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Discover gaming on Linux

by Han Cilliers (Lola)  Posted Tuesday, January 08, 2013 11:53:08 AM

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(Article written by Louw Cilliers)

When the holiday season started I had an arsenal of games and software that I wanted to try out during the festive season. One of the purchases I made was Windows 8 Professional on the introductory special of $29. The plan was to redo my PC rig during my break, install Windows 8 and then try all the new games on the platform. With the plethora of games specials offered during December I had my carts loaded and ready on Steam & Origin. That was until I ran Windows 8 on a test PC...  

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Now I know of all the workarounds of making Windows 8 user friendly, but I decided to take the road less travel: If I was going to try something new, why not throw the baby out with the bathwater? I've been keeping an eye on Valve's development work on Ubuntu Linux which many speculate will be the platform for the yet-to-be-announced Steambox. I tried Ubuntu a couple of times in the past but it always came up short for my gaming needs. With a reputable software developer on-board it was time to have another go.  

Here be dragons

Now I must caution would-be-adventurers that Steam for Linux is in Beta, and it will definitely shower you with dirty underwear every now and again. If you don't have any PC skills I must also caution you that popping in the Ubuntu DVD and installing the software can overwrite your Windows installation and all the related data – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. My best advice is to use a spare hard drive (unplugging your Windows disks) and using that for your test work. Alternatively you can try WUBI which will install Linux alongside your Windows operating system albeit with a slight performance hit. Backups are always the best defence so make sure you are covered!  

Preparation  

That said, the first order of business was to get my #1 Steam game operating on Ubuntu: Team Fortress 2. Although there are many Linux distro's out there Valve recommend that you run Ubuntu Desktop 12.04 (LTS). If you are ready to take the plunge and have enough spare time  you can head over here. To install Linux alongside your Windows OS use this simple guide.

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If you are a Linux user you would have picked up by now that I'm n00b when it comes to this OS, and I'm fully prepared to receive the wrath (read:flaming) of said community – I have a loving wife, a dog and some ice-cream in the fridge. I can say though that Ubuntu offers a very user friendly installation and getting your rig to run smoothly is less painful than some other distributions. Once you have navigated the Ubuntu installation process you want to start preparing your OS to receive the gift that is Steam:

Interface

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I recommend that you play around with the interface a bit to get used to the environment. The instructional videos on the Ubuntu site can assist you in this regard. 

System Check

For gaming and internet usage you will require three critical items to work correctly: Network, Sound and Graphics. You can quickly see if your network is connected by looking at the top right-hand corner:

Checks.jpg

The up-down arrow shows that your network is functional and that you are probably ready to receive internet love. Next, click on the audio icon – if it complies with a volume mixer your sound is also working. Repairing either of these is not in the scope of this article, but suffice to say there are many online resources that can assist. I recommend that you stick to Ubuntu wikis if you are only fluent in human.

More critical to your gaming experience will be the performance of your graphics card.  Ubuntu will by default start up with open source drivers that are very stable and well supported. Unfortunately these do not offer decent performance for the game we are aiming to play and you will need to install proprietary drivers from your vendor to achieve this. This is nothing new for a PC user and Ubuntu makes the process fairly pain-free.  

Go to System Settings>Additional Drivers and select the correct proprietary driver for your Graphics card(AMD is shown in this example, but you might see NVIDIA or INTEL):

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*Before installing the driver I strongly recommend that you update your OS first and perform a restart. Refer to the next section.  

Updates

Go to the Ubuntu Dash and type “Update”. The first result will be the Update Manager: Launch the update manager to download and install your OS updates. Remember to restart after this process is completed!

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You are now ready to start your gaming experience on Linux! After congratulating yourself with the obligatory pat on the back, head over to the Ubuntu Software Centre and try out a couple of fun games. I can strongly recommend:

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Teeworlds – 2D Style multi-player shooter. I found servers hosted by MWEB and the game is a lot of laughs!    

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Hedgewars – 2D Worms-like game

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OpenArena – Quake 3 style FPS        

Steam for Linux  

Client install  

Open this link in Firefox. In the top-right hand click on “Install Steam”. Download the Steam client installer (Debian package) and open it from the location where it was saved, normally this would be in Home>Downloads.  

The Ubuntu Software Centre will open the package. Select the “Install” option to the right. Once completed you can launch Steam from the desktop or the launch panel. This will execute the client update, similar to the Windows based client. The updater will complete after which you will be presented with the Steam logon. Be sure to have access to your email to verify your newly installed OS with the Steam service.

Steam.jpg

Install Team Fortress 2  

You know how to operate the Steam client, so this part is self-explanatory. Right-click on Team Fortress 2 and select “Install”. This will initiate the TF download and install which will take many hours to complete as the installer is around 11GB in size!  

If you have prevailed through this troubling time of waiting there is nothing left but to launch the game, tune your graphics and launch to a server. It is advisable to equip the High-Five action item so that you can properly celebrate with your mates online.    

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Closing thoughts  

My experience with TF2 on Linux has been very good, and light-years ahead of running TF2 under Wine (a Windows emulator for Linux). There are some nasty glitches which I know Valve will sort out, hence the term BETA. There are also some Ubuntu configuration issues to contend with and these will cause some frustration to anyone trying it for the first time. A couple of problems I experienced: no voice communications, poor graphics performance and graphical artefacts.

If you are the adventurous type I would definitely recommend you give Ubuntu a go. Other than providing a solid OS with proper productivity tools, it is also a welcome change in user experience. In all though one has to face the reality that at the moment the gaming experience falls short of its Windows sibling. From an OS perspective Windows will probably remain the dominant PC gaming operating system for years to come.  

We look forward to further development of the platform in 2013!    

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd


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