Parasitic Gaming for Linux Users

Good games for Linux are few and far between. There are, however, a number of possibilities to play games on Linux that were never intended to run on it. Many of these involve a lot of tinkering or even bugfixing to get them to work and do not work all that well. This article concentrates on those ways that are easy to set up and provide a gaming experience that is at least on par with the platforms the games have originally been developed for. It also concentrates on games that have more than historic or nostalgic value.

Point-and-Click Adventures

ScummVM provides a simple way of playing a large number of point-and-click adventures from LucasArts, Revolution, Adventure Soft, and others. Simply copy your game somewhere, run ScummVM, click “Add Game” and point it to the directory you copied your game to. In most cases, ScummVM will autodetect game, platform, and version, and you are ready to go. ScummVM features a number of graphics filters that manage to improve the quality of hand-drawn pixel graphics and is thus able to provide you with an enhanced adventuring experience.

Interactive Fiction

Interpreters exist that allow you to play most important works of what we used to call the text adventure genre and now call Interactive Fiction. Frotz and many other Z Machine implementations play all Infocom adventures, while Magnetic plays Magnetic Scrolls' works. Once you have licked blood you will find that there is a lively amateur Interactive Fiction scene producing material that in many cases surpasses that of the old masters.

Arcade Games

MAME, arguably the most famous and awe-inspiring piece of emulation software, emulates nearly every arcade machine with a CPU and a CRT that has ever existed. The ROM and harddisk images of all supported games are several dozen GB in size. You will most likely download each of them as a ZIP file from your favorite P2P network. There are even people that will send them to you via snail mail for a fee. Setting up the emulation is not very difficult. You have to point MAME to the directory you keep your ROM ZIP files in it and tell it which game you want to play. Curiously, once you have the complete ROM set, choosing a game to play turns out the most difficult task. After all, you have the entire history of arcade gaming at your fingertips. AdvanceMENU (and the other Advance Projects) provide valuable help here. Download a number of media packs containing screenshots, flyers, cabinet shots etc., and AdvanceMENU will make choosing your game of the day a lot easier, even though it takes a bit of fumbling to set it up.

Video Games

The best aspect of video game consoles is that they are absolutely hassle-free: no installation, no patches, no bugs, just gameplay. In most cases, this translates well to emulation: Most video game console emulators require hardly any setup. Just take a ROM image, open it in the emulator, and play. (You may want to check the key mappings in the documentation first.)

A deviation from the hassle-free mainstream are emulators for more recent consoles (PlayStation 1, Nintendo 64 and newer). Due to the complexity of the emulated systems, these emulators usually employ a modular approach, meaning that each of the system's components is implemented in a separate module, and usually by a different author. In most cases there are several implementations for a single component that you can (and have to) choose from. Despite that, compatibility is usually lower (sometimes significantly so) than with the simpler systems. A notable exception to this rule is pSX, a monolithic PlayStation 1 emulator with good compatibility that only needs a PSX BIOS image to work. The downside is that it is binary only and requires a ton of GNOME libraries, so if it works for you at all (it does for me on openSUSE 10.2), you can still expect it to break soon.

Check out the emulator section for an extensive list of video game emulators.

Windows Games

There are a number of ways to run Windows games under Linux, and most of them are quite a pain in the ass. The only exception is Cedega, a commercial WINE offshoot created to allow playing of current Windows games. It works remarkably simple: Click the installation button, specify the Windows installer binary, install as usual, then click on your game's icon and the play button. Cedega only works reliably for a small number of mainstream games that it has been specifically fixed for by Transgaming. In theory, any number of Windows games may work with it, but whether your particular game works you would have to find out by yourself, throwing you back to the pain-in-the-ass level.

MS-DOS Games

There is a PC emulator called DOSBox. It not only emulates a typical DOS PC with all its hardware components to a very high degree of accuracy, but also the DOS operating system, and it allows DOS software to access the filesystem of the host. This makes it incredibly easy to use: Just go to your favorite Abandonware site, download a game, unpack it to some directory and run dosbox <directory>, and then run your game's executable. The whole process is considerably simpler than it used to be in actual MS-DOS. Emulation speed is not stellar, but anything that used to require a low-end 486 or less should be OK. The only inconvenience with DOSBox is that you may have to tune the speed of your emulated PC manually, depending on what your game requires and what your host system can provide in terms of performance.