Carmack Considers Wine Support More Practical Than Linux Ports
Humble Bundles and the Steam Linux client have renewed their interest in Linux gaming. John Carmack from id Software has been a long time OpenGL and Open-Source proponent while also enjoying the programming challenges. With such history, his tweets about porting RAGE to Linux and Linux ports were surprising to many:
"I heard it ran fine under Wine. No plans for a native Linux client."
"Improving Wine for Linux gaming seems like a better plan than lobbying individual game developers for native ports. Why the hate?"
The clarification followed soon after in a more detailed comment on Reddit. While Carmack himself has some interest in programming for Linux, Zenimax and id don't consider Linux ports financially viable. Zenimax publishes PC games only for Windows and outsources Mac ports to Aspyr when they do a good offer.
With all the effort required to port existing games from Windows to Linux, Carmack proposes that more work should be put towards improving compatibility layers like Wine, allowing Windows games to run on Linux. While making such improvements is harder than porting a game, it would be a general solution:
"Translating from D3D to OpenGL would involve more inefficiencies, but figuring out exactly what the difficulties are and making some form of "D3D interop" extension for OpenGL to smooth it out is a lot easier than making dozens of completely refactored, high performance native ports."
As for making Linux versions, it may be less problematic with proper tools and guidelines in the future:
"Ideally, following a set of best practice guidelines could allow developers to get Linux versions with little more effort than supporting, say, Windows XP.
Properly evangelized, with Steam as a monetized distribution platform, this is a plausible path forward."
Overall, looking at Carmack's ideas, there might be interesting future possibilities for Steam on Linux and Steam Box. Valve's encouragement has already helped with Linux graphics drivers, brought some newer games to Linux and might bring other new releases in the future. Currently, some older titles on Steam already use DOSBox to run older games, so the idea of using compatibility layers isn't alien to Steam.
If Valve invests more into improving Linux compatibility layers to run Windows games, we could quickly get a huge game library for Linux with small, but acceptable performance hit. It is impossible to know for sure how things will develop, but potential is quite good.