It just doesn’t work so well

Dear Apple, please consider changing your “It just works” tagline. I spent my entire day yesterday attempting to get any game working on my MacBook Pro, and not only did they not “just” work, they didn’t work at all. And also, the entire process made me realize that the Mac is the single worst game platform on the planet.

To everyone whose kneejerk reaction is “Well duh, Mac doesn’t even have games!”: shut up. You’re dumb and you’re wrong, and we’d all be better off if you were to crawl back into 1996 where ill-informed platform wars actually had a point. Just about any game worth playing makes it Mac, eventually, except of course Valve’s games, because Gabe Newell hates Macs. (But maybe that’s not so bad — we’ve seen what happens when Valve games end up on platforms Gabe Newell hates.) Sure, the first big Mac games of 2008 are Neverwinter Nights 2 and Fable — that’s the first Fable, not Fable 2 — but at least they’re on their way. Duke Nukem Forever, should it end up being more than yet another trailer, will be “Duke Nukem Forever Plus Two Years” on Mac. But still. The problem isn’t game availability but rather game compatibility.

Anyway, I put most of this behind a jump link to spare you my frothing irritation.

Apple takes a very different approach to its computers than Microsoft — they’re the tyrannical monopoly that everyone thought Microsoft was ten years ago, and that Google will probably be in another ten years. But since Apple has such a measly marketshare (at least with computers — digital audio players and smartphones are a different, and increasingly ugly, story) no one really cares that they’re a bunch of ruthless fascists. Except Mac owners, who tend to be hyp-mo-tized into not caring. I care, but after 20 years of dealing almost exclusively with the Mac platform I’m gloriously efficient with the OS in ways that would take me years to catch up to in Windows or whatever, so I’ll muddle through. Even when Apple releases crap like Leopard, which is as bafflingly awful a step backward from the previous version of OS X as Vista is from XP. Latest hijinks: this week’s OS “security” update broke the already shattered Safari browser to the point that I can no longer update this site without a 100% chance of a browser crash. Oh, why hello, Camino.

So anyway, Apple’s willingness to think differently means that when the powers-that-be decide it’s time to make a technology transition, they don’t look back. Weirdly, the example that seems to have garnered the most press at the the time was the original iMacs shocking decision to drop support for floppy diskettes, but that’s pretty minor compared to some of the other leaps the Mac platform has made. And each and every one of them completely bones anyone who likes gaming.

The first time around, back in 1994, saw the move from the Motorola 680×0 architecture to the RISC-based PowerPC standard. This was pretty painful, since the company spent about five years rewriting the majority of its system code to be PPC-native, so massive portions of the OS ran under 68K emulation for ages. But the emulation was there, which meant that you could still play pre-PPC games for years to come. Pokily. Next came the move to OS X in 2000, which ushered in a much-needed reworking of the OS underpinnings and gradually (over the course of three major updates) went from being a complete mess to a complete improvement over the old OS. Ah, but what of all those pre-OS X games? They could run under a different emulation layer, Classic — essentially a window running OS 9. Games didn’t always fare so well under Classic; anything involving 3D acceleration was more or less right out. And those pre-PPC games, too, since they’d have to run in 68K emulation under Classic emulation.

And more recently (as in, last year), Apple kicked the PowerPC to the curb in favor of Intel processors — at which point support for Classic vanished entirely, leaving a massive catalog of Mac games that simply no longer run on Macs. Leopard has effectively sealed the deal by somehow making every single OS X-compatible game I own completely unusable. Baldur’s Gate II? Crashes at the chargen. Icewind Dale? Crashes shortly after the chargen. Tron 2.0? Crashes at the installer. And so on.

I tried getting Sheepsaver (an OS 9 emulator) up and running yesterday, but it sent me hurtling into a recursive catch-22 loop that buckled the very fabric of time and space with its sheer frustrating potency: to make Sheepsaver work, you need a Classic-compatible hardware ROM. But the only way to extract a ROM legally is to use an application that only runs in OS 9, which is really sort of missing the point.

Anyway, this whole stupid ordeal wasted a day and also had the side benefit of making me want to kill myself in frustration. Then I decided I’d be better off killing Apple and MacPlay — and actually, a lot of this is MacPlay’s fault. They’re the leading Mac publisher, eagerly snapping up the rights to all sorts of big titles, yet they refuse to patch their games to run on current OS X revisions… even though they still sell many of those games on their online store. That’s not sketchy at all, nope!

But then I decided homicide is never (well, rarely) the answer and decided to head to eBay and pick up the fastest possible old Mac capable of running OS 9 natively to use as my game mule — which looks to be a 1.0 GHz PowerBook G4. It’s cheaper than a PlayStation 3, and has way more games I’m actually interested in: Deus Ex, Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, No One Lives Forever, Fallout 1 & 2. Maybe I can even get Descent up and running again.

No fair pointing out that this is my own stupid fault for hoarding all these games and never playing them. I always just sort of figured I could get around to them eventually. I mean, computers aren’t like consoles, forced into obsolescences every five years… right? Right. With Mac it’s every six years.

31 thoughts on “It just doesn’t work so well

  1. :-( I guess this means I’ll never be able to play again all those old System 7 classic games I grew up on. I left the Mac platform around 1995, but MAN some of those ols Mac games were great. 3 in Three, the Tinies, Solarian 2 . . .

  2. I always found Apple’s 68k emulation to be very good. Even though it wasn’t as fast as native PowerPC stuff, it rarely crashed and the PowerMac 6100 played Super Wing Commander a lot more quickly than the LC III ever did.

    Classic had an issue in that it was great in playing much older games (I used it to replay 3 in Three for my piece) but not so great in playing stuff that came out shortly before the transition to OS X (3D acceleration as you pointed out didn’t work so great). Basically it just failed with anything that tried to do anything fancy with hardware (it wouldn’t even play the old Interplay Star Trek adventures :( ).

    I haven’t tried playing many pre-Intel OS X games on my computer but it would be a shame if it didn’t work since I never got around to playing far in Fallout 2. I too have often considered getting an OS 9 computer. Then I can finally finish my game of Baldur’s Gate since it stopped working in Classic somewhere between Panther and TIger.

    And, uh, play 3 in Three if you get old Mac emulation working

  3. Oh, and I guess the other option would be boot camp and XP to play WIndows games on the other side, but I’ve had something of a bitch of a time getting Win95/98 games to work in XP so maybe not.

  4. Forget gaming on a Mac – get yourself a IIgs. The Bard’s Tale, Pirates!, Battle Chess – what more do you need?

  5. Well, my current system’s hard drive isn’t quite big enough to hold the essentials (Photoshop and the like) and sport a Boot Camp partition. But my grand plan is to upgrade to a new system with a 200GB+ drive in about six months, running Leopard and XP, and use my mule system to dual-boot between OS 9 and Tiger. That should about cover all my bases. Besides Vista, which LOL.

  6. Unless they’ve changed it for Leopard, Boot Camp limits your Windows partition to 32GB. That said, Leopard does finally allow you to natively browse files on the Windows partition.

  7. You’ll probably internet-stab me just for mentioning this, but Peggle did just become available for OS X (Intel and PowerPC).

    That’s awesome because it’s Peggle, and also kinda neat b/c most Mac ports are using Cider these days, making them Intel-exclusive (see Guitar Hero III, and that goddamn Gametap Mac client). My PowerBook G4 is just happy to play anything.

  8. “Unless they’ve changed it for Leopard, Boot Camp limits your Windows partition to 32GB. That said, Leopard does finally allow you to natively browse files on the Windows partition.”

    There isn’t a limit under Leopard, but a FAT32 partition, as a rule, can only be a max of 32GB. NTFS can be as large as you want, actually.

    Classic doesn’t work *at all* under Leopard; yes, not even PPC.

  9. I’ve been reading this site in its various forms for many years, and I think you’ve scared me away from Apple products more than anyone else.

  10. Coincidentally, I just loaded up a Mac System 7 emulator the other day specifically to play 3 in Three.

    By the way… why didn’t you tell us that those “piston” levels in 3 in Three were so mind-numbingly hard!?

  11. Oh, the piston levels aren’t that bad. Well, except for the last one, which is interesting because it’s stupidly hard the first time you do it, and is the easiest puzzle of all he second time you do it.

    Wait until you get to the tile-pattern puzzles – you’ll bleed from your eyes.

  12. “Um, I was browsing files on the Windows partition just fine in Tiger.”

    Then you’re a better man than I, because try as I might, I couldn’t make it work. The ‘Untitled’ volume mounted on my desktop, but trying browse it would yield (what appeared to be) an empty drive.

  13. As for the 32 GB limit for FAT32 partitions. That is an XP limit. WinME’s fdisk and format commands will happily create and format partitions up to at least 2 TB. XP will then have no problem using that partition. It is just that XP’s setup has an artificial 32 GB creation limit–it will install on a pre-created partition. (Linux can also be used to get around the limits of XP’s setup.)

    It should be possible to boot a Linux CD on the Mac and build the partition table then install Mac OS and run Boot Camp on a larger than allowed FAT32 partition. But I’ve not yet tried this. I will when I get a new, larger drive for my MacBook.

  14. Wait, there’s no modern Descent port for Mac? Didn’t they open-source that game a few years ago? I know there’s been a nice, OGL-enganced version of Descent available for Linux for quite a while now, so it would be fairly odd for Mac not to have it.

  15. Did some Googling, and found that it was actually Descent 2 that was open-sourced, although I’m pretty sure the Descent 1 levels have also been ported to the new engine. Anyway, an enhanced port that runs on just about everything can be found here:

  16. So Apple’s support for backwards compatibility sucks. So your answer to that is… to buy even more of their products? Sure, that will show them! ;)

  17. Oh, oh, the word killing in a video games website, you are dwelling into dangerous territory Mr. Parish. It’s as if you want to get in trouble with the law, to get into a… MOOOOORTAL KOOOOOMBAT! *techno music starts*

  18. ^Woah woah, shut up. There’s a new Retronauts?

    Thank you thank you thank you thank you so much Parish!

  19. “Then you’re a better man than I, because try as I might, I couldn’t make it work. The ‘Untitled’ volume mounted on my desktop, but trying browse it would yield (what appeared to be) an empty drive.”

    I’m pretty sure that when I created the partition, one of the options was to format it in a way that OS X would recognize it.

  20. Yeah, I was also able to browse the Windows partition back when I had the very first Boot Camp beta version installed.

  21. Yeah I’ve had the worst luck with my Macbook Pro and I’m glad to see I’m not the only one to think Leopard is a disaster. I completely agree that the Mac as a gaming platform is spectacular, I play my games off my windows partition and it works great. I guess that doesn’t help you very much with your old mac stuff but you mentionned Bootcamp somewhere in the comments above. I’ve run quite a few games with no problems. Hopefully this will help resolve a few of your gaming woes, though probably not all of them because I hear that Vista is a bitch and I have no idea how friendly Vista is with backwards compatibility.

  22. “Deus Ex, Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, No One Lives Forever, Fallout 1 & 2. Maybe I can even get Descent up and running again.”

    I don’t mean to point out the obvious, but it’s really staggeringly simple to get these games working on a £5 junkyard PC. I only say this as I have experienced the pure pain that is games on Mac. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I’ve generally had a very simple (and in the case of the monitor, literal) switch between work/play and Mac/PC, respectively. Laptops really aren’t a great gaming environment, anyway, and paying for a 1Ghz Powerbook just seems daft for this handful of games which are so readily available elsewhere.

    Ok, I’ll stop the pro-PC shit, it’s tiresome.

  23. You’re right, it is tiresome. It also presumes I have space to dedicate to a PC setup, which I don’t. A laptop can be folded up quickly and stowed away when not in use… and I have quite a bit of other legacy Mac software (such as Fontographer) that I’d like access to. So.

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