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Using Linux for MMOs

Emmett Hendrick Posted:
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We all play MMOs, thats why we come here. We like to read up on what’s new in the industry, to see what next great update is coming for our favourite title and to chat to like minded people about MMOs in general. Online gaming is a big market and one which many people enjoy. If you run a Windows based machine it's likely you'll not run into many problems getting your game to run (as long as your hardware meets the requirements and excluding some major game play stopping bugs).

But what if you don't run Windows? What if you are part of a growing community who, for various different reasons, don't have or don't want a copy of Windows? In the PC arena many of these people run a variety of Linux (and there are many varieties) so what options do people who run Linux have to join the wide MMO community and get online with like minded folks to beat Orcs, travel the Galaxy or try to emulate there favourite super hero in beating down the (virtual) denziens of society?

Well the answer is that there are a number of options. In this article I'm going to look at the four best options for running your favourite MMO on your Linux machine, and they are:

I'm going to start with running a Virtual machine. I've put a link up here to vmware.com as it's probably the best known virtualisation software available, but I stress that it's not the only option. There is Xen, Virtualbox and even in Vmware. There are a number of options from server to desktop virtualisation which can sit on top of your operating system or are an operating system of their own. Personally, I've tested both Vmware workstation and Virtualbox, both of which support direct X9.

I'm not going to go into a technical explanation of virtual machines here. Suffice to say, programs like Vmware or Virtualbox allow you to run another operating system within your actually running (or host) operating system. This operating system has no idea that it's operating inside another one and only sees the hardware that the virtualisation software tells it that it sees. Depending on your system specs, you can have a number of differnt virtual machines running on the same physical machine. For Linux gamers, this allows you to run a copy of Windows inside your favourite copy of Linux and run games within that virtual machine.

Direct X support is a relatively new feature in virtualisation but many people are testing their favourite games. The big issue, of course, is that you are running Windows within another OS. Direct X hardware calls have to be translated by the virtualisation software and then passed to the actual hardware of your machine. This means that your games will most likely run slower than if you were running Windows on the same machine. However I have run Age of Conan, with mixed results on Vmware workstation 6.5.

The biggest draw back to many people running Linux of course is that you need a copy of Windows and while Linux can be obtained for free, Windows can not. It's also worth noting that a copy of Vmware workstation will cost you $189/€131 currently. However, as I stated earlier, there are numerous other virtualisation options out there and many are not as costly or free. (Virtualbox is free and available for most varieties of Linux.)

Next up is Cedega, currently available from www.cedega.com. Subsciptions are available for $41.95/€29.22 for a 6 month subscription or $75.51/€52.60 for a yearly subscription.

Previously known as WINEX, Transgaming has been devoloping Cedega for quite some time now. Cedega incorporates a number of “non free” code around copy protection and some other areas that allows them to increase the amount of games that Cedega supports. Cedega was the first program I used to run games when I first moved to Linux.

Cedega currently lists 40 titles as “Certified.” These games have been tested and confirmed as working by the Cedega/Transgaming staff. Running these titles is officially supported and if you have any issues logging a support request on the website will get a response from one of the team. While Cedega certifies 40 titles including: Sims3, Wrath of the Lich King, Left 4 Dead and Prince of Persia 2008, you will find a number of other titles that will run under Cedega. The website keeps a Games Database which lists the supported games and also games that members of the community have managed to get working under Cedega. The games database is kept by both the Cedega staff and also the community and includes how-tos and settings to get games working. Lastly, if you have a game you are having problems with but is not on the supported list you can post a thread on the Cedega forums and a member of the community will help if they can. Staff and beta testers also monitor the forums and will answer what ever questions they can.

Cedega currently support the Ubuntu, Linspire, Mandriva, Suse and Debian variations of Linux however unofficial support for other variations can be found on the forums.

At this time Cedega only support nVidia video cards, ATI cards can work and community support is available but other video cards will likely give errors with the internal Cedega tests and may produce unexpected results.

Next up is WINE. For the uninitiated, WINE stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator. Wine does not pretend to be Windows, it translates Direct X hardware calls into valid calls for the Linux system. Wine is very community based. There is loads of activity on the forums and a very large Application Database with almost any title you could want on it. Community members can volunteer to become APP Maintainers and take responsibility for testing their favourite app on each new release of WINE. Anyone can post up test results and rate how well an application runs on each new version of WINE. This program is free, and all versions of Linux have a copy of it available. Some versions will lag a bit behind the latest release from the WINE website so many people prefer to get it “direct from source” for the latest update.

WINE is written by Volunteers, has a huge community following and many loyal fans. There are numerous websites out there with how-to information on running many games on WINE and many more with apps/scripts to ease installation of various features within WINE.

Many games run on WINE. I picked three MMOs at random from the very long list on the APP database. I've included the rating and the rating explanation too.

City of Heroes – Rating Silver = Application works excellently for ‘normal’ use; a game works fine in single-player, but not in multi-player. Windows Media Player works fine as a plug-in and stand-alone player, but cannot handle DRM etc.

Everquest 2< – rating Gold = Application works flawlessly with some DLL overrides, other settings or third party software.

Darkfall – Rating Bronze = Application works, but it has some issues, even for normal use; a game may not redraw properly or display fonts in wrong colours, be much slower than it should etc.

Wine does not restrict on video hardware that it supports, as long as your card is recognised in Linux and can support 3D WINE should run, however with “less powerful” hardware your milleague may vary.

Lastly, we have Crossover games. Crossover games is devoloped by Codeweavers, who help fund the WINE project. Codeweavers also create both Crossover Linux and Crossover MAC for running commercial applictions (Outlook, Word) on either Linux or MAC. Crossover games braches from the Wine project at various points. The Codeweavers team added a GUI interface and some code of their own to address issues with various titles running on Crossover.

A subscription to Crossover games currently runs at $43.59/€30.38 for a one year subscription. A subscription entitles you to log support requests for supported titles on the Codeweavers website and download and updates for one year. Additional support contracts can be purchased after the one year is up. Crossover has a games database which tracks applications that are officially supported and other applications that have been added by Advocates (members of the community who help beta test up coming releases and help moderate the forums)

Money from subscriptions for Crossover get funnelled back into the WINE project and Codeweavers also feed back the code they devolop to the WINE project. Codeweavers also allow people to pledge for applications as well as vote for applications. Applications with high votes/pledges get priority for testing/bug testing for up coming releases.

In summary, there are a lot of options out there for “penguins” who like to play games. Personally, I play City of Heroes, EVE and I've played World of Warcraft in the past and I've been using Linux as my primary OS on my system for three years now.

The truth is that none of the above are 100%. No one will run every game out there and new titles tend to take a little bit to start working. So becuase of this, many Linux gamers will keep a Windows dual boot on there machines for those “stubborn” titles. However, I have experienced first hand the community, support and dedication that is put in to all the above services and I have no doubt that all of these projects will continue to grow in strength and more and more titles will be supported. I'd also like to note that Transgaming (who make Cedega), the WINE project and Codeweavers all have an application that also supports gaming on MAC Os and devolop both in tandem, each project feeding back devolopments/break throughs to the other.

So while gaming on “Non Windows” systems may not be a 100% reality there are options for people who want to move away from Windows but still want to play games.

*prices are current conversions from prices listed on default web pages, many GBP and are only provided as a rough guide.


Emmett Hendrick