The rise of Mac gaming

FOR What shouldn’t ever have really been anything more than a slight technical preference, the contention between PC users and Mac aficionados reaches pretty vicious levels at times. This was summed up perfectly in the reaction to the recent Mac and PC ads – personifying the difference between the two user types by making the PC a bumbling geek with a virus, and the Mac a cool, collected onlooker. Despite the ongoing debate as to superiority, the PC has always held the trump card – games. In the past, Macs have had neither the hardware nor the support from the games industry to compete. Quite simply, this is all changing.

Apple has given the Mac a hardware overhaul. They are now being loaded with higher-end 3D graphics cards and more powerful Intel chipsets, giving them the punching power to handle modern day graphics-intensive games to a decent standard. Running parallel to the hardware improvements is an injection of the vital software drivers that facilitate porting and compatibility, with OpenGL and Direct X support.

With Macs now being built with true 3D graphics cards and faster Intel processors, there’s little reason to stop the Mac becoming another gaming platform,” says high tech hardware review specialist Hexus.gaming. The biggest hurdle for Mac gaming will be to get the publishers to see it as a viable platform in which to invest development and cash.”

The nuts and bolts improvements have not gone unnoticed by publishers and developers. Since World of Warcraft launched on the Mac, there has been a stirring of interest. Publishing powerhouse EA and developer id Software – the firm behind PC gaming milestones such as Doom and Quake – have both recently announced a commitment to the Mac. At this year’s Apple annual developer conference, Bing Gordon, CCO and co-founder of EA, announced Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Need for Speed Carbon, Battlefield 2142 and Command and Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars will all soon be ported to the Mac OSX operating system. These will soon be followed by Madden NFL 08 and Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 08. id Software co-founder John Carmack also took the stage to demonstrate the cutting edge Tech 5 rendering technology on Mac OS X, which will also be adopted by the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. Additionally, Epic has announced that Gears of War and Unreal Tournament 3 will be released on the Mac. With such strong members of the gaming community already on board, it seems logical to assume others will follow.

Now the Mac has switched to the Intel chipset there’s no reason why developing a game for the Mac is any harder than developing for Windows,” says editor of MacFormat Graham Barlow. Anyone who tells you different is just blowing hot air or is badly informed. It’s proved in the case of EA, with their recent return to the Mac gaming platform. It’s able to simultaneously release new gaming titles on both the Mac and PC platforms using a wrapper program called Cider. I’m looking forward to trying out Need for Speed Carbon and the new Harry Potter game on my Mac as soon as they’re released, to find out for sure.”

In the meantime, some claim there are also specific benefits to developing games on the Mac. The Mac could be a strong and profitable market for games,” says Sarah Atter, Apple business development manager at Avanquest. There is less competition so a good game will get a lot of recognition within the Mac community, and there is also a lot less piracy in comparison to Windows. What the Mac really needs is a killer game. A title that makes every gamer want the Mac, a bit like what Halo did for the Xbox. I think the Mac games market is the strongest it’s ever been though, and I hope that it continues to grow.”

With Apple, it’s a good bet never to underestimate the power of Steve Job’s mystique-driven marketing machine. If the firm gets behind the project with the same zeal and verve as it did with the iPod campaign, you can expect gaming on the Mac to skyrocket. Watch this space…

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