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Promises And Pitfalls In Linux Game Development 118

Mark 'Nurgle' Collins contributes the piece below on some of the factors which undeniably influence the state of Linux games, espcially for developers hoping to make money by selling them. I haven't been there in a few months (been hooked on various Free games instead), but I know I bought Quake III Arena from dedicated shelf space at EB -- so Mark's optimism can't be that far off the mark.

As a follow up to an article that appeared on GameDev.Net GameDev.Net last year, I've decided to update it and note some of the changes in the industry that have occured, from the news of several developers forming in-house porting teams to Microsoft's stance on opening parts of DirectX. In the original article, I explained the lack of developers interested in developing Linux titles -- their disinterest left the task to a few companies that were established for the sole reason of porting Windows titles to Linux (namely Loki). Since then however, several larger developers have formed in-house teams to port their titles to Linux. That means companies such as Creature Labs, (currently porting Creatures 3 to Linux, should be out very soon), which probably once considered Linux to be so niche that only a group of complete idiots would try and make money out of developing games for it.

Of course, there is always a group of idiots, and those idiots were Loki. By convincing larger developers to outsource the porting, they demonstrated that there is a market on Linux, albeit not a very large one. But how large is the market? According to John Carmack (For cave dwellers: John Carmack is the "big guy" at id software), sales of the Linux version of Quake III Arena were worse than bad, but is that a suitable example?

Like many examples of the poor sellers blamed for the lack of new Linux games, the Linux version of the product was released after the Windows release, but the datafiles were compatible with various other operating systems. With patches and downloads for the other platforms freely available on the Internet, why would should people wait a few months to get the latest gore-fest when they can buy the Windows version, reboot, and play on another platform until the binaries for Linux become available?

The sales figures that the skeptics quote should never be considered of any merit until a few games are released for Linux and Windows simultaneously.

Many people seem to be under the delusion that publishers wouldn't be interested in Linux games, but this isn't the case. Granted, many of the publishers who are prepared to venture into the world of Linux are usually associated with budget titles and/or long dead platforms, they seem to have faith, and with shops such as TuxGames offering a wide range of Linux title, it seems there is a market after all.

But what about the developers? Well, it seems that many of the larger developers aren't prepared to take a chance on Linux, with companies stating that there are too many complications when developing with Linux, such as the lack of DirectX-like APIs.

Sure, we have OpenGL, but with the release of DirectX 8, the cross-platform API just doesn't cut it anymore. Lacking universal support for vertex and pixel shaders, developers are forced into the situation where they can either reduce the quality of their titles by ignoring the improved features that the newer releases of DirectX offer, or by ignoring Linux.

Unfortunately, many developers choose the latter option, instead of thinking about writing clean code which allows the operating system to be accessed only through an abstraction layer, reducing development times for ports as well as allowing the programmers to change the lower-level code without breaking anything.

In a recent discussions with Tony Cox, head engineer of Microsoft Gaming Relations, he informed me that Microsoft is currently looking at ways of opening up parts of DirectX, with the aim of getting the technology onto non-Windows platforms.

When we originally discussed the issue, he was refering to getting DirectPlay support for the PlayStation 2, but in later discussions he mentioned that they may allow 3rd party developers to do the work for them, including Linux support.

With the ever increasing commercial interest in Linux, from both publishers and the developer studios themselves, it is only a matter of time till shelf space in your local EB is dedicated to Linux.

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Promises And Pitfalls In Linux Game Development

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