Valve makes Left 4 Dead 2 faster on Linux than on Windows

Windows 8 will be here October 26. The early opinion based on pre-release software is generally favorable, but many questions remain. PC gaming company Valve, however, doesn’t have any questions at all. Valve co-founder Gabe Newell is very clear: it’s time for Linux to shine as the PC gaming platform.

Gabe Newell went on record recently, saying that Windows 8 was "kind of a catastrophe” in an interview with VentureBeat, and that Valve was going to be running hard at Steam on Linux, both to bolster the ailing platform for gaming and to hedge their bets against Microsoft.

I can say that the initial results look good, and not just for Linux. In a post on its Linux blog, Valve published details on porting Left 4 Dead 2 to Linux, along with a comparison of gameplay performance on Windows 7 and Ubuntu 12.04, a current popular flavor of Linux.

The initial port was as slow as expected, but then something funny happened; with tweaking, not only did Left 4 Dead 2 perform better on Ubuntu, but through tweaks to OpenGL on Windows, Valve got Left 4 Dead 2 running better on that platform as well. To me this means that, by exploring alternatives to the Windows platform for gaming, Valve is already making the experience better for gamers of any platform.

Does this mean that you should get to formatting that Windows 7 drive and install a fresh copy of Ubuntu? Not so fast. Keep in mind that Valve worked directly with the hardware vendors, and wrote custom code for Left 4 Dead 2; this isn’t anywhere near a production copy, and in fact the Valve Linux blog had its first post on July 16, mere weeks ago. It’s a work in progress, pre-beta, whatever you want to call it. But it’s coming. Similar effort spent optimizing the Windows version of Left 4 Dead 2 could potentially produce similar results.

As a linux user that also happens to be a long-time gamer, I can lament for hours the state of gaming in Linux. You have Wine, Cedega (formerly Transgaming, now Gametree, and WineX before that) and a couple other solutions, but none of them really get it right.

Not that they don't try, but games built for Windows tend to run better on Windows; porting to another platform is a ton of work and oftentimes the return on investment is poor, as the ported title just doesn’t look quite the same. I could run World of Warcraft in Windows Vista side-by-side with a Linux/Cedega install on the same hardware and the differences would be noticeable.

It’s one of the main reasons dual-booting is popular with Linux users who are also gamers; we don’t have a choice if we want to utilize the money we’ve spent on top-notch hardware.

Here’s to hoping Valve will change that, though. Thinking back to 13 frames-per-second games of Warcraft 3 and hours of struggling with the Auction House loading on my old Linux gaming rig, all I have to say is, “What took you so long, Valve?”

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