February 8, 2002

So long, Loki; TransGaming is ready to satisfy our gaming needs

Author: JT Smith

- by Tina Gasperson -
Just because Loki's dead and gone,
doesn't mean that Linux gamers won't be
able to satisfy the urge to play with
anything other than a Windows partition.
TransGaming's WineX project is poised to
fill the Linux gaming void.

When I met him at LinuxWorld Expo in New York City, TransGaming CEO Gavriel
State said the conference was so businesslike this time, he didn't
even bring his sword with him. But he
still wore his medieval hat with the
feather in it. He pulls it off well,
looking dashing instead of dorky,
comfortable enough with his ambience
that I didn't even notice the hat until
he mentioned his affinity for fencing.

When I found him, State was busy at the Mandrake booth showing off Windows
games running on Linux laptops. Behind that, a 21-inch LCD displayed The Sims chugging away on what you'd never
know was a Linux machine if you weren't at LinuxWorld. With a smile and loads of
patience, he explained to me how WineX was working to make the games run.

Going back in time, State used to work for Corel, and he was
part of the massive effort to get Corel
apps working on Linux. "After some consideration, we decided that
it made more sense to concentrate our efforts on
improving the Wine project rather than trying to rewrite tens of millions
of lines of code in WordPerfect Office and
CorelDraw," State said in an interview
at GameSpy.

Admiring the efficiency of the process, he got some ideas, left
Corel and started TransGaming with a
goal of "nothing less than 100% compatibility for running Windows games on
Linux through Wine." That was December of 2000. About a year later, Transgaming
was already announcing its deal with Linux-Mandrake to release a gaming edition
of Mandrake 8.1 that included a Linux version of the popular The Sims game.

WineX is TransGaming's version of Wine (Wine is not an emulator), optimized for
3D gaming. WineX uses a new implemention of DirectX APIs to get Windows games
running in Linux. Users have reported getting dozens of games to work with WineX
-- but there are still problems to work out, and hundreds more existing
games and new games coming out every day. Because every game uses different APIs
and different combinations of APIs, it will take a while before TransGaming
perfects the WineX code so that all Windows games will work out of the box.

In the meantime, the WineX binaries are available from TransGaming on a
subscription basis. Purchasing the $5-per-month subscription entitles you to
vote on which games TransGaming should support. Not only that, but State says
that when the subscriber base hits 20,000 users, TransGaming will free up the
WineX code by releasing it under a less restrictive license. Right now, it is
available under the Aladdin Free Public License, which forbids commercial
redistribution of the code. TransGaming won't say specifically which
license it will release the code under if the subscriber base grows

The Mandrake 8.1 gaming version includes a copy of The Sims, brought to you by
TransGaming and Electronic Arts. This isn't your garden variety Windows CD,
though. It only works on Linux. Kind of an "instant port."

State explains: "We have an exclusive license with Electronic Arts to distribute
a Linux version of The Sims. When we signed that agreement, we gained access to
the source code." Because TransGaming developers didn't have just the binaries to work with, they
were able to create a customized version of WineX that is "tuned" for The Sims.

The "port" happened quickly because, using WineX as a base, the developers
didn't have to rewrite large portions of the code, a problem that plagued Loki
throughout its existence. "It took us only eight weeks from when we received the
source code, to the point where we were able to release the Linux optimized
version to manufacturing. Much of that eight weeks was spent on extensive
testing by our internal quality assurance team, and the QA teams at Electronic
Arts and Mandrake," says State.

Ironically, TransGaming doesn't support the Windows version of The Sims.
Apparently it's difficult to get the Windows binaries of that game working under
WineX. "It requires a 3D renderer that is implemented in software, not hardware,
since it needs to mix pre-rendered objects, (like the furniture) with the
real-time rendered Sims characters," he says. Because the regular WineX is built
to work with hardware rendering that happens with popular 3D video cards like
NVidia's GForce, it won't work with The Sims that you'll find on the shelf next
to Baldur's Gate and Black & White.

State wasn't forthcoming with NewsForge about the business decisions behind
veering away from the company's standard operating procedure to create a specially
optimized version of The Sims. Maybe it's Mandrake CEO Jacques le Marois'
favorite game. Regardless, the partners have a reliable hit in The Sims for Linux, at
least as part of the Mandrake 8.1 package. It installs easily and it "just
works" -- a relief for people tired of fiddling with things and eager to play.

State, along with TransGaming president Vikas Gupta and marketing director Cathy
Tanner, hinted at some super special future plans for TransGaming, but wouldn't
go into any details. Just before State slapped the duct tape over Gupta's mouth,
I thought I heard something about porting to other platforms, but I can't be
sure. And you didn't hear that from me -- I wouldn't want to make State angry. He might come after
me with that sword.

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