I’ve been a little tardy in posting anything this week on Minecraft. The reason is simple: I haven’t been playing much Minecraft recently. Don’t worry. I’ll get back to it, but I needed a little break.

At first that break took the form of a Civilization 5 marathon (Make India Great Again!), winning by a culture victory (first time for that, actually). But the thing about Civilization in any form is that once I finish a game I find myself unmotivated to play it again for a little while. I have Rimworld (which is an awesome game – you should definitely check it out), but I just didn’t feel like playing it. What I really wanted to play was an Elder Scrolls game, specifically Morrowind (the original, not not the TES Online expansion).

My problem is that I refuse to pay the Microsoft tax, so I use Linux as my OS (specifically Linux Mint, but I do try out other distros every now and then). And on Linux, without VirtualBox running a legit virtual Windows machine, your main option for playing TES games has always been Wine (they say it isn’t an emulator, but a Windows compatibility layer; whatever – as Juliet says, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”). But while Wine does really well for a lot of things (passably for Rome: Total War), I’ve never had much luck with TES games. They always run really clunky, Morrowind especially (for some reason, Oblivion seemed to run better).

But last night, for some reason (profound boredom, maybe?), I decided to give it another go. I had some reason to be optimistic about the outcome because of the fact that since the last time I attempted Morrowind on Linux I have significantly upgraded my machine’s hardware (actually, I built an almost completely new computer, but for some reason I still talk about it as an “upgrade”). But after a few failed attempts at getting it to run at all on Wine, as I scoured the Internet for clues as to why I was having such a hard time, I stumbled across the OpenMW project.

Where have these guys been all my life? OpenMW is an open source game engine whose goal is twofold: (1) to act as a replacement for the proprietary TES 3 engine (it still uses the proprietary game assets, so you have to have a legit copy of the game, either CD or through Steam); and (2) to provide an open source platform for the development of future games. It is not pirated software, but an ingenious feat of reverse engineering (is it okay for me to say that?), one important application of which is the playing of Morrowind natively on what were formerly non-native platforms.

So how does it play? Well, I’ve only been playing for a little while (more to come tonight, guaranteed), but on my hardware (which is average – not very old, but not bleeding edge, either), it runs smooth as silk. High quality water textures slow it down a bit, but it handles transparency and even refraction like a champ on low quality water textures. Other than that, all my settings are pretty high (render distance is as far as it can be), and it runs more smoothly than it ever did when I played this game before on Windows XP (that was like 10 years ago or more; yikes!). Sounds run perfectly, which is saying something on Linux, because even games with a native Linux client – such as Civ 5 or Empire: Total War – really struggle in the sound department. But so far there is not even a hint of the weird clipping that plagues these and other games.

I don’t know how many people there are out there like me who own a copy of Morrowind and wanted to play it on Linux but found the whole experience frustrating. But IF you happen to be such a person, first of all let me say that I like your style. Secondly, however, check out the site for the OpenMW project. There’s also a good review and explanation of the project at thelinuxrain.com. I’m really excited to see how this project develops and also to see how it is used in the future as an engine for other games.