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John Carmack On Linux Gaming Support

A comment on reddit by id Software co-founder John Carmack (thanks Develop) follows the theme of a recent post by former id programmer Timothee Besset indicating that id's once-strong support for Linux gaming has waned. The post basically confirms and explains that premise, discussing how he sees a plausible path for Linux gaming via emulation on Steam, if "properly evangalized," but expressing skepticism about commercial native Linux ports:

However, I don’t think that a good business case can be made for officially supporting Linux for mainstream games today, and Zenimax doesn’t have any policy of “unofficial binaries” like Id used to have. I have argued for their value (mostly in the context of experimental Windows features, but Linux would also benefit), but my forceful internal pushes have been for the continuation of Id Software’s open source code releases, which I feel have broader benefits than unsupported Linux binaries.

I can’t speak for the executives at Zenimax, but they don’t even publish Mac titles (they partner with Aspyr), so I would be stunned if they showed an interest in officially publishing and supporting a Linux title. A port could be up and running in a week or two, but there is so much work to do beyond that for official support. The conventional wisdom is that native Linux games are not a good market. Id Software tested the conventional wisdom twice, with Quake Arena and Quake Live. The conventional wisdom proved correct. Arguments can be made that neither one was an optimal test case, but they were honest tries.

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42. Re: John Carmack On Linux Gaming Support Feb 6, 2013, 13:00 Creston
 
headkase wrote on Feb 6, 2013, 12:19:
yuastnav wrote on Feb 6, 2013, 11:46:
Wouldn't that make the code extremely inefficient?

No. A back-end is a logical unit of code. For each function to be provided you use one back-end per system. A PS3 environment will use the PS3 back-end and so on. There is no intermingling of code which means that on the target system there will only be the code needed for that system. Since code is not intermingled there is no performance penalty. You don't have one lego-piece that does it all but instead have a few different flavors of the same piece that you can use interchangeably.

Game engines are the proper place to put the different back-ends. With the number one reason being that if the support is in the engine then it massively reduces the duplication of effort between all the content developers who license that engine. For the longest time game engines have been tightly-coupled to the environment they ran in. Say an older engine would only run on Windows. Within the last few years however that coupling is being removed. Game developers do not write their code with a specific operating system in mind but instead write their code for a specific engine in mind. The workflow is: Content -> Engine -> Operating System. That is the "abstraction", the engine sits between the Operating System and the Content. The engine developers implement a variety of back-ends - the parts that touch the operating system - and then game developers are free to target whichever they choose. And because the game engine abstracts the operating system details then a game developer, in a proper case, would have to make exactly zero changes to their content when targeting a different system. The engine would do that.

Viable back-ends are obviously the consoles and Windows and Mac PCs. An engine developer however would only have to write a Linux back-end once and then maintain it like the other back-ends. Just by having that Linux back-end a game developer could then reap an additional 1% of sales right now without modifying any of their content to enable that. When Valve comes out with their mythical box expect the Source engine to have a back-end, obviously, for that and Source content - again in the ideal case - won't have to be modified at all to leverage the engine no matter the back-end.

Very interesting, I had no idea the engines had gotten that advanced. Thanks for explaining it.

Creston
 
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