Support original Mac game developers

Porting—converting games to run from one platform, like Windows, to the Macintosh—is the mainstay of the commercial Mac game market. I also think it’s killing the Mac as a gaming platform.

I mean no disrespect to my colleagues at Aspyr Media, Feral Interactive, MacSoft or Virtual Programming —they certainly do a lot of admirable work, and have helped sustain the Mac game market for years. And many of us, myself included, love to play top-tier commercial games on our Macs—so I say support them and buy their games. But please don’t buy them to the exclusion of all the other great games on the platform.

Even MacSoft and Aspyr have gotten into the act of original game development—MacSoft with Close Combat: First to Fight and Aspyr Media with Stubbs the Zombie. Fortunately for people who like to play games on their Mac, they’ve followed the path of World of Warcraft creator Blizzard Entertainment by offering simultaneous releases for the Mac and other platforms.

The goose that laid the golden egg

The problem with conversions, which still make up the bulk of the games sold for the Mac every year, is they relegate the Mac to the status of a “me too” platform. Macs are a secondary development platform that’s an afterthought, if it’s a thought at all, in the minds of mainstream game developers. And secondary development platforms are almost always doomed to failure.

There are a lot of reasons why the Mac hasn’t blossomed like other platforms when it comes to gaming, and I’ll be taking a look at some of those reasons in future blog entries and offering some suggestions for change. Suffice to say that for now, there’s a practical step you can take to help turn the market around. And it’s simple: Buy games from original Mac developers.

I already mentioned a few titles that appeared on the Mac at the same time as they have other platforms, but let’s turn our attention to “independent” Mac game developers—companies that might not command a high profile, but ones that should definitely be on your radar, even if games are only of passing interest to you.

The indies

Let me preface this with an important caveat: This list is by no means complete. If you or your favorite developer isn’t on here, there’s no slight intended. I didn’t want to overwhelm readers with a big list of developers and links. But I did want to give you some resources to check out what I’m talking about.

Ambrosia Software is one of the elder statesmen of the bunch, starting life at a time when Internet connectivity was still a novelty and dial-up connectivity was standard. The company has diversified in recent years with utilities like Snapz Pro and WireTap Pro, but games are still a mainstay of its product line—the irreverent (and some say perverted) side-scroller El Ballo and GooBall are examples of recent Mac games.

Danlab Games has been steadily turning out great shareware games for the Mac for several years, and has really distinguished itself by offering fantastic 3D fare like Jammin’ Racer—a Macworld 2005 Game Hall of Fame winner—and Islands Mini-Golf. They also have a variety of casual games like Mah Jong Solitaire, card games and more. Danlab isn’t exclusively a Mac game developer, but its titles do debut on the Mac first.

Freeverse Software offers boxed fare you’ll find right alongside your favorite major commercial releases on the shelves of the Apple Store. Like Ambrosia they’ve turned their attention to non-game software in recent years, tailoring a Web browser especially for kids, for example, and taking control of retail distribution for the phenomenally fun photo application Comic Life.

Freeverse has, in recent years, also migrated to a business model not unlike the “big guys.” They’ve distributed Mac game conversions published by Virtual Programming, for example, and this year they plan to release a couple of Mac game conversions of their own—Heroes of Might and Magic V and Legion Arena.

But original Mac games remain Freeverse’s mainstay—in fact, they were sponsors of the Original Mac Games (OMG) Cup, a contest to stimulate original Mac game development. You can buy Freeverse’s games online, too, including really fun titles like Toysight Gold, created by another independent Mac developer called Strange Flavour—just the thing for new iMac or MacBook Pro owners who want to turn their iSight cameras into a game controller—as well as some of the best and most beloved card games released for the Mac, like Burning Monkey Solitaire.

GarageGames is the archetypal example of the expression “eating your own dog food.” The company makes and licenses multi-platform game engine technology called the “Torque Game Engine” to small developers for as little as $100, and they also publish games made by those licensees. So far, they’ve published a bunch of great Mac games like Marble Blast, Orbz, ThinkTanks, Dark Horizons: Lore and TubeTwist. Publishing original Mac games isn’t their mainstay, but they do have a large Mac following—and more often than not, the games are released simultaneously for Mac, Windows and sometimes Linux.

No discussion of original Mac game publishers would be complete without a tip of the hat to Pangea Software, a company that’s largely built its reputation with Mac gamers by having its titles bundled with Macs for years. Nanosaur, Bugdom, Otto Matic, Enigmo and many other hit Mac games have emerged from Pangea over the years, and they keep plugging away, most recently with Enigmo 2.

Spiderweb Software is another Mac-centric developer that creates games for Windows, too—but always makes the Mac releases first. This company is sure to appeal to you if you’re a Dungeons & Dragons fan looking for some “old school” RPG-style entertainment on your Mac. What’s more, the games have very low system requirements that even allow users of “Classic” Mac operating system versions to play.

Strength through diversity

Let’s not kid ourselves: Gaming is a multi-billion dollar market, and the Macintosh game industry is a drop in that sizable bucket. It’ll probably remain so for quite some time, and to that end, the work that we’re doing today isn’t going to change the minds of the actuaries and accountants that help decide which platforms that giants like Electronic Arts or Activision are going to support.

More than one cross-platform project at major game publishers has withered and died on the vine because of a lack of management support for a platform that some office jockeys just don’t see as worth making the effort. That’s sad and it’s frustrating.

That means that Mac game ports are going to be with us for a while—as long as we keep buying them, and the companies doing them can make a strong business case for them. And it’s important that we do, because these are companies that are bringing strong products to the Macintosh that we need.

But by the same token, there are a small but important community of Mac game developers who put the Mac first, or on an equal level with Windows and console systems, and they’re equally deserving of our support. So please check out some of these links, and use services like Macgamefiles.com, to find other games you might like, and buy those too.

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