Gaming on Ubuntu 11.10 - Completely trouble free?

UPDATE (18th Nov, 2011): As many commenters have noted, my hardware was less than ideal to try out the best games. There were challenges in installing the right driver, and this was also a bottleneck as I've described in the article. Gaming in Linux environments is quite formidable already, going by the comments. has listed a comprehensive 100 “best free and high quality” games that run on Linux, but will all of them be gratifying if you’re running Ubuntu 11.10?

I have my misgivings.

I’ve been a fan of vehicle simulation and racing games during my days as a Microsoft Windows user, and decided to try out some of the offerings that are talked about on that link and other forums.

My Oneiric Ocelot runs on an AMD Athlon X2 2.5 GHz processor, with a 2 GB RAM and an Nvidia GeForce7050PV graphics card.

Overall, my Ubuntu gaming excitement was overshadowed by accompanying problems.

1) Extreme Tux Racer

Extreme Tux Racer

This is a basic but interesting game that involves a penguin that you need to maneuver through snow covered land, sliding past trees and craggy rocks. Points are scored by gathering herrings spread along the course. The game works pretty well for me, but I'm more inclined towards vehicles than penguins that can fly!

2) The Open Racing Car Simulator

The Open Racing Car Simulator

This game has fairly decent graphics, but I ran into stability issues on my machine.

3) Tile Racer

Tile Racer

The developers have surely done a great job here creating realistic roads and the surrounding vegetation. The long jumps boost the fun, although they're unrealistic. This game is far from easy to master, but probably won’t be ignored by some car simulation enthusiasts. Performance issues arising from my errant graphics device driver cast a shadow over this impressive game.

4) Flightgear


Flightgear has received widespread acclaim as a great open source flight simulator software that combines the entertainment of flying with concepts in aerodynamics, and is taken seriously by flying enthusiasts. The simulator runs with a keyboard and mouse lag on my machine, though. Hearing from others' experiences, this is a fine application if you can get it to run.

5) X-plane


This was the biggest download of all five I tried, a total of 1.5 GB, and costs $30 for the full version. This flight simulator promises to carefully replicate the flying experience for anyone who loves the thrill of being airborne. The reviews on the Internet seem to suggest this is a stunning aircraft simulation, and perhaps even superior to Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X thanks to it’s implementation of the blade element theory that is aimed at making the feel highly realistic.

X-plane didn't get a fair review from me, given the dated hardware that I run. However, going by user reviews, this is certainly a fine software to consider for aviation enthusiasts!

Games on Microsoft Windows

The experiences were different from the days I ran my top favorites on the same hardware – Need for Speed and Microsoft Flight Simulator X – on the Windows XP and Windows 7 operating systems. They ran flawlessly and were truly breathtaking, not least because of the highly stable GUIs that made for extremely reliable foundations for resource-intensive applications. I could actually feel myself as being a part of the sequences that unfolded, without worrying the least bit about the hardware and software that made this possible.

Linux Gaming Ahead

The powerful Microsoft Direct X collection of APIs that forms the basis of most gaming on Windows is one of the key factors that makes a difference.

There’s rarely a shortage of drivers for the latest hardware manufactured for high-end gaming on Windows.

But in the case of Ubuntu 11.10, there are certain question marks.

Game developers have indeed painstakingly worked on the Linux experience, but do they need to do more? Should something more be done about the drivers for graphics cards? Should the general lack of robustness and stability from the new Unity interface be addressed?

One of the key challenges while trying out games on my system was getting the right driver installed.

Attempting to install the recommended proprietary driver software would result in an error message:

Device Driver

When I downloaded the driver from Nvidia's website, I couldn't build it since the kernel was built with an older version of gcc.

I've talked about the frustration with the kernel version in the article on upgrading to Ubuntu 11.10.

There are Great Games Out there!

If you’re an Ubuntu user, there surely are thousands of games to choose. Many of these games show considerable promise in terms of quality and apparently have loads of excitement in store.

However, gaming may not be completely hassle-free in a Linux environment and you might need to tackle some issues.

What are your thoughts about gaming in Linux, especially the recent versions of Ubuntu?


Thx for the reviews it's good to see constructive criticism.

I play FlightGear too with keyboard and mouse and don't have "lag". You are free to fill a bug anyway, ;)

Can't say too much about X-Plane because is closed source.

I would suggest other games to test like Speed Dreams, Rigs of Rods, Danger from Deep, Stunt Rally.

It's true that there are more games for Windows, but at the end of the day people talk always about the same top selling games. The same happens is Linux with known titles.

By Legion

Linux has lots of games. Either your system isn't made for games or you just haven't explored enough.

Sometimes games are bit more challenging to configure and get running in some situations, but in many case it is as easy as Windows.

You should checkout:

Wine to run most windows games - makes it easy to play games with wine - a steam like platform for games for Linux
Onlive now works under wine
Finally - which is better than Onlive and uses Java, so it works perfectly in Linux

By Chris

After the appropriate configuration settings are done, I do feel playing my favorite games in Linux *might* turn out to be pleasant on my machine. I've run into complications with my graphics drivers, and straightening them out doesn't seem to be easy. The fact that I run the controversial Unity-based Ubuntu 11.10 could also be getting in the way.

But hey, after looking at the response from readers about my thoughts, I do feel optimistic about gaming in Linux – the first thing to do is wade through the current mess!

By Naweed Chougle

To your credit, I appreciated the fact that you made a fairly clear distinction between Ubuntu and GNU/Linux, as well and poiting out Unity as a possible culprit.
I perfectly understand that Ubuntu's popularity is bound to impact on the perception of would-be first users. However since your goal is to provide worthwhile information, making the distinction (Ubuntu is ONE incarnation of Linux, just as Unity is ONE shell) is all the more important.

However your test system is, to say the least, really low end. A discrete graphics card would help a fair bit. I should know, I used to have that same IGP. As such I'm actually having a hard time believing the simulators you mentioned ran "flawlessly and were truly breathtaking" in windows. Either they ran well at bottom low settings, or they were high definition slideshows ;)

Feel free to elaborate on the issues you have encountered with the drivers. One thing that Ubuntu does well is streamlining the installation of proprietary drivers such as nvidia's, so you mentioning that is surprising, though then again, it might be a matter of perception.

Gaming in Linux is actually getting much better. Drivers' quality has improved a fair bit in the last couple of years, especially on the AMD/ATI side. Aside from all the free games readily available from the distributions' repositories, initiatives like the Humble Indie Bundle, Desura, Gameolith, among others, have all contributed to providing a larger library of games.

Sure, buying a boxed copy of game XYZ from your favorite brick-and-mortar store, shoving the DVD into the drive and expecting things to work out on their own will most likely lead to disappointment. Triple A titles with out-of-the-box Linux compatibility are few and far between, although cross-platform APIs are in place (OpenGL, OpenAL, SDL...). Why it is so is open to debate :)
Yet one thing is certain, Linux DOES have great games. And it's only getting better!

By PsynoKhi0

Thanks for your detailed comment! I did find the mentioned applications run pleasantly on Windows. I don't think I ran them at the lowest settings, but the bottom line was that they worked *out of the box.*
I've updated the article with details on the trouble with the graphics drivers.

By Naweed Chougle

Hmm that error message from the driver installation is troubling. Could that be a left over of a borked webupgrade? (I never EVER do a webupgrade, that bit me in the rear to many times. I prefer having a separate home partition, and re-install the OS on the root partition cleanly...)
At least it seems clear you used the (opensource) Nouveau drivers, which, despite being appropriate for daily usage, are still ways behind in the 3D performance department.
Depending on your motivation, digging the jockey installation log might provide some insight.
At the same time, the issues you have encountered do leave the unfortunate impression that Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular are inappropriate as gaming platforms.

By PsynoKhi0

I carried out a clean install and was able to get the proprietary drivers installed! It was the web upgrade which lead to the mess – it made life look easy when in fact it had trouble in store.

By Naweed Chougle

Ah good to hear! Do you plan on adding a follow-up to your article with that problem out of the way?

By PsynoKhi0

Yes! I am considering a follow-up article!

By Naweed Chougle

Well, of course more can be done. Of course there's a good chance to make things better.

Have you ever heard about indie software houses? They keep low budget games with great quality, and sometimes these games are just masterpieces (Braid, Osmos, Trine etc...). And they DO make linux native client for their games. As today, I played some of these indie native linux games and performances were always astonishing.

Secondly, are you sure you're using official nvidia drivers? You're talking like you're using nouveau open-source drivers, which provides a beta 3d acceleration and not a full 3d acceleration as closed proprietary drivers do.

Thirdly, as just said before, have you ever heard about wine, playonlinux, crossover games, gametree linux and desura?

I'm not just telling you that i feel optimistic.. I'm telling you that today you can play most part of windows games with your ubuntu distro, and if you don't like emulating windows games, there are a bunch of awesome native games that are really worth of a trying.

If you want, my blog is what you're looking for, so check it out :)

Thank you, readers, for your constructive and informative comments!

I've learnt from your responses that Linux gaming is indeed great. However, users like me who are not highly familiar with these environments ought to be prepared for the initial hiccups.

By Naweed Chougle

Why does everybody test the old school, dead game TORCS instead of the much nicer Speed Dreams. Check out the Beta of Speed Dreams 2.0: Speed Dreams 2.0 Beta 1

By Bart

from a 95% Windows user since Windows 3.1
Windows will remain dominant in the area of gaming til support from mainstream hardware/software developers give Linux some love.

I can say without a doubt, Windows 7 for me just works for everything except sound which can be picky since they changed the way it's processed and all hardware based on EAX etc, was crippled, otherwise Windows for everything.

Saying that I do like where Linux has come, it is definitely a viable alternative to all things not gaming related and would definitely recommend it to laptop users. As for games on Linux, 0AD is a great Age of Empires clone, been playing it for a few weeks and though it's still beta and will continue to be for several months to come, it's definitely a step in the right direction to advertising what can be achieved with dedication by a developer and people willing to help out with small donations.

By spamazoid

Could note too, that if it doesn't already work for you, Steam is on it's way to being compatible with Linux now too, it's just a matter if the individual game will work or not.

By spamazoid

Ever Most Realistic Flying flight sim game - Why Cant you fly over your house - check out

By anirock

I hope that this would also work with other versions of linux.

By andres

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