Monday, July 19th, 2010

The State of Mac Gaming: “Good Enough”


THe following is an editorial by Chip of Two Minute Time Lord fame. He’s also a Apple fan and Mac gamer, and he’s got a few things to say about the current state of gaming on Apple platforms.

Even though Steam had come to the Mac, bringing with it some of my favorite games, I hesitated for a moment before pushing the magic button that would wipe out my MacBook Pro’s Boot Camp partition.

Of course, dual booting is a pain in the neck. So I’m now setting enemy players on fire in Team Fortress 2 within OS X. At a slower framerate.

Um, yay?

Don’t get me wrong. Valve’s migration to the Mac is unambiguously good. While there have always been good games on the Mac platform, it has perpetually lagged behind DOS and Windows for 26 years. Steam’s presence on the Mac offers a new pipeline for big-ticket and indie games alike — a new legitimacy that helps the Mac finally approach parity with the PC.

But it’s not all fun and games for Mac gamers. OS X isn’t yet tuned for gaming. TF2 is entirely playable in Snow Leopard, but runs better on the same hardware in Windows 7. Many PC games are ported to the Mac using Transgaming’s Cider Portability Engine, essentially translating Windows code to OS X on the fly at a performance and system integration cost.

Mac gamers still haven’t realized those heady expectations we had back when John Carmack rolled out a Quake 3 test for the Mac in 1999. In fact, one of the _reasons_ we’re approaching parity with the PC is because that’s a stagnating platform as well. For several years, the best answer to “What kind of Mac should I buy if I like to game?” was “Buy an economical Mac and a gaming console.” These days, that’s the best advice on both sides of the aisle. The MMORPG genre aside, gaming is now a console and handheld phenomenon.

Mac gaming can still be a profitable and enjoyable niche, though. Gaming on the desktop and laptop make sense for gamers both hardcore (MMOs, tweak-friendly FPSes) and more casual: the people who want to frag their colleagues during a break and then turn back to work on their Final Cut projects. Current Macs can run most ported games well with some system adjustments. Cider and Steam have lowered the cost of not only developing games for the Mac but also distributing them to customers, bypassing the increasingly antiquated shelves full of data discs.

In short, the state of Mac gaming is “good enough.” While there’s faster money to be made in developing games for Apple’s iOS devices, there’s still a healthy market on the Mac side that will continue to attract ports and indie creations. On the consumer side, gamers who consider switching to a Mac will find that gaming is much less of a trade-off than before.

Hop onto a Team Fortress 2 server, and it won’t be long before you see a player’s character decked out with iPod headphones. And you’ll realize that “good enough” actually _is_.

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