Mac gaming

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Mac gaming refers to use of video games on Macintosh personal computers. In the 1990s, Apple computers did not attract the same level of video game development as Windows computers due to the high popularity of Windows and, for 3D gaming, Microsoft's DirectX technology. In recent years, the introduction of Mac OS X and support for Intel processors has eased porting of many games, including 3D games through use of OpenGL. Virtualization technology and Boot Camp also permit the use of Windows and its games on Macintosh computers. Today, a growing number of popular games run natively on Mac OS X, though most require the use of Windows.

Early game development on the Mac

Prior to the release of the first Macintosh computer, a number of marketing executives at Apple were concerned that including a game in the finished operating system would aggravate the impression that the graphical user interface made the Mac toy-like.[1] More critically, the limited amount of RAM in the original Macintosh meant that fitting a game into the operating system would be very difficult.[1] Eventually, Andy Hertzfeld created a desk accessory called Puzzle that occupied only 600 bytes of memory. This was deemed small enough to be safely included in the operating system, and it shipped with the Mac when released in 1984.[1] With Puzzle—the first computer game specifically for a mouse—the Macintosh became the first computer with a game in its ROM,[2] and it would remain a part of the Mac OS for the next ten years, until being replaced in 1994 with Jigsaw, a jigsaw puzzle game included as part of Mac OS 7.5.

During the development of the Mac, a chess game similar to Archon based on Alice in Wonderland was shown [1] to the development team. The game was written by Steve Capps for the Apple Lisa computer, but could be easily ported to the Macintosh. The completed game was shown at the Mac's launch and released a few months later under the title Through the Looking Glass, but Apple failed to put much marketing effort into ensuring its success and the game was not a top seller.

By the mid-1980s most computer companies avoided the term "home computer" because of its association with the image of, as Compute! wrote, "a low-powered, low-end machine primarily suited for playing games". Apple's John Sculley, for example, denied that his company sold home computers; rather, he said, Apple sold "computers for use in the home".[3] In 1990 the company reportedly refused to support joysticks on its low-cost Macintosh LC and IIsi computers to prevent customers from considering them as "game machine"s.[4] Game development on the Macintosh nonetheless continued, with titles such as Dark Castle (1986), Microsoft Flight Simulator (1986) and SimCity (1989), though mostly games for the Mac were developed alongside those for other platforms. Notable exceptions were Myst (1993), developed on the Mac (in part using HyperCard) and only afterwards ported to Windows,[5] Pathways into Darkness, which spawned the Halo franchise, The Journeyman Project, Lunicus, Spaceship Warlock, and Jump Raven. As Apple was the first manufacturer to ship CD-ROM drives as standard equipment (on the Macintosh IIvx and later Centris models), many of the early CD-ROM based games were initially developed for the Mac, especially in an era of often confusing Multimedia PC standards.


The Apple Pippin (also known as the Bandai Pippin) was a multimedia player based on the Power Mac that ran a cut-down version of the Mac OS designed, among other things, to play games. Sold between 1996 and 1998 in Japan and the United States, it was not a commercial success, with fewer than 42,000 units sold and fewer than a thousand games and software applications supported.[6]

Attempts by Apple to promote gaming on Mac

Apple has at times attempted to market the platform for gaming. In April 1999, Steve Jobs gave an interview with the UK-based Arcade magazine to promote the PowerPC G3-based computers Apple were selling with then new ATI Rage 128 graphics cards, and describing how Apple was "trying to build the best gaming platform in the world so developers are attracted to write for it" and "trying to leapfrog the PC industry".[7]

Original Mac games

Although currently most big-name Mac games are ports, this has not always been the case. Perhaps the most popular game which was originally developed for the Macintosh was 1993's Myst, by Cyan. It was ported to Windows the next year, and Cyan's later games were released simultaneously for both platforms with the exception of Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, which was Windows-only until a Mac-compatible re-release (currently in beta) by GameTap in 2007, with the help of TransGaming's Cider virtualization software.

Another popular Mac game was the Marathon series of first-person shooters. These games were released in the wake of the popular DOOM, which defined the first-person shooter genre, but contained many innovations new or uncommon in similar games from the time, such as weapons with two functions, and the ability for the player to look and fire up and down, swim through liquids, fight alongside allied characters, and wield two weapons at once. Bungie Studios would port the second in the series, Marathon 2: Durandal, to the Windows platform, where it met with some success. They also ported their post-Marathon games Myth and Oni to Windows. At the 1999 Macworld Conference & Expo in New York, Bungie showed a demonstration of a new game entitled Halo, to be released for the Mac the next year; before this happened, Bungie was purchased by Microsoft. Halo was released exclusively for the Xbox video game console in 2001. The Macintosh and Windows versions of the game did not arrive until late 2003, almost four and a half years after its original announcement at Macworld. Today, there are many companies both large and small creating original games for the Macintosh; however, following a trend in the industry, these tend to be lower-budget "casual" games with simple graphics that are easy to pick up and play in short bursts, as opposed to high-budget "hardcore" games that are more graphically intensive and require large investments in time to play and master.

Windows games

A particular problem for companies attempting to port Windows games to the Macintosh is licensing middleware. Middleware is off-the-shelf software that handles certain aspects of games, making it easier for game creators to develop games in return for paying the middleware developer a licensing fee. However, since the license the Mac porting house obtains from the game creator does not normally include rights to use the middleware as well, the Mac porting company must either license the middleware separately or attempt to find an alternative.[8] Examples of middleware include the Havok physics engine and the GameSpy internet-based multiplayer gaming client.

Because of the smaller market, companies developing games for the Mac usually seek a lower licensing fee than Windows developers. When the middleware company refuses such terms porting that particular Windows game to the Mac may be uneconomical and engineering a viable alternative within the available budget impossible.[8] As a result, some popular games which use the Havok engine have not yet been ported to the Macintosh.

In other cases, workaround solutions may be found. In the case of GameSpy, one workaround is to limit Mac gamers to play against each other but not with users playing the Windows version.[8] However, in some cases, GameSpy has been reverse-engineered and implemented into the Mac game, so that it is able to network seamlessly with the Windows version of the game.[citation needed]

In-house porting

Only a few companies have developed or continue to develop games for both the Mac and Windows platforms. Notable examples of these are TransGaming, Aspyr, Big Fish Games, Blizzard Entertainment, Brøderbund, Linden Lab, and Microsoft. In many ways this is an ideal situation: those creating the Mac version have direct access to the original programmers in case any questions or concerns arise about the source code. It also increases the likelihood that the Mac and Windows versions of a game will launch concurrently or nearly so, as many obstacles inherent in the third-party porting process are avoided. Another benefit of in-house porting, if carried out simultaneously with game development, is that the company can release hybrid discs, easing game distribution and largely eliminating the shelf space problem.

Among the Mac versions of popular Windows games that were developed in-house are Diablo, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Second Life, Stubbs the Zombie, Call of Duty 4, and World of Warcraft.

Third-party porting

Most high-budget games that come to the Macintosh are originally created for Microsoft Windows and ported to the Mac operating system by one of a relatively small number of porting houses. Among the most notable of these are Aspyr, Feral Interactive, MacSoft Games, Red Marble Games, Coladia Games, and MacPlay. A critical factor for the financial viability of these porting houses is the number of copies of the game sold; a "successful" title may sell only 50,000 units.[9]

The licensing deal between the original game developer and the porting house may be a flat one-time payment, a percentage of the profits from the Mac game's sale, or both.[citation needed] While this license gives the porting house access to artwork and source code, it does not normally cover middleware such as third-party game engines.[8] Modifying the source code to the Macintosh platform may be difficult as code for games is often highly optimized for the Windows operating system and Intel-compatible processors. The latter presented an obstacle in previous years when the Macintosh platform utilized PowerPC processors due to the difference in endianness between the two types of processors, but as today's Macintosh computers employ Intel processors as well, the obstacle has been mitigated somewhat. One example of common work for a porting house is converting graphics instructions targeted for Microsoft's DirectX graphics library to instructions for the OpenGL library; DirectX is favored by most Windows game developers, but is incompatible with the Macintosh.

Due to the time involved in licensing and porting the product, Macintosh versions of games ported by third-party companies are usually released anywhere from three months to more than a year after their Windows-based counterparts. For example, the Windows version of Civilization IV was released on October 25, 2005, but Mac gamers had to wait eight months until June 30, 2006 for the release of the Mac version.

Boot Camp

In April 2006 Apple released a beta version of Boot Camp, a product which allows Intel-based Macintoshes to boot directly into Windows XP or Windows Vista. The reaction from Mac game developers and software journalists to the introduction of Boot Camp has been mixed, ranging from assuming the Mac will be dead as a platform for game development to cautious optimism that Mac owners will continue to play games within Mac OS rather than by rebooting to Windows.[10][11][12] The number of Mac ports of Windows games released in 2006 was never likely to be very great, despite the steadily increasing number of Mac users.[13]

Emulation and virtualization

Over the years there have been a number of emulators for the Macintosh that allowed it to run MS-DOS or Windows software, most notably RealPC, SoftPC, SoftWindows, and Virtual PC. Although more or less adequate for business applications, these programs have tended to deliver poor performance when used for running games, particularly where high-end technologies like DirectX were involved.[14]

Since the introduction of the Intel processor into the Macintosh platform, Windows virtualization software such as Parallels Desktop for Mac and VMware Fusion have been seen as more promising solutions for running Windows software on the Mac operating system.[citation needed]In some ways they are better solutions than Boot Camp, as they do not require rebooting the machine. VMware Fusion's public beta 2 supports hardware-accelerated 3D graphics which utilize the DirectX library up to version 9.[15] Parallels Desktop for Mac version 3.0 has announced support for GPU acceleration, allowing Mac users to play Windows-based games.[16]

Wine-based projects

TransGaming Technologies has developed a product called Cider which is a popular method among publishers to port games to Mac[citation needed]. Cider's engine enables publishers and developers to target Mac OS X. It shares much of the same core technology as TransGaming's Linux Portability Engine, Cedega. Public reception of games ported with Cider is mixed, due to inconsistency of performance between titles; because of this, “Ciderized” games are neither seen as the work of cross-platform development, nor as native, optimized ports. Both Cider and Cedega are based on Wine. Electronic Arts announced their return to the Mac, publishing various titles simultaneously on both Windows and Mac, using Cider.[17]

An open source Wine-based project called Wineskin allows anyone to attempt to port games to Mac OS X[18] since 2010. It uses all open source components and is open source itself. Its technology is very similar to what TransGaming does with Cider, but it is free to use to anyone. Wineskin creates self-contained ("clickable") Mac Applications out of the installation. The "wrappers" that can be made from this are often shared with friends or others. Legal versions of games can then be installed easily into the shared wrapper and then the final result works like a normal Mac app. Wineskin is mainly only used in "Hobbyist Porting" and not professional porting, but some professional game companies have used it in major releases. Since the end of 2014, there is a app called Porting Kit which automatically creates ready-to-use Wineskin wrappers for some specific games.

CodeWeavers' CrossOver products use a compatibility layer to translate Windows' application instructions to the native Macintosh operating system, without the need to run Windows. CrossOver is built from the Wine project and adds a graphical frontend to the process of installing and running the Windows applications through Wine. CodeWeavers is an active supporter of Wine and routinely shares programming code and patches back to the project.

PlayOnMac is a free version of the same technology, also based on Wine.

A list of Wine-compatible Windows software, including over 5,000 games and how well each individual game works with Wine can be found at 1,500 games are listed as "Platinum", which means they work "out-of-the-box", while 1,400 more are listed as "Gold", meaning they require some tweaking of the installation to run flawlessly.

The "shelf space" problem

One problem afflicting both porting houses and original Mac game developers is that of "shelf space," which refers to the amount of space a retail store allocates to stocking Mac games. Due to its small market share, Macintosh software as a whole receives very little, if any, shelf space in most major computer retail stores. Within that space, retailers are usually reluctant to stock relatively inexpensive games which may or may not sell well, as opposed to high-cost, top-selling products such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop. Because of this, most smaller Mac game companies release their products using a shareware business model, either exclusively or in addition to a more traditional retail "boxed" version. All porting houses and larger game companies have stuck to the traditional model, but the recent rise in the digital download model may lead to some companies eventually releasing games as paid downloads in a model similar to Valve Corporation's Steam service. MMORPGs are largely immune to the shelf space problem, and NCSoft's Lineage was one of the first games made available for Mac OS X, in 2002[19] Virtual Programming was one of the few porting companies to offer commercial games via digital download, although with the launch of Deliver2Mac and GamersGate in early 2006 other companies are beginning to move towards digital distribution. Aside from getting around the shelf space problem, shareware and digital download models also provide a larger percentage of profit to the company, as the wholesaler middleman is avoided and costs (and turnaround times) involved in media replication are eliminated. The latest player is TransGaming Technologies' which was launched March 2008 with a focus to offer the Mac gaming community digital downloads of major published Mac titles.

Linux gaming and free software games

In more recent years, Mac gaming has become more intertwined with gaming on another UNIX-like platform: Linux gaming. This trend began when Linux began to gain Mac-style porting houses, the first of which was Loki Software and later Linux Game Publishing. Linux porters born from this new industry have also been commonly hired as Mac porters, often releasing games for both systems. This includes game porters like Ryan C. Gordon who brought Unreal Tournament 2003 and 2004 to Linux and Mac; companies like Hyperion Entertainment, who primarily supports AmigaOS as well as Mac and Linux; or RuneSoft, a German publisher that has done ports for Linux Game Publishing. Recently Mac-focused porter Aspyr has also started releasing titles for Linux, starting with Civilization V. Feral Interactive has also released XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor for Linux.

Indie game development has also been conducive to intertwining, with developers like Wolfire Games (Lugaru, Overgrowth), Frictional Games (Penumbra, Amnesia), 2D Boy (World of Goo), Sillysoft Games (Lux), and Basilisk Games (Eschalon) supporting both platforms with native versions. id Software was also a pioneer in both Mac and Linux gaming, with ports of their games once done by Timothee Besset. Illwinter Game Design is also notable for supporting both platforms.

Open source video games have also proved modestly popular on the Mac.[20] Although, due to the free software nature of the system, development of free software titles mostly begins on Linux; afterwards, major games are typically ported to Mac and Microsoft Windows. Mac has less mainstream games than Windows and as a result, free games have had more of an impact on the platform. Notable free games popular on the Mac include The Battle for Wesnoth,[21] OpenArena,[22] BZFlag, LinCity, and more.[23]

Valve Corporation

A 2007 interview with Valve Corporation's (Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress 2 and the Source engine) Gabe Newell included the question of why his company was keeping their games and gaming technology "a strictly Windows project".[24] Newell answered:

On February 23, 2010, after the release of a public open beta version of Steam,[25] a member on the Steam forums found new files pertaining to Mac OS X in the program files of the beta.[26] After several days of speculation by the gaming community, a series of six images were sent out by Valve Corporation on March 3, 2010, hinting at a Mac version of Steam. These pictures, each depicting characters from their games reenacting famous apple advertisements, were sent to major computer and gaming websites, both Mac- and PC-related, with iPhone-like page dots at the bottom of each. The six recipients were Eurogamer, MacRumors, MacNN, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Shacknews, and Macworld.[27]

On March 8, 2010, Valve Corporation made the official announcement in a press release on their Steam website. In the announcement, Valve stated that they will be porting their entire library of games over to Mac when the client is released, and that they decided on native versions of their games, rather than emulations. Valve also announced that any games purchased over Steam for computers running Windows will be available for free download to computers running Mac OS X, and vice versa. What was also stressed was that Mac and Windows users will be using the same servers, will obtain updates simultaneously, and will be part of the same multiplayer environment, essentially promising a completely integrated Steam environment (SteamPlay).

In June 2010, Valve's Steam game-delivery platform was ported to OS X, along with Portal, Team Fortress 2, Half-Life 2 and a variety of other Source-engine-based games over a succession of weeks. With the release of Steam for Mac OS X the award winning game Portal was made free for both users of PC and Mac to download. The first game to be released simultaneously for Mac and Windows by Valve was Portal 2 in April, 2011.[28] A small portion of games available through Steam are now marked as being compatible with both Windows and OS X, and can be downloaded for either platform once a customer has purchased the game.

Notable current porting houses

Notable current original game developers

Notable Mac gaming websites


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  18. Wineskin official website
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  21. Battle for Wesnoth Review - Inside Mac Games
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  28. Valve to Deliver Steam & Source on the Mac

External links