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MMOS X: Is CrossOver a solution?

Mark Crump

MMOS X is a bi-weekly column dedicated solely to gaming on the Macintosh natively. "Running Boot Camp or Parallels" is not an option here. This column is for people who want to get the most out of their Mac gaming, as meager as it is.

In the header blurb to this column, I state that "Running Boot Camp or Parallels is not an option here." I stand by that still. I don't think that dual-booting or loading XP within a virtual desktop is the solution any of us want. Dual booting takes up valuable hard drive space that I could use to store large media files of consenting adults. Running Parallels throws another layer of processor overhead when I run XP within Parallels within OS X. Not to mention Parallels' DirectX support is poor. Note: I haven't tried VMWare's Fusion, which is the competitor to Parallels.

A week or so ago, our own Mike Schramm wrote up a little piece on TUAW about CrossOver Games. CrossOver Games lets you run some Windows games within an emulator. It's not a pure virtual environment like Parallels, so you don't have the overhead of running two OSs. When I read Mike's piece, my first thought was, "huh." My second thought was, "Huh, I wonder if there's a middle ground here somewhere." At the risk out sounding like I'm eating my own words, CrossOver might be enough of a compromise that doesn't involve buying a copy of Windows to game on a Mac.

Look, I'm as big a proponent of Macintosh-native code as the next Kool-Aid drinker. When every game developer follows Blizzard's lead and releases retail boxes with both Windows and Macintosh versions, I'll finally be able to take off my sandwich board, get off the streets and trade in my tattered robes for a nice suit. I'll probably also get a haircut. Until that day comes -- which I'm sure will be followed by aviating sows, a cure for hunger, and a resolution to the Middle East peace crisis -- I know I'm going to have to suck up a certain amount of pride and try and find some sort of compromise. While I'm against virtualization and dual booting, I started to wonder if maybe some sort of emulation might be ok.

So, I downloaded CrossOver Games. There's a free seven-day trial; after that it's a $40 purchase. Also, for disclosure purposes, this is in no way to be considered a time-tested review; the best I've done is get some games to load and do a little combat to see how things go. Therefore, this is just my view on how things went, and what I think the future might bring.

Out of the box CrossOver Games supports two MMOs: Guild Wars and EVE (it also runs Half Life, but since this an MMO piece we'll focus on those). EVE has a Mac-native client so we'll ignore that. I installed Guild Wars and about 15 minutes later I was presented with the Guild Wars login screen. At least, I thought it was the login screen. I could see the fields where I needed to enter in my account info and some of the background image, but that was it. "Huh," I thought. "This kinda sucks."

Fortunately, CodeWeavers has a good forum with helpful people. Reading up on the Guild Wars' Tip and Tricks section told me the command-line switches I needed to run the game and where to apply them (mostly related to turning off the shaders). A few minutes later, boom, I was in Guild Wars.

Now, I've got a Macbook, so I wasn't expecting the greatest in performance. To further skew any performance matrixes I was downloading a trial and ripping a CD into iTunes (live Motley Crue, in case you were wondering). However, I found performance to be solidly in the "not bad" category.

One supported MMO does not a $40 purchase make. Fortunately, there's a list of unsupported MMOs I started reading about on the forums. One of them was City of Heroes/Villains. I downloaded the client off NCsoft's site, loaded CrossOver, told it to install unsupported software and pointed it to the CoH installer. About an hour later it was done patching and presented me with what was allegedly the login screen. Yep, same deal as before. Back to the forums, where I learned what switches I needed to apply and tweaks to the CrossOver Control Panel I needed to apply. A few minutes later, boom, I was in City of Villains.

After this, things got a little dicey. People have reported success getting EverQuest and Lord of the Rings Online working, but they require actual components from a Windows install to work. In EverQuest's case, it allegedly just needs d3dx9_30.dll, which shouldn't be all that hard to get. Lord of the Rings Online, however, requires access to a Windows install to patch the game, pretty much negating the point in my book.

You will note getting these two games running required a little bit of research. The Steve Jobs Boom Factor (TM and patent pending) came about only after a bit of forum reading and trial and error. The list of MMOs people have had success getting to work is small. If you add in the list of single-player games people have had success with, however, the balance starts to tip in CrossOver's favor. I've been stymied finding Baldur's Gate II for the Mac since it went out of print, so buying CrossOver to run it might make me reach for my wallet.

While my fantasy world has every developer creating nice little Universal Binaries for every game they make, the reality is that's not going to happen, especially for older games. Working through CrossOver, though, made me think with a little developer cooperation, more games could at least work through this emulator. Clicking on the Guild Wars and CoH icons gave me acceptable load times. I didn't have to wait for a full version of Windows XP to load, and both applications loaded about as fast as I'd expect from a Universal Binary.

Unless I've had my head in the sand, no new big-time MMO has plans to release an OS X version. So, we're years away from seeing this situation improve. Programs like CrossOver, though, might help us cross the divide in the meantime. Just be prepared for some trial and error while waiting for your boom.

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