While Linux gaming has definately taken off in the last months, there is still a vast range of games out there that will not run natively on Linux, and likely never will.
While many developers are jumping on board with Linux, odds are that porting their old titles is not likely to occur, whether due to cost, resources or perceived lack of interest. This issue can be solved by either “going native”, only running software that is available natively for Linux, or by employing an option such as Wine to get it to run under Linux. Another option includes virtualization, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
Most Linux users have at least heard of the WINE project, which permits Windows applications to run under Linux by essentially translating the applications information to something Linux can understand. Best of all, the WINE project is completely free and has an extensive amount of support and documentation.
A database is available at WineHQ where you can look up individual titles and see how likely they are to work. Note however that WINE can be a fickle beast, and what may run on one system may fail to run on another. Whether WINE will work for your needs likely comes down to how comfortable you are with doing basic weaking, testing out various configurations as well as how demanding your games or applications are. I’ve found that quite a few games and programs, particularly older ones, will run just fine with the basic WINE setups, while others required tweaking to get them to work.
Still others simply never worked.
It does get easier with slightly older and less demanding games of course. The general rule of thumb with WINE should be that most things will work, but most things will have bugs.
On a personal level, I’ve been able to play almost all the games I’ve bought from GOG without any issues, as well as a few newer titles like Blood Bowl and Civilization IV.
If fighting with WINE sounds like a lot of work, you can also check out PlayonLinux. This is basically a configuration tool and launcher for WINE, with preset configurations for quite a large range of games and programs. While this doesn’t do anything you could not achieve on your own, it does do a lot of the work for you. Likewise, it will, as default, set up separate WINE installs for each game, allowing you to use the best known configurations with ease.
PlayonLinux will let you install things that aren’t on their lists, but in that case, you are basically doing the work yourself, just as you would with a regular WINE install. One handy option is to simply install a Windows version of Steam, and then install your games through that.
One advantage is that using it will contain all your WINE games and programs in a single, handy launcher, rather than having them scattered throughout your native Linux applications.
Lastly, for very old stuff, you can always use Dosbox. This acts as a DOS emulator, and for playing some of the really classic games, it absolutely works wonderfully. Things run largely without bugs and being able to play old classics like Lands of Lore or Master of Magic is hard to surpass. Check your repositories for Dosbox. When it is installed, in most desktop
environments, simply right click the DOS executable and run it with Dosbox.
While some configuration may be needed, I don’t recall ever having to. It simply works straight out of the box.
So can WINE fullfill all your Windows needs? That is hard to say. For most people, it’ll fill most of their needs most of the time. If you don’t mind a little time getting things settled in, it can be an extremely powerful tool, but be prepared that you may run into bugs and issues. Most of the time though, it will be quite obvious what works and what does not, and you may find yourself surprised at what works flawlessly “out of the box”. And being able to play Civilization IV while waiting for SteamOS to get here is quite a pleasant feeling, isn’t it?