Gamers' notes from Boston

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Macworld Conference & Expo in Boston has a smaller exhibit hall floor and no game arcade presence like the San Francisco show, but that’s not to say that the Boston show was totally devoid of content for gamers. Here are the highlights.

Razer Pro v1.6: Razer has made precision mice for gamers since 1999, starting with the company’s legendary line of Boomslang mice. But it wasn’t until 2005 that the company has had a solution that it feels meets the need of creative professionals who use Macs and PCs who require a higher-resolution, programmable optical mouse.

The company has adapted its popular Diamondback Plasma model for the pro space. The Pro v1.6 has been redesigned using white and grey surfaces, and is illuminated with a blue LED. The device features a total of seven programmable buttons including a clickable scroll wheel. Four of the buttons rest on the side of the mouse, and two are on the top in between the scroll wheel, which also glows blue.

Like Razer’s gaming mouse, the sides and the top two buttons are coated in a rubberized material that provides users with a better gripping surface than a slick, hard plastic mouse offers. It features 1,600 dot-per-inch (DPI) resolution, twice that of most optical mouse, but it also boasts a frame rate of more than 6400 frames per second—captured using a 16-bit data path (most optical mice use 8-bit or 12-bit paths), which means more of the precision tracking data is actually reported by the mouse back to the computer. It can track motion detection at up to 40 inches per second, which means that your cursor is less likely to bounce or stutter across the screen if you move it fast. A Web store is coming soon, but attendees of this week’s show were able to purchase the mouse for $60.

The $30 Razer ProPad is a precision mousing surface—a hard mouse pad, if you will, made using an anodized aluminum base. Crafted in white with grey accents to match the Pro v1.6, the trapezoidally shaped ProPad measures 10.4-by-13-by-0.1 inches. It’s hard-coated using a non-slip, anti-reflective material that’s ideally suited for any opto-mechanical or optical mice, and it also features a gel-filled wrist rest to help prevent arm fatigue.

The one element missing from the products offered at Macworld Expo was the Macintosh driver software that’s still in development. Razer USA president Robert Krakoff said that it’s current in final development status and should be released in days or weeks. When it’s done, the software will reside in Mac OS X’s System Preferences window and will allow users to program the buttons for the Finder, customize the mouse’s tracking features and more.

Multibutton USB mice are already recognized by Mac OS X, without the need to install any additional drivers. Indeed, many games and other applications recognize multibutton mice as well, but the custom Mac software will be welcome news for Mac users looking to get the most from their mice. Razer will release the drivers on its Web site when they’re ready—a placeholder page on their site says “7 more days” with a date posted of July 12, 2005.

Power Game Factory: MacCentral also sat down with Jesse Simko, whose company Sawblade Software recently released Power Game Factory. The tool lets users make their own side-scrolling action games without having to program. Although Simko wasn’t an exhibitor at this year’s show in Boston, he did attend the event.

Power Game Factory was developed using Real Software’s RealBasic application development environment. With his background both in design and programming, Simko created Power Game Factory to give people who are visually oriented but lack programming skills an opportunity to make their own games. The software lets you use your own artwork for backgrounds, characters, animations and weapons — clicking on the individual artwork lets you define its characteristics — weapons, bullets, explosions and whatever else your imagination can come up with.

Once you’re happy with how your game works, a “Build Game” button (not unlike the “Burn Disc” button you’ll find in Apple’s iTunes software) lets you create a standalone copy of your game that you can then distribute without having to pay royalties.

Simko told MacCentral that Sawblade Software has seen an uptick in sales since the recent release of a demo version that allow users to try the software without buying it first. But the full software costs only $44, and includes a sample game and tutorial information to get started.

Simko said that Power Game Factory has already spawned a loyal cadre of users who are actively working on their own projects; a forum on the Sawblade Software Web site is where they can be found, trading tips and tricks for getting the most out of the inexpensive game software.

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