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Thoughts on Linux

Posts: 97

Thoughts on Linux

I wanted to share a few things about my experience getting Banished working on Linux. I haven't seriously used Linux to develop software since around 1997-1999, where I just used vi and a Makefile.

Getting Started

Getting linux going should be easy right? Download ISO, burn disc, install in new machine. But then the installer fails to make partitions on my brand new SSD! That was ok, nothing is ever easy - so I decided to setup the partitions myself using gparted. Does it work? No. After two days I figured out that for some reason the install wouldn't work with the drive plugged into easy-to-access SATA5. Plugged the drive into SATA0 underneath the video card, and we're running!

I like to have multiple machines that can compile the code, which ensures all required files are checked into source control, and that multiple GPUs render correctly. I had an extra laptop with a 600 series Nvidia GPU, so I got linux going on that, but had another few days of trying to get the Intel/Nvidia Optimus setup working under linux. I'm still failing on that, it seems overly complicated, but I can compile on it - just not run. Bah.

Development Environment

There are a zillion IDEs available under linux. I read about a ton of them and their associated debugging options. There are too many to actually try them all in a reasonable amount on time. It almost made me want to just go back to my roots and use vi and a make file. But I don't really want a Makefile, and I don't want to use cmake. Especially since the Mac and Windows IDEs just have a project and do their own dependency checking.

So I ended up going with SlickEdit. Slick edit has no need of a make file, just add files to the project. It's relatively cheap for a single user license, and has key bindings that match Visual Studio. If nothing else, it let me jump right in and not fight too much learning a new IDE.

Graphics Drivers

My linux machine is an 8 core AMD with and AMD R9 graphics card. Installing the graphics driver was no problem, and getting OpenGL working wasn't too bad once I read through the GLX documentation. I did go through a few days of random crashes that would freeze the entire X11 desktop (always on a GL context related call), my only recourse being Alt-SysReq-B. Boo.

Turns out I forgot to implement a certain platform specific locking mechanism that kept my background loading thread for executing graphics calls at the same time as the main rendering thread, causing some data corruption of lists of resources. Not so bad, but the entire system halting made for very slow debugging.


So when I told fellow programmers I was going to deal with straight X windows and GLX, they told me I was crazy and would regret it. But really, all I need is to create a window, and render OpenGL into it, and get some keyboard/mouse input. So that's what I did. However when searching for answers to questions that weren't made quite clear in the documentation, often people that had the same questions I did received answers like 'Use SDL', or 'Use GTK or Qt'. That's amazingly frustrating and just adds noise to the internet.

The only real problem I had with X11 is that the includes #define a lot of symbols that conflicted with identifiers in my code. I guess that goes with the territory of using a C only library that was written long long ago. I ended up having to forward some X11 symbols for use in my headers, and only include the actual header where needed.

When said and done the X11 code I had to write was far far smaller than any 3rd party library that handled the same things, has no extra dependancies, and compiles fast.


There seem to be a lot of options for outputting audio on Linux, but all signs seemed to pointed toward ALSA for my purposes. Since I have my own mixer that outputs PCM data, all that was required was to play a single stream of audio, which is pretty easy.

The only major frustration here is that the method I like to use (and use similar methods on Windows and OSX) is to get a callback every N milliseconds and then fill in an audio buffer. However under Ubuntu the callback mechanism of ALSA isn't implemented (apparently unsafe?). So I ended up writing my own audio thread that polls for the audio buffer to become available, fills in the audio data and then the thread goes back to waiting.

Porting everything else

Most of the remaining code was easy. It shares with OSX, so threading, memory management, critical sections, file/io, etc was already written and worked without an issue, except for a few date and timer functions.

Over all I liked the linux experience of porting much better than OSX. I didn't have to use another language, and I get to control the overall game loop and when events get processed. Then again, I already had a lot of compatible code ready from doing the OSX port, so there could be some bias there.

Going forward

Linux as a development environment is pretty good. But.

One of the more frustrating things about doing these ports is that currently the data is only compiled on Windows, then has to be packaged into a single file, and then copied over to the target machine. This is fine when things are said and done code-wise, but during development a lot of debugging requires changing data.

For example, lets say I just want to debug vertex skinning of animated characters because it's not working. This requires a change to the vertex shaders that will be used. So I turn to the Windows machine, change the shader, compile all resources, build a pack file, copy the pack files to a shared location, and then start debugging on Linux or OSX. I go back and forth doing this 20 times before fixing the issue. It's slow.

I really need to get my full toolchain working on both OSX and Linux - so that regardless of what machine I have with me I can fully build my game and work normally and faster. Once I do, the game will recognize that a resource has changed, and compiles it just as it's loaded.

But this requires me changing a bunch of Windows only compilation functions. This includes loading images, building compressed textures, building fonts, loading and converting audio data, and setting up FBX to work on other platforms. There's probably more. It's not insurmountable, but it's a good chunk on code. So it'll probably wait until the next project.

Posts: 1

A lot of people in the linux gaming community were very encouraged by reading that you were working on porting Banished to Linux. I was particularly interested since I am a programmer (although sadly not for games) mostly working under linux (and I actually still prefer working with vi(m) to any of the more "modern" editors - but I guess I am very intimate with an editor I now use for over 20 years) and I found your game to be interesting enough that I used it several times as a present to my Windows owning friends, wishing I could play it myself.

Sadly 9 months have passed and we haven't heard much of your efforts anymore, so I hope it is ok to ask if you are still working at a linux port or if you gave up on it (and if the reasons were technical, feel free to rant about them ;))