Valve is best-known these days for its monstrously popular online storefront Steam, but has also spent much of the last six years quietly developing tools and technology to enhance Linux as an ecosystem for PC gaming, making the open-source operating system a more viable alternative to Windows PCs for some gamers.
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One of those initiatives suddenly showed up on Steam in the form of a new beta version of Steam Play for Linux on Tuesday. It comes bundled with a new modified distribution of the Wine compatibility layer (Wine is an acronym for Wine Is Not an Emulator) which Valve has named Proton. Through Proton, end users of Linux can install and run Windows games directly from their Steam client, with improved performance from the original version of Wine, fullscreen support, and compatibility with Direct3D graphics via a Vulkan-powered implementation called vkd3d.
This marks the continuing evolution of Valve’s attempts to chip away at the Windows OS’s dominance of PC gaming as a platform. Via the new Steam Play, with the Linux-based SteamOS, it means that enthusiast players have a strong, user-friendly alternative to Windows 10. It also means that independent developers in the future may not have to actively try to port their games to Linux any longer, as they’d simply be playable via Proton straight from users’ Steam clients.
Valve had hinted that this was coming. Back in April, Valve engineer Pierre-Loup Griffais made a quick post about Valve’s continuing work with the Linux operating system. Griffais promised in April that Valve had “other Linux initiatives in the pipe” to go alongside its work with the Khronos Group’s Vulkan API, but until now, things have been quiet.
Linux users can install this new beta version of Steam Play as of Tuesday by opting into the Steam Client Beta. Valve is gradually testing the entirety of the current Steam catalog to see what will and won’t work via Proton. Griffais’s announcement included a whitelist of the games that are currently confirmed for support, which features a seemingly random selection of both old and new titles, ranging from this year’s Into the Breach to the original 1996 Quake to, somewhat inexplicably, Team Salvato’s bizarre dating sim Doki Doki Literature Club.
(And yes, of course the original Doom is on the whitelist. If it wasn’t the first thing they tried, it should have been. Tradition is important.)
Users in the beta can try to run games via Steam Play that aren’t on the existing whitelist by using an override switch in the client. Less adventurous end users (although if you aren’t much of a tinkerer, why were you running Linux in the first place?) are encouraged to vote for titles to enter testing via Valve’s platform wishlisting process.