Time to catch up with some news. Feral has unveiled very recently that they are working to port two major AAA titles to Linux (and Mac I guess…). One thing to note, none of them is frankly surprising. I would even say they were expected if Linux gaming continued as before. The first one is Shadow of the Tomb Raider (Windows release in September 2018), following the previous releases of Tomb Raider 2013 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. If I am not mistaken this is the last episode of the trilogy so there is no new Tomb Raider coming after this one. At least for now. This reminds me I have yet to post my review of ROTR, and I shall do so shortly.
The second announcement relates to Dirt 4. It comes a little late, to be honest.
I am not sure what discussions went around this port, but ideally we would have liked to hear about it shortly after the Windows version, back in June 2017. In any case, it follows the previous release of Dirt Rally (our review here) for Linux by Feral and Dirt Showdown by Virtual Programming a few years ago.
The key difference nowadays is that Steam Play/Proton is around, and we don’t necessarily have to wait for Feral ports to have functioning Windows games running on Linux. For example, Dirt 4 works well in Proton at the moment, and most Linux gamers who care about it are probably already playing it this way. So, I am not sure if the official port from Feral makes as much financial sense for them. In any case they could rely on the Mac sales volumes: probably larger than Linux sales, and even more so now that Proton is around.
I think we will keep seeing things like this: Feral making ports of more recent games (Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Life is Strange 2) and publishing them not too long after the initial release Window. Both games seem to fit the bill of “released to Linux in less than a year after“. That is of course, good, while I am wondering if there are no other models that could work for Feral as well. Such as, having Feral work directly with Valve/Codeweavers/DXVK/Esync to improve Proton, and focus on increasing the compatibility and performance of very recent AAA titles – and of course getting compensated for it accordingly.
And then there is Virtual Programming. I had almost believed that they stopped porting games (while they were still actively upgrading ARMA3 until recently), but they are apparently working on Gravel according to their website (for Mac and Linux). There are hints that they are working on A Hat in Time as well, but it disappeared from their website again so it’s not clear whether it’s official or not. It’s a shame we don’t see more of their ports since their technology was already pretty impressive (except Witcher 2 at launch, but it got fixed and runs very well now). Most of their ports are of less well known games nowadays – it would be great if they could pull something as famous as Bioshock Infinite back in the days. They tend to be a lot more underground in terms of communication than Feral so it’s hard to know what exactly is going on at VP.
Whether it’s Feral or Virtual Programming, the sustainability of this porting process is in question. Nobody likes to be one or two years late after the party (except r/patientgamers), and Proton is improving fast and bringing more “ports” to Linux than any other 3rd party around. I just played GTA V last night for the first time on Linux (Proton 3.16-5 beta) and it ran so well, I could not imagine ever needing a “native” port.
There could be exceptions though: such as games with strong DRMs that prevent Proton from even launching the title. Sure. But that will probably remain a minority of titles. The Mac market is what still makes sense for porting companies, but that gaming market is shrinking. I think we should expect some of these companies to pivot, or work closer with Valve.
If I were to guess, Feral already knows it and is focusing a lot on Android/iPad ports these days: they know that this is where the growth is when it comes to market size, and there’s probably a (growing) public for AAA titles there too.
Note I could be completely wrong as I have absolutely no insider knowledge here. Time will tell and I may re-evaluate my opinion as things go.
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Proton is only quick solution to adding games to Linux platform. Proton is not a substitute for more development on Linux port. Proton is only for games that are not ported but liked to played on Linux with sacrificed performance. People claimed Proton has good performance only runs at FHD which is a relatively old resolution. If you have a good GPU you still need to turn down the resolution. Proton always have overhead of translation. Modern resolution is 2k and 4k. FHD looks terrible on 24in and up monitors and only has at the most 80-90dpi.
the overhead for translation is not as big as you think, and high resolution has always had terrible performance even on Vulkan or OpenGL ports.
But all of this is irrelevant since most devs don’t target Linux in the first place and that wont change anytime soon. In the meantime Proton is absolutely a great solution.
Feral starts to change his bussiness, recently they announced his first Nintendo Switch game (GRID Autosport), and of course iOS and Android. I think they’re looking at the wolf’s teeth and they’re starting to look for alternatives.
Native ports are always better than running Windows version via Wine (Proton), even if the performance is the same. And I am super excited about the Dirt 4 port because there is not many good arcade racing games on Linux and I loved Dirt 3 (on Windows).
Thanks to Proton you can also play Dirt 3 on Linux and it works just as well, too.
Why native ports ?
One thing : performances. With a decrease of 15-40%, performances on Proton aren’t quite good enough to say : “Hey ! Do you want to switch to Linux ?”
Other thing, games without Steam support, like Blizzard games, Uplay, now Epic, will need native ports. Linux wii not be a serious alternative without hem.
Proton can increase the number of Linux Gamers, which is a good thing, but it will have a limitation.
I don’t buy in the performance claim. Until Feral moved to Vulkan almost all of their previous ports were clearly inferior in performance to the original Windows versions. And not by a little margin. WINE/DXVK is already doing a better job than most the OpenGL ports did previously (with a few exceptions).
As for Blizzard games, Uplay, Epic, the problem is that no company like Feral/VP/Aspyr has ever delivered in that area either. Right now your best bet to run such games is actually WINE/DXVK with Lutris. So I am not sure what hope there is with actual ports there.