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The very first article about video games on Linux... from 1994
Yes. It's about DOOM. And, no. The reviewer didn't have working sound on Linux.
Nowadays, gaming on Linux has become rather mainstream
Steam, the Steam Deck, a wide variety of AAA gaming titles, a robust Free and Open Source gaming ecosystem, and an almost staggering number of game development engines supporting Linux… the maturity of Linux as a “gaming platform” is, at this point, difficult to argue against.
I mean, shoot. There are entire websites and YouTube channels dedicated to reviewing and discussing the latest video games on Linux. Linux, in 2023, is a strong gaming system. No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it.
Those of us who have been using Linux for more than a few years remember when this was — to put it mildly — not the case. Heck, it wasn’t that long ago that simply getting sound to work on Linux was a bit of a nightmare. The mere notion of “video games on Linux” was laughed at by, well, just about everyone.
With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to try to find the very first article written about video games on Linux.
And I mean the very, very first Linux games article.
My quest led me to the early days of Linux Journal magazine — which makes a great deal of sense, considering that is the first Linux magazine. Ever.
Personal note: I was lucky enough to be the Deputy Editor of Linux Journal magazine during the final years of publication. So the fact that the first article about gaming on Linux is found within the pages of Linux Journal brings a smile to my face.
The very first issue, of the first Linux magazine, was the March, 1994 launch of “Linux Journal”. And the first article — published in any publication — about a “Linux game” happened at the end of that very same year.
I’ve found that article, and have re-published every single word of it below. Exactly as it appeared back in 1994. No changes at all. Because this is history we’re talking about.
But first… let’s talk briefly about the first time “games on Linux” is a topic at all in a publication.
The 1st Mention of Linux Games: August 1994
The first time games are really even mentioned in any Linux magazine is the August 1994 issue of Linux Journal (issue #4). And, well, it’s only a tiny aside — mention ever so briefly in an article entitled “Linux Sound Support”.
It is a rather lengthy article describing the state of Linux sound support in 1994 (including how to get SoundBlaster cards working). A topic that many Linux users struggled with on a regular basis.
Here is the section mentioning games… in it’s entirety.
That’s it. Two sentences. Mentioning two games — Bdash and Xboing — that most people haven’t ever heard of (or thought about in years).
A tiny mention in a non-gaming article doesn’t really count as the first “Linux game article” though. For that, we need to jump ahead a few months…
The 1st Full Article about a Linux Game: December 1994
December. 1994. Linux Journal issue #8.
That is when (and where) the very first article — specifically about video games on Linux — was published.
And, because this is 1994 we’re talking about, it’s all about DOOM. Naturally.
This article is important as it represents multiple “firsts” for any publication:
It is the first official review of a Linux game.
It is the first how-to article talking about a Linux game.
A few other funky things worth mentioning about this very first Linux video game article:
It contains absolutely no screenshots. Not one.
The reviewer didn’t have working sound in Linux. See? Nobody had sound working back then!
How wild is it that the first Linux magazine ever… doesn’t write an article about any video game until the eighth issue? Really tells you how not focused on games the Linux world was at the time.
The author of the article is none other than Michael K. Johnson, editor of Linux Journal during the first two years of its existence (from 1994 through 1996).
Enjoy this trip into the very earliest days of gaming on Linux… 29 years ago.
“DOOM” by Michael K. Johnson
This popular DOS game is now available under Linux.
I first heard of DOOM on Usenet, when people would say “I can't wait to get rid of DOS, but I still need DOS to play DOOM.” Wait no longer. I first played DOOM a few days ago while running X on my Linux box.
I was rather skeptical. I play very few computer games, and not very often. When I do, they are usually games or clones of games like Minesweeper, Tetris, Mahjongg, Golddig, and those rare card games whose rules I am able to comprehend. I have never particularly enjoyed adventure games of any sort, until I played DOOM. Now my wife is worried I'm becoming addicted.
David Taylor (of Id, the company that wrote DOOM) recently completed a port of DOOM to X under Linux, and asked me to review it. I unpacked it (approximately 5MB worth), read the README.linux file (this is important if you have never played the game, because it explains how to move, shoot, and open doors, among other things), and played. And played. And played.
The first thing I noticed was incredibly smooth scrolling. And it's fast enough that I'm able to navigate well without feeling disoriented. I've seen other adventure games played under DOS and the scrolling has always been so rough that I could barely tell if the character was turning right or left.
The second thing I noticed was that although it is a shoot-'em-up game, it's not nearly as bloody as I had been lead to believe. Anyone who has seen video arcade games or the evening TV news should not be terribly bothered by the violence; you'll be too busy learning the floor plan and how to navigate to notice the blood, if I'm any judge.
DOOM is shareware. There are three adventures in the DOOM family; the first one is free, no strings attached, no guilt clauses telling you to register after 15 days or face legal action or moral rot. However, if you like the first adventure, there is a (reasonable) fee for purchasing the second and third adventures. I personally prefer this to guiltware (what Linus calls “limited-trial period shareware”).
My best recommendation for this product is that it is the first adventure game that has held my interest for more than a few minutes. My best recommendation against it is that you shouldn't start to play it if you don't have lots of spare time to devote to this game. You can blow away your friends by playing over the network. (I haven't tested this, but it's probably well done if it resembles the rest of the game.) Sound is supported if you have a sound card. I don't have one so I can't comment on the sound effects but I found the game perfectly playable with no sound.
A few tips (some of which are in the README.linux file, but you might miss them):
• If the screen is too dark to see easily, use the F11 key to change the “gamma correction”. There are four levels of gamma correction; press F11 repeatedly to cycle through them until you find the one you like best.
• Use a low-resolution video mode while playing DOOM. 640x480 looks good to me; DOOM uses a 320x200 window.
• If you are using fvwm as your window manager, you may have kept some default key settings that move you around on the virtual desktop. Some of these keys may be used as movement keys and, because of the combinations you can have, almost any SHIFT-, CONTROL-, or ALT-ARROW key combination may be used in DOOM. You might consider an alternate .fvrmrc file which does not set up these keybindings.
Michael K. Johnson is the editor of Linux Journal, and is also the author of the Linux Kernel Hackers' Guide. He welcomes your comments.
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