Polishing the brass and marble of the great Game Hall of Fame, in scenic Pittsfield, Massachusetts, requires plenty of elbow grease and count-less hours. But it's all worth it when we see the joyous faces of the numerous schoolkids, grad students, and gaming historians who make their way through these halls every year -- and when Mac game publishers send free titles our way.
The year 2001 has been a time of transition not only for the Mac gaming industry but also for the entire Mac market. The March introduction of Mac OS X shook things up a great deal. Like other segments of the Mac software-publishing market, game companies took some time to get into that OS X groove. It also took a while for Apple to get OS X gaming technology to where it needed to be. But Mac game developers have definitely ended the year on a high note -- Mac OS X versions of new games are everywhere.
Here's a look at the best of the games that have come out of this year of great change.
Best Online Game
What makes Rogue Spear unique is that it's not just a simple point-and-shoot action game. It also has a strong element of strategy -- you must consider each character's qualifications when you select team members, and you have to plan your assaults carefully. Unlike a run-of-the-mill shooter, Rogue Spear doesn't equip you to withstand much damage from your opponents' weapons -- most often, one shot is one kill, making proper planning especially important.
What really makes Rogue Spear leap ahead of the pack is the game's sustained popularity with Internet gamers. For much of 2001, Rogue Spear was one of the most-played titles on the Mac-only online game service GameRanger (http://www.gameranger.com).Rogue Spear's initial release suffered from a compatibility problem that made it unable to work with PC games when it was in multiplayer mode. You can now download a patch that corrects this problem from the Infogrames Web site (http://www.infogrames.com).
Requires more strategizing than your typical point-and-shoot game.
Who It's For: Fans of military-simulation games.
From: MacSoft, 800/229-2714, http://www.wizworks.com/macsoft; $50.
Best Third-Person Action Game
You view game play from a vantage point above and behind your on-screen character, purple-haired Konoko. Oni has many of the trappings that we've seen in similar games -- Konoko spends a great deal of time climbing, jumping, getting around obstacles, and opening locks.
Konoko collects an array of imaginative weapons, but her real strength is in knocking her opponents about with martial-arts moves. Konoko learns more moves as the game progresses, and much of Oni's challenge is in knowing when to use a particular move to neutralize a foe.
Impressive hand-to-hand combat sequences.
Who It's For: Those looking for kicky-punchy games with a twist.
From: Gathering of Developers, 800/211-6504, http://www.godgames.com; $40.
Best God Game
The term god game describes a game that puts you in control of a world as an omniscient and occasionally beneficent deity, and this is what Phil Steinmeyer and the PopTop Software crew have created in Tropico. But they've added something new: a political angle that greatly increases the fun and the challenge.
Tropico puts you in the dictator's chair on a small, out-of-the-way Caribbean island. While you control the development and exploitation of your country's resources and infrastructure, you don't directly control the thoughts and deeds of its citizens. It's this element, and the inevitable political machinations that follow, that make Tropico such an addicting treat.
The game can run a bit slowly on some configurations, but this shouldn't be any surprise -- Tropico doesn't just model environmental data such as rainfall and the effects of pollution or population increase; it models the very thoughts and actions of each resident of your nation. This game boasts an awe-inspiring level of detail.
Set in a post-World War II environment, Tropico blends tongue-in-cheek humor with comical animations and sometimes hilarious internal dialogue. The game also features a great soundtrack of Latin music and some enjoyable documentation profiling notorious dictators throughout history.
The challenge of commanding a world in which the citizens are autonomous.
Who It's For: Strategy-game fans who don't shy away from politics at cocktail parties.
From: MacSoft, 800/229-2714,http://www.wizworks.com/macsoft; $40.
Best Adventure Game
Escape from Monkey Island tells the saga of Guybrush Threepwood, a daydreamer with delusions of grandeur who lives in the pirate-infested Caribbean of yore. He's managed to defeat the dread pirate LeChuck several times, and he's won the heart and hand of the lovely (and fiercely independent) Elaine Marley, now Elaine Marley-Threepwood. Alas, in the game's latest installment, Guybrush and Elaine discover that LeChuck has again returned from the fires of heck to wreak havoc upon them.
Escape from Monkey Island combines classic high adventure with topical humor. It isn't just a tale of pirates, vengeful ghosts, and adventure on the high seas. Threepwood must also square off against vicious scoundrels such as lawyers, land developers, and restaurant-chain managers.
Stellar graphics, great sound effects, terrific music, top-notch voice acting -- and it's as funny as all get-out.
Who It's For: A must-have for anyone who likes a good pirate story.
From: Aspyr Media, 888/212-7797, http://www.aspyr.com; $20.
Best Extreme-Sports Game
In Career mode, you earn cash that you can spend on new equipment or on training to learn new tricks. You also have to achieve several goals, such as collecting tapes, hitting or exceeding various scores, and accomplishing specific tricks, and you must win competitions to unlock some parks.
You can create your own personality and even design your own skate park. The permutations are endless, and you can go head-to-head with other Mac gamers on the Internet.
Due to its video-game roots, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 screams for a game pad -- but be warned, the controller won't work in Mac OS X.
Impressive variety gives lots of life.
Who It's For: Arcade gamers who prefer their knee damage to be virtual.
From: Aspyr Media, 888/212-7797, http://www.aspyr.com; $20.
Best Old-School Arcade Game
Airburst combines a bit of Pong with a bit of Mortal Kombat to produce an odd and extremely fun arcade game for the Mac. You're positioned high above Earth on a cushion of balloons. You also have a small barrier of balloons that you can rotate around yourself to repel the onslaught of razor-sharp flying balls. Your goal is to knock your opponents defenseless and take them down.
With colorful graphics and smooth animations rivaling those of arcade games, Airburst is beautiful to look at. And it doesn't overwhelm you with complex game-play mechanics or an absurd level of difficulty right off the bat -- instead, it eases you into play and coaxes you into more challenging levels.
Ridiculously low price for hours of fun.
Who It's For: Arcade-game lovers who like bursting others' balloons.
From: Strange Flavour, http://www.strangeflavour.com; $5.
Best Retro Game with a Twist
Space Tripper takes the basic mechanics of that Williams coin-op classic, Defender, and mixes in a bit of modern 3-D-graphics magic. Space Tripper is, on the surface, a simple side-scrolling action game that puts you in the cockpit of a spacecraft that can transform into different configurations. You collect power-ups as you zap the bad guys, avoiding pitfalls along the way. It's a standard formula for the genre, and in this game it's extremely well executed.
On top of that, PomPom has added some modern embellishments in the form of 3-D graphics rendered using OpenGL. This gives the game a modern look and enhances game play. Your craft flies over contoured surfaces, for example. Simple changes such as this bring something new to the genre and make Space Tripper a lot of fun to play.
This standard arcade game has thoroughly modern enhancements.
Who It's For: Fans of the classics -- classics such as Defender, that is.
From: PomPom, http://www.pompom.org.uk; $12.
Best Strategy Game
The game's publisher did not port only the basic game; instead, it has brought us Age of Empires II Gold Edition, a compendium version that includes the original game and an add-on pack called The Conquerers Expansion. Age of Empires II mixes elements of world building (as in Civilization II) with real-time strategy gaming (à la Warcraft II). You're responsible not only for leading your people through the Dark Ages following the fall of the Roman Empire, but also for leading soldiers into victory.
Much of Age of Empires II will be familiar to fans of the previous game: your citizens must gather materials to create resources that can in turn be used for improvements and defense. The game uses a branching technology tree, similar to that of Civiliza-tion II, which helps you constantly improve the efficiency and capability of your empire through research.
Whether you conduct yourself diplomatically and focus on improving your people's quality of life, or focus on conquering new territory and grabbing resources from your foes, you're eventually going to have to assemble troops and send them out in force. Age of Empires II does not skimp here, either. You can create individual units based on what you expect your military needs to be, and then send them out into battle. The available types of military units are varied and complex, ranging from cavalry to ships, infantry, petards, and kamikazes. You can even mount historically inspired campaigns. For instance, you can take the role of Sir William Wallace as he fights to free Scotland from England's rule.
The chance to fight battles as a historic figure.
Who It's For: Strategy-game buffs and fans of the original game.
From: Bold by Destineer, 866/512-9111, http://www.boldgames.com; $50.
Best Expansion Pack
In addition to adding a fifth Act -- and it's a huge one -- to the original game's story, Lord of Destruction adds two new character classes: Druids and Assassins. Both classes have attributes that Diablo II players haven't seen before, and they make playing the game over again worthwhile.
Other enhancements in the expansion pack include more inventory-holding capacity, as well as gobs and gobs of new monsters, weapons, and magic items. On top of that, the ways you can use magic items have changed: for example, you can get new types of socketed weapons, and you can socket them with different items to add new kinds of magical capabilities or defenses. Blizzard has crafted an add-on that breathes new life into a game that already had longevity.
Playing the whole game over again in one of the new character classes.
Who It's For: Those of us who have already wasted countless hours playing the original version of the game.
From: Blizzard Entertainment, 800/953-7669, http://www.blizzard.com; $30.
Best First-Person Action Game
Based on the popular Fox movie franchises by the same name, the game puts you in the role of an Alien (you know, the H. R. Giger-style jaw-snapping critter), a Predator (from that 1980s-vintage Schwarzenegger movie), or a Colonial Marine (a human equipped with a variety of high-tech gadgets).
First-person shooters are a dime a dozen, but hardly any Mac game can match this title's eerie atmosphere. The Alien movies all offer variations on the boogeyman theme; they're full of nightmarish, insectoid creatures that like nothing better than to lie in wait for innocent humans. This game exploits the scare factor to its full potential, and it's one of the few action games that has genuinely made me jump when a creature hopped out at me. Marines, being human, are fleshy and soft, but they have an arsenal of sophisticated weapons. Heavily armed, they're slower than Aliens and considerably weaker than Predators. Predators emphasize stealth and precision and have the power of invisibility -- they're tough, but their weapons don't carry the same blast radius as many of the Marines' weapons. Aliens rely on pure animal instinct, emphasizing speed and agility (they can scale walls and ceilings). They're deadly when they get close to their prey, but that can be tricky, since Marines and Predators pack a considerable wallop with weapons such as guns, grenades, and other projectiles.
MacPlay offers Mac gamers a little something extra in the box -- this is the Gold edition, not just the regular retail release. Mac gamers get the benefit of the Millennium expansion pack, which includes nine new levels that you can play in skirmish or multiplayer mode, new weapons, an in-game save feature (the basic game permits saves only between levels), and other changes and optimizations. Even with all this, the game is still fairly priced at about $25.
Losing control of bodily functions when an Alien jumps out at you.
Who It's For: Admirers of first-person shooters and spooky movies.
From: MacPlay, 214/855-5955, http://www.macplay.com; $25. M