Two weeks back I installed Gentoo with the intention to use it as my primary desktop. Naturally I need games to play. My go-to benchmark for the state of Linux gaming has always been the Wine Application Database, so I checked it for a game I knew I could sink countless hours into.

Well it turns out the results for Oblivion are not too promising, especially for Steam. Maybe Morrowind fairs better? Yes, but there are still issues. But the description holds a gem: a Linux-native alternative called OpenMW.

If you want a video summary, check out the FAQ video. It’s quite dated but still shown prominently on the official site and gives a good overview of the project.

Essentially, OpenMW is an open source reimplementation of the game engine for Morrowind. It’s not a different game because it still relies on assets from the original. You can’t play Morrowind through it without actually owning a copy of Morrowind, or at the very least having access to the game’s data files.

Trying it out

A TES game running natively on Linux? Sign me up. It even has an official Gentoo ebuild! Getting it running was remarkably simple. The package includes a wizard that will guide you through retrieving the data files from the original game. I have a physical copy but Steam and GOG versions are also supported. It launched without a hitch.

Playing it was a different story… Straight of the boat, I was hitting between four and ten FPS. Of course it wouldn’t be that easy! I couldn’t find anything Gentoo-specific but the general consensus online was to make sure that your GPU drivers were up to date. I had only installed my OS in the last two weeks so I knew that couldn’t have been the issue.

Turns out it was! OpenMW doesn’t seem to play nice with the nouveau drivers. These are open source NVIDIA drivers that are installed by default when running through the Gentoo handbook. Gentoo has a guide on replacing the nouveau drivers with the proprietary nvidia ones.

After rebuilding my kernel and a few package builds (and rebuilds) later, I had booted into a new nvidia-driven X session. Everything seemed to be working except for when I did the test the guide recommends: running glxinfo, which kept failing. This command is meant to say that direct rendering is enabled. Guess that means it’s not enabled? Fortunately there’s a troubleshooting section for that issue. You need to disable the Direct Rendering Manager in the kernel. After doing that and rebuilding the kernel, which took quite a while considering only one option was disabled, a lot of warnings came up. The advice online was to ensure that the Direct Rendering Manager was enabled… :(

Despite that, I pushed on and tried OpenMW again. Lo and behold 280 FPS! That will do.

New toys

Everything seems to be running smoothly despite those warnings, but time will tell how long that lasts. At least it always teaches you something ;)

OpenMW is still not at v1 yet but it’s a very mature project. It’s also not the only project of this nature. Some others include:

Many years of my childhood were spent with RCT and RCT2 so I couldn’t help but try out OpenRCT2. Like OpenMW, it has an official Gentoo package and a getting started guide that will set you up. Ten minutes later I was back in Magic Mountain, but with a day and night cycle! As a bonus, there’s an option to point to RCT data files and play scenarios from the original game.

The sentiment behind these projects is beautiful. Not only do they allow us to preserve these wonderful games and keep them playable for everyone, but they open them up to younger players by adding features that are simply expected today, like widescreen support. Given their timeless gameplay, I expect that they will always have a community of players, and that is a very good thing.