Saturday, March 24, 2012

The 'holy-grail' of Linux gaming has arrived!

Edit   When this was written +Steam was not even announced officially yet. Now, it has fully arrived and truly delivers an excellent gamin experience for Linux. If you are unfamiliar with Steam, you should see my other article concerning it.

 In the course of my upcoming review of Crossover – which is a proprietary layer on top of WINE designed for simplicity and stability – it would seem I have discovered the holy-grail of Linux gaming. Now mind you, I do not mean to say that running Windows only franchises is the way to go; but it has been in this time period that I have also discovered the rich variety of games for Linux. There is a surprising number of games available for free of course, and some of them are of exceptional quality... though admittedly few. One of the areas proprietary development models excel is in gaming. Thankfully there is a rich library of fun Linux-native titles, as well as a reasonable number of Windows titles that run nicely under WINE/Crossover. What I mean to say in regards to the holy-grail of gaming is a slight combination. My intent is not however to review any specific games, but merely to introduce you to the gateway for amazing gaming.

    First off is the very nicely done Lin-app website. Lin-app is a website dedicated to commercial (paid for) applications. This site besides being a clean and comfortable design, is sortable into categories. The Games category contains links to the sites of publishers holding a collective 136 native Linux titles. Before I found this site, I had no idea of just how many games there actually were, nor how nice they are. It also lists many other pieces of excellent software from various vendors. Clicking through to the sites own page on any title will give a page with star-ratings and comments as well as videos showing the game off. Lin-app however is not a store, and you'll need to purchase the software from the publishers own site.

    Next in the line up is Desura. Desura is in its own words, “...a community driven digital distribution service for gamers, putting the best games, mods and downloadable content from developers at gamers fingertips, ready to buy and play.” It is similar to Steam or other such services, providing a social-enabled app-store where you can purchase and download Linux native games. Desura is fully cross-platform. A nice feature of Desura is that it also makes mods and patches available for the games it distributes. Now, I had problems playing demo versions of their games but heard numerous successes; so I'd say give it a try and see if you like it.

    In line with our two previous sources is the Humble Bundle. The Humble Bundle is a cross-platform promotion. Every so often they offer a different bundle of games, where you can name your own price as well as decide where your money goes. They divvy up, and allow you to choose where your money is allocated between the developers, Humble Bundle, and a charitable organization. If you pay above the global average for the bundle they'll throw in some extra content. At the prices you can get these, it hardly makes sense not to track Humble Bundle.

    Finally is a strange solution, relying on WINE. First off, there are some technical issues in getting this solution to run. The one simple and painless one is to install it using PlayOnLinux. It doesn't work properly (yet) under Crossover, and using raw WINE requires a significant amount of tinkering. This solution is OnLive. OnLive is... well, rather odd. Essentially its a rental and subscription service for a large library of Windows titles, hosted on the services own servers. Its essentially a cloud-based gaming platform, a remote desktop for games. The only issue with its function in WINE or Crossover is it won't take mouse input, which could be a HUGE issue; but installing it under PlayOnLinux gets around this problem somehow. I always recommend installing the latest stable WINE for anything, if you don't want to fiddle with compiling from source just pull in the updated version from the WINE CVS community repository available through YaST under the Community Repositories. So long as you don't have this cursor issue, the program runs as well as if it were native... hence why I count it as part of the “holy-grail” of Linux gaming. The basic structure of OnLive is that it has a multi-tiered rental structure per game, a Play Pass which offers free titles and discounts on other rentals, and you can purchase a game for unlimited access on their servers. Though network issues will degrade your experience, the plain advantage is that there isn't the glitchiness that can come through WINE or Crossover. Plus, there is no installing or downloading, and the time those actions would take. Further, it does allow lower-end hardware to play games it would otherwise not be able to handle even if you were running Windows on it. Unfortunately they do not host MMORPGs.

    So this is my end-game. Combined, these solutions will provide any basement dweller with innumerable hours of entertainment. If you know any other awesome sources, or would like to share your favorite title, please comment below and I may edit them into the article.

Life without Netflix, streaming on Linux can be awesome!

    For all the hype around Netflix it is easy for us Linux users to forget there are alternatives. Its not that Netflix is (debateably) the best, but rather its the most widely used that causes us to neglect the numerous options that are actually available to us. In this article I want to present some of those alternatives, and how they hold up against Netflix. One caveat however is that I cannot fairly compare the variety and quality of the programming selections of each service seeing as the former is too large to parse, and the latter is inherently subjective.

    First off, when we are talking about Netflix we should consider why it is that it is so dominant. The opinions will vary, but I'll present my analysis. Hands down, Netflix has the largest selection of streaming movies, but that is where its superiority ends. Though there are many services, most are either too narrow, too expensive, or lack content; thus I will not cover them since we are looking for a replacement to Netflix, and the source of its strength boils down to content and price.

    Hulu (esp. with its Plus subscription) absolutely dominates over Netflix in terms of selection for television programming. A nice addition that I appreciate is its Hulu Desktop application. Not all content available on its website is yet available for its desktop application, however it is elegant and works well. Best of all, Hulu Desktop has a native Linux version distributed in .rpm and .deb! The .rpm works well on openSUSE, only requiring a manual edit of its configuration file to let it know where the flash browser plugin is located. Needless to say, the desktop application is a serious advantage over Netflix regardless of what platform you use. This is my subscription service of choice thanks to its large library, and its embracing of Linux with its very nice desktop application.

     An oft overlooked service is Crackle which though not having an especially large selection wins in having popular and relatively recent movies for free. The disadvantage with Crackle is that you will be made to endure short commercials throughout your programming. The advertising though is brief, and not too frequent and thus I think its a fair tradeoff for their high quality programming to be delivered for free. Crackle fills in the gaps where Hulu is weak in regards to providing good movies.
    The goal of this article was not to be exhaustive, but merely to show how I happily live without Netflix and avoid forsaking my OS of choice. There are a couple other services of note covered by other authors. Those services however are of a very limited scope, indie movies, or anime for example. If you are unsatisfied by the content of Crackle and Hulu Plus, I recommend taking a look around.