Getting AAA games working in Linux sometimes requires concealing your GPU

Hogwarts Legacy screenshot
Enlarge / There are some energies you should not tap for sorcery, something both Hogwarts students and Hogwarts Legacy installs running under Linux should know.

Warner Bros. Games

Linux gaming’s march toward being a real, actual thing has taken serious strides lately, due in large part to Valve’s Proton-powered Steam Play efforts. Being Linux, there are still some quirks to figure out. One of them involves games trying to make use of Intel’s upscaling tools.

Intel’s ARC series GPUs are interesting, in many senses of the word. They offer the best implementation of Intel’s image reconstruction system, XeSS, similar to Nvidia’s DLSS and AMD’s FSR. XeSS, like its counterparts, utilizes machine learning to fill in the pixel gaps on anti-aliased objects and scenes. The results are sometimes clear, sometimes a bit fuzzy if you pay close attention. In our review of Intel’s A770 and A750 GPUs in late 2022, we noted that cross-compatibility between all three systems could be in the works.

That kind of easy-swap function is not the case when a game is running on a customized version of the WINE Windows-on-Linux, translating Direct3D graphics calls to Vulkan and prodding to see whether it, too, can make use of Intel’s graphics boost. As noted by Phoronix, Intel developers contributing to the open source Mesa graphics project added the ability to hide an Intel GPU from the Vulkan Linux driver.

The “force_vk_vendor” system was needed to prevent games like Cyberpunk 2077 from detecting an Intel GPU and seeking to utilize its specific version of XeSS, which led to crashes. A commit earlier this week adds Hogwart’s Legacy to the list of games that need to act like they don’t know about an ARC GPU, joining Cyberpunk 2077 and Spider-Man Remastered.

Upscaling systems are likely to be an important part of PC gaming going forward, possibly making their compatibility a priority for Steam Play, Mesa, and Linux gaming as a whole. The developers of recently released third-person-shooter Remnant II recently stated in a Reddit posting (via WCCF Tech) that the game was designed “with upscaling in mind (DLSS/FSR/XeSS).”

Relying on upscaling to bolster performance, especially at lower resolutions, may be unwise. But nearly every major game release brings with it news of which vendor’s upscaling system is included or preferred. It’s still impressive how many games simply run at all on an OS for which they were never built, but it might never stop being a tricky challenge.