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Aion: Playing Aion on Your Mac

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To some Mac MMORPG players, Aion is like a distant fortress located on the other side of some impassable geography. They stare longingly at it, wishing they could make the journey there. But, alas, the barriers are too great and the trip would take a long time without guarantee for success. Aion will be just one of those games, like many others, that they'll just miss out on.

But really, why should we miss out?

We have the tools at our fingertips to join the game world along with our fellow PC gamers, and using those tools doesn't mean shelling out wads of cash for a new Windows computer. Luckily for those of us on the Mac side of the OS-fence, Apple computers has come with a program called Boot Camp which allows us to boot into a Windows operating system. For the uninitiated, Boot Camp allows a Macintosh computer to set up a Windows partition on their hard drive, without reformatting it. Once Windows is installed, the user can then use bootcamp to install drivers for the Macintosh hardware, letting the Windows operating system recognize their graphics cards, touchpads, and so forth.

But, the real question: How well does Aion run on a Macintosh booted in Windows?

I'm happy to report that, from my experiences, it runs very well! Playing Aion on a Windows-booted Mac runs quite smoothly for me and nobody in-game would be able to tell I was on a Macintosh computer. I was able to run right alongside other players just as efficiently. Or, in a surprising number of cases, more efficiently, since I seemed oddly immune lag earlier in Open Beta. Of course, if you want to play, you have your work cut out for you. Setting up your Macintosh to run Aion isn't a small task and, once you have the game running, there are issues you will have to deal with.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to entry for most Mac players would be obtaining a copy of Windows. This requires spending some cash just to get started. When you do get a copy, you will have to set up the Windows partition and install the operating system on it. This I won't go into detail on, as the OSX install disks, which you will need, the Bootcamp application, and the Apple website all have instructions that give the steps for the entire process. For those who haven't done this before, be prepared to spend an hour or longer to complete the set up, as you'll need to make the partition, install Windows, download Aion, and then patch the game.

Once you have Windows on your computer and the Bootcamp drivers installed so that Windows recognizes your hardware, the next step would be to install Aion on your computer. Fortunately, this is straight forward. It's not until you get into the game where complications start to arise. First and foremost, many Apple mice and touchpads do not have a right-click feature. Newer models are much better about this, but older computers often lack them. Aion loves using the right-click for various features, so if you don't have that ability, you'll want to get at least a two-button mouse. You may also want to consider one if you're using a multi-touch pad. Even with the 1.1 version of the driver, Aion isn't friendly with it. Sure, it'll let you use it for right-clicking, but you can't do things such as rotate the camera and trying zoom is hyper-sensitive, causing the slightest motion to throw you into first person or birds-eye view.

Once you're in-game with your shiny new character, you may find yourself having to adjust your keys as the first thing you do. Mac laptops are lacking buttons such as "Page Up", which Aion uses for some of its more important features, namely flight. Luckily, you can adjust these without problem. However, since you can't save your keyboard scheme as a default, you'll have to do this on every single new character you create, which is a nuisance for those of us used to having all of our options and key settings pre-loaded. On the bright side, this is a fairly minor issue on its own and Windows users who like adjusting keys aren't immune.

The most noticeable issue with Aion is cinematic cutscenes. My Windows-using friend reports that they work just fine for her. However, in my case, I was suffering from stuttering and choppy audio throughout any cinematic, leading to the audio getting slightly out of synch or skipping. On worse occasions, the video would suffer the same trouble as well, resulting in something that resembled a movie with a badly scratched DVD. Fortunately, everywhere else in Aion this is not an issue. Gameplay and in-game cutscenes run smooth as silk. And, on the bright side, a thousand or so people will post the cutscenes on YouTube, so you won't have to miss out on them entirely if you're determined to see them.

Of course, depending on your hardware, your mileage may vary. With 4 gigabytes of RAM, a 2.4 GHz duo core processor, and a NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics card, I seem to be good to go. In fact, I lagged LESS on Aion while boot camped than I do playing City of Heroes in OSX, the latter of which has much lower system requirements. I suspect at least some others may find the same to be true, largely because I blame the fact CoH is emulated instead of truly ported, but it will depend on your system specs. Stronger and faster is better, of course. However, I do strongly suspect those using the notorious GMA 950 will have trouble with this game. While I don't have personal experience with the card, the horror stories I have heard about it give me doubts. But, until word says otherwise, don't let that stop you from trying if you're serious about playing Aion from your Mac. And finally, don't be entirely deterred if Boot Camp doesn't work for you. There are other programs out there, such as Parallels, which may do the trick.

Hopefully down the road NCSoft will do as they did for City of Heroes and port the game to Macintosh's native OSX operating system. Especially considering that running Aion through bootcamp isn't officially supported. If it were to suddenly stop working for all Mac users down the road, there's nothing we could do about it except go buy an actual windows computer. Hopefully that won't happen. And I doubtful it will, based on what I've seen with other games, such as the aforementioned City of Heroes. Not to mention, Boot Camp is very stable if you have a good, working copy of Windows, so any Mac incompatibility that ever arises would most likely be hardware related.

Until we get a port to the Mac side of the fence, those of us wishing to soar in the world of Atreia will need to use Boot Camp or other, similar programs. Someday our time will come. But, regardless of how we fight in Aion, whether it be running it in its native environment or drilling it through a session of Boot Camp, even today we're able to play with our PC brothers and sisters side by side.