GameTap to bring classic gaming service for Mac

Beginning June 28th, Intel Mac gamers with a hankering for classic gaming will have a new place to go — GameTap, the same service that earlier this year brought Myst Online: Uru Live to the Macintosh.

GameTap — owned by cable broadcaster Turner Broadcasting System — is a two-year-old service for PC gamers that provides access to hundreds of “classic” arcade and console games using emulation software. Gamers pay a monthly rate for access to those games using special software they can download. The service fits right in with Turner Broadcasting System’s existing business, according to GameTap VP of Content Ricardo Sanchez.

Legal emulation

“Turner’s business is taking other people’s content, repackaging it, and repopularizing it,” said Sanchez. “The idea for GameTap was very much the same.”

Many of these games are available for play already on the Macintosh using existing emulation software and ROM image files. While emulators that have been properly reverse-engineered are perfectly legal, it’s generally illicit to exchange the ROM files that make them work. GameTap is properly licensed for all of those games, however.

GameTap recently began an online “portal” site billed as GameTap Beta. The Web site features access to a collection of dozens of individual games through a “Lite” player including classics like Robotron 2084, Joust and Space Invaders, Neo-Geo games like King of Fighters ‘95 and Robo Army, and more. That lineup changes periodically. It’s that “Lite” service that will debut on the Mac in late June, with the deluxe pay-to-play service to follow later this summer. The site also features video (called GameTap TV) and other exclusive content that Mac users will have access to at that time.

Now’s the right time for Mac

Sanchez, who once founded a site called MacGameNews and continues to use Macs, said that there was a confluence of events that caused GameTap to think that this was the right time to launch a Macintosh version of its service.

“We’ve been looking at the Mac market for a while, waiting for the right opportunity,” he said. “We also recently launched our portal product, and we didn’t want the Mac experience to be out of step with that. And Intel Mac penetration is far enough along that now is the right time.”

Like Myst Online: Uru Live, GameTap for Mac utilizes Cider, the translation layer technology from TransGaming that enables games made for PCs to run on Intel-based Macs. Cider recently grabbed headlines as the technology opted by Electronic Arts (EA) to bring six of its hit game franchises to the Mac this summer, including Madden NFL 08, Need for Speed Carbon and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Cider only works on Intel Macs, but Sanchez said that otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible to develop a Mac version of GameTap.

“If we were going to rearchitect everything that we were doing for the Mac it would cost us too much money,” said Sanchez. “There’s three years’ worth of work that went into this thing to make it launch. It would be really hard to make that work for the Mac.”

Sanchez notes that Cider imposes some performance limitations compared to a truly “native” Mac OS X version of GameTap, but said it shouldn’t be an issue. “The Intel Macs are already so powerful that the emulation layer doesn’t have any impact on performance,” he added.

While final system requirements are yet to be determined, GameTap for Mac should run on any Intel-based Mac, according to Sanchez, including MacBooks and Mac minis.

Access to hundreds of games

Mac users won’t get quite the same experience as their PC counterparts. Recently, GameTap has begun to offer Windows games for play, as well — everything from Tomb Raider to Far Cry, and more.

Those games won’t be accessible to Mac users, though Mac users will have access to all of GameTap’s arcade games and older PC games that were developed to run on DOS. And when the Deluxe version launches later this summer, Mac users will also have access to titles originally developed to run on Sega’s Saturn and Dreamcast consoles. Ultimately, Mac users will be able to count the number of games they’ll have access to in the hundreds, said Sanchez — more than 500, in fact.

“That subscription fee [for Deluxe] will also provide access to ‘Challenge’ games,” said Sanchez. Challenge games enable GameTap users to play online against each other, in games that support multiplayer. And as Cider is being used to enable Mac gamers to play with GameTap, they’ll be able to take on PC gamers in online challenges as well.

The Lite version should be a good entry point for Mac gamers that are a bit gunshy about what GameTap has to offer them, said Sanchez.

“We discovered that there were a huge number of bodies interested in GameTap, but they were taking a while to figure out if they wanted to pay,” said Sanchez. “So we’ve made some content free and ad-supported.”

Subscribe to the Best of Macworld Newsletter

Comments