Toasting Mac games with Cider

Last week, TransGaming announced Cider, a new game technology for Intel-based Macs that promises to shorten the time to market for Macintosh games. I sat down with TransGaming’s Chief Technology Officer Gavriel State to discuss Cider in between sessions at this week’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Cider enables Intel-based Macs to run Windows games, but it does so in a fundamentally different way than users can now—namely using Apple’s Boot Camp software and a copy of Windows. Instead, Cider “wraps” the Windows game so you don’t need Windows to be installed on your Mac; this enables you to run Windows games that have been adapted using Cider directly from Mac OS X itself.

Cider is an outgrowth of work that TransGaming has developed over the past six years that it sells to Linux users as Cedega, according to State. It’s a long-evolved descendant of the open source translation technology WINE, which TransGaming diverged from long ago as the company sought to provide a more fluid gaming experience to Linux users.

Windows gaming without the stench

Although Cider wraps the Windows game, TransGaming is still shooting for a fundamentally Mac-like gaming experience, according to State. “It is a Mac product,” State said. “The fact that underneath, part of it is running as a Windows EXE file is irrelevant.”

What’s more, State said, Cider can be extended using Mac-specific features. “You can have a Windows executable that makes a call to a Win32 DLL [Dynamic Linked Library] that can be compiled natively on the Mac,” he added.

In this way, Cider-wrapped games could conceivably incorporate more Apple-oriented technologies, such as Bonjour zero-configuration networking or iSight Webcam support, for example.

TransGaming hopes to see PC game publishers take a greater interest in vetting their games for use with Cider, eventually selling a single game disc that can be installed on Windows or Mac OS X installations.

“We have the potential for a same day-and-date hybrid release,” State said. “Then PC game publishers can take advantage of their existing marketing and distribution resources [to reach Mac users].”

Gamers familiar with Windows titles know that they often have to struggle with InstallShield wizards and other software that can complicate the game-playing experience. With Cider, State said, that’s not the case—TransGaming is shooting for a drag-and-drop Mac application experience. For games built with Cider, you simply open the CD or DVD the game is installed on, drag it to your Mac’s application folder, run it, and begin to play.

New business model

Cider could also change the nature of the Mac game conversion market. Companies like Aspyr, MacSoft, Feral Interactive and Virtual Programming take existing PC titles and extensively rework the source code to get it to run on the Mac. That can take months, even as much as a year or more in some cases. With Cider, the game conversion process is counted in days or weeks. And while TransGaming is focused on bringing PC game publishers into the Mac fold, it’s not precluding doing deals with Mac game companies, as well.

“We’re open to talking with different companies,” State said.

While it’s hard to pin down exactly how long it takes to adapt a game to run on Mac OS X using Cider, State said it’s usually a matter of weeks. What’s more, in some cases, Cider developers don’t even need to see the game’s original source code in order to get it to work on Mac OS X—an enormous time-saver for companies who work on Mac game conversions.

An appealing aspect of Cider for game publishers is that TransGaming isn’t expecting a licensing fee up front; instead, it wants to share the revenue of a game that’s been adapted using Cider. State says that it’s entirely possible using server-based authentication and other forms of security to see whether a new player registering a game is playing that game inside of Cider or natively on a Windows machine.

A bright future for Mac games

“We think there’s a viable market for games on the Mac platform,” State said. “I really believe that even today, with the existing Mac game market the way it is, there’s a lot of potential.”

“There are publishers who are in the Mac game market today and are making money. What’s really exciting, though, is Apple’s transition to an Intel architecture. What Cider offers gives us an example of what can be done with this exceptional new hardware,” State added.

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