Mac Gamers Find a Platform at E3 Trade Show

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While the spotlight at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo may be shining on video-game consoles such as Microsoft's Xbook and Sony's PlayStation 2, Mac game developers and publishers aren't exactly keeping quiet this week. They're using the trade show as a platform to unveil their latest offerings and future plans.

Take game publisher MacSoft. Its parent company, Infogrames, is showing off several new titles, including two games that were announced last week in a licensing deal with Take-Two Interactive Software. Tropico, a real-time strategy game from PopTop Software, and Fly II, a flight-simulation offering from Terminal Reality, will make their way to the Mac via MacSoft.

MacSoft also announced details about two upcoming Mac releases-- Civilization III and Master of Orion III. Civilization III, an update to the popular empire-building strategy game, will sport a new graphics engine aimed at providing better-looking maps, animation, and graphics. Interface enhancements and new reporting screens will help acclimate novice players while providing useful info for more experienced players. Master of Orion III, a space-faring-civilization-building strategy game slated for an early 2002 release, introduces an event system that throws new plot twists into the game. It will support multiplay by up to eight live players, and will be set in a galaxy that's more than three times larger than what Master of Orion II fans are used to.

Game publisher MacPlay had no new product announcements but indicated that its work to convert Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn to the Mac is on track. It anticipates releasing the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game at Macworld Expo in July. The release of the real-time strategy game Sacrifice will follow later in the summer.

MacPlay technical director Mark Dochtermann didn't offer a specific release schedule for Giants: Citizen Kabuto, a hotly anticipated title for hard-core Mac gamers. But he says the game will be one of the first Mac releases to sport features exclusive to the new Nvidia GeForce3 graphics card. Originally slated for an April release, Fighter Squadron: The Screamin' Demons over Europe is now slated for a summer release. The combat flight simulator has reached beta. Also look for MacPlay to release Icewind Dale in the fall and Starfleet Command Volume II: Empires at War by the holiday season.

Feline Entertainment announced the release of Vortex Next Generation, a $30 CD-ROM that combines old-school arcade entertainment with modern amenities. Casady & Greene released a minor fix to Zone Warrior II. Version 2.0.2 fixes a conflict with version 1.5 of Apple's Game Sprockets software.

Alias/Wavefront was out in full force at the E3 trade show to demo the latest version of its professional 3-D animation software. Maya 4 includes architectural support for per pixel shading, leading the way to support for the GeForce3 card. Maya is expected to hit the Mac platform this summer in an OS X-native version--however, that release is based on Maya 3. Mac users can expect feature parity with the PC version three to six months after Maya's release.

Mac gamers could also benefit from the availability of a new sound tool for the Mac platform. RAD Game Tools is releasing its Miles Sound System for the Macintosh. The tool incorporates digital output using what RAD Game Tools describes as "a custom hand-optimized assembly" sound mixer, 18 digital signal processing filters, MIDI support with a built-in software synthesizer, Red Book audio support, support for MP3 and ADPCM audio files, full 3-D audio support, and hard-drive and CD-ROM data streaming. Miles Sound System has been used in 2,500 PC games since it first shipped a decade ago.

Belkin Components unveiled a new line of USB gaming peripherals, including 10- and 13-button game pads; a controller with 10 programmable buttons, eight-way directional pad, and throttle wheel; a mouse with three programmable buttons; and a joystick. Belkin says the peripherals will work on the Mac, although programmability may be limited since USB game controllers depend on Apple's InputSprocket technology to operate.

Apple's plans to open a chain of retail stores is even generating discussion at the E3 show. MacSoft founder Peter Tamte, who's set up a new Mac gaming company after stints at Apple and Bungie, says that Apple stores could give Mac game publishers a more accessible and high-profile venue to get the word out about their products.

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