capsule review

The Game Room

At a Glance
  • Ambrosia Software Escape Velocity Nova

    Macworld Rating
  • Virtual Programming Wipeout 2097

    Macworld Rating
  • Ambrosia Software Coldstone Game Engine

    Macworld Rating
  • Wish Technologies Adaptoid

    Macworld Rating

What a time for a firefight. Even though the carbon fiber I had just added gave my Valkyrie some extra protection, I really didn't need to get into a scrap with these deep-space marauders.

The cargo hold of my ship, the Thuferin Thucotash, was filled with passengers bound for Tau Ceti and a load of emergency medical supplies headed to Dunroamin that absolutely, positively had to get there fast--and I needed the money both these missions would net. But these brigands weren't giving up, so I trained my weapons on the enemy ships and let them have it. My shields took a beating, but I took care of business--at least I thought I did, until that most dreaded of all pirate vessels, the Manticore, vectored in and blew me to smithereens.

Is this the plot of the latest summer sci-fi blockbuster? No, it's what happens when you become engrossed in Ambrosia Software's Escape Velocity Nova--namely, you begin to talk with your friends as though what's happening in the game is actually happening to you.

Escape Velocity Nova is the third game in the series that started with the original Escape Velocity. A peculiar mix of action and role playing, Escape Velocity has been a legend with Mac gamers since its debut several years ago. This new version improves graphics, adds tons of new story elements, and runs natively in Mac OS X.

Set far in the future, Escape Velocity Nova puts you in the role of an independent captain of a modest shuttlecraft in outer space. You're tasked with ferrying passengers and cargo from one star system to another to earn your living. In some locations, you can find outfitters who will--for a price, of course--equip your vessel with weapons and equipment that will help you go faster, carry more, protect yourself better, and make sure you stay around to keep earning money. Most planets and space stations are also equipped with a Mission BBS system that helps you find work. Local bars serve as areas for other meetings that can net lucrative jobs, even if the wages you earn are sometimes paid under the table.

Depending on the missions you choose and the manner in which you conduct yourself, you'll activate specific story options in Escape Velocity Nova that will then determine the outcome of the game you play. There are about half a dozen specific story arcs embedded in Escape Velocity Nova, each with its own risks and rewards. Additionally, you can just ferry passengers and cargo, become a rebel or a pirate, or simply wander around the stars.

However, once you accept a certain series of missions, you're stuck completing the story or dying in the process. Even if you manage to finish it, you'll have to start over from scratch with a new character before you can do anything else. Everyone deserves a chance for a midlife career change, even a shuttlecraft pilot.

The Bottom Line: Mixing 2-D action in the form of spaceship battles with adventure gaming is a really appealing combination that's already proven itself in two previous incarnations of the Escape Velocity series, and it works again here. The new game benefits from an overhauled engine with improved graphics and an all-new series of story lines, but Ambrosia has wisely left alone what ain't broken.

The Fast and the Furious

Since the Mac is a niche gaming market, we Mac users depend mostly on games that debut on Windows PCs, dedicated video-game consoles, or both. To some Mac gamers, the speed of a game's progress to the Mac platform is everything. But that's silly--just because a game is old doesn't mean it's bad. Take Virtual Programming's Mac conversion of Wipeout 2097, a game that first appeared on Sony's PlayStation console back in 1996. By any era's standard, it's a stellar 3-D racing game that has held up very well over the years.

Wipeout 2097 is the late 21st century's answer to Formula One racing. You're a pro racer, and you must grab medals in a series of races on different courses around the world. Instead of cars, you're piloting antigravity vehicles. To win, you have to keep your line straight, your corners tight, and your finger on the accelerator.

Wipeout offers two different play modes: In Time Trial, you're racing against yourself and the clock, learning the twists and turns of each individual track before you get to Arcade mode.

In Arcade mode, you race other pilots. Place in the top three spots, and you'll get a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Win gold for all six circuits in the Arcade mode (three difficulty classes with two circuits each), and you'll progress to the Arcade Challenge mode, which unlocks two new circuits and a new vehicle to race. You can save and restore in-progress games as well.

Each circuit sports speed-ups, patches on the track that cause your craft to accelerate. Hitting these consistently and staying away from walls will shave seconds off your lap times. Weapon grids on the track provide various enhancements, such as terrain-hugging rockets, guided missiles, and electro-bolts; or power-ups, such as autopilot, turbo boost, E-paks that boost shield energy, and more. If you find your craft banged up from weapon impacts or wall collisions, you can recharge your shields by driving through a pit-stop area, though it'll slow you down.

Wipeout 2097 sports TCP/IP or AppleTalk-based multiplayer gaming. Alas, there's no plug-in support for the GameRanger online service, and you need a low-latency Internet connection for a successful match.

The Bottom Line: Wipeout 2097 is a fun, nonviolent racing game that's a blast to play. However, it's fairly short, offering only eight race courses. The good news: although the program was originally released for Mac OS 9, an OS X-native update should be available by the time you read this.

Dust Off Your N64 Controller

Apple's support of the Human Interface Device (HID) standard for USB devices has been a boon for Mac gamers, because it gives them access to an abundance of game controllers on the market. Thanks to Apple's HID support, joysticks and game pads that don't explicitly support the Mac work like a charm on the Mac platform.

If all of those cool Mac-compatible controllers weren't enough, Wish Technologies has used HID to build the $30 Adaptoid, a bridge between USB and the Nintendo 64. Plug an N64 game controller into the Adaptoid, and presto--your Mac treats the controller like any other HID device.

The Adaptoid has a design of pleasing simplicity. This dongle adds about a foot to the end of your N64 controller cable. One end sports a plug for the cable, and the other end is a USB connector that plugs into your Mac.

Although the Adaptoid comes with a floppy disk containing Windows software, no Mac software is necessary. InputSprocket (in Mac OS 9) and HID Manager (in Mac OS X) take care of all that for you. If your games support Apple's game-controller technology, or if you add a third-party application such as USB Overdrive (www.usboverdrive.com), you should be able to get the Adaptoid to work.

One shortcoming of the Adaptoid is that it doesn't provide a way to activate the optional N64 Rumble Pak, which makes the controller shake with force-feedback reactions. That's something the PC drivers do, thanks to Microsoft's Windows-only DirectX technology.

If you're an OS 9 user seeking an adapter for other console controllers, consider Kernel Productions' JoyPort USB (see "Joyous for JoyPort").

The Bottom Line: The Adaptoid is a great idea, because the N64 game controller is terrifically comfortable and sturdy enough to take almost unimaginable abuse--and that's more than I can say for a lot of the USB controllers I've used. In my book, that makes the Adaptoid worth every penny of its $30 price tag.

Joyous for JoyPort

Speaking of USB game-controller adapters, many veteran gamers are already familiar with Kernel Production's excellent JoyPort USB, a multitap adapter that supports various game controllers from different makers, including Nintendo. For just $10 more than the Adaptoid's price, you get the ability to use Sega Genesis, PC game port, Sony PlayStation, and Nintendo 64 controllers on your Mac.

The Joyport is a great alternative for users who have no plans to upgrade to Mac OS X, since it utilizes driver-specific code that doesn't yet work with OS X.

Make It Yourself

One shortcoming of Macintosh gaming is that there aren't nearly enough ready-made tools for creating your own games, especially compared with the abundance offered to our Windows-using colleagues.

Coldstone, a Beenox Studios creation that Ambrosia Software has published, aims to change all that. The Coldstone engine enables you to create your own tile-based adventure games, not unlike the old-school offerings from companies like Spiderweb Software or Fantasoft. Depending on your artistic and storytelling skills, you can craft an epic dragon-slaying adventure or make an outer-space game of fantastic proportions.

You're not going to produce the next Diablo II with Coldstone, but if you've ever hankered to make a sword-and-sorcery epic of your own, Coldstone will get you most of the way there. Beenox used the engine to craft Pillars of Garendall, a role-playing adventure game also published by Ambrosia.

Ambrosia and Beenox have made it pretty easy to get started with Coldstone. The software includes everything you need to make your own stand-alone adventure game, complete with plug-ins or add-ons that can enhance the experience further down the road. A 31-page PDF file and a tutorial folder provide all the instructions and elements you'll need.

Coldstone provides just about all the tools you'll need to create your epic. The design tools will help you craft maps, script stories, add dialog from nonplayer characters, supply treasure and weapons, populate the world with countless monsters, and add all the other aspects you'd expect of an adventure game. If you don't want to use one of the supplied map and art sets, you can make your own, opening up almost unlimited possibilities for the kind of adventure game.

I say almost because there's one thing Beenox and Ambrosia can't give you, and that's the talent to tell a story and make a game worth playing. The tools give you the raw power, but you need to provide the creativity. Obviously, it helps to be a real fan of the adventure-game genre and to start with a good idea.

If you plan to release your Coldstone-built game as shareware or freeware, it'll cost you nothing more than the modest registration fee for the Coldstone engine itself. If you plan to release a commercial product, Ambrosia has flat-fee and royalty-based arrangements, depending on what you can afford.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating
  • Macworld Rating
  • Macworld Rating
  • Macworld Rating
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