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.