EVE Online developers outline Mac conversion

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When EVE Online debuts on the Mac platform in the coming weeks, it will be thanks to technologies like Python and Cider, the massively multiplayer game’s developers told attendees at an annual gathering of gaming enthusiasts.

In a roundtable discussion at this week’s EVE Online Fanfest in Reykjavik, Iceland, the developers and quality assurance staff responsible for bringing the game to the Mac and Linux platforms discussed some of the issues involved bringing the game to new platforms.

EVE Online is a new massively multiplayer online game coming to the Mac within the next couple of weeks. Set in outer space, it enables gamers to fly spaceships as they mine, salvage, build industry, develop huge fleets and ultimately go to war with each other in a huge, shared online universe. It’s developed a cadre of very hardcore enthusiasts numbering about 150,000 worldwide.

Mac version transparency

“Very little of the code base is Windows-specific,” explained Shay McAulay of CCP Games, whose QA team is responsible for vetting the Mac version of EVE Online. “Most of our code depends on Python.”

Python is a high-level scripting language that is platform-agnostic. As a result, the conversion of EVE Online to platforms other than Windows has been fairly straightforward.

To manage the actual conversion work, CCP recruited TransGaming Technologies, developers of the Cider technology that EA has used to bring its games to the Macintosh. Cider enables Intel-based Macs to run Windows applications without needing Windows installed. Essentially, it’s a translation layer that runs on Mac OS X, explained Lucas Smithen, TransGaming’s product manager for Cider.

“It takes the onus off the game developers to have to maintain different branches of code for different platforms,” he explained.

“The game is still running the same core instruction set, regardless of platform,” said Sean Langley, TransGaming’s producer for EVE Online. “We’re simply providing an environment for the Windows product to run in. There’s no translation of code.”

“In fact, we’ve found that in some cases, such as model loading, the Mac version actually runs a bit faster than the Windows version, because of efficiencies in the Mac file system,” said McAuley.

To that end, the Cider translation layer takes Windows-specific instructions for rendering graphics, sound and other information and provides a Mac equivalent. Windows-specific DirectX graphics, for example, are rendered as OpenGL objects. (OpenGL is the 3-D Application Programming Interface (API) that Macs use to display graphics.) Windows DirectSound audio is translated to Core Audio, the technology Macs use to produce audio effects.

There are some drawbacks to this approach. For one thing, it limits the game to working only on Intel-based Macs. PowerPC-based systems, which still number in the millions, are left out of the loop. There’s also a slight performance penalty, but TransGaming tries to keep that within a 15 percent or less difference with the Windows clients. That means that a Mac running Boot Camp may be able to run at about 100 frames per second, while the same Mac running EVE Online in Cider will run at 85 frames per second—still plenty fast enough for the average EVE Online user, said Langley.

Distribution same as Windows version

EVE Online is distributed as a download available from the EVE Online Web site. It will be the same for Mac and Linux users. And Mac and Linux users will be able to play in the same persistent online universe—called “Tranquility”—as Windows users. That means that EVE Online players all participate in the same area, regardless of platform.

Mac and Linux users will have access to all of the same areas in the game as their PC counterparts. CCP Games has been touting an upgrade to their graphics engine, called “Trinity 2,” and that also will be coming to the Mac and Linux—though it will lag behind the PC release. As a result, Mac users will be playing EVE Online “Classic” at first. The “Premium” release, containing the new Trinity 2 engine, is tentatively expected for release on the Mac and Linux some time in the first quarter of 2008.

CCP Games is also overhauling other aspects of the game, such as its network layer—a big boon to players who complain of network lag when taking on large armadas of opposing forces. Most of those changes will be available to both Classic and Premium users going forward.

This story, "EVE Online developers outline Mac conversion" was originally published by PCWorld.

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