Let the games begin!

Alex Kidman
17 January, 2008
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Before I start, a quick confession. While I’ve been an avid gamer for most of my life, I’ve not really been a Mac gamer per se. Well, actually, I should clarify that statement — I haven’t been a Mac gamer in the most recent phase of my gaming life. I’ve come across some of my favourite games ever on Apple platforms, just not all that recently. Titles that have eaten up countless hours of my life first came to my attention on Macs — titles like Sim City or Prince Of Persia spring immediately to mind. Going back a little further in Apple’s history, there were titles like Karateka and B.C’s Quest For Tires. Stop giggling in the back there, or I’ll thwack you with my old-man stick … if I can remember where I left it.

Anyway, wandering around the games pavilion at Macworld Expo — in the quieter and generally less hectic West Moscone Center in San Francisco — shows off exactly what’s working well for Mac gaming. Now, there is the issue that a lot of titles are ports from PC games, some several years old — that’s nothing new, really. The thing is, it’s not a bad thing at all; the titles on display in the games pavilion are largely the best of the best, and in some significant cases, they’re actually better.

Chatting with Feral Interactive’s Edwin Smith — Feral produces Mac ports of PC games such as Lego Star Wars II, Tomb Raider: Anniversary and Colin McRae Rally — he noted that as often as it’s possible, and where their licensees will let them, they’ll actively work to improve games from their PC originals. In some cases, that’s just removing bugs — and that’s something that plagues the PC games sphere to an astonishing degree — but for plenty of titles, they’re offering features over and above the PC originals. Smith used the example of Feral Interactive’s port of Lionhead’s "The Movies" where Feral added the ability to import GarageBand soundtracks into the game.

Smith also commented that the company is looking into licensing even older titles to satisfy the existing G4/G5 market, as well as those Mac users on the more limited Intel GMA950 chip set. While he couldn’t be drawn on which titles the company was pursuing, that’s an amazing change of pace from the PC Market, where frankly if you haven’t just spent several thousand dollars on the latest gaming rig, chances are your games just won’t run. Virtually none of the major studios even start to think about producing games for older technology — and in PC games, even six months can be "old" — thus losing out on a huge and potentially very lucrative market.

The big advantage in waiting, however, is in the overall quality of the what’s on offer. Even EA, who have quite recently made massive strides into the Mac games market (albeit via Cider translation rather than dedicated Mac ports) really only have their best and brightest coming over to the Mac. EA makes some great games — but it’s also guilty of making a whole lot of shovel-ware games, especially those centred around major movie licences. Believe me, the Mac gaming community is better off without those titles. There’s also the rather obvious point that a good game is a good game, period, even if you’re playing it a year or more after it comes out.

There are even signs that this attitude of waiting may be in its final days. EA’s April Jones enthusiastically demonstrated Will Wright’s Spore for the assembled crowd. EA was exclusively showing off the game’s creature creator at Macworld, and although it’s still not available ("In 2008" was all Jones could be drawn on) for any platform, EA will release it simultaneously on Mac and PC platforms. Moving forward, EA hopes to adopt this model for "many" of their PC games titles — although again, predictably, representatives wouldn’t name specific titles that would definitely get this treatment apart from the upcoming Spore.

Then there’s iPod gaming. There were fewer iPod games titles on display than full-sized ones, and obviously there are more Apple-related hoops to jump through to get an iPod game up and running. Still, there’s yet another huge market out there for portable gaming, and if Nintendo can make a small fortune (side note: Do a Google Image search for "Nintendo DS it prints money" for a good meme-based example of this) from portable gaming, there’s no reason that Apple and associated games companies can’t do so as well.

As such, Apple gamers are in a great position; some of the best versions of some of only the best games, with plenty of promise for future titles at the same time as PC gamers. There’s not too much wrong with that picture.

Well, except for the fact that there’s still no sign of B.C’s Quest For Tires 2008…

Alex Kidman travelled to Macworld San Francisco as a guest of Apple.

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