Helps to read release notes. I just noticed this when reading the 11.1 release notes.
3D rendering is not available in some guest operating systems if you use virtual hardware version 11
If you upgrade a virtual machine from virtual hardware version 10 to 11, you might lose 3D functionality in the virtual machine.
Workaround: For Windows guest operating systems, upgrade VMware Tools to the latest version, which is included with Workstation 11. For Linux guests, only the following distributions are currently supported for virtual hardware version 11:
- Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and above
- Ubuntu 12.04.5 LTS and above
- Fedora 20 with latest updates and above
For other Linux distributions and versions, if you plan to use 3D functionality, downgrade the virtual hardware version to 10.
So I downgraded my virtual hardware to 10, repeated the hoop jumps to re-build the xserver-xorg-video-vmware guy (Debian Wheezy) and now I'm all set.
I did notice a little while back that Jessie appears to work off the bat with Hardware version 11, but there is currently another unresolved issue there that makes using Jessie in VMware not worth the effort unless you are willing to cherry pick a few upstream fixes and jump through more hoops.