Hands On with “Steam on Linux Beta”

FTL: Faster than Light runs just fine with Steam on Linux Beta

There has been plenty of talk about Valve over the past few months, with many indicators that 2013 is going to be a big year for Linux gaming. Whether that is news about Ouya or Valve’s new games console, we all have plenty to be excited about. (Those of you who own a Raspberry Pi also have the building blocks to build your very own living room media centre/console emulator machine)

But you needn’t wait until later this year to start playing well-known titles on Linux. The “Steam on Linux” beta programme is open to all, and the library of games is expanding all the time (there were 62 at the time of writing).

Why Steam?

The big pull of Steam is that you have one consistent portal from which to download games, see what games your friends are playing right now, participate in gaming forums and compete on one consistent online platform.

The good news for Linux fans is that Gabe Newell (the head honcho at Valve, the company behind Steam) is less than enamoured with Windows 8. For this reason he is pressing ahead with Linux support, and will also be using it as a platform for his upcoming line of games consoles. That should mean that Steam titles such as Counterstrike, Portal and others will be coming to the platform, and when they see there is a real market for games on this operating system, that may in turn attract other developers.

Configuration

So… how does Steam on Linux beta behave? Well, that is wholly dependant on how you have configured your system. The screenshot for this article demonstrates Steam running on a 64-bit Ubuntu system utilising a proprietary AMD graphics driver. If you want to copy this setup, then you will need to run the following commands in a terminal window before the debian package file will install (those of you using 32-bit systems can skip this part):

$ sudo dpkg --add-architecture i386
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install ia32-libs

I also chose to install “ubuntu-restricted-extras” so that Adobe Flash elements and fonts would work without flaws, and also installed the latest experimental graphics driver. After the necessary packages are installed, you should then be able to simply double-click the supplied .deb file to install via Ubuntu Software Centre.

Installing games

As per the Windows and Mac versions of Steam, simply head to the “Library” section of your Steam window (once the client has done its various updates). To all intents and purposes the client behaves in exactly the same way, though you should take care to ensure you’re not purchasing games you don’t have operating systems for in the store page!

Performance

I personally did not notice any difference in performance between the Windows and Linux ports of a number of games, such as World of Goo, FTL: Faster than Light, Trine 2 and Team Fortress 2.

That is fantastic, as if this kind of experience is delivered in the end product, then you will not be mocked by your Windows-wielding counterparts. In fact, there are reports that in some cases such as Left4Dead 2 the Linux port is actually faster than the Windows version!

Gameplay

Team Fortress 2 uses the same servers as the Windows and Mac ports, so if other games follow suit, then your choice of platform shouldn’t affect your ability to play online with friends.

If you have invested in the Humble Indie Bundle then you should find that many of your existing games are available via Steam on Linux. Simply login to your Humble account and follow the instructions to make use of your Steam key.

Verdict

It is great to see Linux finally start to be treated on equal terms by the games industry. There is plenty of work left to do on Valve’s part and it’ll be some time until we see major commercial game makers porting their games across (I am personally hoping Firaxis port Sid Meier’s Civilization V). But Steam on Linux Beta is a perfectly serviceable piece of software, and it is ready for anyone to try out.