Most “gaming’ headphones use USB instead of a standard 3.5 headphone jacks, which poses several problems. Getting USB sound on linux is a bit tricky, not to mention that some of them have virtual surround features that is pretty much useless in linux system. More over, you can’t use your USB headphone with DACs.
If you still want to go the USB route, I’ve heard a lot of success with Logitech G930. I’ve considered the G930 but decided against it since the battery is note easily replaceable.
What I currently use is the Razer Chimaera 2.1. Some of you might laugh at my choice, and yes, when you talk about quality audio equipments, Razer is not the first thing that comes into our mind. Here’s the thing. First, you’ll not gonna find a decent sounding wireless headset on the this price range, save for Sennheiser RS120, which is a brilliant choice actually, so go with that 😀 The Chimaera 2.1 is not the fanciest and best-sounding headphone out there, but it ticks almost all of my requirements. The Chimaera is over the ear, closed back headphone, and use 2.4GHz radio for its’ wireless communication. It uses a standard 3.5 stereo jack, so I can hook it up to my X-Fi Pro USB Soundcard/DAC, or straight to my Y510p audio out. It uses bog standard NiMH AAA battery, which means, if the batteries loss their charge capacity, I just toss it aside and buy a new pair. The wireless range is not that great, but it suits my need just fine.
The Chimaera 2.1, while being wireless, is not really mobile friendly, since the base station need to be hooked to a power socket. One thing that I need to say about the Chimaera, while it looks very big and cumbersome, it’s quite comfortable sitting on my head, and I have no problem using it for hours.
So if you have an external DAC, and want to go wireless, you might want to check the Chimaera. Another option I considered was the Sennheiser RS120 II, which is on the ear instead of over, and lacking a built in mic. Be sure to get the “II” version instead the first one.
So, now that your gaming rig is ready, it’s time to get some games. I’m gonna skip stuff than you can get on Ubuntu Software Center, since I’ve never touch them, and go straight to a fancier stuff. Steam is very invested in linux at the moment, with Valve bringing a couple of great titles from their catalog to linux, such as Team Fortress 2, Portal series, and Counter Strike: GO.
GOG recently made good with their promise to support linux, and now serves 100+ linux titles on their catalog, all of them DRM free, and requires no activation via internet or some sort. Their catalog comprises of old titles (hence the name “Good Old Games”) that I think they repackage themselves with certain version of wine and they worked very well, most if not all of the time.
I started considering linux for gaming when AMD released their binary driver for their GPUs and Ubuntu made it easy to install them on your system. The only thing that I managed to play back then was Counter Strike v1.6, via wine.
Wine made games that are only released on Windows accessible to linux. It’s currently only compatible with games using DirectX 9, but it’s plenty enough already, at the very least, I can play Street Fighter IV 😀
If you would like to go the Wine route, you can start off with PlayOnLinux. You can use PlayOnLinux to install Wine, and then the Windows version of Steam, and then install games through Steam. What’s great about PlayOnLinux, is that it enables you to install multiple version of Wine on your system, and switch between them. This is handy, since certain games are only playable with certain version of Wine.
Part 2 will have a mode detailed looks on Bumblebee, Steam, and PlayOnLinux setup. For now, I need to master Omega Ryu’s Hanagashi 😀
Part 2 is here!