July 31, 2006

Cedega and Linux: Let the Windows games begin

Author: Stefan Vrabie

If there's one area where Linux distributions fall behind Windows, it's games. Most PC games are built for Windows. Where does that leave Linux users? With Cedega, a melding of Wine and DirectX developed by TransGaming. Today, Cedega 5.2.3 officially supports about 50 games, though in reality it can run a lot more.

For a mere $5 a month (with a minimum subscription of three months) you can get the latest version of the software, support, and the right to vote on which games TransGaming should work on to improve Cedega.

Browsing the TransGaming.org Games Database, you can spot blockbuster titles such as World of Warcraft, Civilization 4, Battlefield 2, Need for Speed Most Wanted, Half Life 2, Counter Strike, and Fifa 2006 -- just to name a few of the officially supported titles. In addition, the database includes more than 1,300 games that are reported to work -- more or less. Since Cedega is nothing more than a translation layer -- it translates DirectX and Windows API calls to OpenGL, OSS/ALSA, and Linux APIs -- not everything runs perfectly.

Installing Cedega is easy, but installing a game under Cedega isn't always simple. For example, to play Civilization 4 you have to install it configuring Cedega to emulate Windows 98, so the installer will copy some additional DLLs. You also need to install the DirectX version shipped with the game, then run the game using the Windows XP emulation -- and pray. If you wish to update Civilization 4 with the latest patch -- don't! Bringing the game up to version 1.61 means more crashes, so stick to 1.52 if possible. Even so, I haven't been able to play Civ4 under Cedega; the menus worked great, the intro movie as well, but as soon as it is finished loading a scenario or a quick game -- crash, boom, bang.

On the plus side, Doom 3 runs really well under Cedega, with no visual artifacts and no bugs at all -- but why anyone would want to run Doom through Cedega, when ID Software offers a Linux binary for Doom (which needless to say runs better since it's native), is a good question.

Need for Speed Most Wanted? Sure, but after you get it installed (which involves similar caveats to installing Civilization 4, or most games for that matter), use the lowest setting for shadows, and avoid "high" details if you don't want visual artifacts. Other than that, the game runs well and is playable.

Licensing issues

Cedega, which uses code from a lot of sources, is released under a mix of licenses, which means
that the source code to most of Cedega is available via CVS. Yet while Wine is now released under a
LGPL license, Cedega is proprietary software, which naturally creates some controversy around
TransGaming and its flagship project. While Cedega is using parts of the Wine project, it hasn't contributed much back to the project, simply because Cedega is not free software, and having a free alternative would harm business.

What's more, while creating precompiled binaries from the Cedega source code is both possible and
legal, it is strongly discouraged by TransGaming "as it affects TransGaming's ability to continue to
improve and develop the code," so "TransGaming reserves the right to change the license under which
TransGaming-owned copyright code is made available, and will not hesitate to do so if non-commercial distribution of pre-compiled binary packages adversely affects the financing of continued
development." This has come close to happening in the past, when Gentoo and Debian wanted to include
Cedega in their repositories.

For older games, sometimes Wine alone is a better option -- and sometimes not. For instance, Pocket Tanks runs perfectly from Cedega while Wine has serious sound issues with it. Jazz Jackrabbit 2 runs OK in Cedega, though with no fullscreen mode, yet works perfect with Wine. With Atomic Bomberman, you'll have no luck with Cedega, but perfect performance in Wine.

Generally speaking, games do work with Cedega, but most of the times (even for officially supported games) you should stay away from "high" details, and expect crashes. Yet that's better than not being able to play a game at all under Linux.

Commercial concerns

With Linux improving more and more as a desktop operating system, and with entertainment playing a big role in the life of a desktop operating, it's quite a vicious circle having gaming companies waiting for Linux to gain more popularity and users waiting for gaming companies to release Linux games to switch to a Linux distro.

There have been some first steps made, with ID Software, for example, which offers Linux binaries for games such as Quake 3, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Doom 3, and Quake 4. And then there's Cedega. But, as some users would argue, Cedega isn't encouraging gaming companies to develop games for Linux.

If nothing else, Cedega is a hybrid, much like the hybrid automobiles of today -– not the answer to pollution, just better than ordinary gas automobiles, until something better comes along. Similarly, Cedega may not be the answer to games under Linux, but it's better than not being able to play at all, until gaming companies notice Linux users as a market and release games for Linux.

The sad part is that even as an intermediate solution, Cedega is still more like "plug and pray" than "plug and play." Yet it deserves a look if you're into PC gaming.


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