The Game Room: Everything Old Is New
A constant cycle of change goes on in the computer industry, and that's especially obvious when it comes to games. But as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. So today you can play a red-hot 3-D action game that's got roots in the Apple II, a kids' game that is clearly from the creators of a clutch of all-time classics but features all-new characters, a familiar swords-and-sorcery role-playing game that tosses genetic engineering into the mix, and an old-style arcade game that has found new life on the Mac. And what if you're longing for the days when you could sit in a molded-plastic chair at the arcade and play games until you lost all feeling in your legs? We've got you covered there, too.
An Old Favorite
If your experience with Apple computers predates the Macintosh, you may remember a great old Apple II game called Castle Wolfenstein. Featuring voice synthesis and color graphics laid on a black background, the original Wolfenstein game was a marvel of its age, and it later inspired the folks at Id Software to create a 3-D version with the not-so-clever name Wolfenstein 3-D.
Fast-forward more than a decade. Id Software's place in computer-gaming history is secure, with its Doom and Quake among the best-selling games of all time. And the company has just released a new game based on the Quake III Arena engine: Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Brought to the Mac by Aspyr Media, Return to Castle Wolfenstein puts you in the classic role of Office of Secret Actions agent B. J. Blazkowicz--but times have certainly changed.
As Blazkowicz, you're charged with a variety of missions put forth by a clandestine Allied organization during the darkest days of World War II. Hitler's right-hand man, Heinrich Himmler, is coordinating efforts to mix science and the occult to build an invincible army, and you're the one who must put a stop to it. To that end, you're a one-man fighting force pitted against the combined might of Nazis and horrific creatures from beyond the grave.
If the plot sounds like a little bit of Raiders of the Lost Ark mixed with a healthy dose of Dawn of the Dead, you're not far off track. The single-player mode of Return to Castle Wolfenstein is deep, with a variety of missions: you'll blast your way through hordes of slavering zombies who are intent on eating you alive, and you'll use a wide range of weapons to hammer legions of Nazi henchmen. Some missions emphasize stealth and skill with specific weapons, such as sniper rifles and silenced submachine guns, while others are just flat-out fragfests where you shoot everything in sight until it stops moving.
What makes any Quake-derived game fun is the multiplayer mode, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein delivers here, too. This game emphasizes team-based play, with each player assuming a different identity such as medic, ordnance expert, and so on. Your playing style will determine which particular role you prefer to fill.
Multiplayer support works across platforms, so whether you're using a Mac or a PC, you can play on the same server and against the same people. One shortcoming of Aspyr's initial Mac release is that it lags behind the PC version, preventing Mac gamers from participating on some PC servers that have been updated to the most recent version. As we went to press, the game's developers were working on an update.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein also imposes fairly harsh system requirements: you'll need a 500MHz processor to get the most out of the game, and an ATI Radeon or Nvidia GeForce2 MX card is recommended for the best graphics results (though I had luck with an ATI Rage 128 card).
The Bottom Line Return to Castle Wolfenstein delivers all the hallmarks of an Id Software release: gorgeous graphics, compelling online game play, and loads of nasty monsters and evil bad guys to battle. If the steep system requirements and the lack of parity between Mac and PC releases don't put you off, this is definitely a good take.
Fantasy with a Twist
There's a timelessness to Spiderweb Software's games that I find undeniably appealing. They're not as flashy to look at or as buzzword compliant as other role-playing games, but they're unquestionably solidly crafted and fun to play. That brings me to Geneforge, the company's most recent creation.
Geneforge is a swords-and-sorcery adventure game with a twist. The game revolves around the Shapers, an order of mystics that can use a combination of magic and genetic engineering to create life-forms. You find yourself on a long-
abandoned island populated by serviles--servant creatures who were created by previous Shapers living in the island realm and who are now independent.
At key points in the story, you interact with nonplayer characters. The manner you take with these characters, as well as the answers you give them, determines how the story progresses. It's this sort of depth that separates Spiderweb from some of its competitors: Geneforge presents a rich and varied tapestry of characters and situations that are very rewarding to interact with.
Along the way, you'll find plenty of monsters to hack and slash. How you do that is partly determined by what class of character you decide to be at the beginning of your adventure: Shaper, Guardian, or Agent. Each has a different mix of magical and physical strength.
The Geneforge game view is a three-quarters perspective, so its interface will be familiar to gamers weaned on titles such as Diablo and Baldur's Gate. There's no mistaking Geneforge for one of those games, but Spiderweb has done a marvelous job of crafting an easy-to-use interface around an engine modern enough to appeal to a wide swath of gamers.
Unfortunately, Geneforge isn't OS X compatible. The game runs well in Classic mode, but waiting for Classic to boot just to play the game is a bit of a turn-off. The interface has some quirks, too--while it's easy to use and understand, I had issues with parts of it, especially inventory control.
The Bottom Line While it lacks the spit and polish of more-mainstream commercial efforts, Geneforge is an immersive adventure, and it has great game play. I just wish that it were OS X native.
Not Quite a Comeback
Under the leadership of cofounders Ron Gilbert and Shelley Day, Humongous Entertainment developed popular children's-game franchises including Freddi Fish, Putt-Putt, and Pajama Sam. When Gilbert and Day left Humongous two years ago, they didn't get out of the game business--instead, they started Hulabee Entertainment, which is responsible for
a new game published by Disney's Plaid Banana Entertainment: Moop & Dreadly in The Treasure on Bing Bong Island.
Moop is a big purple creature somewhere between an ape and a cat, and he's a friend and foil to Dreadly, an energetic youngster who goes in search of adventure on the high seas. Together, the two meet a variety of colorful characters along the way.
Like Humongous's Junior Adventure series, Hulabee's Moop & Dreadly game emphasizes game play over learning. While kids might hone their problem-solving skills, the game is really just an escapist romp that puts them in the midst of a fun, well-crafted story.
Most developers and publishers of kids' software take a conservative approach to system requirements, but Hulabee is taking a bit of a risk: Moop & Dreadly runs only in OS X.
The Bottom Line If you're looking for some fine adventure entertainment for a youngster in your house, you can't go wrong with Moop and Dreadly's first adventure. Hopefully, it won't be their last.
Pinball games come and go on the Mac, but over the years LittleWing has set itself apart by crafting really fine simulators of solid-state pinball games. Now the maker of Crystal Caliburn, Tristan, and Loony Labyrinth adds Jinni Zeala to its library.
Published in the United States by MacPlay, Jinni Zeala looks and plays like some Las Vegas variation on the Arabian Nights, complete with flashing neon and bright lights. Featuring ramps, multiball traps, and five different bonus stages, Jinni Zeala is the real deal when it comes to Mac pinball simulators.
If your experience with Mac-based pinball has been limited to arcade-style stuff, then Jinni Zeala will seem like a very different animal. LittleWing carefully creates solid-state pinball games with the appropriate physics and a board design you'd expect to see in a real coin-op arcade pinball game. The ball moves realistically over a complex table with a lot of different challenges.
You can spend hours (and who knows how many virtual quarters) trying to activate bonus stages by collecting items on the playfield in the correct order. Using a careful combination of flipper action, tilt, and luck, you can hit drop targets and then sink the kick-out ball from those targets into the hole associated with them.
Jinni Zeala is particularly good at telling you what you should do next: it fills the sides of the screen with hints and tips. Its sound effects and music go along well with the whole Arabian-fantasy theme.
However, a less-than-intuitive interface and a total lack of documentation hamper the game. For example, it's easy to change the default key assignments for flipper, plunger, and nudging characteristics--but it's impossible to figure out what the defaults are.
The Bottom Line Pinball may be a niche market for Mac gamers, but you can't do better than what this game has to offer. Jinni Zeala is a near-flawless execution of a challenging solid-state pinball game for your Mac.
Sit on It!
If you're looking for something a bit out of the ordinary to enhance your Mac gaming rig's audio abilities, consider Interactive Seating's BattleChair. It's a chimera--a combination of an office chair and a two-speaker stereo system equipped with satellite and subwoofer.
Basically, the BattleChair is a molded-thermoplastic one-piece shell similar to chairs you see in many sit-down arcade games these days. It has a five-leg base equipped with a pneumatic lift mechanism that gives it some of the basic mobility of an office chair. Hidden behind a tough metal screen in its back is an 8-inch woofer that pushes thumping bass right into your lower back--just the thing to immerse you in the action as you're fragged by a rocket launcher in a Quake III Arena deathmatch. Trust me. Two 5.25-inch speakers sit on either side of the headrest, providing a stereo field that points right at your ears--or at the back of your ears, anyway.
The basic BattleChair plug-and-play kit includes an amplifier that you can hook up to your Mac's headphone speakers and a cable that attaches your Mac's audio output to the amp. The amp sits on or underneath your desk and plugs into a special adapter cable that attaches to the bottom of the chair. The cable, about 17 feet long, may occasionally get wrapped around the base of the chair or caught in the wheels, but it gives you plenty of maneuvering room.
Interactive Seating offers options such as adjustable armrests, cushioning (which I highly recommend if you don't enjoy losing all sensation in your legs), and "action trays" for your game pad, joystick, or beverage.
The Bottom Line Sure, you could spend less by buying a modest office chair, a decent pair of stereo speakers, and a subwoofer for your Mac. But would the results look as cool as the BattleChair? Heck, no.