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linux

Steam on Linux: Half-Life

It was the mid-to-late 1990s. Computers were becoming more popular, and computer games with them. In the early 1990s there was Myst. It was about the story, something like Zork but first-person. In 1996, there was Quake. It was about battling baddies, like its predecessors, Doom and Wolfenstein.

Around that time, Valve software must have licensed the new Quake Engine (the underlying software that created the Quake world on your computer). In 1998 they released Half-Life. It was in many ways a closer marriage of the first-person shooter with the story games and puzzle games that came before. Around a two-to-one ratio. Lots of action, but a bit more story than before. You had Non-Player Characters (NPCs), which are presences you don’t kill, either neutral or allied with you. You had movable boxes.

It’s a game that paved the way for a lot of the modern games.

Every discussion I saw prior to the announcement came to the conclusion that we probably wouldn’t see this happen. Most of those centered around Counter-Strike 1.6, which uses the same GoldSrc Engine as Half-Life. The feeling was that Valve would focus on their newest titles first, and worry about these oldest games later, if ever.

A few years back, Valve began opening up to the Apple Macintosh systems, and most of their new games made their way over. But never the old ones. With this release, those systems now have these oldest games too.

One wonders why. When the first news of Steam coming to Linux arrived, it was published that their title Left 4 Dead 2 was their vehicle of experimentation.

When the beta began, it was instead Team Fortress 2. That made enough sense, in that it’s free-to-play. It meant they didn’t have to give away a game that beta testers might have bought. It wouldn’t be costly to give the game to a few, in a small, closed beta. But when you open it up in the large, to a largely untested audience, it risks some loss.

Valve is very committed to the Linux platform, especially with the announcement of the forthcoming Steam boxes, basically set-top computers. They want to be as catalog-complete to help drive adoption. They also had the opportunity to hit two platforms at once, which wasn’t there when it was only Apple Macintosh.

Finally, with their flagship game sequels coming, they want to be able to have people play the original. There is a certain aspect to human psychology that values completeness. People want to have read every book, seen every episode. They want every achievement, to have left no stone unturned.

The question now is when we will see the rest of the Valve catalog for Linux. My guess is by summer. They probably don’t have as much work with the newer games which have all been ported to Apple Macintosh. There is some work, yes, but a lot of it will be simply replicating previous work. They are likely targeting those releases for the time when the Steam platform leaves beta.

Other tasks will take longer, including their plans to release their SDKs for Linux. That will mean porting work that hasn’t been done for the Apple Macintosh systems. These will be very welcome, as they will mean both new blood into the mod/mapping/development community and faster compilation of assets.

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linux

Attack of the Undead Penguins

Steam coming to Linux, you say?

People following the Valve/Steam/Linux news already know that the awesome hackers at Valve have Left 4 Dead 2 running on Ubuntu like a champ. They know that Valve has been doing some work toward a so-called three meter display (ie, for television display), and have probably speculated that they are at least considering building a console.

This is a post about what I’m looking forward to seeing out of Valve on Linux.

Playing Games

Foremost, I’m looking to playing games without even the minor inconveniences of WINE. Often there are tweaks, there’s turning off features, or some minor thorn of just about every game I’ve played on WINE. WINE is awesome, and it’s made some money for game companies, as there are games I bought because I knew that I could play them.

But it’s not perfect, and for people that eschew yak shaving to play a game, the set of titles they might purchase and play drops (I’m not thinking about side projects like PlayOnLinux, as I’ve not tried them).

For a lot of games, if they make it to Linux, that means getting full eye candy. Full features.

Building Games

Secondly, I’m hopeful that the game creation tools will be coming to Linux. Some of these kind-of-sort-of run under WINE, but my experience with these hasn’t been nearly as good as with games. Even if the current generation tools don’t make it, maybe the next generation will.

The lower the barrier to entry for creating game content, the more that will be created, and the better games we will see. That’s true of technology in general.

I’ve made a few maps years ago under Windows, but the few times I tried to build maps under WINE it was much clunkier and fraught with peril. I’m very hopeful that in another decade or so it will be commonplace for gamers to be mappers and modelers, even if their extent of mapping and modeling is just to customize existing maps and models.

Building Bridges

But, like others, my biggest hope is that this work will result in greater support from the four corners of the earth for Open Source and Linux. That it will widen the market for gaming, while making governments and businesses evaluate Linux as a greater possibility for their employees.

Just like Android has pushed a device with Linux to far more hands than ever before, a Valve console could do it again. But so can Steam for Linux. There’s plenty of people that keep a second computer or dual booting just for games. There also a general perception that Windows is the king because of gaming. Linux getting more gaming means that even Apple may end up supporting iTunes for Linux one day.

A side bet is, assuming the success of Steam for Linux, could that competition bring Microsoft back from the brink? For years Microsoft has had the capacity to push the computing world far beyond its current state. But it’s had no reason. That’s harmed its server market, which hasn’t been very competitive.

Conclusion

In any case, as a long-term fan of Valve’s games, I look forward to playing Half-Life 3 on Linux (just like I played Half-Life 2 here), and with any luck the Black Mesa modification can be playable on Linux too.

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linux

Valve’s Left4Dead: DirectX Curse

Valve Software has released their latest game, Left4Dead.  This is a zombie thriller game and I’d like to give it a try.  I love Valve games and I love zombies, so this should be my favorite game of the year, right?

Well I won’t find out, possibly for years to come.  I play Valve’s games under  Linux (unsupported) via WINE.  WINE’s DirectX support is pretty solid through DirectX 8 and I can play Team Fortress 2, Portal, Counter-Strike: Source, HL2 + Episodes, etc.  They run just fine on my system and I have fun.

As of Left4Dead, Valve has dropped DirectX 8 support.  I look at the game on the WINE AppDB and the word is it runs fine, but slow as a dog.  So I don’t buy it.

This is an example of sales prevention.  Valve already chooses not to support Linux as a gaming platform; their choice.  But now they are cutting off the ability to play their new games via WINE.  Also their choice, but a choice which means that I won’t be giving them my money until I read on the WINE AppDB that things have improved.

And for the record I’ve bought pretty much every Valve game since Half-Life.  I would love to continue to do so.

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software

P0RTAL

Valve has just (okay, a few days ago) released their ‘orange box’: Half-Life2 Episode 2, Team Fortress 2 (multiplayer), and the game I mentioned last December, Portal.

I’d been waiting for TF2 since I played the original back when it was a mod for Quakeworld (the online component of Quake). Of course, that was when it was going to be a mod for Quake 2, and then it was going to come out on Valve’s Half-Life engine, and none of that happened. Ultimately TF2 is very different than what we waited for. It’s a good game, but the reason I bought Quake 2 and the original Half-Life is a game that will never exist.

The newest release in the story of Gordon Freeman is a solid episode. It’s a cliffhanger, which hopefully means that we’ll see Episode 3 sooner than we saw this follow-up. It’s definitely got some nice touches and replay value.

But the gem of the three is definitely Portal. It’s a genius idea. Take the idea of the hazard course/test lab environment that we saw over seven years ago in the first Half-Life and combine it with a great new ‘weapon.’ On top of that they throw in the whole 2001: A Space Odyssey “HAL9000” element. The puzzles are great, and the humor is marvelous.

The difficulty is almost purely your ability to conceive the solution. There weren’t really any places in the game where I felt ‘hey, I don’t want to keep doing this, I get it but I’m just not capable, can’t I skip it?’ And to me that’s vital for a game.

A video game shouldn’t be about training me to some obscure combination of buttons or my reaction time. Above all it should be, can I think my way through this novel situation.

I haven’t looked at the bonus levels (challenges and advanced versions of some of the puzzles seen in the main game) or the commentaries of either Portal or HL2:E2 yet. The past commentaries have been wonderful so I look forward to those. Also, they’ve added a feature ‘achievements’ that keeps track of certain side-goals. Neat.

I don’t play that many new games, but when I do I’m pretty happy if they turn out like this. There are surprises and a general ambiance that almost feels like Quake 1 in terms of making a game where anything could happen. And in some ways, anything can.