Macs aren’t often thought of as gaming machines, but a savvy gamer can set themselves up with a terrific gaming Mac with a few wise choices or compromises. Here we discuss the state of Mac gaming, and the best ways to enjoy games on your Mac.
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The Mac games scene may have been overshadowed by the iPhone and iPad for the past couple of years, but strong Mac sales mean that there are now more games being released than ever before.
There’s been a steady stream of A-list titles, such as Portal 2, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Dragon Age II, arriving recently, and the launch of the Mac App Store also gave the Mac games scene a lift. There are other online stores too, including Steam (
store.steampowered.com), OnLive (
www.onlive.co.uk) and Deliver2Mac (
www.deliver2mac.com), which make it easier than ever to find the latest games.
The Mac App Store has given a new lease of life to some older games too, with titles such as Call Of Duty 4 and Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic hitting the charts again years after their original release. A word of warning though – we’ve heard from a number of game developers that Lion ‘broke’ quite a few games, especially older ones, so check on game compatibility and updates if you’re running it on Mac OS X 10.7.
In the not too distant past, Macs were widely regarded as useless for playing games. Although this is something of an overstatement, Apple’s computers were indeed lacking capability and choice for gaming, when compared to their PC counterparts. This was due to a variety of factors – chief among them Apple’s own reticence to embrace gaming.
Play OnLive games on your Mac or iOS device
Another reason was the closed hardware architecture that turned off gaming enthusiasts who like to tweak their machines. There was also Apple’s reliance on the PowerPC processor, that some felt lagged behind the Intel-based competition.
Despite the hurdles, there was a small dedicated community of Apple enthusiasts and developers promoting the Mac’s appeal as a gaming platform. Titles like SimCity and Railroad Tycoon were hits, and Blizzard supported Macs with World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft.
Mainstream shooters like Wolfenstein, System Shock and Duke Nukem 3D were also ported over, but the Mac’s gaming catalogue was abysmal when compared to the varied selection available on the PC and the rapidly growing console sector.
All this changed in 2005 when Apple switched to the Intel processor and PC games could more easily be ported to the Mac. Now top game developers, including Electronic Arts, Aspyr and Feral Interactive, are bringing their titles to the Mac. Popular titles such as Civilization, Call of Duty, the Lego series, and Batman: Arkham City are available on the Mac platform – and Apple says that many more are on the way.
In the meantime there are options for getting games onto the Mac. One is to run Boot Camp, Apple’s dual-boot facility that allows Mac users to load Windows on a partition, but more are currently emerging.
Gaming specs & system requirements: Is your Mac powerful enough?
The switch to Intel wasn’t quite enough to pull Macs into the gaming space. Early Intel Macs shipped with underpowered graphics cards, and even some new entry-level Macs may not be up to the job if you want to play really power hungry games.
However, if you have an Intel Mac running Snow Leopard, Lion or Mountain Lion, with at least 2GB RAM, a selection of modern games will run natively on your Mac.
To find out what’s inside your machine, navigate to the Apple menu > About This Mac > More Info > System Report (OS X Lion) and locate which graphics card your Mac contains under Graphics/Displays.
Hard-core gamers should opt for Macs that have ATI, AMD or Nvidia graphics cards, rather than the integrated Intel cards that feature in low-end Macs. If you want to be completely futureproof, a Mac Pro will allow you to update the graphics card in the future. Many visually detailed games require a dedicated graphics card on your machine to render smooth, lifelike images. Without one, some games may not be compatible with your machine, or may play at a sub-par level.
Many games rely on abundant RAM and fast processors, so it’s a good idea to make sure your computer is well above the minimum requirements. Inadequate RAM and/or a slower processor can make your game look choppy and perform sluggishly.
If your Mac’s specs aren’t up to scratch, you might want to partition your hard drive and use Boot Camp to install Windows just for gaming. Most games are optimised for Windows, so even a low-powered Mac should be able to run them.
While an entry-level Mac laptop won’t outperform a custom-spec PC gaming machine, at least it involves minimum effort and time spent setting up. Even older Macs still have some great old games available to them by employing Boot Camp and Windows.
Valve has committed to Mac gaming with an OS X version of its Source Engine. The Steam client (
store.steampowered.com) offers more than 200 games for the Mac, which can be shared on other computers.
However, when Steam first launched in May 2010, we thought that Valve would bring a ton of games to the Mac. Instead, it took several months to get the games out. Moreover, the promise of other developers porting games to the Mac (and selling them on Steam) still hasn’t really materialised. Most of the indie titles had native Mac versions already. Steam is a work in progress, and while its potential is there, it hasn’t been realised, yet.
The OnLive cloud-based gaming service uses a small client download to stream games from OnLive’s servers to your Mac, through your TV, and now to your iPad or iPhone. OnLive’s video compression technology minimises streaming lag. Sign up at
www.onlive.co.uk is free.
Complete games range from £14.99 to £34.99, or you can opt for a 3-day or 5-day game rental. OnLive also offers a Play Pack for £6.99 per month, which includes unlimited play of more than 100 games.
If you purchase or rent a game, it’s available to play on all platforms, and because game-saves are stored in the cloud, you can pick up where you left off on any OnLive-powered device.
The processing is done on OnLive’s servers, so even Mac minis can become portals to great gaming. However, if your connection is bad, gameplay may be laggy, and the library of games draws heavily from the console market and thus require a gamepad controller.
Despite concerns about not being able to download and own the games, we still recommend OnLive. It means we can play Assassins Creed Revelations on an old MacBook and Arkham City on a Mac mini. OnLive offers console titles that have never (and likely would never) been seen on a Mac, and without taxing the hard drive with huge downloads or the processor with rendering the impressive graphics. OnLive’s service is a huge step forward for Mac gaming.
OnLive on iOS
OnLive offers a viewer app for the iPad, so you can access the OnLive Arena and watch live gameplay and clips of games recorded by others. Soon OnLive subscribers should be able to play games on their iOS device as an iOS app is currently with Apple for approval.
Once the app is approved, running OnLive will have the following system requirements: games are playable with as low as 1Mbps, but 2-3Mbps is recommended to get full HD experience; 5GHz WiFi yields best results, but 2.4GHz works fine. You must be on WiFi to play on iOS devices.
The mobile software includes three different types of game formats. The most impressive of the bunch are the native touch games that support iOS Multi-Touch functions, including L.A. Noire and Defense Grid Gold.
A few more titles have been formatted with a touch overlay. Hold your iPad or iPhone like a controller, and use your thumbs to hit the buttons. Touch-overlay games include titles from Lego (like Harry Potter and Batman), Virtua Tennis 2009, and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light.
The remaining games in the mobile library require an OnLive controller to play. The £39.99 universal OnLive Wireless Controller (available on OnLive’s website) can be paired with your micro-console, TV, and mobile device. This gamepad connects to your iOS device via Bluetooth, and functions as if you were playing through a standard console. Batman: Arkham City, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and 150 other games are available for mobile play with the added controller.
Mac App Store
Apple has already enjoyed success in the distribution of games to mobile devices via the iTunes Store. The company also has a robust online storefront in the form of the Mac App Store and is perfectly positioned to offer a channel for games distribution.
Since the Mac App Store launched in January 2011, gamers have been able to download ports of iOS games, as well as games previously only appearing on Steam, and ports to the Mac platform that had received little fanfare up until now. And that’s one of the Mac App Store’s greatest advantages – in one place, you can find and download hundreds of games.
At the start, the most prominent game category in the Mac App Store comprised iOS games making the jump to the Mac. The Mac App Store is not limited to iOS-born puzzle games though, you can also find more demanding titles, such as Neverwinter Nights, Civilization V, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Call Of Duty.
With the launch of the iPhone and later the App Store, Apple stumbled upon a relatively untapped, yet undeniably lucrative vein of revenue: mobile gaming. Again, Apple faced an uphill battle – Nintendo’s DS line held a virtual monopoly for portables, with Sony’s PSP soaking up whatever was leftover – but the company wisely leveraged the immense success of its iPod and iPhone lines, along with its popular iTunes Store to sneak under everyone’s radar.
Today, Apple is the unquestioned leader in the mobile marketing space, and has built a powerful empire upon the works of indie developers who saw the App Store as a way to circumvent the expensive, resource-intensive atmosphere of console and PC games design. The formula has been so successful that leading games publishers like EA and Ubisoft are starting to jump into the fray, further legitimising the App Store as a viable alternative to traditional retail channels and online services like Valve’s Steam, the Xbox Live Marketplace, and the Playstation Network.
The App Store now boasts over 425,000 apps available to download, a large percentage of which are focused solely on finger-friendly entertainment. Titles such as Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, and Flight Control have sold in the millions, making gamers out of people who ordinarily wouldn’t even dream of picking up a traditional controller, let alone purchase a portable console.
Realising the importance of games to the iOS platform, Apple introduced Game Center in September 2010. The service allows you to connect with friends for iOS gaming, send friend requests, start playing games and organise online multiplayer games. Some games feature achievements, where the player is rewarded points for completing a certain task.
iOS 5’s version of Game Center makes it easier to find both friends and games, while also adding some of the social elements that other online gaming services have implemented to great effect.
From iPad to games console
There can be no doubt about Apple’s gaming prowess when it comes to the iPhone, and in particular the iPad. The iPad 2’s technological competence is nothing short of incredible when you consider its svelte form. Impressive iOS titles like Infinity Blade are given an additional layer of detail that approaches the sort of lavish imagery we’re accustomed to on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
With the current generation of iOS gaming arguably giving Nintendo’s Wii a run for its money in graphical terms, what if Apple was to announce a console based on the A5 CPU that powers the iPad 2? Apple is a company that is constantly looking to expand into new and fertile territory, and gaming is another profitable arena that is waiting to be dominated.
Among our predictions for 2012 we discussed the theory that the Apple TV, Apple’s set-top box that grants access to movies, TV shows and music, would evolve into a gaming device. In fact, to some extent it already has, providing the means by which an iPad 2 can beam a game to a TV screen, allowing for split screen gaming with other iPad 2 users. What better way of solidifying the Apple TV’s future than by adding the ability to play games on the Apple TV itself?
It’s undeniably exciting to hypothesise what such a platform could be capable of and what innovations Apple could come up with. The Wii U touch-screen controller indicates that such an interface could have a bright future – and in the case of an Apple console, this could be achieved by allowing you to connect your iPhone or iPod touch.
Another plus point is that Apple wouldn’t have to work hard to ensure that such a gaming system receives the appropriate amount of third-party support; such a machine would be virtually guaranteed input from the biggest developers and publishers, because they’re already behind iOS. Activision, EA, Sega, Konami, Capcom – these video gaming veterans have already taken a chance on Apple, and have reaped the benefits. And then there’s a new generation of developers and publishers – iOS stalwarts such as Rovio, Chillingo, and Gameloft have already created pocket-sized slices of gaming brilliance, and we’re sure they’re itching to prove they have what it takes to entertain on a larger scale.
Just as Apple has torn up the rulebook on pricing in the mobile arena, it could easily do so again with a games console. When faced with the option of buying a PS3 or Xbox 360 and then having to shell out £30 or more on games, the notion of an Apple console with sub-£6.99 releases could prove irresistible to the average consumer.
Of course, this is nothing more than conjecture, but we’d be shocked if Apple wasn’t watching the home gaming market with envious eyes. With the Wii’s successor now unveiled and Sony confirming that development of the PS4 is underway, the opening salvos of a next-gen war are about to be fired. What better time for Apple to steal the thunder of its gaming rivals by confirming a new, set-top box capable of sating all your multimedia needs: music, TV, movies and games?
We also predict that TV manufacturers will start to offer gaming consoles built into TVs. And with rumours that Apple is planning its own television offering, it seems well placed to compete in this market. Perhaps gaming will be the next revolution that Apple leads.
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