In the world of 3D Graphics there are two APIs used by developers. Th first is OpenGL, an industry standard that provided the framework for the early days of 3D graphics. Second is DirectX, the dominant one, largely thanks to Microsoft’s deft work keeping it front and centre with Windows and the Xbox.
With games developers like Valve and Blizzard expressing concerns about Windows 8, the once unshakeable grasp of DirectX is starting to look a little weak. Valve in particular has started looking seriously at Linux as a gaming platform, which means focusing on polishing up the OpenGL performance of its Source graphics engine.
It now has a whole team working on getting both Source, and Steam, running nicely with Ubuntu. They’ve been blogging, and in their latest update they’ve outlined some of the advancements they’ve made with performance. While working closely with Nvidia (who has something to prove after Linux creator Linus Torvalds publically dissed its attitude to Linux) the team has managed to polish up its engine so that Left 4 Dead 2 actually runs faster in linux than it does in Windows.
On one level it makes sense, Linux is a much more streamlined operating system, lacking the bloat and bling that is part and parcel with Windows. But getting 315fps in linux vs 270fps in Windows seems a bit strange considering that the vast majority of development and optimisation is done with DirectX.
Even more interesting is that when Valve took its work and ran the game with OpenGL in Windows it was still faster than the DirectX version. It isn’t as quick as it is on Linux, but at 303fps it is still quicker than DirectX.
Of course, Valve getting its games running on Linux is very different to the rest of the industry doing it. But of all the companies, it is the one most likely to drag others with it thanks to Steam. If it can make the move from DirectX to OpenGL smooth enough, then the lure of being able to run on Windows, OS X and Linux (as well as easier porting to smartphones and tablets) might well be enough to shake up the games industry as a whole.