So, I’ve been thinking of covering this topic for a bit, mostly since it is something close to my heart. A lot of people have been experiencing problems with their current gaming Operating System of choice, but didn’t know how to switch. They don’t even know if the proper tools exist or if they can play their games. Some people may be streamers, but their software of choice may not be on Linux. I won’t cover everything, mostly games, but hopefully you find something that may help you make the switch, if you are looking for another option. This one is going to be a bit link heavy to help you refer to the tools I mention, so please bear with me.
What’s the Best Distro?
So, if you have ever looked at Linux or searched for it on your favorite search engine, you know there are a lot of versions, called “distros” among the Linux community. A lot of people ask which one they should use or which one is the best. I don’t have THE answer for you, but I do have a few suggestions that can help.
The first one most people go to is Ubuntu. This was the distro I got started in, a gateway distro you could say. I also had other motives behind it as well, but that is a story for another time or on stream. Ubuntu is robust in that most people end up supporting it and many corporations, now, have applications in its repositories (also called “repos”). When you get started with it you will have a couple spins, so if you want one that looks more familiar, you can pick up spins of it with different “Desktop Environments” that are more Windows like in appearance. My suggestion if that is your motive is going with a Mate or Cinnamon version, another option is Kubuntu, which uses KDE and a lot of people like KDE. Steam is pretty simple to install on Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distros, because Steam is right in the repos.
Another option for you that may make it easier is Linux Mint. Mint makes it easier to manage your drivers and graphics with the built in tools it has. Mint is an Ubuntu-based distro, and a friend of mine uses it on his gaming rig and SC2 runs like a dream on it. Linux Mint has some of its own repos, but also uses the Ubuntu repos and, much like Ubuntu, it has different versions. The default one uses the Cinnamon desktop environment, but Mate is also available and other community spins. There is also a version of Mint based on just Debian, without all the Ubuntu stuff in it.
Manjaro takes some of the edge off by including driver managers and GUIs for installing applications. A lot of these tools come from Linux Mint and are adapted to the Arch-based distro. It does have a number of official and community spins to it, as well. They do manage their own repos, but they pull from Arch repos and do a lot of the fixes for you before pushing out the new packages. It does come with its own perks like coming with the Steam Launcher preinstalled for you on the official spins.
Amid all these suggestions, just remember that all the updates are free. None of the applications you install from the repos require paying for updates, unless you support the Patreon or hit the “Buy me a beer” button. If you are just starting, you had probably better roll with Linux Mint, though.
But Will My Games Work?
I guarantee you, times have gotten better since some ten or fifteen years ago. With sites that curate Linux oriented gaming content, like tuxdb, and with Steam on Linux and the things they have done there was a huge boost. Other utilities are also available to get your games running fine. Along with those improvements, there is also better support for drivers for gaming. NVIDIA puts out regular updates to their drivers and AMD has started to do so more often, too.
Most people probably have their game library in Steam. With Valve has doing work on Proton, which enables people to play their Windows games in Linux, (I touched in that in a previous article ProtonDB and with Proton being open source, it means Valve doesn’t spend as much on developing it. They can also contribute back to the sourced projects to better improve their compatibility, also. There aren’t guarantees that Proton will run your games, but there is usually another option with Lutris or another Proton version. On the Steam front though, there are still plenty of native Linux games in the library, and a good portion of them run pretty well. Titles such as Dusk , Postal , Valve’s Orange Box Collection, and more are among some. The list is pretty large with some classics that got Linux ports via third party developers. So, chances are, if you run Steam, you’ll find your games will work in one way or another.
So, if you are someone, like me, who has their game library spread through a collection of places, like GOG, then there is still another option for you.
Lutris is a great tool that helps manage your whole game library. You can connect Steam and GOG to it, along with plans to add Humble integration to it as well. What it does, it’s manager for “runners” for all your games, whether they be for DOS, your ROMs collection, or classic Windows games. Similar to PlayOnLinux it uses scripts to install your games and changes any settings specific for that game. Lutris can take the place of PlayOnLinux in that it can manage WINE prefixes in this way. The additional functions include it being able to download the installers for your games from GOG, so you no longer have to do that part yourself. It can also initiate a Steam install for you, but along with the Steam functions, you can install a WineSteam for games that run in WINE better than Proton, and it can manage those games for you, too. I haven’t done reviews on WineSteam games, but I have done one on RLDR , which I purely ran in WINE. Lutris is one of those tools I wish I knew about a few years ago, because it has made my life a lot easier, too. You can save your library of games to your account and plenty of people are making scripts to install classic games and mods for them that help with better compatibility with modern computers, without you needing to do the foot work. If you switch to Linux, I definitely recommend installing Lutris for many of your gaming needs.
If you have a collection of classic games and ROMs, then you have plenty to not worry about. There are a lot of options for your needs, whether you choose to go with Retroarch or standalone emulators. Whether you are into romhacks like Plaguemon or Crystal Clear , which I have covered through the follower additions and other features. Maybe your thing is Pokemon overall, even if they are just graphics hacks. Some recommendations of my own in this sphere, gambatte is an awesome Gameboy emulator, but you can also use BGB if you are willing to use WINE. There are others like Sameboy that have shown to have awesome console-like accuracy. You Gameboy Advance emulation should pretty well be taken care of with mGBA , they are aiming for full compatibility, and have better compatibility than most other GBA emulators out there, even emulating peripherals for single games,
and their list is pretty robust already. If you’re looking for SNES emulators, use snes9x , it is generally used by speedrunners for games like Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, or the Metroid and Link to the Past crossover races. Finally, for NES games, the one I have used is FCEUX , and generally, I’m playing using the core in Retroarch for that one. Finally, another of my favorites, the N64, the most popular one for Linux is Mupen64Plus and it has a Retroarch core to its name, it uses OpenGL, but there is a Retroarch core based on it using Vulkan for graphic instead, it has pretty decent headway, but still very much in development. Mupen64 has come a long way since ten years ago, when I tried to play some other games with it, so don’t worry. Emulation in general has come a long way in Linux, some of that is due to Linux being a prime platform for developing TAS runs for many of these games.
But Won’t I Run Into Problems?
So, beginning off, there may be complications just due to being new to Linux gaming. It has a learning curve, just like anything else. There are plenty of places to get help if you do run into problems. The first places you could look is various documentation to read up on how to fix your issue. If you aren’t sure, you can talk with people in the community. Places like the Linux_Gamers_Group or Linux Gaming discord that have support channels for new people to the Operating System. There are running various distros, too. So, if there is something specific to your distro, then someone can help that runs you very same distro. If you end up joining one such distro, remember to assign yourself a role based on the distro you decide on. These factors help people best identify how to help you.
So, whether you just want to experiment, or find a new home for gaming. There are plenty of hands to help and, hopefully, you find something that eases any anxiety if you have been thinking about switching. If you need other help, I’m on the GNN discord and can point you in the right direction, too.