'Cider' makes Windows games run on Intel Macs

Coming soon: Windows games that will run on Intel Macs thanks to TransGaming’s new Cider software. There’s no rebooting involved and no separate Windows partition to be installed. It all happens transparently.

TransGaming, which several years ago dipped its toes in the Mac game market with conversions from leading Mac game publishers, is taking another step into the Mac market, this time adopting their Cedega technology for Linux to run on Intel-based Macs. The result is a forthcoming series of games from PC game publishers that TransGaming’s CEO Vikas Gupta calls a “transparent” experience for Mac gamers.

“Cider games will run as if they were made for Mac OS X,” Gupta told Macworld in a recent interview.

With Cider, Mac users’ long wait for Mac OS X-native games is a thing of the past — Mac users will be able to run Cider-enhanced Windows games simultaneously or nearly simultaneously with their PC counterparts, said Gupta.

Cider that’s distilled from WINE

One thing that makes Cider different is that the game is effectively “wrapped” with TransGaming’s technology. Users pop in a disc, install the game, and run it just as they would a standard Mac OS X application. But instead of Mac OS X, the game remains a Windows application. Cider, meanwhile, translates on the fly the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that the game needs to call in order to work.

This is significantly different than Apple’s Boot Camp software, which requires Intel Mac users to restart their systems in order to work with Windows XP applications. It’s also very different from Parallels Desktop, which uses virtual machine technology built into the Intel chips Apple uses in its new Macs to enable users to run Windows and Windows applications inside of a window on their Mac OS X desktop — that doesn’t provide graphics acceleration and other things needed to run Windows games on the Mac.

Instead, Cider is conceptually similar to CrossOver, CodeWeavers’ recently announced software that will enable Macs to run Windows applications on Mac OS X.

In fact, CrossOver, Cider and Cedega all have their roots in WINE. An acronym for WINE Is Not an Emulator, the software is an open source effort to make Linux-based computers run Windows application, not through emulation but through a translation layer that handles Windows-specific application code dynamically.

“Cider is quite considerably removed from WINE,” said Gupta. “They branched about three and a half years ago.”

Gupta said that while WINE remains a general-purpose translation environment and CrossOver is more aimed at business application users than gamers, TransGaming’s Cider is specifically focused on getting Windows games to run well on Intel-based Macs. Also, because Cider “wraps” the Windows games, there isn’t a separate Cider software environment that needs to be maintained — it’s built right into the games themselves.

Gupta said that Cider doesn’t increase the risk of being infected by Windows viruses or malware, either. “It’s a closed environment, thoroughly protected on our end as well,” he said. “We’re giving Mac users the experience they’ve always had. We understand Mac users and the Apple look and feel.”

The Cider press

TransGaming is already working with several PC game publishers to bring forth Cider-vetted games — Gupta said a half-dozen new titles are already in the works. The company takes the game, optimizes Cider to work with it and then returns the enhanced game to the publisher for further quality assurance (QA).

“We do our own Quality Assurance and testing,” Gupta said. “The publisher will do their own QA to give the game their stamp of approval.”

“One thing that makes this remarkable is that we’re not asking for any money up front,” said Gupta. “We’re using a revenue sharing model.”

Gupta said that PC games running using Cider on an Intel-based Mac provide near-native performance. “The average user won’t be able to discern any difference,” he said.

Though in some cases, Gupta indicated users are bound to see 10 to 15 percent lower frame rates than they would in a truly native game.

Apple is infamous among game developers for significantly changing OpenGL and other APIs needed for games during maintenance upgrades to operating systems. In many cases, this has broken compatibility with popular games, forcing developers to release point updates for their games to restore their ability to work on the Mac.

“The process [for Cider] is no different than it is today,” said Gupta. “Apple knows what we’ve been doing, we’ve had a good relationship with them for a long time. We’re confident we’ll be apprised of major changes when they happen. But with or without Apple’s help, we can make changes quickly and get updates out to our users.”

Fresh Cider in October

Gupta estimates that Mac users will begin seeing Cider-enhanced games appear on store shelves in October, in time for the holidays. Initially, Cider-enhanced games for the Mac will appear on store shelves in their own boxes, separate from their PC counterparts.

But Gupta said that TransGaming is hoping to see simultaneous releases for Mac and PC, perhaps even in the same box, if Mac gamers and PC game publishers both like the taste of Cider.

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