Michael Larabel, founder of Phoronix (a website dedicated entirely to Linux coverage, which has been sensationally, and more or less continuously covering the slightest possibility of Steam for Linux for nearly two years) was very recently invited to Valve. He, of course, accepted the offer, and flew over to Bellevue from Seattle (I’d have paddled across the river). He got a 5-minute tour… and a 6-hour presentation of Steam and Source operating on the Linux OS. As he initially teased on his Twitter and later revealed in a lengthy article on Phoronix, this includes not just Steam and Source itself, but Valve’s game library as well.
According to the article, the Steam for Linux project has been in the works more or less since 2010, but it’s only been going slowly because of Valve’s flat, horizontal management structure. Now, it’s starting to pick up steam (no pun intended… fine, it was intended), and Gabe himself has now placed his wheel-desk in the Linux Steam development cabal (presumably the Ricochet 2 camp was so densely populated that he had to move elsewhere).
Michael says the potential here is enormous, and that Valve and Gabe’s embracement, interest, and plans for Linux are beyond anything you’d expect from the average game company, and overall, “nothing short of greatness“. Hell, apparently Gabe only had negative things to say regarding Windows 8 and the future of Microsoft – Michael now plans to try Windows 8 out solely to see if it’s as bad as Gabe says. And you know that when your product has ticked off someone like Gabe, you’re in trouble… unless you’re Sony.
While he saw a lot of stuff (and he saw more than just the Linux stuff, apparently) Michael was only allowed to take pictures of Left 4 Dead 2 running on Linux. That is… running natively. No use of the Wine library, no emulation, no smoke and mirrors – which is pretty impressive. He tells us that Left 4 Dead 2 is the game they’ve been working on the most, as it serves as a more stable codebase for “initial porting“. He says that the first release will probably be some sort of beta, and that it may be limited to just L4D2 for starters. He also says it’s not too far off, and implies that it may be out by October. Without further ado, here is L4D2 on Linux, running on Ubuntu 11.10, AMD Catalyst driver:
As you can see, apart from the wacky font, this looks more or less just like the L4D2 we’ve got. Still, I’d be more interested in seeing Half-Life 2, Dota 2 or CS:GO running on Linux – hell, maybe HL2 on Linux will be an opportunity for Valve to fix all those horrendous issues that were introduced in the May 2010 Mac port update. Until then, we’ve always got the nearly finished HL2: Update mod.
So, what can I say? Steam for Linux looks, and sounds like it’s going to be pretty impressive. The idea itself is incredible, but the thing is: getting Source, Steam, and, possibly, Steamworks on Linux means that Valve is overcoming Mac-specific and Windows-specific problems in a way that will function on a system that’s as unstandardized as Linux. On the Mac and on the Windows, you’ve got plenty of more or less standard, juicy API’s to handle most things – but on Linux, it’s way trickier, especially since each flavor of the Linux OS might have its own little variance, and not all systems will have the same features. So they’d need to ensure a consistent, standardized experience, not just across Windows, Mac, and Linux – but across all possible variations of the Linux model, and I’m really interested in finding out exactly how they’re going to do that. But the possibility that they’ve found a way to essentially bypass all the stuff that may or may not be in the way, and get their stuff to operate directly with what’s under the hood, is enticing as all hell, and considering how excited Mike Larabel is… who knows?
That said, I’m not an expert – not by a long shot, so do take my words with a shipload of salt. Either way, this is pretty exciting stuff. Let’s hope we get to hear more from Valve quite soon.
Sources are NeoGAF and Phoronix.